While talking to BBB at the WILLIAMSBURG FILM FEST on Thursday, we we talking about how I became a huge fan of all things western, 5 years ago at the age of 43, after spending my whole life being a fan of classic horror films.
Later, I was thinking about why I love old TV and film westerns. I decided that while watching something like a classic western TV show from the late '50's, I often find myself simultaneously thinking how exciting it would be to live during the Old West AND how exciting it would be to live during the hey-day of TV westerns during the late '50's and early '60's. Being born in 1964 I missed both of those time periods. I know I'm looking at both eras through rose colored glasses, but it still makes me wish I had a time machine so I can experience both eras.
That's one of the reasons I enjoy reading books ABOUT classic TV shows and films as much as I enjoy watching those shows. It puts me in Hollywood during the filming of those shows.
So yes, I guess I AM nostalgic for 2 eras that I never lived through.
At their peak drive-in movies were very popular. I recall driving around and around in my dad's 55 Chevy station wagon looking for a place to pull in. Remember when some yahoo in front of you wouldn't take his foot off of the break? He'd keep flashing his tail lights at you.
The speakers were scratchy and the picture resolution poor, but we watched a lot of movies. Parents could take their kids. My wife's dad had a 55 Chevy station wagon too. They'd back into the slot. Pat and her sis would watch the movie from inside their sleeping bags. Her parents would sit in the front seat and drink beer.
There were 2 types of drive-ins--family theaters & passion pits. At their peak, Austin, Texas, had 6--Longhorn, Chief, North Austin, Delwood, South Austin, & Montopolis. North Austin had to close when wide-screen pictures came in because there was no way to widen the screen. Chief, Delwood, & South Austin were family theaters. Longhorn & Montopolis were passion pits. They showed a lot of foreign films & what would be considered 'soft R' films today. In those days they just called them 'adults only.' If your date suggested--or agreed to your suggestion--of either Longhorn or Montopolis, you knew you were in for a very interesting evening.
For that matter, if she suggested or agreed to your suggestion of Texas, an indoor theater on Guadalupe Street across from UT, you were in for an interesting time after the show. Texas showed mostly foreign films. Lots of suggestive scenes & dialog--girls in revealing underwear --& often brief female nudity (bottoms & breasts, but no full-frontal in the '50s & '60s). Texas brought the 'I Am Curious' films & 'Mondo Cane' to Austin.
I do not recall a distinction between the two "types" of Drive In's. But if there were several in town as you mentioned it seems logical that there would be two kinds.
The lines to get in were long. I recall waiting in my car for fifteen minutes or so after the show was over so I wouldn't have to get into the long line to le&ave.
Drive in restaurants, dominated by A&W were popular too. Kids used to steal the heavy glass mugs with the logo. They'd come to you coated with ice and that creamy rootbeer.
It seems that the Drive-In movie died quickly. I recall going to some in the very early 80's, but they were well on their way out by then. TV victims? Fear of being robbed?
Remember when we used to put on a suit to go to the "show"? We had double features with a few cartoons and a newsreel. Going to the movies took the entire afternoon. On birthdays my folks would invite my friends, we were about 9, and they'd drive us to the show. Usually, as I recall, a Disney nature film "The Painted Desert", "The World Around Us". The theatre was packed to overfull with screaming kids. We loved it.
There was never any fear of being kidnapped...we never even thought of it.
What killed the drive-ins was daylight saving time. With that idiocy, here in Texas it doesn't start to get dark until about 8:30 in the summer time, which was mostly when we went to the drive-ins. Up in the northern tier of states it's still light at 10 or later. I went to a WWA convention in Rapid City in late June & I can remember the sun setting at nearly 11.
One of the things I recall was the Saturday morning 'cartoon festival.' They were usually shown at the Varsity on Guadalupe or the Queen on Congress Avenue. There were about a dozen cartoons--no Disney, tho--& then either a cowboy movie or a Tarzan, sometimes a double feature. If you were under 11 it cost 9¢ to get in. They really hammered you on the popcorn & drinks, tho. Popcorn was 2 bits, or 30¢ if you wanted it buttered, & drinks were 15¢. If you got $1 a week allowance--that was a big allowance in the '50s--it took a big chunk out of your pocket. Once you had your 11th birthday you had to pay 'adult admission'--70¢--but you couldn't go to 'adults only' movies until you were 16.
