There was never much to do in Yeehaw Junction.
Despite the prominent signs pointing the way from Florida’s Turnpike, Yeehaw has been mostly a crossroads. A few motels and bars. A travel center to buy discounted theme park tickets. A ranch-lined road toward Vero Beach to the east and Lake Wales and Tampa to the west.
Now, except for a couple of gas stations (and to the relief of travelers, accompanying restrooms), the most exciting thing about Yeehaw Junction is the name. And maybe the wonder about what this place is, or was, all about.
Yeehaw was last in the news when a truck crashed into a historic inn back in 2019, leaving the bombed-out-looking remains for all to see on their way somewhere. Even the once-colorful “Welcome to Yeehaw” mural is a faded relic.
But despite its sad appearance, Yeehaw Junction has history. Yes, it’s always been a crossroads. But there was more: the legend and the stories.
So let’s look back at the colorful past of Yeehaw Junction as a place more than just a road-trip pit stop at the mini-mart.
From the Miami Herald archives:
Yeehaw Junction as a crossroad
Published June 18, 1984
That’s right, YEE HAW! Go ahead, laugh. Most folks here do just that when asked about life in this asininely named, overgrown truckstop of a town on Florida’s Turnpike.
“I’ll tell you what they do out here,” says Jay Zeller, a potato chip distributor from Okeechobee who passes through town once a week. “For excitement they go down to the gas station and watch the grease rack go up and down. They do that and they go to bed and fine-tune the TV.”
Pity poor Yeehaw, as the natives call it. This mite-sized clear circle on the map is the Rodney Dangerfield of Florida’s small towns. Truckers call the town Jackass Junction because of the mules that reside behind a local restaurant. Deputies sometimes refer to it as Junkie Junction because of the area’s reputation as a secluded rendezvous for drug dealers.
Clearly, Yeehaw gets no respect.
“I wouldn’t live here,” says Judy Mullican, another Okeechobee resident who works as a waitress in the Keystop restaurant, gas station and gift shop. “There’s nothing here. No school. No stores. No nothin’.
“When 11 o’clock comes, I’m gone,” she says with a snap of her fingers.
Yeehaw Junction is not really a town. Even though it has about 200 residents, the area is but an unincorporated square mile of motels, gas stations, truck stops, souvenir shops and a small subdivision of trailers and homes called Central Acres.
Situated in sparsely populated farmland in extreme southeast Osceola County, Yeehaw exists 32 miles west of Vero Beach, 30 miles north of Okeechobee and 50 miles south St. Cloud, at the junction of the turnpike, U.S. 441 and State Road 60.
Despite this isolation, the town is famous. Every year, millions driving to and from South Florida spot signs for Yeehaw or see the stange name on the turnpike toll tickets for Exit 60. Moreover, when driving across the state on Sta the state on State Road 60, the dusty Yeehaw intersection is unavoidable.
“It’s a crossroad,” says trucker Clyde Padgett. “You can’t miss it even if you wanted to.”
“It’s an oasis in the middle of swamps,” says Johnny Royal, another trucker. “It’s one of the most convenient places in the world to stop. It’s in just the right place.”
Yeehaw Junction’s name has a convoluted past. Legend has it that Yee Haw means wolf in an Indian dialect, and that a town near Vero Beach was once called Yee Haw because of wolfpacks that roamed the area.
In the 1930s, a Florida East Coast Railway station, Wilson’s Corners, stood where Yeehaw now thrives. The area soon became known as the Crossroads. But the town was often referred to as Jackass Junction, because the owners of the Desert Inn, a local restaurant, kept donkeys in their back yard.
About 10 years later, officials from the Greyhound bus line stopped by the Desert Inn. They were researching a roadmap, and told innkeepers their town needed an official name. Some local folks suggested Yee Haw Junction, combining the heritage of Yee Haw with Jackass Junction.
When the turnpike came through in the 1950s, state officials wanted the town called Crossroads again. But local cattle barons rebelled, threatening to bring back the Jackass title.
Yeehaw, by this time spelled as one word, became the compromise, although Jackass Junction is still heard on some CBs.
“I was up in Maine once, and I was talking on the CB when some trucker asked me what my handle was,” says Bill McCarthy, the manager of the Desert Inn. “I told him ‘Innkeeper,’ and that I was from Florida, and he said, ‘You’re not the innkeeper from the Desert Inn in Jackass Junction are you?’ “
Then there is the fourth name for Yeehaw, though few folks use it: Junkie Junction.
