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  Railroads of Madison County
Life and Times Series #2
Roger Hensley
50s Eateries

The 50s Eateries (Hangouts)

May 6, 2002

In the mid 50s, there was a small fast food place across from Anderson High School where many of the students would eat at lunch hour since AHS didn't have food service. It was busy, too busy for me. So, I made the short walk from school to downtown to Hills Snappy Service on 11th or to Slinkard's Root Beer Barrel on Main Street on the alley directly behind the Paramount Theater.

Hills was great for a burger with pickle and onion or pickle, onion and ketchup and a Coke or Pepsi. They were already putting burgers on the grill by the time the school lunch crowd hit the door. I did eat at the Hills at Meridian and 14th a few times, but somehow, my favorite was the one on 11th. It outlasted the other one by several years.

Slinkard's was literally a large orange barrel with openings on the side for the walk up trade. By the time I started going there for lunch, they had enclosed the area around the serving doors and turned it into a more conventional looking short order restaurant. The barrel was still obvious and it was a lot of fun to go there and eat. Standing room only though. In addition to the root beer, which was very good, they served a great Spanish Hamburger (similar to today's Sloppy Joes). I'm sure that they had hot dogs and other things, but my taste buds don't remember them.

There was a small restaurant on Pendleton Avenue just west of Madison called 'The Shack' (Oops! It was The Snack!. Thanks to Butch Rhodus for catching the error - 1/31/06). It became one of the three or four places I ate regularly when I went on wheels. I'd drop a dime in the counter remote for a play on the Jukebox or maybe a quarter for three plays. The music was always going and the waitresses and owner were friendly. Across town next door to Broadway Sales Chrysler-Plymouth dealership was another little spot that I frequented, the Palm Grove. It was south of the railroad track that served Glazer's scrap yard across Broadway (Broadway Sales was just north of the track). Both of these were smallish square wooden buildings in the 40s/50s look with the inside counter and booth or table seating.

Palm Grove holds a permanent spot in my memory because of an incident. A young man with MS and his girl friend were regular customers. On this evening, a couple of cheap hoods and a few of their friends came in and almost immediately zeroed in on this guy who was on crutches and began giving him and his girl a hard time until the couple decided that the best thing was to leave. That wasn't going to prove to be easy as the 'toughs' followed them out the door and continued the harassment blocking the way to their car. What were the rest of us doing? Nothing. Nothing at all, Just standing around letting this happen. That's one of the things that I am not proud of.

It was when the prime tough decided to separate the gentleman from his girl that things changed in the blink of an eye. While standing on his crutches, he brought his right fist up in a hammer blow that caught the guy on the point of his chin knocking him over the hood of one car and onto the hood of the next. Cars were made of steel then and so, neither car was damaged. The same could not be said for the clown that had picked on the wrong man. By that time, many of us were moving outside and all that was left was for the other guys to pick up their leader and leave. It wasn't to be too long before the 'Palm' would be closed from the competition from the many new eateries to come and it would become the used car lot for Broadway Sales.

Driving on north from there on Broadway was the new Dronberger's Pink Horse. Since this was very near to where I lived, I naturally spent some time there. A lot of the friends that I went through junior high and high school with worked and hung out there. There was also the root beer stand much further north on Broadway, but the crowd there wasn't the same. Perhaps more from Highland HS which had just opened. But things were already beginning to change,

And then Frisch's opened at Broadway and Grand Ave. and the sleepy little A&W root beer stand by the Pennsy tracks on Jackson was rebuilt into the 'Jumbo' drive in by Elmo Flat who also owned the Alibi at 14th and Jackson. The handwriting was on the wall for many of the older short order places that had been hangouts, but most of us didn't notice. Everybody made the drive-a-rounds at Frisch's, Jumbo (A&W Root Beer Drive In) and the Pink Horse. And by the mid 60s, we had a McDonald's, a Henry's Hamburgers (remember them?), the Big Top Drive In, Nick's Burgers, the Lemon Drop, Burger Chef (remember Burger Chef and Jeff?) and a host more still including the Best-Ever and Bert Owens ice cream parlors and Art's Pizza on Broadway. Art's had a roast beef sandwich that was out of this world! Sloppy as all get out and the mango wanted to slide out, but it was great! Although I have never eaten there, I would be remiss not to mention the Toast on Main Street. They are a survivor from the 50s and have been around as long as I can remember. They continue to serve customers today.

Two more places stand out for me from that time. One was a little grill on Madison Avenue called the Knotty Pine Grill. That man could make a hamburger! His little place was always packed at lunch time, and although it took some time to get served, it was well worth the wait. You could generally see a couple of Indiana Bell trucks parked outside at lunch time and other cars and tracks scattered along Madison and around the corner on 6th Street. His end came when the city posted no parking signs in front of his place. Later they put them up elsewhere on Madison, but he had the honor of being the first. Without parking, it was just a matter of time until he closed.

The other place was Conley's Donuts on Pendleton Ave. It was a neat, clean and brightly lit place where you could stop in and get donuts to go or sit and have a coffee and donut or roll. Before I left for the U.S. Navy, several of us used to congregate there and discuss our plans for the future. Looking back on the three or four regulars, I don't think that any of our futures worked out at all like we had expected.

During that time, the world was changing and the personal service of the short order restaurant was changing, too. It was a time of counter service, being waited on at tables, Jukeboxes (Gee Dad, it's a WURLETZER!), and hot customized cars (but that's another story). Who would want to walk up to a window and get a hamburger, fries and a coke just to go back to the car (or home) to eat it? You did that for ice cream at Fraziers Dairy Maid on Main Street or Dairy Queen on Broadway, but not for a hamburger. That would never last (tell that to McDonalds!). These were the places that I went and that I remember fondly. When I returned from service, I found that the friends who remained here had changed, the restaurants had changed and most importantly, I had changed. But it was a good time with many good memories.



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