Wagon Wheel a hub for Shellhorn

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 12, 2003

From the outside, the Wagon Wheel appears to be just another country gas station, located between cows and crops on an often-empty rural road, County Road 1.

But after a traveler fills up the car with fuel, a step inside the rustic building near Shellhorn reveals a bustling community of pool players, video gamers and shoppers looking for almost any kind of groceries, refreshments or supplies.

The Wagon Wheel is run by Kim Richards, with a little help from her father, and she says of the job, "There's no place I'd rather be."

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"It's better than other jobs," she said. "You get to constantly meet new people and don't have to be around the same people all day."

She describes the work as "fun," which is also how the people gathered in the game room also describe the Wagon Wheel.

"If it wasn't nice, I wouldn't be in here," said Roy Byrd, who is also known by friends as "Big One."

Byrd was shooting pool Monday afternoon with three friends and said the laid back feel of the Wagon Wheel was a big factor in his willingness to commute down from Montgomery County for some relaxation.

"I don't like going to those clubs with all the younger guys," he said. "I can shoot some pool, have a few beers and just go on home and relax."

Byrd, who builds pallets during the day, is just one of the regulars that Richards said make up a favorite part of the job.

"Some of the people who are regulars are my age and have been coming in since they were teenagers," said Richards, who is 31. "They come in, hang out and talk, have birthday parties. We take pictures and put them up on the picture board. Sometimes you see people showing out, but they just like having their picture taken."

Richards can draw on some experience when talking about the demands of the job. She has been working in country stores since she was 21.

"My dad used to own a store out on Highway 29 and I worked there as soon as I was old enough to sell beer," she said laughing. "I got carded the first time I was behind the counter."

That first country store passed from the hands of the Richards family when her father left the store he built and took off for Las Vegas. But after four years out west, he returned to Pike County and wanted to take over another store. Now, the family runs the Wagon Wheel - in addition to a barbeque shop on Highway 231 towards Montgomery.

Richards said she and her father have been running the Wagon Wheel since November and said "all sorts of people" show up in the store.

"We have regulars. We have travelers who ask for directions. We have hunters who come in here early in the morning and then come in to have some lunch and some microwave sandwiches," she said.

Three young helpers also lend a hand with duties around the store from time to time: Richards' children.

10-year-old Josh, 9-year-old Dylan and 7-year-old Lexey all chip in and help to keep the shelves stocked. They also can be found behind the counter and asking their granddad for a sweet treat from the store's shelves.

"We used to keep a playpen back here behind the counter," Richards said.

The toughest thing about the job, Richards said, is the requirement that she work long hours. From 6 a.m., when the first hunters are looking for ice for their coolers, until 10 p.m., when the final pool players are herded out the door, she stays busy.

But even at seven days a week, she said it's worth it.

The smiling faces in the pictures that line the walls, along with the testimonials from the current crop of pool playing and video gaming customers, seem to back her up.