“Nothing to do around here but go smoke a joint,” says waitress Mullican. “That’s what the kids do. They’re potheads, the kids, a lot of them, just sit around and get high.”
“This always has been a wild and woolly place. There used to be a lot of poaching, deer poaching in the area,” says McCarthy. “The sheriff wouldn’t even come out here. Hell, this was the a–hole of the county. This still is a big place for dope. They fly in all around here.”
Local law enforcement agencies don’t deny the town’s reputation.
“We have our share of them out there,” says Lt. Fred Sailor of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department. “It’s been called a gathering place for dopers. There are airstrips all over.” Besides drug smuggling, there are other ways to make a buck in Yeehaw. Many of the 150 or so Central Acres subdivision residents work in the Junction as waitresses, cashiers or motel clerks. A few others live in the motels or above the stores.
Most of the land surrounding the town is owned by cattle ranchers. This, some Yeehaw folks say, is the reason there may never be a Yeehaw City.
“Those old ranchers will never sell their land,” says Royal, the trucker. “You’ll never see Yeehaw grow any bigger than this.”
“When we came here, Central Acres only had a few trailers. Now, there are 45,” says Gladys Boerst, another waitress at the Keystop. “It’s really getting built up. They were going to put a 7-Eleven and a McDonald’s in here once. They did the surveys. Then decided not to.”
That suits some folks fine.
“I hope they never get a shopping center here,” says Zeller, the potato chip salesman. “Look what’s happened to Okeechobee. Progress? Bah. I’d like it like it was 20 years ago.”
As Zeller speaks, a young woman in a frilly miniskirt walks in the Easy Stop store. She’s April Byron, a backup singer with the Bee Gees, traveling from Miami to Nashville.
“I was about to run out of gas,” says Byron, an Australian.
She describes Yeehaw as “halfway outback.”
“It looks like Marrabel. Yes, Marrabel,” she says comparing it to an Australian town. “But they have a rodeo there.”
There’s a steady stream of truck traffic rumbling down the two roads, halting at the point where they intersect, breaking the rural silence with the blasts of their exhausts.
Lining the roads, the 20 or so commercial buildings appear washed out from the sun and the dust. There are no sidewalks and few pedestrians to use them.
Behind the cash register in one of the stores sits Mike Phillips, 18, who recently moved here from Colorado. He has potato chips, soft drinks and chewing tobacco, but no customers. Phillips is bored.
“Nothin’ to do he
re but go to bed,” he says. “I went down to Fort Pierce. That was OK.”
“There isn’t no entertainment, really,” says Mullican. “There used to be a Holiday Inn, and they had stuff like bands and dances. No more.”
Signs of life do exist here. Over in the Desert Inn, rubber spiders hang from the ceiling on strings. Waitresses lower them into diners faces at the most unsuspecting moments.
There’s also the bar at the Econolodge.
“It is very quiet here,” says motel manager Shamin Khan. “We get travelers off the road who are tired. Sometimes some fishermen with the lakes around here. Hardly anyone ever stays more than a day.”
There’s a church here, too. It’s called the First Baptist Missionary Church of Yeehaw. But there’s no government, no fire department, one sheriff’s deputy and no school. The handful of children who live here are bused 50 miles each way to St. Cloud.
The future and the hope of Yeehaw lies with the inevitable widening of State Road 60 to four lanes, although the wild dream of the town is to someday have a high-speed train zoom through and make a commuter stop here.
“That bullet train, it has got to go somewhere around here,” says Yeehaw resident Mary White, a cashier at the Easy Stop. “If it does, I suppose we could be a big town, eh?”
In the meantime, some folks around here contemplate a possible cutback in turnpike business once the last link of I-95 goes into place south of Port St. Lucie in 1988.
“It’ll hurt some. They won’t have to pay the toll anymore,” Boerst says. “But it will hurt more farther south.”
Fifty years ago, this part of Florida’s cattle county had dozens of small settlements like Yeehaw in the area. They were little towns with names like Nittaw, Illahaw, Kenansville, Lokosee and Holopaw. Most are gone now.