In the early '50s there was a 'cartoon festival' at the Queen. About 3 cartoons had run when the theater's roof caved in. There were 3 kids they couldn't account for & I was 1 of 'em. I paid to see a show & I wasn't getting to see it, so I got my money back, went up the Capitol building & played on the cannons & monuments until about 1 PM, when the Yank on E. 6th opened. I saw a newsreel, a live action comedy short, a Tim Holt cowboy movie, & a cartoon. The Yank's admission was a nickel & popcorn & drinks there were a dime. When I got home abt half past 5 my parents were frantic! They wanted to know why I didn't call them. Phone calls were a nickel. If I'd called them I wouldn't have had the nickel to ride the bus home.
A nickel was money! You could get a lot for a nickel. A cherry or lime coke cost a nickel. A box of Juicy Fruits cost a nickel (My doc says I can't eat them anymore.) A Baby Ruth candy bar cost a nickel.
My allowance in the 50's was a quarter. I'd jump on my bike and ride the several miles to the little store and buy five boxes of candy. My dad asked me why I don't save up and buy something really nice. I recall the conversation. I was non-plussed. What's better than candy? I wondered.
I was living in Westchester County, New York. A wonderful place. It was countryside. Heavy winter snows. The lake froze over and we'd skate. The volunteer firemen would drive their truck to the lake at night and serve hot chocolate from a big pot on the bumper. We'd build a bonfire on the ice! No, it doesn't burn through. It only melted about the top 1/4 inch of ice, if that.
I hate cell phones. We had one on the wall in the kitchen just like everyone else did. A pay phone, which were pretty easy to find, cost a nickel and then a dime. If you wanted to make a long distance call you'd dial "0" and tell the operator who you wanted to call and then you hung up. After about five or ten minutes she'd call you back and "put you through" either "station to station" or "person to person". Long distance calls were expensive and you'd have to plan what you wanted to say before you placed the call.
Gasoline was never more than 20 cents a gallon, and filling up the car wasn't a big expense. Our cars...a '51 Ford V-8 and '55 Chevy SW got about 15 to 18 mpg and that was okay with us. Flats were common and if you got 20,000 miles on a set of tires you were lucky. We put on chains in the winter.
TV shows were wonderful. TV's were not. We'd gather in the living room on Sunday eventing, in front of the fire and watch Ed Sullivan. Then there was the Show of Shows, which was a scream. And Red Skelton, Milton Beryl, Jackie Gleason, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Author Godfrey, Amos and Andy, then came the "adult westerns". So we had Wyatt Earp, Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, Wanted Dead or Alive, Wagon Train, that show with Chuck Connors, and that big guy who was stabbed in the heart with a ski poll.....what was his name?
Today I flip through dozens of channels and can't find a single thing to watch.
If you got sick the doc would give you a penicillen shot and you got better. If you had sore throats they rip out your tonsils. Our teeth were full of cavities. No floride. Cost to fill a cavity? $4 (my grandfather was a dentist)
If I could I would go back and re-live the 50's. It was IMO the best of times. Of course I was young and had wonderful parents and lived in a fantastic place.
I spent my early years in Austin, but I grew up on a central Texas ranch--400 acres of hardpan, cedar breaks, & honeycomb limestone. I had a horse from the time I was 10, & believe me, cowboyin' ain't nothin' like in the movies. It was hard work, daylight to dark sometimes. You' weren't in the saddle all the time, either. You were building fence, doctoring livestock--we had Hereford cattle, which are prone to pink eye, so we had to doctor that a lot. You always carried a bottle of Pink Lady screwworm smear. If you saw an animal with an open sore, you caught it & smeared that Pink Lady on it to keep the blowflies from getting to it.
Sometimes on weekends we'd go coon hunting. A coon is a weasel & omnivorous. A family of coons can devastate a 100-acre cornfield in a night, & forget about keeping chickens. If the coons don't get 'em, the coyotes will. During the Davy Crockett craze we could get $5 apiece for green coon hides--all we had to do was skin 'em & stretch the hide. I've followed baying hounds from dark 'til dawn many a Friday night.
