TOMMY'S DRIVE-IN ODESSA TEXAS

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    OUR TIME,  LIKE NO OTHER TIME HAS BEEN, OR WILL BE AGAIN!

Tommy's Drive-In, Odessa, Texas 1957-1965
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Painting by Robbie Reddy, www.reddyart.com PRINTS AVAILABLE

 

THOSE 50s, IT WAS GOOD TO HAVE BEEN THERE

 

Where have they gone, those starry nights

And brilliant colors all ablaze?

The clouds have come to dim our sights

And drabness wraps these winter days.

 

The snow flies down from Arctic climes

And wind screams from across the plains.

Will there ever be better times?

Is this for us all that remains?

 

So to my youth my mind returns

To paint the Springs of long ago.

The passion there forever burns

And seasons changed-t'was always so.

 

Perhaps the Spring will come again

I'll live to see a brand new world,

But now the sun is shining thin-

Taps will be played, the flag will furl.

 

The darkness comes, the world will rest,

But then I smile and know I can

Hear Roy Orbison at his best-

Dang my old hide.  It's "Candy Man."

 

Now we can look at it again

And give it a toast and a wink-

Lucky to be born back then,

We had the best of it all, I think...

 

"It sure was fun."

 

Larry Bradfield and Michael L. Moore

Winter of 2014





 



Tommy's Drive-In in Odessa, Texas existed from 1958-65.  My friends and I have many, many memories of happy teen-age times spent at Tommy's, which was later known as Nicky's. 

This site was constructed primarily to "show off" the painting of Tommy's Drive-In and therefore preserve some history of those times in which it existed because of all that it meant to so many people who grew up up in that era.  Economics caused the demise of that era,  and the demise of the drive-in culture as my age group knew it all faded away over a period of time.  Because those years are long gone, but missed, I wrote some stories for this site about adventures that took place in that time.  I think they were special years, even unique as my words will try to explain.

Please bear in mind that the teen-agers of the '50s were the first generation in history to own their own automobiles.  Those years are now called the Golden Years of the car.  Cars (or a lack thereof) were a major part of many teen identities in those days.  Therefore, any attempt at establishing a history of those times is going to be rich with tales about what we did with those mostly fin-tailed creations.  So, I hope you enjoy the tales written herein.  All of it was meant to be a long letter to my two boys about my upbringing and about the grandparents they never knew, and about the times that made me who I am today.  

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Can You Name Them?
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Those who lived in Odessa in the ‘50s and early ‘60s might be curious about the human figures and the cars in the above painting, Tommy’s Drive-In, by Robbie Reddy.  When I decided to commission the painting, it was only natural to visualize the setting with the cars surrounding the drive-in belonging to people I knew, and to include people who, for one reason or another, had an impact on my life.  I wanted the picture to be fun.  I wanted it to represent at least some other people I actually knew but not real well, and I wanted the scene to resonate with the majority of those who experienced the place and times. 

 

So, it seemed natural to select the one car that was absolutely a standout to nearly every male in Odessa who was interested in and loved the cars of the times, and I think that the one car that was so unique for its customization and dramatic appearance was Carl Goetz’s 1957 Ford convertible. And, besides, I was able to get an actual photo of that car for the artist to use.

 

Carl was of the OHS class of 1957, and he knew more people than most of us could imagine knowing, people from all walks of life.  And, people from all walks of life knew and respected him.  He was respected for a multitude of reasons, but the most obvious reason was that Carl loved cars and he loved them fast, and he loved them customized and beautiful, and he devoted his entire life to owning the cars of his desires; plus, he raced those cars as well as customized them. For a period of time Carl had a national reputation to some extent as a drag racer and hot rod builder.  He was highly intelligent, German, fastidious, single minded about what he wanted, and highly respected for the way he lived his life.  He spent most of his adult life in Odessa working with Broncho Chevrolet as a manager, and I doubt he was ever appreciated for his reputation by the management of that firm the way he should have been. He personally brought them a lot of business.  Even as a resident in the Austin, Texas, area since the early ‘70s, I still bought vehicles through Carl many years later. In many ways, Carl Goetz epitomized the zitsy era of finned car owners of the’50s.  No one represented that era of cars better than he did.  My older brother and Carl were good friends, and I therefore was an often-included bystander and observer of the activities of Carl Goetz.  He spent many summer evenings at our home in the years from 1957-59.  He taught me things about the game of chess, which he loved to play.  He had an encyclopedic memory of people and events in those exciting days of the ‘50s.  I remember well, even into the decade of the ‘90s, talking to him and being amazed at things he could recall about the past.  To me, he was an icon of those days, and he had to be in the picture.  In fact, to me, a picture of that drive-in would just not be valid without him and his car in it.  Carl died in 2002.