“I don’t know if Yeehaw will grow anymore,” says Boerst. “If it does, it’ll be years from now. We won’t be here.”
“Oh, someday, we might get a shopping center here,” says White over at the Easy Stop. “That’s what they call progress. Right?”
Close to nowhere
Published Nov. 6, 2006 via AP
This is about as close to nowhere as it gets in quickly sprawling Florida.
Just off Florida’s Turnpike, Yeehaw Junction consists of two gas stations, two shops hawking theme-park tickets, a hotel so sleepy roosters run free and tens of miles between here and civilization. But where you see nowhere, Anthony Pugliese III sees Destiny.
That’s the name of the new city the South Florida developer is planning, where overgrown brush and cattle pasture now spread wide. Within 25 years, he and billionaire partner and Subway founder Fred DeLuca envision a biotechnology hub, 40 miles of navigable lakes, a sustainable energy source and some 150,000 people.
Pugliese says it will be Florida’s first eco-sustainable city and has secured 41,000 barren acres about 75 miles south of Orlando on which to build it. The plan still requires government approval, and it would be years before ground is broken, but the state’s population grows by about 300,000 people every year so there could be a market.
“What we’re really trying to do is create a model city,” Pugliese says. “Rather than just going out here, digging a bunch of holes in the ground and putting a bunch of buildings on there for retirees, we basically want to create a city that is environmentally sensitive to its surroundings. We will be basically keeping about half the property as natural.”
The land sits at the nexus of three major thoroughfares, making it ideal for a distribution center and manufacturing plants that could employ some of Destiny’s workforce.
But as it sits now, the most remarkable thing about the property is that there’s nothing remarkable about it. Decades ago, Yeehaw Junction was a place for range-minding cowboys to dine, drink and dance. It has evolved into an inside joke for Floridians, who are entreated by dozens of highway billboards counting down the distance every few miles and promising a free lottery ticket with purchase of theme park packages at the timeshare-pushing clearinghouses.
Pugliese said his wife was incredulous when he made the deal to buy the initial 27,400 acres at about $5,000 an acre last year – a $137 million investment. She joked she wouldn’t even stop for gas there.
The cattlemen who still make their living the Old Florida way say they are disappointed, but not surprised, that change is on the horizon. Varley Grantham, who runs Triple S Cattle, said it probably won’t be long before there’s a solid belt of houses and cities stretching from St. Petersburg on the Gulf to Vero Beach on the Atlantic.
“I think there are a lot of issues, but I think it’s inevitable that you’re going to have developments like Destiny,” Grantham says.
Environmental groups are keeping a wary eye on Destiny, as with all major developments, but say the early signs are promising because Pugliese’s plan would preserve so much natural space.
“We’re optimistic, but that may not ultimately be what happens,” said Charles Lee, advocacy director for Audubon of Florida.
Pugliese plans to offer homes from $100,000 into the millions, as well as apartments. This is by far Pugliese’s biggest undertaking.
Pugliese skipped college to help his laid-off father start a pool business in his native New Jersey at age 17, and at 21 penned a design that made the family a fortune – a residential pool that looks like a lake. Orange, N.J.-based Pugliese pools is selling the same thing today, almost 40 years later.
Perhaps wealth’s greatest affect on Pugliese has been his ability to amass a collection of obscure pop culture items. He says it includes the gun Jack Ruby used to kill Lee Harvey Oswald, the leather jacket James Dean wore when he died and the suit John Lennon wore on the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album cover.
Those all might someday be on display in a Destiny museum, one of a handful of possible attractions to entice Orlando’s more than 50 million annual tourists to visit.
The rotund, mustached and calm-speaking developer also envisions a longevity spa like the one Pugliese visits, where he receives twice-weekly intravenous vitamin injections and plans for healthier living.
Still, there is a long road ahead before Pugliese’s vision comes to life. He expects to spend the few years going through the approval process, but says crews might in that time be able to break ground on a city center and university research park.
Destiny will need its own water and sewer system, fire and police force and even government. And Pugliese still needs to persuade a bio research firm and universities to locate branches there, a competitive process typically requiring hundreds of millions in upfront incentives.
Published June 12, 1994 via Phil Long
Lugging 25 tons of fresh oranges from Fort Piece to a cannery in Auburndale, Bob Giles rolled into the tiny parking lot on the south side of the Desert Inn and set the noisy air brakes of his 18-wheeler.