The little town close to us--Georgetown--had one movie house & it showed 2nd & 3rd-run features. Every Saturday night there was a 'teen canteen' dance. I started going to the dances when I was about 13. One thing about Georgetown--it had an abundance of gorgeous gals.
We had TV at the ranch after '51,when Austin finally got a TV station, but no telephone for over a year, & then we had a party line. Our place was 2.5 miles from the nearest public road, thru 4 gates on a sometimes-slick caleche road. It crossed the Middle San Gabriel river, which was usually no more than a creek, tho it had some great black bass fishing. In 1961, when Hurricane Carla hit, the Middle Gabriel was nearly half a mile wide & at least 30 feet deep where our road crossed it. It washed the road out & we had to rebuild it.
We had a large dirt tank--you'd probably call it a farm pond--& in the fall ducks would settle on the tank to rest. I'd take my .22 & some shorts & pop a mallard drake thru the head. We'd have roast duck & since it was shot thru the head with a .22 nobody broke a tooth on a #4 shot.
My mother's 'town job' was as a schoolteacher. Dad's 'town job' was a fireman in Austin. We had to have 'town jobs' because, from 1950 'til 1957 we got very little rain. The Comal River in New Braunfels, which, while it's only 2.5 miles long, is normally a fairly wide river fed by a powerful spring, was not quite as wide as my palm in 1954. The spring, which normally flowed in the hundreds of gallons per hour, was flowing 64 gals per hour. The Middle Gabriel, except for one spring-fed waterhole, was bone dry. I had a Mexican tell me when he came across the Ro Grande in '54, he couldn't have been called a 'wetback,' because the only thing he got on his back was dust. Below about Big Bend National Park, the Rio Grande was bone dry.
Living near those little farm towns was the best. We got our driver's license when we were 13. That's the 8th grade. We all had jobs working on the farm where we plowed during the summer and also worked cattle, but I never had a horse. We also fixed fence, which was a chore. We prided ourselves in stringing the tighest gates that we could. You'd get bruises on your upper arm from pushing on the poll on the gate to open it.
Rain? What was that? The only time it did rain was when we had a thunderstorm and then the heavens opened up and it poured. Lightening, the sky turned a green/gray color. It got real still just before the storm hit. The wind would stop blowing. You could smell the ozone. Then here'd she come and it'd darn near wash the little town away. (700 people)
An hour after the storm it'd be hot again and the puddles would have dried up.
We could buy beer when we were 18, which meant our brothers and cousins would buy it for us and we'd go fishing for catfish. We'd sit by a little mud hole out in the middle of the praire, drink 3.2 beer and fish with stink bate. We'd always have our .22's. We'd drive into the middle of a prairie dog town, roll the windows down and shut off the engine and kill about 100 prairie dogs. Funny, but no matter how hard we tried we'd never shoot a "town" out of prairie dogs. There seemed to be an endless supply. Of course later on they got poison and nearly drove the little critters extinct.
The air around scrub trees was thick with bob white quail, meadow larks and pheasant. We hunted on the fall weekends. At Thanksgiven the family would rent the town hall and we'd have a feed! We'd eat turkey, beef, quail, pheasant, potatoes, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, string beans and bacon, pecan pie, applie pie, peach pie, cherry pie and bananna cream.
A fellow would knod towards the door and I'd walk outside. He'd reach inside the front door of his pickup and materialize a fifth of Wild Turkey...that's all we drank, Wild Turkey. He'd take a bottle of pop and pop the cap with his church key and pour out some of the coke and pour in the booze and we'd drink bourbon and coke for a while and then smoke a cigaret and go back inside, a little woozy.
Some lady would be selling makeup and my grandmother, mother and cousins from about age 8 on up would be trying on makeup, about 25 women in there all related some way or the other.
By the time we graduated from high school each boy had dated each girl in town and they married the one they were dating upon graduation. They'd stay married for a year or so, divorce and then marry the girl they really liked best.
Every one was related to everyone else in town. There were only about four families in town. Lots of people had one brown eye and one blue one.
