Route 66 collection

Educators transform garage into history museum

Pulling into the driveway at the home of Babs and Susie Tims is pretty much like pulling up to any nice home in Pittsburg. Lovely house, nice landscaping, sitting area. Garage. 

Well, you think it’s a garage. Once the doors open, you realize it’s a detached time machine into American history. 

“It’s really about nostalgia,” Susie said.

If you’ve never gotten your kicks on Route 66, just go see Babs and Susie. For more than a decade, their garage has been a living homage to the famous Mother Road, the 2,448 miles between Chicago, Illinois and Santa Monica, California.

“We want it to be a reflection of the Route 66 of yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” Babs said. “We need to make sure it doesn’t just live in the past.”

“It’s really about nostalgia.”

From road signs and posters to an old jukebox and pinball machine, the collection of Americana memorabilia is as transporting as it is impressive. And at the core of all of it: family.

“Our family is one of those historical families you could read about during the Great Depression,” Babs said. “They couldn’t find work, so many of them went west via Route 66 to California. Our mom ended up staying in Kansas, so we became the Kansas family and the rest were the California family.

“Growing up, we would regularly make the trip on Route 66 to go see our California family. That’s really where my interest in Route 66 was first formed.”

Then about 20 years ago, two major life events combined to transform that interest into a full on passion.

Babs and Susie Tims

“I was teaching at USD 250, and this was right around the time when there was a big push for project-based learning,” Babs said. “They really wanted us to use projects to connect kids to lessons and history. Well, that summer before, our mom was nearing the latter stages of her life, and she wanted to take one last trip out to California on Route 66.

“Along the way, mom was talking all about the things we’d see along the route and all of our family memories, and I just started writing everything down as she talked. That’s when I knew my project-based learning topic would be Route 66.”

The garage project – it’s really more like a museum at this point – began in 2011 and quickly became part of her educational lessons. Babs and Susie would welcome school children over to their house to check out the vintage collection and discuss American history through Route 66.

“For Babs and me, this is stuff we remember,” Susie said. “We lived it. But for these kiddos, it’s like ancient history. Many of them have seen some of these things, like our pinball machine, for example. It’s truly a history lesson for them.”

Susie said she always enjoys seeing Babs’ energy for the subject transfer to the students.

“Babs is such an enthusiastic person,” she said, “and you can see her enthusiasm rub off on the kids. Many of them have gone places on Route 66 with their families because Babs got them so excited about it.”

Babs said she’s always touched when she receives photos from trips her students have taken.

“I’ll get texts from former students showing that they’re somewhere along Route 66,” she said. “They’ll ask me if I know where they are, or if I can tell where they’re eating. Things like that. I just love it because it means we’re keeping the spirit of Route 66 alive. 

“If you educate people about it, it will live on.”

And the history lesson doesn’t end with Route 66. Next door in another part of the garage is an homage to another famous path … the Yellow Brick Road. Babs and Susie are quickly building a large collection of Wizard of Oz memorabilia.

“I was going to use that room for storage,” Babs said. “Then I started collecting some Pittsburg historical stuff. Then one day I got a call that someone was going to bring me a bunch of Kansas stuff. And what’s more Kansas than the Wizard of Oz?”

Yellow brick road display