Passing Gas (And Other Small Towns)

Take a Whirlwind Tour of Small Towns With Strange Names

By Buck Wolf

April 22  Gary Gladstone was in Nutsville long before he returned from War with strange tales from Hell. And if you don't believe him, he has pictures.

Nutsville is a town in West Virginia, not to be confused with Looneyville, W.Va. Hell is in Michigan, and it's much more likely to freeze over than Tranquility, in temperate Northern California.

Gladstone, a New York magazine photographer, traveled 38,000 miles across 40 states to photograph America's strangest in his new book, Passing Gas: And Other Towns Along the American Highway (Ten Speed Press).

Gladstone found Gas in Kansas while photographing Tightwad — a small Missouri town that earned its name more than a century ago. Tightwads now pride themselves on their hospitality.

But long ago, a local store owner accepted a deposit on merchandise that he sold to another customer at a higher price. The first customer shouted, "Tightwad," and the incident lived on for years. It became the town joke, and later, the town name.

An even bigger joke awaited Gladstone in Kansas, where café owner Bonnie Steward welcomed him to drive over and photograph her home.

"Come on down Route 59," Steward said. "But don't blink your eye — or you just might pass Gas."

Steward and other residents aren't sure how Gas got its name. There were once two petroleum-refining plants there.

Not all towns are familiar with their history.

The people of Ding Dong, Texas, don't know how they became Ding Dongs. And they're not the only ones.

But even when towns can explain their strange name, it doesn't make it any less strange.

A Boring Strip Joint

Dull, Ohio, got its name form James Martin Dull, a grocer and local politician. But make no mistake about it, local resident Billie Clark says, Dull is dull.

But Dull is not Boring. Boring is in Oregon, where there is a Boring strip joint, presumable filled with Boring strippers and other Boring people who work even more Boring jobs.

Nothing is in Arizona. It's a one-joke town with four residents. But it's a thriving metropolis compared to Zero, Mont., which consists mainly of an abandoned gas station.