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Gas, Food, and Lodging--Much More and Somewhat Less

Lunchroom, Idle Inn, Meadville, Missouri

The Idle Inn was one of those roadside finds that appear rarely, and by the 1990s, almost never. It was an intact 1940s-era tourist camp, complete with quaint gas station and tiny café, blind to the changes of a half century, tucked into a sylvan grove along U.S. 36 just south of Meadville, Missouri. I found it in July 1993.

Carol and I were driving east at the end of a western trip, headed toward her folks’ place, planning on dinner that night with them in Illinois, when I spotted the gas station/café at roadside. It was a roadside way-back machine, a complete anachronism. A mile past, I glanced at Carol and said, I need to turn back—I have to check that place out.

The gas pumps were gone, but the tiny café inside was open, and I ordered a coffee and looked around. All was tidy and clean, but I had the feeling we were the first customers the owner, Roger Windell, had seen in a long time. We chatted with him about the Idle Inn. He had owned it for many years (I no longer recall how many) and talked of better days when the cabins were full and the lunch counter teamed with travelers. I could imagine it; I could see it.

I had to photograph the place. I was willing to do almost anything to convince Roger to let me bring in my big cameras. Would he be insulted that I thought his business was quaint, a relic? I told him that I really liked his place, and in an age when so many people head for the sameness of fast food, the Idle Inn was a wonderful change. When I asked, he quickly agreed to my making photographs.

With an eye to the clock, which I swear read local time in 1945, I set up the tripod and made several photographs in the café. Without so much as a glance from me, Carol stepped in to engage Roger, who turned out to be chatty, probably lonely from the lack of business. She’s brilliant—she calculated the angles and knew just were to stand and talk with Roger so neither she nor he would appear in the mirror on the far wall.

With two rolls of now-precious exposed film, I asked Roger for a tour of the premises. What I saw made me certain that I had to come back. Several tiny cabins hid in the trees along a gravel drive amid old signs and painted lawn chairs right out of the post-war years.  

Reader Comments (3)


This piece about the old inn has transported me as your writing so often does. Briefly maybe even momentarily I am with you in a capsule of space and time. Reading this reminds me of how much I delight in hearing you tell almost any story and I miss having more opportunities for hearing more. Lastly this piece reminds of what remarkable artists you and Carol are together. You are a gifted harmony.

With sincere gratitude and best wishes.


November 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Fitzgerald

Years ago this cafe was ran by my great, great grandparents. I have a photo of them behind the counter. Thank you for your wonderful description and photo!!



May 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany Noles

Wow, I just ran across this place yesterday and am thrilled to find more info. I have current photos I would be happy to send.


October 2, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGretchen Hadden

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