 

Carl was a personal friend of Roy Orbison, I heard him say that once in the ‘80s, and Roy Orbison is also in the picture inside the building, watching Carl leave, probably to cruise Grant Street and other drive-ins such as Roy's and Day's.  I have no idea whether or not the world-wide known Roy Orbison ever went inside Tommy’s, but he was so symbolic of Odessa, having grown up in nearby Wink, Texas, and having attended Odessa College, and having played so many gigs in so many places in Odessa in his beginning years, that no one really knows how many of our paths he crossed.  Both he and his wife Claudette, also a native of Odessa, are now deceased, but their footprints are everywhere in the history of Odessa. Carl and Roy Orbison appear to be main characters in the painting. 

 

Plus, there are two ladies driving vehicles with whom I went steady at various times in my very young years, and they were so nice, so intelligent, and so full of life that I wanted them in the picture, also. The first car on the left is a golden brown, 1959 Buick four door hardtop Invicti driven by Nancy Leach, (Bayless) OHS ‘61.  I will always remember Nancy and that car, because one night a car load of us went down the roads weaving back and forth to the tune of  "Let Me Take you On a Sea Cruise."  Nancy and I and other friends of hers will never forget that ride.  Her father was a well-known and respected optometrist in Odessa.  She was a boatload of fun for everyone, elected as Wittiest by her class her senior year because of her upbeat and positive lifestyle.  When Nancy was around, you had fun.

 

The red ’57 customized Chevy belonged to the famous and at times infamous Carlton Trigg.  Trigg graduated from OHS in 1959, but he hung around for the fun even after high school

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Carlton Trigg-OHS 59

His father managed KOSA television station.  There are two stories on this site about Trigg.  He, too, was occasionly a guest at our home on Windsor Drive in Odessa. Carl Goetz and my brother, L.A. Moore, added speed equipment to Carlton's fast car in our garage, and that is when I first met him.  Carlton was probably the most gregarious guy in town.  He had more friends than the pied piper because he caused more things, good and bad, to happen than anyone could imagine.  A book could be written about the wild and crazy things he did in his young life.  I cannot think of another human being in those days that commanded more attention for his behavior than Carlton Trigg.  Plus, his 1957 Chevy was one of the most artfully customized cars I had ever seen and was exactly the car I wished I could have owned.  It caused red-hot envy in my stomach every time I saw it.

 

The red and white 1955 Bel-Air Chevy was mine.  Alford Smallwood, (OHS-61), my best friend in those days, is sitting in the passenger seat.  I am behind the wheel.  People who knew us then would probably not recognize the images, but it is the symbol that counts.  I had two 55 Chevys at different times in those days, and the other sky blue one can be see in part right in front of the 1957 Oldsmobile.  I still occasionally dream about those two cars.  My friend Alford Smallwood died in 2001, and with his death a great memory of the ‘50s perished.  I sure miss him.

 

Next to the red and white Chevy is a 1958 Impala.  My family had a white convertible in that model, but this hardtop model represents a car belonging to another great and long-time friend, Phil Vincent (OHS 61), who still lives in Odessa.  Phil is another friend with an amazing memory of those days.  We became even closer friends when we attended Odessa College together in the early ‘60s, and we are close all these decades later, but our relationship goes back to the seventh grade in 1955.  I love his wife and I love him, and I wanted Phil and his Impala in the picture because they are both reminders of the good in those years.

 

Next to Phil in a two-tone green 1957 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 is Judy Childers (White) and her best friend, Alecia Hemphill (Self); both of them are of the OHS class of ’61. Judy was voted "Best Personality" her senior year, and I know why.  She and I went steady in the 8th and 9th grade, and she was an amazing influence and left a lasting impression upon me because of her zest for life.  I will always appreciate her for that.

