ARCADIA – Announcing that you’ve just spoken with one of the Beatles, says Arcadia resident Toby Thompson, “is like saying you saw a UFO.”
So, Thompson didn’t mention it to a lot of people after he met Paul McCartney and his then-girlfriend Nancy Shevell on Aug. 5, 2008, on the original stretch of Route 66 that adjoins his property a couple miles east of Arcadia.
But he did tell his neighbors, Jim Ross and Shellee Graham, who are all about Route 66. And 12 years later, a sign was erected on the Oklahoma County road to commemorate Thompson’s big moment and provide a photo opportunity for fans of the Mother Road and the Fab Four.
“I don’t often get requests for special signs,” said Kevin Calvey, who is the District 3 Oklahoma County commissioner. “But when I was approached about doing this sign, I was certainly interested. I think Route 66 is just cool anyway, especially the Oklahoma part.”
Calvey said that besides being a Beatles fan, he’s interested in anything that will help improve tourism and civic pride.
Ross is a Route 66 historian and author of several Route 66 guidebooks. His wife is an author and photographer who collaborated with him on some of the books.
Graham, who designed the 30-by-36-inch sign, said the idea had been “percolating” in her mind for several years before she approached Calvey.
“When you retire, it gives you time to think about things that have been on the back burner,” she said.
Thompson said he was in a ditch, tackling the weeds in a culvert, when McCartney pulled up in the 1989 Ford Bronco he drove along Route 66 to celebrate his 66th birthday.
“I went up to the passenger window and asked if I could help them,” Thompson said. “They said they were trying to get back on Route 66, and wanted to know how far it was.”
After assuring them they were near the end of the original stretch of road, which is now a diversion from Historic Route 66, Thompson popped the question.
“I said, ‘are you who I think you are?’ And he said, ‘probably,’” Thompson related.
“And I told him it was an honor to meet him.”
Thompson has a few regrets.
“I looked like hell,” he said with a laugh. “I had mud all over me. I was wearing shorts, a pair of socks that were calf-high, a pair of work boots, a T-shirt and a safari hat I got from the San Diego Zoo. So I looked like a goofball hillbilly.”
He’s also sad that he didn’t have so much as a piece of paper to ask for an autograph.
But he is happy about the sign, and he was invited to be on hand when it was installed Nov. 16. The county sign tech, Buck Brockaw, an old friend from high school, wanted Thompson to show him just where the conversation happened.
Thompson, 63, is a retired agricultural equipment sales representative and a Beatles fan from way back. His favorite single is “Let It Be.”
Ross, who has lived on the original stretch of road for 23 years, said it became a county road in 1952, after it was bypassed by Route 66.
“It’s a really durable road surface,” he said. “The west portion consists of asphalt over concrete, paved in 1929. The eastern portion was paved in 1928. It’s two different projects that meet.”
In 1999, Ross wrote the nomination to have the road placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Because it’s so well-built, he said, it’s survived nearly 100 years with only occasional patching of small holes in the asphalt.
The sign is on the east side of the road, two-tenths of a mile from the Intersection of the original highway with Hiwassee Road. Calvey said he plans to hold an official dedication, “when COVID-19 calms down.”