Car culture lives in Norton title

Car culture comes to life in Norton, Kansas

If you love cars and car culture, head to Norton, Kansas

Are cars your delight? Do you live to drive the open road with your tunes cranked to full blast and the wind blowing in your hair? Do you remember when gas stations had style instead of being cookie-cutter boring? Then you need to hop in your tricked-out vintage car and head to Norton, Kan. Even if that tricked-out car is only in your dreams, you still need to head to Norton. You’ll meet some fine examples of vintage car culture.

Norton is home to three restored vintage gas stations and the outstanding Goof’s Big Boy’s Toy Museum. If you’ve ever relished testing your car and your skill on a Hot Wheels Track, you must — absolutely must — tour Goof’s museum. Meeting Goof, the collector-in-chief, is a treat worth pursuing. And then you have his collection to examine. It seems that every car you have ever imagined is in that collection.

See what the American Pickers missed at Goof’s Big Boy’s Toy Museum

Goof Urban with his vintage Coke fountain drink dispenser
Goof Urban’s collections are not limited to Hot Wheels. His museum is full of all kinds of fascinating items.
Movie monsters with motorcycle and Hot Wheels
Glow-in-the-dark movie monsters circle a toy Harley-Davidson motorcycle and four Hot Wheels License Plate Series cars.

Goof’s Big Boy’s Toy Museum in Norton should be featured in an American Pickers episode. Goof and Sharon Urban’s private museum has collectibles from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. With all those collectibles, the Urbans thought so, too. However, when the Urbans contacted American Pickers, the show turned them down. “We were too organized,” Sharon said. “They like the drama of digging through spiders and trash.”

American Pickers‘ loss is a visitor’s gain. The brightly lit and well-organized museum is stuffed with fun collectibles. The collection is so extensive that it was featured in the Wall Street Journal. A framed copy of the article hangs in the museum.

Cityscape in Goof's Big Boy's Toys Museum
The plane in the cityscape is modeled on a toy plane hanging on the gasoline station booth at the right.

Hot Wheels cars and other memorabilia are Goof’s main collecting targets and he started collecting early. His first Hot Wheels cars were stocking stuffers. (He still owns the Christmas stocking.) Goof’s mother provided the spark and Goof kept right on collecting.

He also collects Timex display cases because they make showing off his cars easier. The cases are forever rotating, displaying different aspects of the collection. An aisle of white pegboards is covered with Hot Wheels cars still in their original packages. NASCAR collectibles occupy another corner. This collection is especially full of Dale Earnhardt memorabilia.

More car-themed collectibles to enjoy

Northwest Territories license plates
The Northwest Territories plates are the world’s most interesting license plates. The territories have shaped their license plate as a polar bear since 1970.

The Urbans built a barnwood booth in their museum that contains gasoline company memorabilia, or petroliana. The wall next to it features a cityscape mural featuring businesses important to the Urbans. Another wall features Goof’s license plate collection.

A visitor could examine the fascinating collections for hours and see something different every moment. Listening to Goof’s stories makes time disappear.

Among many more items, Goof’s museum holds a toy Texaco station, complete with a jack and tire rack, but it’s time to visit Norton’s real vintage gas stations.

Larry Urban's Conoco Station, a car culture icon
Larry Urban’s Conoco Station returns visitors to a time when drivers could easily find cheap gas and fastidious service.

Restored gas stations showcase car culture

Learn about Norton car culture at the visitor center
You can learn all a tourist needs to know about Norton at the Norton Business & Visitor Station, 205 S. State Street.

Tour three car-culture delights in Norton.

Start your nostalgic service station tour at the Norton Business & Visitor Station, 205 S. State Street. Roger and Michael Moffet donated the former Kent Oil Company service station. A crew of volunteers renovated it as an office space, finishing it in 2011. The station is now home to Norton Area Chamber of Commerce/Travel and Tourism and Norton City/County Economic Development. The staff will be glad to tell you all about Norton and, when possible, set up tours of the other two restored gas stations. (Norton Travel & Tourism hosted my trip.)

All three stations are within easy walking distance of each other. Call 785-877-2501 for information and/or to set up tours.

Respectful visitors are welcome to walk around the service stations’ exteriors during daylight hours.

Visit Norton’s restored Conoco station: The Hottest Brand Going

Larry Urban in his car culture-filled Conoco station
Larry Urban in his restored Conoco station

When a person owns a classic, he often restores the classic to its former glory. Larry Urban has restored his classic Conoco service station complete with vintage pumps, oil cans, maps, a chest freezer 7Up pop machine, and a Ford Galaxie on the rack in the station’s service bay. (The rack itself is a replacement.)

If you feel like channeling Clark Kent when he’s about to rescue the world, step into the telephone booth for your Superman moment.