 

To the far right is a 1952 Cadillac driven by one of my friends known as Sandra Kay Van Brunt (OHS-60). Her mother and father were my parents’ best friends in those days; their relationship began in the late ‘40s.  Sandra’s mother Helen was my most favorite grown-up of all times, and still is as of this day.   The many years of friendship with this family had to be toasted with their part in the picture.  Standing next to the black Cadillac are two football players representing OHS and PHS, and supposedly they are Ralph Kennedy (and husband of Sandra Kay Van Brunt) and Kenneth Self, ( husband of Alecia Hemphill), and although both graduated from PHS in 1960, both played at OHS in their sophomore year, therefore the wearing of the two jackets can be correct.

 

Next to the football players is a red Corvette owned and driven by a good friend up to this date, Dr. Roger Rankin of Houston, Texas (PHS ’61).  Roger’s and my friendship goes back to the first day of school in the eighth grade at Bonham Junior High School.  Though at times we ran in different crowds, the friendship continued into college days and beyond.  We were roommates in Houston, Texas, at the University of Houston.  Roger bought that Corvette from a well-known Odessa hot-rodder named Buddy Bradshaw.  Any old-timer motorhead from those days would know that name.

 

Next to the red Corvette is a sky blue 1955 Ford Fairlane four door occupied by good friend Bill Webster (OHS-61) and his girlfriend and future wife, Judy Kelley (PHS-62).  We are still  friends today.  Even our kids know their kids, so the connection goes way back.  I had two part-time jobs in Odessa during my youth that were critical to my economic survival, and I owe the getting of those jobs to Bill.  He is an amazing upright guy, someone I respect immensely.  He had to be in the picture, but I might add that the car was at one time owned by three other guys: my cousin Don Moore, OHS ’61, Jim Reid, OHS ’62, Royce Spratlin, OHS 60.  All are friends and I toast them with this picture.

 

There is the orange top of a car close to the right of the building, and though it was not planned, I am going to say it belonged to Betsy Lewis Smith ( PHS ’62).  She is a neat and compassionate lady who really enjoyed those days and represented them with style and class; she is a heck-of-a- fine-lady.  She drove a white and orange 1956  Victoria Ford, and there was no mistaking who she was.  I salute and applaud her as a friend. 

 

All other cars are just fillers, so that is the whole roster and history of who is in the painting.  It really does not matter, though because I hope people will look at the painting and visualize themselves and their friends in it.  That is the real intent of the picture.

 

(Tommy is deceased now, but I did hunt down his daughter Sherry and mailed her a print of the painting; she expressed her gratitude and assured me she would share it with her mother)

 

 

Michael Lewis Moore 2007

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There were others

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CLICK HERE FOR ORBISON GATLIN AND GIBB VIDEO SINGING INDIAN SUMMER

(with reference to Larry Gatlin and Roy Orbison's music legacy, it is my humble opinion the above song is easily among their best work: Indian Summer)

Following is an excerpt from a memoir I wrote for my kids.  It tells the story of how much of our social lives revolved around the drive-ins of the time.

A '50s VENUE, TOMMY’S DRIVE IN

 

In those crazy moments of gridlock and horn honking, figuratively speaking, we howled like coyotes, I guess, at the full moon, signaling each other that we were alive and well.  We celebrated knowing one another and sharing a place and a time.  I think that was what the traffic constipation and noise and fraternizing were all about. 

 

 

If I should be asked, “What was unique about growing up in Odessa, Texas, in the period of 1953 to 1963?” I would answer this way:

 

The single most dominating factor of the times was the social phenomenon of the youth gatherings at their favorite drive-ins.  For my group of peers, the classes of ’60, ‘61, and ’62, it would have to be life revolving around the gatherings at Tommy’s Drive-In on North Andrews Highway next to Odessa College.  Something happened to that culture of drive-ins after we graduated and went on our way, and I suspect a couple of possible reasons. 