Cheerless gray skies pitched droplets on his baseball cap as he hurried through glass doors and crossed the threshold into another era.
Like the mule drivers who hauled lumber and supplies in and out of these parts more than a hundred years ago, Giles finds at the Desert Inn strong coffee, rough-hewn fellowship and, of course, gatorburgers. Yep, made from real alligators.
But one day last week he found something else: a new sign draped across the sagging joists of this landmark that proclaimed, “National Register of Historic Places.”
Like 62,000 other relics so designated in the 50 states – including 930 in Florida – the Desert Inn has a new touch of class, a footnote in history.
“To me it’s the nostalgia, the charm, just the fact that it’s away from the rat race,” Giles says, stopping to take a long pull on a glass of chestnut–colored iced tea. “There’s an awful lot of history in these walls.”
That’s what state and federal historians liked too.
“A building or a place can represent a lifestyle,” said Suzanne P. Walker, a state historian who helped get the inn put on the list. “Just as important as the architecture is that the place tells us about social culture, about how people lived and worked.”
About 200 souls call Yeehaw Junction home. Born in the 1850s, it eventually became a trading post for cattle drivers and lumber cutters. It didn’t get its name until much later when its original name of “Jackass Crossing” became a bit much for the map makers.
The inn has existed since about 1880, proprietor Beverly Ziecheck estimates. “If these walls could talk,” she laughs. Rising 2 1/2 stories above the prairies and pinelands of southern Osceola County, the white clapboard is the tallest structure around. Out back is a small lot with a few mules and horses. Six motel rooms stretch across the back of the lot.
Yeehaw is 32 miles west of Vero Beach. At the turn of the century, cattle drivers would rest their horses with the mules behind the inn. Lumber cutters, road builders, soldiers and farmers have danced on its floors and dined on frog legs and catfish. Today the inn is a watering hole to a new breed of cowboys in four-wheel-drive Fords and Chevys. This is a bar where men in boots and dusty jeans down straight shots of Jack Daniels next to tourists in jogging suits who sip wine coolers. It’s open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. but it’s hard to tell time because the inn’s only clock ticks backward.
A trip to Yeehaw Junction
Published Dec. 25, 1993 via Michael Browning
A trip from Two Egg to Yeehaw Junction, along Florida’s Gulf Coast and deep inland, is punctuated by scenes of glorious natural beauty, simple human warmth and piety, down-home humor, wondrous lights and decorations.
There are the crimson and gold glow of holiday lights in Newberry and High Springs; the bright outswept blue of the empty Gulf of Mexico at Yankeetown; the coppery glamour of late autumn cypress trees beside the Ochlockonee River near Carrabelle; and the airy plains of palmettos and blackjack oaks south of Holopaw, stretching for rustling, green miles under a dome of serene blue sky, with no freck nor flaw of cloud.
At the Riverland Cafe Barbecue, at the Highway 98 turnoff to Inglis-Yankeetown, is a sign proclaiming: “ON DANCER! ON PRANCER! ON PORKY!”
Along the road, uplifting, are churches with celestial names, like the Macedonia Church of Christ Written in Heaven in tiny Sopchoppy, and the Fisherman’s Chapel in Crystal River, whose sign says simply: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS! COME AS YOU ARE!”
Lawrence’s Grocery in Two Egg is where you can buy Robert E. Long’s special cane syrup, locally made, and Hoover’s Country Water Ground Style Hush Puppy Mix, milled on Wright Creek in nearby Bonifay.
Two Egg has one of the oddest names of any place in Florida, and there is no one explanation of how this settlement of 24 souls came by its title. It used to be known as Allison.
Nell Lawrence King, who has run the 65-year-old country store for the past 21 years, has a list of possible origins for Two Egg. One story has it that a traveling salesman was standing in a store here in the 1920s, trying to drum up orders, when a boy came in with two eggs in his hand.
“Momma wants one egg’s worth of bladder snuff and one egg’s worth of ball potash,” the boy told the shopkeeper. The salesman was filled with despair. “Who can sell anything in this two-egg town?” he moaned.
King keeps a visitor’s book behind the counter and one of the signees is actress Faye Dunaway, who was born in nearby Bascom and came back for a look at her old neighborhood on Sept. 2, 1992. “Faye Dunaway, Beverly Hills,” the elaborate signature reads.
