Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.
This is for the teenagers of the 70s, those lucky enough to be born between 1952 and 1961. If you’re a Fremont County resident, you’ll appreciate this walk down memory lane. If you’re a late arrival to our little corner of paradise, well, just enjoy the flickerscope of memories placed here by this aging writer.
Though these memories reflect just a short period of three summers from the time we got our drivers licenses at 16 until we headed off to face the world at 18, they are strong markers in life. Just a short few months form the end of school to the start of football practice, and then gone forever.
The 70s were different from the 50s and 60s, and the following decade of the 80s.
Any similarities to modern teenage life are purely coincidental.
When I watch American Graffiti or episodes of Happy Days, I’m taken back to those carefree days when worries were something your parents had, commitments were fleeting things, and the thought of being chained to the “Golden Handcuffs” of a 9 to 5 existence was something for someone else, it would never happen to you.
As a 19-year freshman heading back to UW after Thanksgiving I had to drive from my parent’s farm between Kinnear and Pavillion to Lander, and then to the Jeffrey City exit on South Pass. The road over Beaver Rim by Sand Draw was gravel and a uranium haul road. It was a great shortcut during the summer months, but by November it was closed. So, Lander, it was.
As I drove east in the darkness towards Sweetwater Station, Frankie Valli and the Four Season came on KOMA 1520 AM out of Oklahoma City with the classic, “Oh What a Night.” For those of you who remember, these lyrics were the vanguard of what many consider the first disco song.
“Oh, what a night. Late December back in sixty three. What a very special time for me. As I remember, what a night.”
What I remember about that moment is how distant 1963 seemed from 1975, light years away, as they say for a 19-year-old.
In retrospect, the dozen years separating those two dates was just a blip of time, a blink of an eye.
Which takes me back to dragging Main Street, going to the Knight or West Drive-Ins, hanging out at the A&W. Picking up a Betty’s Pizza, or later an exquisite pie from Paisan’s Pizza, and simply reveling in life as a youngster with their entire life waiting for them.
What a glorious time to be alive.
We all had summer jobs. Teenagers worked in those days. Whether it was irrigating, construction work, stacking hay, or in the case of our girlfriends, babysitting, working at the A&W, the Dash In, the Covered Wagon, or some other locally owned fast food franchise.
How much gasoline was wasted on Friday and Saturday nights as hundreds of teenagers filled the summer evening hours “dragging Main.”
The route ended on West Main at the Dash In, near present day Smith’s, and started on the other end of town at the intersection of Main and Federal. Some kids went south towards the Knight Drive Inn, some when north and turned around where the Holiday Inn is now located at Sunset and Federal, but the routes were endless loops most of the time.
We hoped to spot friends, get girls to stop and talk or just kill some time between getting a Teen Burger and a root beer at the A&W or maybe an order of steak fingers and fries at the Dash Inn.
Times were so much simpler then, and our parents didn’t care as long as we were back home by our midnight curfew. Imagine that today with the hovering, overprotective snowplow parents helicoptering above every move their child takes.
The most egregious of these over-zealous adults were the wild men and easy girls of yesterday. They don’t want their kids testing the brink as they once did, and they share that zeal with all of us.
There was a protocol for the two drive-ins in Rivercity. If you had a date, you took her to the West. In a unique arrangement, the Dash In was a fast food drive in to the south, and on the north side, the snack bar for the West. The towering cottonwood trees made the parking area of the West very dark. Need I say more?
The Knight was different. You didn’t take a girl to the Knight, instead, you packed a few of your friends in the trunk, bought a ticket for the two or three guys inside the car, and hoped for a fight with some guys from Lander, or maybe off the Reservation. Yes, those were good times in their own way.
I taught in Shoshoni for 15 years, the bulk of my career and when I told the kids that we once drove to Shoshoni to “drag Main,” they couldn’t believe it.
Shoshoni was a different town in those days as well. They had a bowling alley at the A&W and just west of town a nice restaurant in Lakeside.
We’d often call a buddy from Thermopolis to get a few carloads of girls to drive through the canyon to Shoshoni.
Dragging main, bowling, and getting a burger, onion rings, or fries at the A&W was the height of youthful exuberance. Youngsters just can’t get a grip on having a good time in a sleepy little town like Shoshoni these days. But, it had its place in time, and those that remember those days will no likely relish the memories.
By the end of the 70s, everything changed. The Knight, West, and the two bowling alleys all fell away in the 80s and 90s, and the entire A&W chain that once stretched from Lander to Lovell, Cody, and Powell is now just a single franchise in Greybull.
It wasn’t Arnold’s in Happy Days, and we didn’t know anyone like Arthur Fonzerelli, but it was our time, and our place in the youthful days of carefree existence.
As my friends headed off to college, the mines, or the military, the bonds that tied us together were broken forever.
But, if you’re like me, you remember.
America is a fractured society today. Kids, adults, everyone, walks to the beat of their own drummer. The music, movies, and lifestyle that tied our generation into one is gone forever, swamped in the cult of self-centeredness.
We are not the only ones to notice. In a 1978 episode of MASH. Hawkeye speaks to Private Harkness.
“Where are you from?” Hawkeye asks.
“Idaville, Indiana,” Harkness replies.
“No kidding. Idaville! Do you ever go to the dances at the American Legion Hall there?”
“Yeah sure,” Harkness says.
“And on the edge of town there’s this little place where you can get the world’s greasiest French fries,” Hawkeye says.
“Right, Mona’s,” Harkness answers.
“And what else? The Studebaker dealership always has those searchlights when they bring in the new models,” Hawkeye says.
“Hey, when were you in Idaville?” an incredulous Harkness asks.
“Never. I grew up in the same small town in Maine,” Hawkeye concludes.
There was a sameness, a common bond in our generation. Kids from Idaho to Arkansas and Minnesota to California waited for darkness to arrive so they could tune in to KOMA Oklahoma City.
I bet you can still sing the call sign in your mind.