- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2006

SHARPE, Ky. — Keith Holt spent vacations during his childhood looking at roadside attractions around the country. Now he’s turning his home into one.

Mr. Holt and his wife, Diane Karnes, are converting old family property on U.S. 68 west, just south of Paducah in far western Kentucky, into a tourist spot — the Historic Apple Valley Roadside Attraction.

In various stages of completion, the property features an Old West-style storefront with live chickens, potbellied pigs, geese and turkeys. There’s also an old country store, a toy museum and a fake roadside zoo.

Between the store and the zoo, visitors find Hillbilly Gardens, a collection of flowers and plastic pink flamingos; a lawn-mower “ranch” that consists of four push mowers sticking out of the ground in an homage to the famous Cadillac Ranch in Las Vegas; a broken-down minivan with rocking chairs resting on its roof, toilets decorated as tombstones and other bathroom supplies serving as a fountain.

“You need attention to get people to stop,” says Mr. Holt, 45. “As I think of things, I just put them up.”

The idea grew out of the family’s attempt to restore the original Apple Valley store, which has been on the property nearly 80 years. The store belonged to Mr. Holt’s late grandparents, Oral and Myrtle Wallace, who opened a Gulf gas station and roadside stand on the property around the time of the Great Depression. The store remained open through the 1960s.

Mr. Holt and Mrs. Karnes want to make the store a gift shop and museum, selling souvenirs while displaying vintage items from the original store, including old newspapers, signs, gas rationing cards from World War II, bottles and cans. The only item missing from the original look of the store is the gas pump that was once near the road. Mrs. Wallace disposed of it years ago.

“We wish she had left the pump,” says the couple’s son, 14-year-old Ian Holt. “She just wanted it gone.”

Various roadside attractions decorate the property around the store. Signs around an old chicken coop say “Rattlesnakes” and “See the Tigers,” but the fake roadside zoo has only one exhibit so far: a giant fake snake.

Nearby is the “Hillbilly Riding Mower,” an old, rusted bicycle screwed onto a push lawn mower, with dozens of pink flamingos scattered about.

It’s nearly anything and everything Mr. Holt imagined or can visualize once he finds material with which to work.

Well, almost everything.

“He wanted to have a shoe tree, but I put my foot down,” says Mrs. Karnes. “I didn’t want a tree full of shoes out there.”

Other than that one setback, though, Mr. Holt wants to model the property after Tinkertown in Sandia Park, N.M., and other fading roadside attractions and museums — an eye-catching amusement on a long stretch of rural highway.

The homage to Tinkertown can be found in several construction projects on the grounds composed primarily of bottles, including a memorial to Mrs. Wallace.

“We’re hoping she would have liked it,” Ian says.

An 80-by-100-foot walk-through toy museum also is planned for the property. Some of the toys that will be used, including large Western sets and shelves of toys re-creating the battle scenes on the ice planet Hoth in one of the “Star Wars” movies, are being stored in a small garage. Next to it is a semitrailer filled with toys that also will go in the larger museum.

The items decorating the property come from a variety of places. The lawn mowers were used to tame and cut the grass when the family first moved back. Large green letters spelling out “Enter as Tim” — a phrase that doesn’t mean anything — were left over from a store where Mr. Holt’s oldest son, Joshua, works.

“I’m going to try to put as much stuff on display as I can,” Mr. Holt says.

• • •

Hillbilly Gardens: 9351 U.S. 68 west, Sharpe, Ky. The Historic Apple Valley Roadside Attraction is open during daylight hours. Visitors can park out front and knock on the door to the house for a tour. No admission, although donations are accepted. It is about 33 miles west of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Golden Pond, Ky.

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