Meet Two Roadside A-Kitschianados

Travel Blog  •  Sophia Dembling  •  06.25.09 | 10:33 AM ET

OK, all my kitsch-lovin’ friends, here’s a site for you.

Vintage Roadside sells T-shirts and advertising images of just the kind of kooky roadside kitsch we love so much. Not only is the stuff super fun, but a portion of all Vintage Roadside sales are donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Photo by Jack Bookwalter

Recognizing kindred spirits, I caught up with company founders Kelly Burg and Jeff Kunkle (shown here with a few friends in their backyard) to ask them a few questions about their roadside passion.

World Hum: Do you remember your first road trip? Where was it?

Kelly Burg: I was 5 and on a road trip down to Trees of Mystery with my family. I’ll never forget rolling into the parking lot and seeing the statues of Paul Bunyan (49 feet tall) and Babe the Blue Ox (35 feet tall). At that age I thought stuffed animals and statues carried on a separate life when no one was looking so was mightily impressed by what I imagined to be Paul and Babe’s after-hours adventures. Jeff and I got to visit Trees of Mystery last year and I gave Babe the Blue Ox’s leg a hug for old times’ sake.

Jeff Kunkle: I remember several trips to the Oregon coast growing up. Outside of Lincoln City was a small amusement park called Pixieland. As a child it was tough to understand the parental logic of not being able to stop because “we’re almost to the beach” or the classic “maybe we’ll stop on the way home.” Luckily we did make the stop a time or two and Pixieland remains one of my favorite memories.

Is there part of the country you have yet to explore?

Burg: We have a couple of states that neither of us have been to yet, but they’re on the list for our next two big annual trips: This October we’ll be driving from Portland, Oregon, to Nashville, then in 2010 we’ll trek cross-country from Portland to Buffalo, New York. We also like to repeat road trips because we always find something we’ve missed. I think we’ve gone back to central New York at least five times because we can’t get enough of historic Route 20.

Kunkle: I’m really looking forward to spending some time exploring the Midwest. We’ve heard about so many great things we can’t wait to see it ourselves. Our only trip to the Midwest so far has been a short jaunt through Iowa and Missouri, which was fantastic. The fun thing is there’s always something more to see no matter how many times you’ve visited an area (once the initial sting of missing something as obvious as a 40’ neon sign wears off).

Do you have a favorite roadside attraction?

Burg: Stucco dinosaurs, fiberglass giants and roadside museums of any kind; bottle collections, barbed wire, miniatures, doesn’t matter. If hard-pressed, I’d have to say that the Petrified Creatures Museum in Richfield Springs, N.Y., is an all-time favorite although the last time we were out there the owner was hoping to sell the property so she could retire. Another favorite is Confusion Hill in Northern California, and Jake the Alligator Man, and Tinkertown Museum ...

Kunkle: Boy, that’s a tough one. Sort of like picking your favorite family member. We’ve been known to veer wildly off-course to get a look at any sort of giant fiberglass statue. The Muffler Men produced by International Fiberglass in the 1960s are big favorites of mine. Someday we hope to have one proudly standing watch over our backyard. We’re convinced our neighbors are looking forward to this as much as we are. I’m also a big fan of the roadside museum and the “World’s Largest” anything.

Any mystery attractions for which you would love to find more history?

Burg: We’re such history geeks that we’d love to hear from anyone who has a favorite roadside attraction story, although we are trying to track down the history of Aquafair, once located in Florida. The draw at this attraction was a beautiful girl on a diving horse.

Jeff: We’re currently researching the history behind a defunct attraction down in southern Oregon that was called the Uncanny Canyon. It was a “Mystery House” and vortex. The former site lies underneath a reservoir now. If anyone out there has any memories of Uncanny Canyon, let us know!


Sophia Dembling

Dallas-based writer Sophia Dembling is co-author of the Flyover America blog and author of "The Yankee Chick's Survival Guide to Texas." She would love to hear your tales of America, so drop her an email.


7 Comments for Meet Two Roadside A-Kitschianados

Frankie 06.25.09 | 11:24 AM ET

My first kitsch was a small shop in Yellowstone Park in the early 60’s.  My Mom bought a set of salt and pepper shakers shaped liked bears hugging each other.  She also had a set of centennial glasses from Yellowstone that we drank root beer floats from.  I sometimes wonder what happened to those?

D Cooper 06.25.09 | 11:50 AM ET

The Oregon Vortex (House of Mystery) is in Gold Hill, Oregon and is still very much in business and has been open to the public since the 1930’s.  It is now open for the season.  I believe the Uncanny Canyon was in California.

Jeff 06.25.09 | 2:21 PM ET

Hi D Cooper - Thanks for taking the time to comment on the article. Here’s a little more of the history we’ve uncovered about Uncanny Canyon. According to the brochure we recently found, Uncanny Canyon was located in Oregon on the Crater Lake Highway about halfway between Gold Hill and Crater Lake. Being so close to the Oregon Vortex (House of Mystery) we understand it generated a bit of a vortex rivalry. The rivalry ended when Uncanny Canyon was submerged after the completion of the Lost Creek Reservoir in the late 1970s. We’re hoping to track down more information soon.

Mark Garretson 06.25.09 | 4:55 PM ET

This article has inspired to plan a few summer road trips of my own. Now where are giant people with the burgers and the mugs of frosty root beer in the photo?

Jeff 06.25.09 | 6:37 PM ET

Mark - Depending on what area of the country you’re in you can stop and visit a Burger Family in Rolla, MO., Coney Island, NY., Tipton, IA., Casper, WY., Hatch, NM., Hillsboro, OR., Modesto, CA., Willcox, AZ., and a few other “orphans” scattered across the country.

Sophia Dembling 06.25.09 | 11:44 PM ET

Wow, a vortex rivalry sounds really dangerous.

Brent 08.15.09 | 11:40 PM ET

I was about 9 years old and on vacation with my parents in 1956 when we stopped at ‘Uncanny Canyon’.  I still remember walking up what looked like a fairly flat gravel parking lot but it felt like walking up a steep grade.  Some of the items could be built ‘off plumb’ to enhance the effect, but two items had amazing effects.  The first one was a concrete slab about 6-7’ long with a carpenter’s level on it to show it was level.  At the time I was shorter than my mother and with each of us on different ends of the slab, we appeared normal heights to each other (my dad snapped a picture of it).  Then we switched ends and I appeared every bit as tall as my mother (my dad got a picture of that also - seeing is believing!).  The other effect was a large metal cable pulley suspended in the crooked house.  It wasn’t the angle that it appeared to hang, but its movement when swung from side to side;  in one direction it would swing freely.  But when swung at 90 degrees to the previous direction, it would swing once or twice and stop.
  Sad to hear it’s now underwater.

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