Oil pump reminds visitor of early car culture
A hand-cranked oil pump and glass bottle

The station at 110 S. First also features an early oil pump. Early drivers didn’t have a convenient plastic bottle of oil riding around in their trunks. Just as car owners do now, early owners bought oil at the service station. But they didn’t buy a plastic bottle. Instead, the service station’s staff would pump the oil into glass bottles with a hand-cranked pump. The bottles were fitted with metal spouts and dust caps and they sat in racks. When a driver asked for an oil check, the attendant filled the car’s oil reservoir if needed.

Safety concerns now prevent putting oil into glass containers.

When you want to feel nostalgic, think of when drivers’ only duty at a service station was to pay the bill. Nostalgia will especially strike hard when you’re freezing in the cold while filling up your car. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone else take care of your car?

Visit Norton’s restored Sinclair station: It’s Dino-Mite!

Car culture surrounding Sinclair station
Vintage vehicles surround Norton’s restored Sinclair station during the annual Norton Chamber Car Show & Drag Races.
Sad Sinclair station
The Norton Sinclair station was a decrepit building when Mick and Colette Miller bought it.

Both the Sinclair service station at 119 S. First and the adjoining Scheetz Motor Co. building were in sad shape. Mick and Colette Miller took pity on the battered vintage buildings and began restoring them to their former glory. Dino again stands proudly on top of the service station. The motor company building’s signs are no longer ghostly images of their former selves but are now bright beacons. Sinclair’s signature dinosaur and the signs proclaim, “We’re back!”

Dinosaurs have been Sinclair’s trademark since the 1930s. They chose to use dinosaurs because scientists believe petroleum formed during the Age of the Dinosaurs. Sinclair’s marketers named their dinosaur Dino (DYE-no). Sinclair’s Apatosaurus was immediately popular. He became such a hit that Sinclair trademarked him in 1932. Fiberglass Dinos came to local Sinclair stations in the early 1960s and they have been popular ever since.

Norton County Title occupies the Sinclair station, so the interior does not have as many Sinclair items as the exterior does. Mike said he wanted the title company to be able to decorate the office in their own style. That means Dino is an outdoor dinosaur. That’s a good thing since Dino would find the offices to be a tight squeeze.

The Millers are still working on the former motor company’s building. Vintage cars are on display in the showroom and they are hoping to make part of the showroom look like a diner. The shop contains automobile company memorabilia (automobilia), including signs and equipment — and a traffic light. Advertising from Coca-Cola, Sinclair, and Goodyear are some of the signs in the motor company building’s collection.

The neon Norton Theatre is the perfect car culture background

Norton Theatre, the perfect car culture background
Imagine your beautiful vehicle with the neon theatre marquee in the background.

For your car’s perfect photo background, park on the brick street in front of the Norton Theatre. Your highly-polished car will reflect the theatre’s beautiful neon lights. The theatre opened as Norton Auditorium in 1906 and became the Norton Theatre in 1948. For the best results, park parallel to the theatre when the streets are wet.

The theatre’s showtimes start at 6:30 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays. The theatre is closed on Thursdays. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, then 4:30 p.m. on Sundays. The staff members are all volunteers.

Call Norton Chamber of Commerce ahead of time to set up a time and make sure to enjoy a movie.

Come to Car Culture Central in July

Every July, Norton celebrates cars during the annual Norton Chamber Car Show and Drag Races. The event lasts for two days, including numerous events. Every car club that comes receives a gas station tour, which is the perfect time to take some pictures at the stations. The 2020 event will be held on July 12-13. If you love cars, check with the Norton Chamber for event details and mark your calendar. See the 2019 event flyer (PDF) to learn more.

Where to eat and where to stay in Norton

You cannot go wrong when you eat at Destination Kitchen. Their signature dish is their wood-fired pizza. I love it. When I was in Norton for this visit, I tried their Cuban sandwich. It was equally as delectable as the pizza is. The restaurant is inside a kitchenware store. Make sure to browse their shelves. A door connects Destination Kitchen to Stitch up a Storm, a quilting store. Even if you don’t quilt or sew, visit the store anyway. You’ll enjoy their creative merchandising techniques. For delicious coffee, try the Java Coffee Shop. When we went to Las Canteras Mexican Restaurant, I intended to eat only half of my smothered burrito, saving the other half for the next day’s lunch. Oops. The burrito was so delicious that I ate it all before I realized what I was doing.

I stayed at the Sleep Inn & Suites. I heard it’s the best hotel along Highway 36 in Kansas. I believe it. The staff was friendly and wanted to ensure I enjoyed the best experience possible. As a longtime road warrior, I appreciate a dedicated and engaged hotel staff.

More to know about Kansas

Read more about Kansas, and Northwest Kansas in particular. The enchanting city of Oberlin is only 30 miles to the west.

Thank you, Norton, for hosting me. I had a great time; however, all opinions are my own.


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