The Big Pump and its bigger neighbors: the town water tower and giant wind turbine blades.
The Big Pump and its bigger neighbors: the town water tower and giant wind turbine blades.

The Big Pump

Field review by the editors.

King City, Missouri

The Wayne Company model 60 gasoline pump, introduced in 1934, was inspired by art deco and New York's Chrysler Building. The design was so stylish that when a pair of the pumps was delivered to Kyle Phares' Maryville, Missouri, gas station in 1937, he decided to make the station look like one.

Even in the 1930s, eight cents a gallon was cut rate gas.
Even in the 1930s, eight cents a gallon was cut rate gas.

Phares hired a local builder, Charles Foster, to create a 21-foot-tall model 60 gas pump out of wood and metal, housing the service station office and two small bathrooms. Old photos show that from its earliest days it was labeled The Big Pump. It had two Wayne model 60s out front (And two older glass tank pumps from the 1920s). The prices were posted where they would be on a 21-foot-tall gas pump, high in the air, so that drivers could see them from a distance.

According to local newspaper reports, the station was so popular that it initially had to stay open until midnight -- although that may have been because Phares gave a free quart of ice cream to everyone who bought ten gallons or more.

The Big Pump ran out of fuel forever during the 1979 gas crisis, and Maryville wanted to tear it down. Instead it was rescued by Jerry Jones, who moved it cross-town to his Bargain Barn and converted it into a CB radio repair shop. But by the early 1990s it was falling apart.

The Big Pump soon after its 2013 restoration.
The Big Pump soon after its 2013 restoration.

"I think it came here because of Rufus Limpp," said Danny Lewis, president of the Tri-County Historical Museum in King City. Limpp, who lived in King City, had leased The Big Pump after Kyle Phares had unexpectedly died in 1941. Although Limpp was himself dead by this point, Jerry Jones remembered him. "No one in Maryville wanted it," said Danny of The Big Pump. "Mr. Jones knew of Mr. Limpp, asked the museum if we wanted it, and we certainly did."

King City is 40 miles southeast of Maryville, but that posed no problem. "A group of men got a big flatbed from the lumberyard and drove it here," said Danny. "It was probably all totally illegal, but no one said anything."

The Tri-County Historical Museum has been a good steward of The Big Pump, giving it several makeovers -- including a complete metal skin replacement in 2013 -- refurbishing the interior to resemble a 1930s service station, posting the original gas prices, and installing a couple of antique pumps out front, although not model 60s (They're now too valuable). "It's our biggest attraction at the museum," said Danny, and a popular photo backdrop for visitors with motorcycles and old cars.

The Big Pump.
Service station office inside The Big Pump.

Years after The Big Pump's arrival, King City became the site of Missouri's first commercial wind farm, and in 2011 the Pump got new neighbors: the Tri-County Alternative Energy Education Center, and a pair of 142-foot-long windmill blades as outdoor displays. We asked the Center's young receptionist if she thought it was strange that The Big Pump was on the Alternative Energy Education Center's front lawn. She said that the thought had never occurred to her, and we realized that, like some art that mimics everyday objects, The Big Pump, formerly so cutting edge, is now so old-style that people don't recognize it.

The Big Pump

Tri-County Historical Museum

Address:
604 N. Grand Ave., King City, MO
Directions:
Tri-County Historical Museum. North edge of town. On the east side of N. Grand Ave. just south of its junction with US-169.
Phone:
660-535-4391
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Scrap Metal SculpturesScrap Metal Sculptures, Stanberry, MO - 12 mi.
Ice Cream Cone BuildingIce Cream Cone Building, St. Joseph, MO - 24 mi.
Walter Cronkite Interactive MemorialWalter Cronkite Interactive Memorial, St. Joseph, MO - 25 mi.
In the region:
40th Parallel Marker, White Cloud, KS - 43 mi.

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