Cover image courtesy the Jim Seelen Motel Images Collection.

Sometimes when we take road trips, we start out intending to visit a particular place only to find more interesting things along the way have led us to an entirely different, and often better, destination.

Likewise, the same can be said for some of our road trip destinations – they start out intending to be one thing, but other interesting things happen and they end up being something else better along the way.

Take the Munger-Moss Motel, for example.

It Started as a Sandwich Shop

In 1936 Nelle Munger and her husband, Emmett Moss, decided to open up a sandwich shop along old U.S. Route 66 in Devil’s Elbow, Missouri on the Big Piney River.  For those traveling along the Mother Road, the sandwich shop quickly became a popular roadside stop especially for their famous barbecue.

Munger-Moss Sandwich Shop Postcard c.1939.
Public Domain

Unfortunately, however, their fame didn’t last long as the government came in and changed the route of U.S. 66 in 1942 to better accommodate nearby Fort Leonard Wood’s heavy military traffic.  As a result, business started to wane, so the couple decided to put the Munger-Moss up for sale. In 1945, they sold the business to Jessie and Pete Hudson.

The original Munger-Moss building, now known as the Elbow Inn Bar & BBQ, still sits along Teardrop Road in Devils Elbow. Since 1997, they had been serving up their own brand of sandwiches and barbecue, and it was a favorite with locals, bikers, Fort Leonard Wood soldiers and Route 66 tourists. Sadly, in 2019, there seems to have been some kind of lease dispute between the owners and the operators and the future of the building – like its hundreds of bras stapled to the ceiling – remains up in the air.

Looking for a Little More Elbow Room

In September of 1945, Jessie and Pete Hudson moved the business into an old Chicken Shanty Restaurant along the newly re-routed Highway 66 in Lebanon, Missouri. In 1946, the Hudsons added 14 tourist cabins to the property and the Munger-Moss Tourist Cabins were born.

In the 1950s, the Hudsons renovated the property once again, replacing the individual cabins with multiple rooms under one roof by turning the carports in between into rooms themselves. They also changed the name to the more modern-sounding “Munger-Moss Motel”.

After World War II, there was a great demand for new cars and auto manufacturers returning to civilian production were more than happy to oblige. Returning soldiers wanted to get out and see some of the country they passed by so quickly on their way from one coast to another and off to war. Likewise, folks on the home front were also tired of rationing their fuel and tires and wanted to get out and stretch their legs on the American road, too. Of course, all of this led to an increase in tourism throughout the nation.

Sign of the Times

The Glorious Sign.
Image courtesy the Jim Seelen Motel Images Collection.

With the tourism industry at an all-time high, independent motels began competing with both other independent motels and what would become big hotel chains like the Holiday Inn. To keep up with the competition, the Munger-Moss added amenities like in-room televisions, air conditioning and an outdoor swimming pool. And to compete with a certain chain’s “Great Sign”, the Hudsons added that beautiful piece of aluminum and neon out front that still beckons drivers off of the Mother Road drivers today.

What’s more, when Route 66 was eventually bypassed by the parallel Interstate 44, it had an adverse affect on many roadside businesses along the Mother Road.  From St. Louis, Missouri to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, motels, gas stations, roadside attractions, and even whole towns along the route were simply abandoned. Still, the Munger-Moss Motel managed to survive if only because of its location – it just happened to be only a half-mile from the closest I-44 off-ramp. This meant it was even closer than some of the big hotel chains that were popping up all over the interstate highway. So, while other independents were failing, the Munger-Moss thrived – so much in fact that it added 26 more room in 1961.

Honey, We Bought a Motel

In 1971, the Munger-Moss was bought by Bob and Ramona Lehman who were ready to leave the harsh winters of their native Iowa. After looking at a handful of places around Springfield, Missouri, they stopped for gas in Lebanon and a local realtor took them over to the Munger-Moss. Mr. Hudson showed them around and told them about the history of the motel. A week later the Lehmans made Mr. Hudson an offer which he gladly accepted, and four weeks after that, the Iowans found themselves behind the counter of the Munger-Moss Motel in Lebanon, Missouri. Unfortunately, Bob passed away from cancer in 2019; however, Ramona still carries on both the Munger Moss and the Lehman’s legacy to this day.  

The interior of the Munger-Moss’ rooms were all designed by owner Ramona Lehman.
Image courtesy of Thomas Brian Mold via Facebook.

The motel has 44 rooms and 16 efficiencies all of which come complete with cable TV, free WiFi, free ice, free coffee, and large shaded patio and a CCTV security system. In addition, Ramona personally decorated many of the rooms with enough pictures of people and places taken over the years that each room tells a story all of its own. As they say on their website:  “When you stay at the Munger-Moss, you’re not staying at just any motel; you’re sharing space with a place just as full of history as the road it lies along side of.”

Indeed, you are.

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