“I recognized her right away,” King says smugly.
“We’ll be open Christmas Eve, but closed Christmas day,” she went on. She opens at 6:30 ost mornings, because schoolchildren catch the bus right outside the grocery. She c
loses at 7 each evening. A small Christmas tree is on the counter, next to the jars of penny candy and three-cent Tootsie Rolls. At $9.95 apiece, Two Egg T-shirts make remarkable Christmas gifts. King has shipped them to places as far away as Guam.
“We need more repairmen of the Lord in this country,” bawls a gospel radio station near Fort Walton Beach.
“Elijah was the repairman of the altar of the Lord! Most pastors in this country are like the Maytag repairman! They stay in their offices all day long! They are not willing to take the Word out door-to-door! They will stand by and watch souls go to hell!”
Apalachicola is a paradise of oysters and ice. Every ice- making machine in the world is descended from the one invented here by Dr. John Gorrie in 1844 (a replica is on display at a museum in town; the original is in the Smithsonian) and Apalachicola Bay oysters, packed in ice and shipped all over the country, are freshest here.
The old Gibson Inn dates back to 1907, and its cozy wood- floored lobby is a glory of Christmas lights and ribbons, with an electric train running ‘round an elaborately decorated Christmas tree and cotton-fluffed snow scenes on every shelf. Apalachicola was once the third-largest cotton port in America, shipping 55,000 bales a year before the Civil War.
John Lee edits The Apalachicola Times and says the town numbers about 3,000 people — “although we lie about our size so, it’s dreadful,” he confides. Lee reveals the town’s running joke at Christmastime: A plywood cow, four feet high and eight feet long, painted white and dappled with dark spots. The cow migrates all over Apalachicola this time of year.
“It’s a spotted cow all right,” Lee laughs. “It’s been spotted all over town. It’s been on the Junior Food Store roof. It’s been seen grazing in the bushes outside of Trinity Episcopal Church. It just roams Apalachicola at night. Nobody sees it moving. They just see it showing up.”
Beyond the dark-flowing Aucilla River, in whose peaty depths mastodon bones and woolly mammoth tusks from the Ice Age have been found by divers, lies Taylor County. There are many liquor stores in Perry, the county seat, not because the people here are overly bibulous, but because neighboring Madison county is dry. Madison residents desirous of stiffening their holiday eggnogs come to Perry.
Taylor County’s coastline was hammered hard by a freak storm last March 13, which unleashed a 12-foot surge and 120-mph winds against the coastline. Dekle Beach was practically obliterated, and nearby Keaton Beach was nearly as badly hit.
Martha and Bill Hargesheimer run the Keaton Beach Hot Dog Stand, the only restaurant for 20 miles. The whole shebang was blown away last March, save for one wall, but it has been rebuilt since, and the Hargesheimers have set up a Christmas tree inside, decorated with sand dollars and horseshoe crab shells and mermaid’s purses.
The storm killed 10 people along Taylor County’s coastline. Whole houses blew down and floated away. One came to rest athwart the highway and had to be sawn into three pieces to be removed. Local people called it the “triplex apartment.”
“We’re just going to have a quiet Christmas this year,” Martha Hargesheimer said. “We’re just glad to have come through the storm and to have rebuilt. We’re the only restaurant left open on Keaton Beach, and I’ve been busy every day, seven days a week. I don’t know when I’ll do my Christmas shopping.”
On bright mornings, Bill Hargesheimer can be seen feeding bread crumbs to the sea gulls on the wing above his restaurant. He laughs at their antics. The brilliant blue Gulf shines to the south. The sunsets here are tremendous.
At 4 p.m. on Dec. 19, Pastor Alan Patz of the First United Methodist Church in High Springs set off with his flock of 36 carolers in a yellow school bus borrowed from a local Baptist church. At every stop the carolers assured onlookers they weren’t really Baptists. Then they sang Silent Night, and We Wish You A Merry Christmas.
“It’s a great time of year,” Pastor Patz said. “I’ve been preaching about the awesome idea of Christmas, of God coming forth.
“This Christmas Eve, I’ll be talking about prophecies about people who walk in darkness will see a great light; and a great light will come into the world and dispel the darkness; and that light is Christ.”