 

First was the impact of the owner of Tommy’s selling out his business and moving onto other things.  I was enrolled at Odessa College for a year and a half in 1963 and 1964, and I remember hearing the owner, Tommy Lombardo, talking to an OC economics instructor about the economics of the drive-in.  I feared then that things were in for a change, and I remember being disappointed for all involved and for the town itself.  I knew then that he was interested in selling his business, which he eventually did.  It was a disappointment, because there was nothing like it to take its place.  Society in the ‘60s was visibly changing.

 

Another possible explanation for the decline and demise of the drive-in culture we experienced at Tommy’s is that the classes of 1961 and 1962 were the last two classes who could say they were somewhat cohesive.  They had grown up with many students on both sides of town, but even the class of 1962 did not have the cross-town connections the class of 1961 had.

 

In the fall of 1955, Bonham and Bowie junior high students shared the facility at Bowie until the Bonham building was completed.  There was still a lot of social spillover from that experience for the high school classes of 1961.  In addition, some families had migrated to newer and larger homes in the new neighborhoods sprouting up on the east side of town.

 

In 1958-59, while Permian High School was being built, all the sophomore students from three junior high schools on the north side of town—Crockett, Bowie and Bonham—spent their entire year together at Odessa High.  It was a wild year at Odessa High School with a huge enrollment, and it was an experience that defined our brief era.  It was really an exciting year because of the mixture of schools and the creation of relationships that caused our groups to be more cohesive than any of the later classes. 

 

That school year saw the brand new Tommy’s Drive-In become a major factor in our social lives.  The culture allowed Tommy’s to end up as the social center of the universe for Permian and Odessa High Schools and even for Ector High school on the south side to some extent.  That in itself was unique, and it would never happen again, because in the coming years there would be sharp divisions caused by competition, and a more segregated population.

 

Evidently there was no need for a common meeting place for the classes after ours.  At some time in the ‘60s, lines were drawn, and a new era began.  So it can be said unequivocally that our time was a unique time.  But I wonder why today’s high school kids don’t have a place to convene and socialize like we did in the ‘50s.  It was such a natural thing to do.

 

It has been suggested that the drive-in scene died because everyone wanted to eat inside.  Baloney!  It was not about eating. It was about being together, seeing and being seen, and socializing.  I still don’t understand.

 

Nancy Leach Bayless, Class of ’61, wrote:

“Tommy’s Drive In, which is now a weird record (CD) store stuck in the middle of OC’s campus was a ‘hang out.’  We drove around and around in two circles for hours looking for friends and hopping in and out of the car to talk to someone.  Often the two circles of drive-throughs would get gridlocked where they came together into one lane.  We called this ‘constipated.’   When things became constipated we would just turn the cars off and get out; the circles would be at a standstill for an hour or so.  Cars would be lined up on the street waiting for the circles to move and allow them to turn into Tommy’s.  I don’t remember the police ever coming or interfering with this mess.”

 

Nancy recalled something none of us from those days will ever forget because the way those crowded moments happened probably can never be explained adequately.  To me, that scene of gridlock at Tommy’s and the ensuing noise and pandemonium from honking car horns represented an expressed joy of sorts.  It was the result of a happenstance night when hundreds of us students, most of whom knew each other, some having grown up together since birth, all happened to be in one spot at one time at an age when we knew we were living something special, and we let it all hang out.  It was not a one-time thing.

 

Those highly congested moments lasted quite awhile at times, causing those waiting far back in the Conga line of cars not quite yet into Tommy’s lot to give up and park their cars on the adjoining college campus, or nearby.  Then, the occupants would rush to the grounds and mingle and stand around joining up with their friends, and in one way or the other just soak up the moment. 

 

I am sure many of us at the time knew it was unique.  It was ours, and it will probably never be that way again with the ‘50s music, the ‘50s cars and the ‘50s culture of peace and plenty. 

 

Intuitively we all knew high school was a place with a horizon, and we saw ourselves fairly quickly moving beyond it. Soon there would be college for some and the working world for the rest, but whatever we saw ahead, we knew the moment was sweet, and we knew we had better remember and enjoy it.  In those crazy moments of gridlock and horn honking, figuratively speaking, we howled like coyotes, I guess, at the full moon, signaling each other that we were alive and well.  We celebrated knowing one another and sharing a place and a time.  I think that was what the traffic constipation and noise and fraternizing were all about. 

