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Bill Shea, owner of Shea’s 66 Gas Station Museum, dies at 91 December 14, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, History, Museums, People.
Tags: , ,

Bill Shea, a longtime owner of a gas station in Springfield, Ill., and then curator of a gas-station museum on Route 66, died in his sleep today at age 91, according to a post on the Shea’s Route 66 Museum Facebook page.

Funeral arrangements will be announced later.

Shea started in the gas-station business shortly after leaving the military in 1946. He owned Marathon and Texaco stations in Springfield. Shea was old enough to remember when his section of Route 66 in Springfield was paved with bricks.

Later in his life, Shea converted the Marathon station on Route 66 into a museum filled with gas-station memorabilia. It included a 1920s gas station he moved from Middletown, Ill. Shea greeted many thousands of Route 66 travelers from dozens — perhaps even hundreds — of countries while running his museum.

What was lesser-known was he was a veteran of the D-Day invasion in 1944. Longtime roadie RoadDog passed along this story Shea told about his Omaha Beach experiences:

Bill said he landed on Omaha Beach in a Higgins Boat, the one you see Tom Hanks on in “Saving Private Ryan.” He said that the guys running the boat would always drop that front end way out in the water so that the soldiers would be completely inundated when they stepped off it. That was particularly bad for him, as he was short to begin with.

Making the disembarkation worse was that the Higgins Boat had stopped over some shell craters caused by the huge bombardment that preceded the landings.

He’ll never forget the guy from Louisiana who left the boat when he did. When the two managed to surface, the Louisianan sputtered, “This will be an even easier landing for the bastards behind us because I just drank half the channel.”

Mr. Shea still has sand taken from the beach on D-Day as well as some dragon teeth from an emblem from the German line and rocks from the cliff scaled by US forces at D-Day.

Shea’s military uniform hangs at the museum. According to one blogger who interviewed him, that uniform also was worn by his son, grandson and great-grandson before they went off to the armed services.

Shea was inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame in 1993. Dec. 30, 2011, was declared Bill Shea Day in Springfield in honor of his 90th birthday.

The increasingly frail Shea was admitted to a nursing home last year. His son, Bill Jr., continued to reopen the gas station at 2075 Peoria Road by appointment through the local tourism bureau.

Here is one very good video about Shea from Josh Hester:

Shea’s Route 66 Gas Station Museum from The Storyteller Studios on Vimeo.

The Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway produced another excellent video about Shea:

UPDATE: Kirlin-Egan and Butler Funeral Home in Springfield is in charge of arrangements. Appropriately enough, the funeral home is on Sixth Street (aka Route 66). Full obituary here.

The key parts:

William was a graduate of Springfield High School and served his country in the United States Army during WWII. He is a survivor of D-Day and has revisited Omaha Beach twice in 1984 and 1994 for the 40th and 50th anniversary of D-Day. William was a self-made man. He was the owner and operator of gas stations on Route 66 for over 65 years, which later formed into a museum in 1995. He became known as “the Father of the Mother Road” and known internationally, greeting visitors from over 90 different countries. [...]

He is survived by his wife, Helen Shea of Springfield; one son, William (wife, Rachel) Shea of Springfield; five grandchildren, John W. (wife, Denise) Shea, William C. Shea, Tiffany (husband, Jared) Baker, John W. (wife, Cheri) Harden, and Teresa A. Mayer; four great-grandchildren; Gillian Shea, Jordan Shea, and Clay and Chelby Harden. [...]

Memorial contributions may be made to: Villa Angela, 715 N. 4th St., Springfield, IL 62702.

Shea will be cremated.

A memorial gathering will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the funeral home (map here). A memorial ceremony will be 1 p.m. at the funeral home. Burial will follow at Calvary Cemetery (map here).

UPDATE2: The Springfield State Journal Register published a story about Shea’s life.

(Image of Bill Shea via gobucks2 via Flickr)


1. Ken Youden - December 14, 2013

A true loss for the entire Rt 66 Community!

2. Phelony Jones - December 14, 2013

A Great American of that wise and dedicated generation will miss so much. God speed, Bill.

3. Doc - December 14, 2013

Another American Hero is gone. They are leaving us way to fast
May his museum continue in his memory

4. Sal Paradise - December 14, 2013

Tom Snyder said that Shea was the heart of the movement to restore some meaning to the Route 66 days and what that period meant to American’s social landscape. I stopped in his place several years ago and last saw him during a visit back to Illinois in 2002. Another loss of the old timers. My old friend at the Pig Hip was another of the old gang passing on as well, and taking a treasure of stories and experiences of the Route with them. Bill is and will continue to be missed as the years go by. I hope his son will continue to keep the station open as well.

5. DynoDave - December 15, 2013

R.I.P. Mr. Shea. Thank you for your service to our country, and for being a great ambassador for Springfield, and Route 66.

6. Keith Z - December 18, 2013

I’m proud to have met Mr Shea, his wife and wonderful son. My wife and I spent a couple of hours visiting with them and heard his story on the war. Thanks again for serving our country Mr Shea.

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