This Flying By on the Interstate Has Got to Stop

 – By

Golden West Communications Newsletter
September 20, 2006

A.J. Geisler was selling gasoline at his Phillips 66 Station in Murdo, SD for 30 cents a gallon and vertical fender fins were still a year away from appearing on the 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air when President Eisenhower signed into law the bill creating the nation’s Interstate Highway system.

At the same time, a group of scientists and engineers were putting into place the makings for a very different highway of their own, an electronic highway that would decades later bring another type of traveler to the Geisler’s business.

Today, thanks to the vision of President Eisenhower and those early day academicians, you can slice through South Dakota in a matter of hours on Interstate 90 or you can go around the world via the Internet in a matter of seconds. Either way, you can stop and visit the Geisler’s Phillips 66 station that has, like the two-lane highways, undergone a transformation of its own.

“The Big Variety Show,” as the Pioneer Auto Show is billed, began 52 years ago as a gimmick for stopping travelers on what would become Interstate 90, thanks to Eisenhower’s action. Businessman A.J. Geisler, known to all as Dick, came up with the idea to pull motorists to his Phillips 66 gas station by parking a few old cars in its parking lot, including a 1913 Ford peddler’s wagon that’s still on display today. Lured by the classic cars, visitors stopped to take a look. While they were there, they filled up their tanks as well.

Today the cars remain the stars, although they’re just part of a collection that spans 10 acres and 42 buildings, and that runs the gamut from apothecary items to typewriters. There are lunch pails, cameras, gas pumps, clocks and watches, rocks and gems—you name it there’s a good chance you’ll find it on display at Pioneer Auto Show. “There’s stuff you won’t see anywhere else,” says Dave Geisler, Dick’s son, who today runs the “big show” along with son David. “All of it’s truly worth more than the cars, but everyone forgets about the other stuff.”

While you’d definitely have to visit the Pioneer Auto Show in person to get the full “big show” experience, you can get a glimpse of what it’s all about on the Auto Show’s web site, too. It’s been up and running for about a year and a half, and Dave says, it’s and essential element to doing business today. “You got to do it, especially if you’re in rural South Dakota. We don’t have a lot of people here, right? So you have to be able to reach out.”

Visitors to the web site can follow links to information on every aspect of the Auto Show, including its collections and other attractions like the Prairie Town—complete with jail house, fire station, homesteader’s shack and the original Murdo Bank—and the Auto Show’s café and gift shop. Also available is information on the Auto Show’s annual auto auction, an extremely popular event held every May, and a list of cars for sale. A recent visit to the site revealed a super-sweet 1956 T-Bird and a 1935 Ford Roadster pickup ripe for restoring. Soon, visitors will be able to make online purchases from the Auto Show’s Hallmark Gift Shop. “An online shopping cart is definitely a goal,” Dave adds. “We’ve only begun to scratch the surface. We get quite a few hits every day; it opens up a whole world to you right here in South Dakota.”

Internet communications are increasingly playing a larger role in other parts of the business as well. “People contact us from all over,” Dave says. “We’re very well known after 52 years, and lots of them call us, but they contact us over the Internet too. A lot of older people who have older cars aren’t Internet savvy, but it’s getting close to 50/50, phone calls and emails. We spend about an hour a day answering emails from all over the world.

Internet connections are also giving the next generation of highway travelers another reason to stop by the Auto Show. “We fell it’s so important that we have a special road sign to bring people off the road to use our internet, it’s definitely a hook,” Dave says. “We have a big sign on the road that says “free internet,” and a little kiosk in our place, and there’s someone on it most of the time. Motels have it, lots of people use it, we think if we can get them here, they’ll stay and shop around.”

So remember the Pioneer Auto Show the next time you find yourself flying down the interstate at 75 miles and hour. Take your foot off the accelerator at mile marker 190 and spend a few hours traveling back in time because as Dave puts it, “this flying by on the interstate crap has got to stop”. Who knows, you may just drive home in a 1956 T-Bird and at the very least, you’ll be able to check your email.


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