Do you ever see an abandoned car and wonder how long it’s been sitting or how it got there?
One of the most photographed sights in the Texas ghost town of Glenrio is an abandoned 1968 Pontiac Catalina that rests in front of the remains of a Texaco gas station. It’s not for sale, and the “Private Property” and no trespassing signs do their best to keep people at a distance. (And yes, I respected them!)
There’s no shortage of old, broken-down cars along old Route 66 – at deserted gas stations, homes, and in empty fields, but this one is different. It has a story.
In my last blog post, I shared a bit about Joe Brownlee’s businesses and family in Glenrio. If you missed it, you can find it here. In that post I mentioned Roxann, Joe’s daughter who grew up helping her father with his Glenrio gas station. It’s that station the Pontiac sits at now.
In 1970 when Roxann was just 19 she married 22-year-old Larry Lee Travis, the quiet young man from the small farming community of Darrouzett. The young couple originally lived in Adrian where his father was the preacher for the Methodist church, but soon moved back to her hometown of Glenrio. By 1975 almost all of the small town’s businesses had closed after the new interstate had bypassed them three years earlier, and Larry and Roxann now had an infant son to support.
The young father approached his former employer, Don Morgan, who closed his own Standard Service Station in Adrian to ask if he could rent the building to run his own station. Morgan, who admired the Larry’s work ethic, agreed.
For six months, Larry climbed into his 1968 Pontiac Catalina and drove 25 miles to Adrian to run the gas station.
These lonely stretches of road could be dangerous, and the previous year local gas, shop and service station owners had formed a vigilante force (encouraged by the local police) to patrol the streets and discourage criminal mischief. The lack of burglaries and robberies while the watch was active proved a success, but the participants decided to disband, thinking the hard times may have passed. By the beginning of 1976, the patrols ceased.
That year on Sunday, March 7ththe 28-year-old father drove his Pontiac to work for the last time. His former boss Morgan called at 7:30 that night to ask if he was prepared to receive and order of fuel, and had a brief conversation with him.
Just about an hour later, 23-year-old Lewis Steven Powell entered the station and demanded the money from the register. Though no one will ever know exactly what went on the in next few moments, Powell made Larry kneel before shooting him in the back of the head. I’ll spare you he gruesome details, as they aren’t necessary to understand the tragedy of the situation.
At 8:45 p.m. two tourists pulled into the gas station to use the self-service pump. They were both made uneasy by the constant barking of Larry’s large white dog just outside the office. When one of them went inside to pay, they found Travis.
The cash drawer and its contents were missing, and Larry’s keys were still in the register.
As a side note, this was the second time Powell had killed in 36 hours, the earlier incident being in Dallas. He was apprehended after a shoot-out with authorities in Colorado. In a plea bargain to escape the death penalty he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life. He was paroled after just seven years, after which he faced a murder charge in Dallas, and a 40-year sentence for assault in Colorado. It’s horrifying that all of theses convictions resulted in only a few years served. As of 2017 he was back in prison for parole violations, after which I could not locate information about him.
The Standard station closed after Larry’s death and no longer exists, although its concrete foundations can be seen via Google maps just one mile east of Adrian.
Larry’s Pontiac Catalina came home to Glenrio where it was parked at the empty station in front of the home in which his young family lived. It sits there to this day, rusting and weather worn, as a silent tribute.
Roxann still lives in the home behind the station, and the barking dogs you will hear if you leave your car in the vicinity are hers.
If you come to Glenrio, please respect the Private Property signs and remember that the Pontiac is more than a photo opp, it’s a piece of Glenrio history.