 

To a casual reader who was not there, who never had a relationship with someone who was there, it might be hard to understand just how vital a place such as Tommy’s was to the social fiber of our lives.  For instance, at noon, when the high schools had two split lunch hours, many students would race to their cars to head to Tommy’s for a quick lunch.  The cars would be filled with boys and girls alike who had made last second arrangements because many of them did not have their own car. So Tommy’s had a lunch crowd consisting of students mostly from Odessa High and Permian High.  In the space of an hour, crowds of faithful teen-age customers circled, parked, and ate.  They were all there to be seen and to commingle, and to munch on the various varieties of burgers and drinks, feed the juke box, and spend time with a girl or boy friend from across town, or from their own high school.  It was a separate but joined group, and it was just the way it was. We took it for granted.

 

After school was out, the crowds would again converge in large numbers.  It was a daily routine to go to Tommy’s before going home for supper.  It was vanilla coke time, social hour, happy hour, a leisurely break where serious, unrushed fraternizing, flirting, bonding, you name it, took place.  This lasted until it was time to go home for the evening family meal. 

 

Afterwards came homework time, which frequently incorporated telephone time with girl friends and boy friends.  With pen and paper in hand and textbook in front, radio playing in the background and phones to their ears, students worked furiously in order to be finished with their studies in as short of a time as possible to be able to prove to the parents that duty was done, mission accomplished with respect to academic responsibilities, parents’ concerns put to rest, because after all that focused work was done efficiently, there was the possibility of a reward—permission to make one last foray back to Tommy’s before bedtime.  Often while the multi- tasking took place with the talking on the phone, doing algebra, listening to the radio, there would also be the strategizing as to who could be picked up on the way to share that last trip of the day.

 

With permission granted, there was the dash out the front door to the car and to friend’s homes where comrades were waiting.  You can bet no horn honking was necessary when the car approached the home of the eager passengers to be.  They knew the routine. They were watching the streets with tuned ears and senses, waiting for their ride.  

 

It was a ritual by all standards.  There was the coke-before-retirement crowd at Tommy’s every night of the school day week.  It was not the largest crowd, but it was there, and admittedly it was confined to those who were the most mobile with their own cars and/or those with lenient parents.

We were like high energy hummingbirds going to the feeder for the last time of the day, to fill up on the nectar of social interaction, and then it was back to our nest at our home for maybe one last stimulating phone call to a member of the opposite sex.

 

Then, at last the day would be over, officially.  Tired bodies and minds were retired and put to rest for the night.  Tomorrow always promised more adventures at school and at Tommy’s Drive-In.

 

The universe in which we lived had an order for activity, and it all revolved around that place on the Andrews Highway next to Odessa College.  Now it seems like just a dream, or the memory of a dream of some ‘50s movie, but the permanent imprints that made each of us what we are remind us today that it was real.  

 

How little did we know that it was all a unique phenomenon that was characteristic of our age group. We only thought it was universal. What was Tommy’s eventually turned into a caricature of its soulful existence.   In a few short years, the culture we knew was gone and became only a memory in the minds of a few.

 

One night at Tommy’s there was a moment of gridlock pandemonium. I have never totally shared this experience before, though it has been mentioned by many of my classmates at reunions and most recently by classmate Shelly Williams in his book titled Washed in the Blood.  To many, it was unforgettable, and for some it was a defining moment in their teen-age lives.

 

Immediately to the north of Tommy’s was a strip of businesses in one building, each with its own door.  The building had a large billboard that served as a border between it and Tommy’s Drive-In.  On this particular night, the cheerleader squads from both Permian and Odessa were there in their cheerleader uniforms, and for some reason they climbed up on the catwalk at the base of the billboard and took turns leading yells to their respective followers. Among other things, it was an impromptu pep rally, wild and loud.  Other students, including me, also climbed up the supporting poles to the catwalk.

 

That night stands out as a quintessential moment of who we were, and what we were about.  It might have been the peak of our times together.  There was never anything quite like it before or afterwards for its intensity. 

