Sterling’s Hillbilly Store: Historic Route 66

Sterling's Hillbilly Store: Historic Route 66

Sterling’s Hillbilly Store was a landmark for generations of families and travelers on The Mother Road near Hooker, Missouri in Pulaski County USA. The business adapted to the changes of Route 66 and was located in four different venues throughout the years. Today, the famous “Hillbilly” sign still greets drivers as they travel the Main Street of America at the Mule Trading Post in Phelps County. Members of the Wells family continue the family tradition of basket weaving and one of their baskets can be seen on display in an exhibit at the John B. Mahaffey Museum on Fort Leonard Wood.

To learn more about Hooker, Missouri on Route 66 in Pulaski County please view the Old Settlers Gazette 2011 edition which can be found here:

To learn more about the life of entrepreneur Sterling Wells please read the Old Settlers Gazette 2008 article which can be found here:

To obtain turn by turn directions of historic Route 66 visit:

To learn more about the John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex on Fort Leonard Wood please visit:

10 thoughts on “Sterling’s Hillbilly Store: Historic Route 66

  1. I love looking at the older pictures! Can you imagine the frenzy now a days with 19 cent hamburgers!

  2. The sign in your postcard is now at Hillbilly Junction in Willow Springs — not the Mule Trading Post. The sign at the Mule Trading Post is much larger. That sign was built in 1981 and installed at the newer store in Wayneville.

    • Thanks for the clarification- I should have specified that the Hillbilly Store sign at the Mule Trading Post is from the third location of the Hillbilly Store at Highway 28 and Interstate 44. I have always wondered where the one from the second location (pictured) ended up at- glad to hear that it is still “waving” at travelers. Autumn Eve, an antiques and uniques store, has opened up in the location pictured on the postcard. Please take a moment to visit them your next time through! Thanks again! —Laura

      • Hillbilly Junction in Willow Springs seems to be closed now. The phone is disconnected and the hillbilly sign is missing his arms. I didn’t know there were three of these signs. So, if the Mule Trading Post is from the third location and the Willow Springs sign is from the second location — where was the first location and where is that sign now?

      • Missing his arms? Oh no! That is very sad. I believe that there were only two of the “Hillbilly” signs between the four locations. The one that you identified at Willow Springs is from the first sign from the second location. The one at Mule Trading Post in Phelps County on Interstate 44 is the second sign that was placed at the third location. I do not think that the first location (very near the second location in the Hooker area of Route 66) or the fourth location at Buckhorn (I-44 Exit 153) had that style of sign. I am going to share this conversation with Sherry Wells Ernst to see if she has any insight. You can read more about Sterling Wells and his Hillbilly Stores at:

        Click to access Sterlingwells.pdf


  3. Laura: I am looking for information about hillbilly style whirligigs for a folk art book I am working on. I have seen numerous small hillbilly whirligigs that look like miniatures of the large hillbilly signs. They are made of wood, have a floppy hat, painted with overalls and have waving arms just like the large hillbilly signs. Most I have seen are usually about 12 or 13 inches tall. I am trying to find out if these type small whirligigs were ever sold in the Hillbilly Junction or Mule Trading Post stores? Are or were they possibly made in the Pulaski or Phelps County area? I have never seen one with a name stamped on it but I sure would like to give the maker some credit for these. They are very entertaining. Thanks – Randy

    • Randy- I would suggest reaching out to Sherry Wells Ernst for details on items that might have been sold in Sterling Wells’ Hillbilly Store. She can be reached at Skyline Honda Yamaha in Waynesville at 573.774.2008. For information on items sold at Mule Trading Post I would contact the Carl & Zelma Smith at The Mule Trading Post. The number is 573.364.4711. Terry & Jan Primas with the Old Stagecoach Stop Museum and Foundation in Waynesville will also be a good resource. Jan can be reached at 573 435-6766. Pulaski County Museum & Historical Society is also a good resource. Their current president is Denise Seevers and she can be reached at 573.855.3644. I hope that this helps! —Laura

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