Cars, Cops, and Girls…the American Dream as it once was…

    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.

    Writing this series of stories on the old stores and businesses of Fremont County has taken me back many times. This summer marks a half-century of my first taste of freedom after I rebuilt my parent’s 1962 Nova 400 station wagon.

    Entering my senior year, the old Chevy (old by today’s standards, it was only 12 years old at the time) allowed me to go to town on Friday and Saturday nights without having to ask to borrow the 69’ Satellite or my dad’s 1969 Dodge pick-up.


    I pulled the original engine, found a 250 inline six-cylinder, and had the shop at the NAPA store near the Gem Theater rebore it.

    Using a tree limb and a come-along I mounted the engine, set the three-on-the-tree manual transmission, connected the drive line and magically it all worked. She was fast, maybe too fast for a 17-year-old kid, but it was the 70s.

    The electrical connectors had a little rust on them after the wagon’s earlier life in Arkansas and California where Dad was stationed. The humidity caused a few problems, but nothing major until one night a Riverton cop pulled me over in front of Riverton High School headed up West Main.

    I had a date with a Riverton girl that night, and my emergency brake didn’t work. I had my foot on the brake as the officer approached the window to tell me I had a taillight out. I knew the taillight was intermittent, but the brake lights always worked.


    I asked him if I could see them and told my date to reach over her left leg and push on the brake so the car wouldn’t roll down the hill.

    As we walked around the cop said, “Well, it came back on. You’ll need to check that. You have a break in a wire somewhere.”

    I thanked him, then weaved my right leg around hers and said keep your foot on the brake as I pulled away. There wasn’t much difference between brake lights and tail lights on a 62 Chevy. The officer didn’t notice.


    I clutched, hit the gas, and headed up the hill to the Dash-In before going to a movie at the West Drive-In. Later, I repaired the light with a broken matchstick and some 400 grit sandpaper. The spring was worn out, but the bit of wood jammed in the socket did the trick.

    Not exactly an action movie plot, not even a Hallmark movie, but a great memory of life in the 1970s. I did a partial restoration to bring the Nova back in the early 90s, but the engine seized, and I sold it to a pro, Travis Osback, who has brought the old girl back to her 1960s luster. You might spot it around town this summer.

    In those days before the Internet, we waited for dark for a variety of reasons. The only good radio station to listen to came out of the static soon after the sun set with the call sign…K…O…M…A… Oklahoma City!!


    Does anyone remember it?

    When I hit Laramie the next year, and anytime I meet people of my vintage from Missouri to Washington, if I mention KOMA they listened to it as well.

    It was the voice of a generation and a connection that the ensuing two generations will never know. The soundtrack of the Beach Boys, Motown, and Creedence was the sound of our generation, and yes, it remains so.

    KOMA was just the first after-hours icon we waited for. You could listen to the Oklahoma City station in your car, at your house, or on a transistor radio fishing out on the lake. We did all three.

    I have a 1927 Zenith radio with an AM, two shortwave, and a Marine band setting that I listened to KOMA on in the converted chicken coop I lived in my junior and senior year, so I didn’t have to share a room with my little sister any longer.

    It provided the soundtrack for many long winter nights reading in that little 10 x 14 building.

    The other signal that nightfall brought was time to stop dragging Main and go to either the Knight or West Drive-In in the summer months.

    You could go to the Acme or Gem, which we did in the wintertime. But no self-respecting teenager wanted to go inside when the weather was warm, with a slight breeze on the air and your entire life stretching out ahead of you.

    It was a fabulous time to be young and unencumbered by life.

    The people who owned the Dash-In understood business. Many grouchy old guys put up signs claiming you’d be arrested if you turned around in their parking lot while dragging Main, the Dash-In built a turn-around lane directly in front of their door.

    Kids would turn into the Dash-In, drive a few dozen yards, and turn left back onto Main, but they’d pull in to eat as well. When it was finally getting dark, we often turned right, bought a ticket, watched the show at the West, and ate at the Dash-In again, only this time from the concession stand side of it.

    Brilliant thinking by the owners.

    We hit a few other places as well, the A&W, Paisans and Betty’s Pizza were popular stops. During my senior year, Pizza Hut arrived, and we hit that too. Remember feeling like royalty when they brought those mini pizzas out wearing heavy gloves and carrying the red hot pan with tongs?

    Seems like a lot of Pizza for a little cow and energy town like Riverton, but it was all relatively new, and we loved it.

    The Knight Drive-In offered other pursuits. You could get in trouble easily at the Knight. A lot of kids were busted with beer in the trunk, but many more were busted physically, it was a great place to find a fight if you were looking for one.

    These are my remembrances of life with my first car, but as I’ve published stories about the old days in Riverton the comments from others who shared those experiences have flowed in.

    It was a rite of passage, and a culmination of an era in America that began with Rock and Roll in the 1950s and ended with VCRs, cell phones, and video games in the 1980s, 90s, and 21st century.

    KOMA announcers, friends in the front and rear seats, endless laps up and down Main Street with cheap gas, or the hope of romance with a cute girl and burgers and pizza, what could be more American than that?


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