You say ?tomato? and I say ?tuh-Mater?!

Mater: My name is Mater. 
Lightning McQueen: Mater? 
Mater: Yeah, like tuh-mater, 
but without the “tuh”. 
From the Pixar/Disney movie Cars 
We resume our journey on Historic Route 66 at Joplin, Missouri. Joplin is located in the eastern part of the tri-state lead zinc mining district of southwestern Missouri, southeastern Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma.
Lead zinc ores occur together in the district but production originally was confined to lead because it could be smelted in homemade furnaces. The production of zinc rapidly increased in the 1870s after construction of a smelter in Kansas. Ultimately zinc became the most important mineral in the district.
By the start of the 20th century, mining had brought wealth to the area, some of which was invested in local infrastructure. In 1904, historian NA Allison1 wrote that several roads in the area had been improved using waste rock from the mines (referred to as chat) that “forms a solid cement-like surface which will endure of a score of years”. 
He added: “Besides affording easy transit for the people … these roads give the country an appearance of tidiness much above what was formerly seen.” Even into the 1950s, the region annually shipped three to five million tonnes of chat for use in railroad ballast, concrete and asphalt.
In 1924, at the peak of mining, there were more than 11,000 miners in the district. About three times as many more people supported the miners. Mining began to dwindle in the Great Depression and a price reduction for lead and zinc after World War II resulted in the closure of many mines and the population declined. Those who stayed in the district turned to agriculture, dairying, ranching and … tourism.
In the early 1950s, at the same time that the region hit the bottom of the mining industry, Americans took to the roads. Route 66 became the main highway for vacationers heading to Los Angeles. 
This increase in tourism spawned all kinds of roadside attractions, including tourist camps, restaurants, curio shops and whatever else the tourists needed. Route 66 was even the site of the first drive-through restaurant, Red’s Giant Hamburg (the sign was too small for the “er”!), back in Springfield, Missouri.
Let’s motor over to Kansas. Old Route 66 zigzags through the state as it follows section line roads. The 21km sojourn through Kansas is the shortest of any state. Short as it is, there is something here I’d like you to see, something I want to share with my grandkids.  
As we drive through Galena, we will see the 1951 International Harvester L-170 boom truck that inspired the character Mater in the movie Cars. The grandkids have to love that. And for us adults, that boom truck used to lift equipment from mine shafts in and around Cherokee County, Kansas. Pretty darn cool!
And for those who prefer TV over the movies, we will follow Route 66 south to Quapaw, Oklahoma. It was mentioned in a 1976 episode of the television show M*A*S*H. BJ Hunnicutt’s father-in-law was a farmer there.
Unfortunately, the economic boost from Route 66 was rather short-lived. In 1957, the Will Rogers Turnpike, designated Interstate 44 in 1958, was completed and bypassed Galena and Quapaw. These two towns, and their neighbouring towns, became nearly forgotten by the rest of the world, just like Radiator Springs, Mater’s home town. 
1. Allison NA (ed). History of Cherokee County, Kansas. Biographical Publishing Company, Chicago, 1904.
Bill Langer is a consultant geologist, formerly of the US Geological Survey. 
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