It was the best of places. Few had any real money. There were a few wealthy farmers, but they all worked their own place.
Telephones didn't have a dial. To make a call you'd pick up the phone and the operator, whose office was just down the street would answer. She'd say to me, "Steve do you want to talk to your grandmother?" I'd say, yes and she'd connect me. My grandfathers number was 21.
If you'd been gone for a while you'd pick up the phone and ask the operator what was going on around town. She'd fill you in on all of the hot stuff.
We always worked sun to sun, winter, summer of fall it was sun to sun. So we worked longer days in the summer. It was hot in western Kansas. We bucked bailes and I drove my grandfather's 1948 W9 tractor. It's still out there rusting away in the middle of a bunch of weeds. When I drove it, it was like new. We'd strip and repaint our machinery almost every winter, so our equipment, while ancient, always looked and worked like new.
I spent thousands of hours on that tractor as a boy going round and round keeping that right front wheel in the left furrow. It was wonderful. You really had time to think. I always said that all farmers are also philosophers, because they had so much time to ponder. Unless it was too wet to plow we worked. All summer long sitting alone on that tractor. I was paid 30 cents an hour, but my grandfather subtracted room and food, so after an entire summer I came home (to my folk's place) with $134.
You know what I did with it? I bought an antique rifle, a muzzle loader and I still have that rifle today. Now it's worth about $3K.
We dry land farmed. No irrigation whatsoever. If we got 25 bushels per acre were felt blessed. The wheat was called Russian Red.
When it was too wet to plow we hunted or fished. Shooting rats at the dump was top drawer. When you are 10, nothing is more fun that shooting rats at the dump.
Smiley's Service Station had pumps with glass cylinders at the top. You bought gas by the gallon. "I'll have five gallons, please". Old Dwain Smiley would pump the handle on the side of the pump and the orange gas would bubble up into the glass cylinder on top. When the liquid reached the five gallon mark he'd stop pumping. He'd take the hose and put into your gas tank and the stuff would pour in. You never paid him. He'd "mark it up" and send you a bill at the end of the month. We bought almost everything, even groceries, like that. "Mark it up, Fred"......"okay".
There was very little crime. We wouldn't tolerate it. The only problem was drunks fighting at the "beer joint". Kansas was dry, there was no whisky for sale. Sometimes my grandfather would hire a guy who was standing outside the beer joint. He'd be hired to help out in the "shed" his little quansit hut, where he'd rebuilt engines. The guy would always rip off some of his tools. "That skunk" was the harshest language I ever heard my grandfather utter.
On Monday morning he'd always have to get his hired man out of the drunk tank. It never failed.
We didn't have any kin in Georgetown. There was a lady who taught 1st grade where Mom tought 3rd. They were close friends, & Dad & her husband were pals. They had a daughter who was a knockout, but she was 5 years younger than I was. Since we were both only children, we sort of adopted each other. I still consider her my 'baby sister.'
About 15 miles to the east was a place called Circleville. There wasn't too much to Circleville--just a cotton gin & a dance hall, but some local 'name' bands played the dance hall abt once a month--in particular Jimmy Heep & the Melody Masters. I'd go to Circleville for the Saturday night dance whenever they were going to have a 'name' band, but I wouldn't take my current girlfriend. The dance was frequented by 'girls' from Taylor. They were 'working girls,' if you get my drift. Buy 'em a few drinks--if you were tall enough to put 6 bits on the bar, you got your beer--dance with 'em a while, then go out to the pickup & get your ashes hauled in the seat. We were teens & some of them were in their 30s, but it didn't matter. The only time you got it for free--except for the beers you bought them--was at the Circleville dance hall. If you went to the 'house' in Taylor it cost you.
Our part of Williamson County was dry but the eastern half was wet. The primary religions in the western half of the county were Baptist & Church of Christ, but the eastern half was settled by Germans & Bohemians. Our half voted to stay dry but elected a wet sheriff, so the country club could keep booze. Abt 4 miles NW of Georgetown, on the Andice road, a wet precinct dipped across a county road for about a mile. It was wall-to-wall beer joints. We called it Rattlesnake Bend. Nobody checked IDs & there were always a lot of women from Georgetown & Andice there. Most of 'em were pretty free with their 'affections.' It's a miracle we didn't come down with something, but we didn't.
