The signposts of history hugging the margins of 63rd Street are easy to miss.
The wooden marker that highlights the intersection with the dusty Santa Fe Trail juts awkwardly from the lawn slab in front of a UMB Bank. The ornate metal placard that commemorates Big Blue Battlefield, the site of a Civil War clash, is dwarfed by the 18-wheelers rumbling in and out of a Pepsi distribution center.
In recent years, it has become a Pitch tradition to get out and explore our city, one street at a time. In 2004, we went cruising down Metcalf in Johnson County. The following year, we took a jaunt along State Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. We crossed the Missouri River to North Oak Trafficway in 2006 and returned to the urban-core commerce of Prospect in 2007. Each year, we met colorful characters and discovered untold stories that made us love this cowtown just a little bit more.
This year, as I wandered down 63rd Street, I noticed the hallmarks of history and evidence of the past. I saw the packed parking lot at Fox's Drug Store, where the sign thanks customers for 70 years of patronage. From behind a rusted, chain-link fence, I surveyed the old 63rd Street Drive-In, now scattered with the skeleton scaffolding that hosts a weekly swap meet. I peered in the windows of an eerie, still-vacant building that's nearly swallowed by vines, where John and Mildred Caylor were murdered in their Bible store in 2004.
But 63rd Street, from Raytown to Mission Hills, still pulses with living history hidden in plain sight.
The other cars in the parking lot leave a wide berth for Dave Wehner. His vehicle is out of context with the Curves fitness center, the Apple Supermarket and the very notion of a strip mall.
Inside Ginger's Restaurant, Wehner is the center of conversation, standing in the middle of a dining area that smells of buttered toast and pumpkin-spice candles. Inside this 40-year-old institution, folks are finishing off their biscuits and gravy, lazily drawing out their conversations to fill their retirement days. None seem surprised that Wehner has arrived in a black buggy made of wood — a horseless carriage propelled by an early 20th-century engine.
"It does a whopping 17 miles per hour," Wehner says, sarcasm thinly disguising his pride.
He's been fixing up hot rods for nearly 35 years. His father was a gearhead, he says, inspiring Wehner's love of cars. His first project was rebuilding a 1965 Mustang. There would be plenty of others — a 1939 Ford Coupe, the horseless carriage at a car show in Drexel. He sees one and has to have it.
The waitress, Dede Meade, breezes by as the men chat. Always in motion, she chirps greetings to regular patrons and addresses strangers as "darling" or "sweet pea." She's been coming to Ginger's since she was pregnant with her son. He's turning 30 this year.
Without stopping her rounds, she joins their conversation for a second.
"You took that golf cart and made it into a fire engine," she says to Wehner. "That was my favorite one."
Wehner smiles. That one was a beauty. He added a ladder, sirens, lights, the whole shebang. The guys from the Raytown Fire Department took it for a spin on the greens during a charity golf tournament in 1997.
Today, though, Wehner is cruising in the horseless carriage. It's an odd vehicle to classify, and Wehner says he needs to find out what kind of license plate will let him "scoot" legally down Raytown's side streets.