Landrum and Elizabeth Chew were among the people serenaded. “It was a surprise to us,” Landrum Chew said afterward. “It was real good. Me and my wife, we are alone here now, and we are hoping to have a nice Christmas and stay well. The music was just fine.”
Janie Richardson played a guitar for accompaniment. Her husband, James, held a flashlight so she could see the music in the Methodist hymnal. At some houses the carolers found fellow- Methodists in poor health. In these cases, they would not only sing, but gather around and hold hands and pray together for the occupants. Afterwards the pastor and his songbirds gathered at the house of Gene and Mary Hamm, who own a local flower shop, for a bonfire and wiener roast. Mary Hamm hustled about supervising the cookout, stray wisps of gray hair poking out from beneath her knit cap.
The fire burned so hot that the children ransacked the nearby pine woods for longer and longer sticks on which to impale their frankfurters. Some of these were so long they bowed like bamboo poles under the weight of a single wiener, and occasionally the meat fell off the stick and into the flames, hissing like a soul damned to hell. Dessert was roasted marshmallows, carrot cake and Rice-Krispy toffee. Overhead, the constellation of Orion wheeled slowly up in the chilly December sky, and the air was scented with pine needles and resinous wood smoke.
Highway 192 between Kissimmee and Melbourne is a line of surprisingly natural, beautiful green set between horrible parentheses of neon. The stretch of the highway near Walt Disney World has been martyred by fast food joints, miniature golf courses, go-cart tracks, T-shirt outlets and fantasy theme parks dedicated to the Middle Ages or the Wild West. The end that fetches up in Melbourne is just as ugly and crowded, with a Hooters bar, a striptease lounge called “Bare Assets” and a purple-painted carpet outlet.
Between these two vulgar Cities of the Plain, however, the highway is one of the handsomest roads in Florida, with wide grasslands spiked with saw palmettos and sabal palms and distant stands of ghostly cypresses that the 1935 WPA Guide to Florida calls “cloudlike.” Not a sign, and scarcely a shop or dwelling, disfigures the entire route.
About 35 miles east of Holopaw is Yeehaw Junction, formerly known as Jackass Crossing. “Yeehaw” is Seminole for “wolf,” and the Desert Inn has been in business here since the 1880s. It’s a homey place with wooden floors and a menu that includes alligator tail, turtle and frogs’ legs.
Lately there is more than Christmas in the air here. Several weeks ago a nearby chicken farm began spreading chicken manure – no one here calls it “manure” – over its 900-acre property to get rid of the stuff. The smell can be overpowering. People no longer linger fondly in Yeehaw Junction.
“You take dog, cat, pig and cow manure and mix ‘em all up and add the smell of burnt feathers, and that’s what 900 acres of fresh chicken—- smells like!” exclaims Donna Casey, a waitress at the Desert Inn. “It’ll make your eyes water, it’s so bad. We’ve had people get up and leave in the middle of lunch, saying, ‘I’m sorry, I just can’t stand it here.’
“My tips are down to about $3 a day ever since this chicken thing started,” she complains. “We’ve lost customers right and left. We’re hoping to get a band in here Christmas Eve to pep things up some, but you can’t figh
t that smell once it’s in the air.
“All we want for Christmas is for the chicken—- to go away for good. Is that asking too much?”
An air of finality invests the Levy County landfill near Bronson, far to the north. This is where Christmas will end up, after Christmas is over. Wrapping paper, tinsel, broken ornaments, crumpled stars, shorted-out lights and dead Christmas trees – all of them for miles around have an appointment here.
Sarah Miller, who works at the landfill, is determined to keep a bit of holiday cheer year-round. She has rescued some of the nicer artificial Christmas trees and set them up with decorations at the lip of the landfill. She is an interesting and original woman, who in her spare time raises chihuahuas, dresses them in costumes and takes them to perform at nursing homes and orphanages.
Sometimes she finds treasures in the debris. “I saw a whole box of egg cartons thrown out here once and it smelled fine, so I opened it up. Do you know what was inside?
“Dozens and dozens of little golden angels.”
Yeehaw as travel center
Published April 18, 1992 via Lore Croghan
Turnpike teasers are sprouting along the highway in Palm Beach County, gold-lettered billboards promising the best hotel bargains and the cheapest gasoline. Drawing you toward – Yeehaw Junction.