Hard liquor was hard to come by where we were, tho Dad always kept a quart of Old Crow for his pals. He drank beer or Rum Collins, which I never did like. I finally developed a taste for beer but I can't drink it any more. Anything carbonated upsets my stomach & I spend a lot of time on the can. Fortunately, sour-mash doesn't have the same effect.
We only had one beer joint in town and they served only 3.2 beer. Eighteen year olds could drink beer in there. They had two pool tables and half a dozen card tables where old men would play dominos. I think they played checkers too.
Beers cost a quarter. You had to drink about a dozen to have any "effect". Almost all of us smoked. We started in the 8th grade. Today, some of those guys are dead; too much smoking.
We all joined the military. We were all Republicans in Kansas. I don't think "conservative" was a word then. FDR was considered a communist. We all played sports. There were so few kids in school, that if you tried out, you made the team...almost. Memorial days was a big event. Everyone in town would march to the one and only cemetery, they'd have a "service". We'd discuss the people buried there. Everyone in my family back 120 years are there. Vet's would troup and stomp. Today I'm one of them.
They still had shiveries. When there was a wedding a crowd would put the bride in a wheelbarrow and the groom would have to push her downtown.
All kids had the entire town as a playground. It was five blocks wide and eight blocks long with one wide main street that ran north and south right down the middle. Kids were perfectly safe. We were allowed to play until 10 o'clock. Kick the can being a big sport for night play.
The town was divided into very ridged cliques. Gossip was refined into a fine art. My cousin, mother, aunt and grandmother would sit on the front porch in those old painted iron chairs and gossip up a storm. It was amazing. There were very few secrets in town.
The townspeople did not take easily to strangers. Since everyone knew everyone a stranger was suspect. "Who's he?" "Where'd he come from?"
In 1968 every kid in the town was in the town band and they marched in the Rose Parade. It was a very big deal and they still talk about it today.
Little western towns are different. Many people never leave. Generation after generation live in the same house. The people become members of one large family and I think that many just cannot bring it upon themselves to leave. WWII drew a lot of people away, my folks were two. But the town was always "home" and I spent a lot of my childhood attending school and working there living with my grandparents, who needed a farm hand.
A lot of our small farming-ranching towns here in Texas have died. Back in the '50s & early '60s Briggs, which is just off US 183 in Lampasas County, was a thriving town. It had a big school, a general store, a barber shop, a domino hall--but no beer, the town was dry--& 'Sarah's house,' which housed the telephone exchange. Sarah was the operator. I think Briggs' telephone system began as what we called a 'fenceline'' eyetem. Everybody had crank telephones on the system. To make a call, you had to call 'central'--Sarah--& tell her who you wanted to talk to. I don't think there were any telephone numbers, but Sarah knew everybody on the system by name. She'd connect you & then you could 'ring thru.' We had cousins there & their 'number' was 3 shorts & a long. Of course, everybody was on a party line. When Sarah rang their 'number' for us--we were calling from Georgetown, which had a dial system--half the time you couldn't hear, because every ol' busybody on the line was listening in on your conversation.
I was thru Briggs abt 10 yrs ago. I was heading back to Seguin from a storyteller session in Denton, & I could take a short detour off 183 & drive thru Briggs. The entire business block was gone--nothing but weedy foundations & a deteriorating sidewalk. The tractor place was gone--even the building. The domino hall was gone. The school was a derelict with all its windows broken out. Most of the houses in town looked vacant.
Dad's cousin sang with an outfit called The Hayloft Gang, which was all made up of locals--no big names. Abt 6 times a yr The Hayloft Gang would have a concert in the school & we'd go to it. Some of the finest fiddlin' you ever heard & a lot of the singers had very good voices, but you were more likely to hear songs like 'The Preacher & The Bear,' or 'Put On Your Ol' Grey Bonnet' than you were anything else. The Hayloft Gang dated back to the 1920s, but it's been disbanded for something like 20 years.
