LEXINGTON — It took a few repeat visits with our own tools but Leroy Wilson finally began to trust us enough to forage into his back salvage lot full of old Volkswagens. It was my son’s first car and my first rebuilding job more than 20 years ago.
The ride between Norman and Wilson’s Volkswagen here was a time of great father-son bonding. It was usually a Saturday morning and a coffee or hot chocolate would get us there. Donuts, too. We got to recognize the different models and years. Even whether they were made in Mexico or Germany.
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One constant over the years was the black Volkswagen Beetle mounted on six spider legs outside the salvage yard, pointing the way to the dirt raceway behind the business. Leroy and Geneva Wilson started the VW salvage and repair business in 1978. The racetrack opened in 1984. Some time along the way he hoisted the old bug on welded legs.
The beetle became an Oklahoma icon, like the Blue Whale in Catoosa, Mount Williams in Norman or the dragon-fly finger near Stratford. Travelers came from long distances to take their picture in Wilson’s parking lot. It became listed in travel brochures.
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“That’s my childhood right there,” says Tim Short, 42, of Norman. He points to his childhood home literally between the river and the highway corner where the bug sits and remembers it always being there even though it’s been moved a couple of times.
Today, the abandoned beetle sculpture sits in a soggy field next to remnants of the salvage yard’s blue fence. It’s the only reminder that hundreds of aging Volkswagens were once parked here, awaiting fathers, sons and others to liberate and reuse their parts.
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Lately, Short and others have noticed the beetle is sinking into the soft soil. It once was as tall as 15 feet off the ground. Now, visitors have to duck their heads to walk under it. He wants to preserve the landmark for future generations.
“I’d like to get it moved and a pad built up around it. There’s a parking lot still there that could be used.”
Short has started a Facebook page, Save the Spider, and has gotten considerable traffic. He wants to enlist the community in saving it.
“You come by here in the summer and people will be out here taking pictures,” he said. “It’s an Oklahoma icon.”
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Any efforts will have to include the state Department of Transportation which owns the right-of-way near where the beetle sits and a private landowner. ODOT plans to complete the widening of U.S. 77 from the Chouteau Creek bridge to Lexington in the not-so-distant future.
Short has reached out to travel groups, motorcycle and VW clubs and anyone who will listen.
“The more people I can get involved the easier it will be to get this done,” he said.
Short thinks the spider with six legs instead of eight reminds him of all the adversity Leroy Wilson faced. He nearly died in an ultralight crash in 1997 and battled back to take part in the Great Race across America. He died in 2000 and Geneva died in 2005.
“It’s kind of like a metaphor for Leroy and Oklahoma and really all of us,” he said. “No matter how much we get beat up, we’re still here.”