SALLISAW — Each day, the 1946 Lincoln Continental Coupe would pass by, and each time, a young Ed Stites would stop what he was doing on the school playground in Sallisaw to marvel. The Lincoln was used as a shuttle for those traveling from Fort Smith, Ark., to catch the train in Sallisaw. "I'd see it go by, and I'd say ‘Some day I'm going to get me one.'” More than a couple of decades later, he did. Stites bought a 1946 Lincoln Continental Coupe in Oklahoma City and drove it home. But the Lincoln had a double hook in it. Stites got hooked on collecting and restoring full-size cars and has had about 40 of those. But the reason for my visit to Ed's Truck Stop was the second hook — children's pedal cars and trucks. Pedal cars and trucks such as those he collects were little steel dreams on wheels. Their "miles-to-the-gallon” was centered on how long the rider's interest and legs could hold out. Last winter, while on another story, I got my first look at a portion of Stites' collection. This portion consists of about 30 pedal cars lining a continuous upper shelf above the truck stop store and the Fig Tree diner. Stites sold the truck stop in 2003, but the cars remained.
Planes to ice cream trucksI use the term "car” in a broad sense when saying pedal cars. In the northeast, as well as southeast, corner of the Sallisaw business are airplanes. In the former a doll sits in an orange and green aircraft bearing a "Betty Boop” decal while in the latter corner a doll sits in a red plane which bears the words "Drink Coca-Cola.” In between are an orange and black dump truck, an "Atomic Missile” and a "Good Humor” ice cream truck, as well as many others. Among them is a red Murray brand fire truck. This is very significant because that was Stites' first purchase. Now he has the 30 or so cars and trucks at the truck stop and about 30 more at his house. He lost some in a fire at the truck stop in 1999. Most of his collection of restored pedal cars dates back to the late 1940s and early 1950s, and he says the values range from about $1,000 to $5,000 each, with some higher and others lower. But he's not selling. Why? "People come in here and they shoot video or take pictures and every one had one like it when they were a kid,” Stites said. However, he didn't.
Out on the farmStites grew up on a farm outside Sallisaw. "I saw pedal cars in the Sears catalog,” he said, "but we thought of those as something for the city kids to ride on sidewalks. I just had a ‘Little Red Wagon' that you could use to pull the dog in and gather firewood with. "But I always wanted a pedal car.” In about 1977, a friend of his mentioned she had a fire engine pedal truck from when she was a child. It had sat in a loft of a garage for many years and collected rust and dust. Well, Stites was accustomed to restoring big cars, so he said he'd give the little truck a try. "We bead blasted it and repainted it and put on new hubcaps and tires,” he said. Not only was she happy with the finished product, but the second hook had been firmly set in Stites. "I found a fire engine just like it at a swap meet in Arkansas,” he said. And then he bought another and another. The collection expanded rapidly as he started displaying them at the truck stop. "Cross-country truck drivers began to bring them in,” he said as he stood in the business, which is just off Interstate 40 in eastern Oklahoma. "Everyone knew of where one was and they brought them in from all over. Sometimes they'd just bring them in and other times they'd send me a picture and then bring them when they came back through.” It's not uncommon for a collector to hesitate to pick out his or her favorite from many items they've gathered. But Stites didn't pause for a second when asked about his favorite pedal car. He pointed past the truck stop checkout counter and through the diner to a green car. "That little Lincoln Zephyr,” he said. Why? "Because it's a Lincoln and Lincolns are what I've liked since I saw that one that went by the playground every day,” he said.
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The "Atomic Missile” is one in a collection of many pedal toys displayed by Ed Stites at a truck stop he formerly owned in Sallisaw. By David McDaniel, THE OKLAHOMAN