There was a girl in Briggs whom I'd known in elementary school in Austin, but hadn't seen in something like 10 years. We spent an intermission at a Hayloft Gang concert catching up on each other's lives & playing 'do you remember' & 'whatever happened to'. She'd been married & divorced & had a kid. I think I was 17. She was a couple of years older. The next time I was in Briggs I went to the barber shop to get a haircut--the guy was a pretty fair barber & haircuts were 2 bits. He asked me "Well, when're you an' Elaine Hasty gettin' married?" The gossip was all over town! They had us engaged & ready to set a date--& it was the 1st time we'd seen each other since elementary school! I was in the 2nd grade & she was in the 4th. We knew each other because my mother had been her 3rd grade teacher.
Yes, Charlie, the small towns are something I look back on with pleasure. In Western Canada ... Winnipeg west ... there were grain elevators dotted all over. Driving by on one of the highways you can see them off to the right and left. However, the train branch lines have all been torn up and it's necessary for Joe Farmer to haul his grain to one of the larger centers. Now there is an occasional "convenience" store somewhere that you can't find because there is no elevator sticking up in the sky to point it out. Those stores are at least 20 miles appart if not 60 and in most cases where the several small towns were there is a field, a pond or cement slab overgrown with grass.
The two country schools I went to in the east, Union School and Kirkville School have been rebuilt and turned into houses. Union, Ontario and Kirkville, Ontario are not even an address.
The last Telephone company to change from the wooden/central switchboard system was te Beaver Valley Telephone Co. on north of Toronto and west of Collingwood. In the late 60s two brilliant characters robbed a bank in Barrie, Ont. and went west and up over the Blue Mountain. Their vehicle ran out of gas (even when you steal a car you should check the fuel gage.) and they went into a farm where no one was home to phone a buddie to come and get them. Not only could they not figure out how to phone but 'central' alerted the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). These two Mensa candidates did get their ride ...
Actually, Liberty Hill, Texas still had crank telephones in the 1970s, 'cause after my folks had to sell the ranch they lived there a while. Their number was 37 outside the system. I was living in the Dallas area at the time, & calling my folks was an adventure. Operators in Dallas were accustomed to putting thru international calls, but every time I told a Dallas operator my folks' phone number she'd say, "Sir, that's not a telephone number." I had to explain they still had crank telephones in Liberty Hill. She'd have to call an Austin operator--Liberty Hill's about 35 mies from Austin--& the Austin operator would explain to her how to call Liberty Hill. Somehow I never got the same Dallas operator twice, so I had to go thru the procedure each time. In the early '70s there were probably 2 dozen Dallas operators who knew how to put thru a call to Liberty Hill before my folks moved.
Your bank robbers sound sort of like a group of 'Age of Aquarius' types who decided, in the '60s, to stick up the bank in Bartlett, Texas. They planned it right down to the last detail. They stole cars & changed the plates, put out 2nd cars, had a safe house--you name it, they thought of it. They even came into town in 4 different cars from 4 different directions & planned to leave the same way. Bartlett only had a single resident deputy sheriff at the time, not a police dept.
They converged on Bartlett on the appointed day & pulled up in front of the beautiful building there that says BANK over the door. There was just one problem. There hasn't been a bank in Bartlett since 1933. After Roosevelt closed all the banks in the US for the 'bank holiday,' it never reopened as a bank. There's a retail store in it now, or there was the last time I was in bartlett, but that's been years ago.
When the 3 idiots who tried to rob a bank in Cisco, back in the '20s, their stolen car ran out of gas 10 miles out of town. They tried to commandeer a lady's car, but she just took the key out & threw it out in a field. From then on they were afoot. It's called the Santa Claus bank robbery because one of the robbers, who was well-known in the town, wore a Santa suit to keep from being recognized. The stickup occurred on Christmas Eve. A little girl had been promised 'one last wish' if she saw Santa saw them going into the bank. She & her mother went to the door, the woman realized what was happening, & started screaming "They're robbinb the bank!" In the 1920s in west-central Texas everybody had a gun. The whole town opened up on 'em. They managed to kill the city marshal, but one of 'em was wounded in the barrage & the stolen Buick looked like a Swiss cheese.