Do not misunderstand. Fred Levin doesn’t want you to take your dream vacation in the tiny town with the name straight out of The Beverly Hillbillies. The Queens native spent two years living in Yeehaw Junction’s only hotel. It was no picnic.
He just wants you to drop by Yeehaw Travel Center. There, he and six employees make reservations for Orlando hotels and attractions. And promise bargain-basement rates. That’s because it’s last-minute booking. After all, Yeehaw Junction is just an hour and a half down Florida’s Turnpike from Mickey’s house.
Levin’s office is in a converted gas station just past the toll-road exit. This represents a move up in the world for Levin, who originally did business from a desk next to the men’s room at the Stuckey’s rest stop.
He believes in saturation billboarding. He has ordered 35 signs for the turnpike, northbound from Delray Beach to Fort Pierce. They cost $30,000 a month. They’re in English and Spanish to attract international travelers.
“Turnpike drivers are road weary – three or four signs don’t help,” he says. “You gotta have more.”
To sweeten your brief stay, Levin promises free Florida maps. Coupons for discounts at Orlando theme parks. Thirty-five- cent cans of Coca-Cola in the pop machines. As for the cheap gas, it’s available at Starvin’ Marvin’s filling station across the street.
A prison at Yeehaw Junction?
Published July 19, 1986 via AP
Plans are in full swing to convert this small community’s only motel into a 200-inmate prison, despite the unhappiness of many of the 300 residents.
We’re going to stop it,” said Bill McCarthy, who is leading a petition drive to persuade Osceola County commissioners to fight the proposal.
Unmindful of the protests, the Florida Department of Corrections says it hopes to wrap up negotiations in September for the rental of the two-story EconoLodge, just off Florida’s Turnpike about 50 miles south of Disney World.
Administrator Jim Vickers said Thursday the DOC hopes to have inmates booked into the 122-room motel by the end of October.
But some of Yeehaw Junction’s most outspoken citizens are trying to derail the project.
“Nobody is fond of that idea,” said Clarice Garmany, manager of the Easy Stop grocery store on State Road 60, a major east-west route across south-central Florida.
“What’s going to happen if one of those inmates escapes? I don’t want to put my family in that jeopardy,” she said.
McCarthy, owner of Durrance Realty, pointed out that there’s a correctional institution in Okeechobee, not so far away, and its inmates often escape.
“Those kids are always getting out,” he said, “and it causes us a lot of problems here.”
Vickers said the need for more prison space is urgent.
The DOC was allocated $2 million by the 1986 Legislature to find some desperately needed facilities. The money is not enough to buy the motel, but it’s enough to rent it and run it as a prison, he said.
As of July 7, state prisons were only 10 inmates short of their capacity of 30,095, Vickers said.
McCarthy and Garmany say many residents are worried that a prison would hurt the town’s economy.
“When they put it (the motel) out of business, and people find out there’s a prison here, no one is going to stop,” Garmany said about tourists driving by on the turnpike.
“A prison also is going to make land values drop,” she added.
EconoLodge manager Najm Kham said owner Wayne Thompson has been unable to agree on a leasing price with the DOC.
Thompson owns Triple T Inns, which operates about 35 motels across the state, Khan said. Thompson was unavailable for comment.
Desert Inn crash
Published Dec. 19, 2019 via AP
A semitrailer plowed into a historic inn south of Orlando early Sunday, causing major damage but no apparent injuries.
Photos show that the truck ran through the wall of the Desert Inn and a portion of the building collapsed around it. The inn closed last year and the Florida Highway Patrol says no one was seriously hurt.
Lt. Kim Montes said Mareo Cawley, 50, of Chicago, was hauling orange juice at about 3:15 a.m. when he didn’t realize he had left the road before he smashed into the building. She said the crash remains under investigation.
Lisa Mason, who ran the inn before its closure, said she had hoped to reopen the inn next year.
The inn is the centerpiece of Yeehaw Junction, a tiny respite off Florida’s Turnpike between South Florida and Orlando.
According to a 2013 article in the Orlando Sentinel, the Desert Inn dates to 1889 when it was a barroom and brothel for cowboys and lumberjacks and the look of the place hadn’t evolved much since.
Through the years, the Desert Inn has been a trading post, gas station and dance hall. Until its closure, it served as a motel, restaurant and convenience store.
It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.