 

I was on the catwalk at the very end where people climbed up, and I helped people up the last few feet.  I forget who was beside me, but I was into the moment.   We sat on the catwalk, looking down at the dense milling crowd amid the honking of horns, the yelling, and the cheers, just soaking it all up.  We were swinging our legs and enjoying the moment of madness together.

 

My peripheral vision suddenly began sending messages to my brain about something happening. Below me was a guy, an infamous guy, who was at least four years older than I was.  He struck terror into all the hearts of every young male in town close to my age because of  his roughhousing reputation. He was truly a Billy-BadAss, and I have always wondered why he hung around all of us who were so much younger than he was.  Did he enjoy the terror he could inflict with his just presence and reputation?  I rather think he enjoyed bullying us into cowardice with his tough guy persona and reputation to match.    

 

I saw him looking right at me, and like a baseball pitcher, he was in a powerful wind-up posture with something in his right hand, which he launched right at me.  Things were happening so fast my mind could not focus on the reality of it all.  My instincts were telling me I could not dodge what he was throwing since I was sitting, or rather perching, high up on a catwalk.  The only things I could move were my arms and head.  Instinctively, I stuck out my right hand and perfectly caught the object hurtling at me, just like a first baseman.  It was my history textbook.  This man had reached into the back seat of my  ’55 Chevy, taken out the book, and flung it right at me.

 

I was stunned, wondering why he chose me.  But there he was, right below me, now laughing with a nasty sarcastic look, and then he turned and walked away.   I just sat there, very sober in the midst of a sea of ecstatic people, wondering what this was all about, but you can bet your boots I felt safer up there, away from him, than I would have felt on the ground questioning him.   From the looks of him, walking briskly away, I judged that I would not have gotten a polite answer.

 

Until this day, I have no idea why he did that.  In fact, I probably would not even be writing this today had I not recently read his obituary; he was that kind of a guy.  In those days I hardly knew him personally, but he knew who I was.  There was evidently just something about the moment he did not like.

 

That was action.  There was always action at Tommy’s Drive-In on a weekend night, but that particular night manifested the most action of all for of us who were unknowingly facing the end of an era as well as the epitome of our lives together.

 

You just had to be there to understand it.  It was an external event to each one of us who was present, but inwardly it was shared by all of us as something we would never forget.  There was a oneness, a commonality, a group experience, a happening, and I can guarantee that every soul there was in synch later that night when falling asleep, because they all knew they had just had a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.  Never again would they have so much good in common with so many people around them.  My bet is that the city of Odessa never experienced that again.  It was truly unique.

 

 

 TOMMY LOMBARDO’S MOST VIVID MEMORY

 

Carlton was driving his new dark blue 1960 Pontiac Bonneville, a two-door hardtop. It was a beautiful car, and it was hot, and it was headed for trouble.

 

In 1987 there was a cluster high school reunion for four classes of Odessa and Permian High at the Holiday Inn Holidome on East Highway 80 in Odessa.   Included were the classes of 1960 through 1963, and the guest of honor was Tommy Lombardo, the owner of Tommy’s Drive-In from 1958 through 1965.

In his speech to us he admitted to being at a loss for words at his invitation to the reunion as the guest of honor. This was unusual for him, since he had gone on to become a college professor of economics at North Texas State University in Denton, Texas.

He admitted that running Tommy’s during that time made him think of the groups of young people he knew over the years as an "ornery bunch." I am not sure everyone who heard him say that understood why, but one must remember that Tommy had to endure the passions and antics of hundreds of teen-agers, while their parents had to survive only their own child or children through those trying years.

Tommy saw many fights and endured countless pranks, and some of it was not pretty. Although he taught many of us to play chess in the dining room area of the drive-in, some of what he saw was the ugliest side of being a teenager.  Yet he acknowledged that it was that crowd he aimed for when he started the business, so in a way he asked for it.

I got to sit at his table alone with him during lunch one day while at the reunion, and I asked him what was the most memorable experience he had during his tenure as owner and manager of Tommy’s Drive-In. It was a loaded question, because I had a suspicion about what his answer would be, and as it turned out I was right on target. Tommy admitted that he did not remember me, and I understood, because there were so many faces and names it would take someone demented to remember them all. But he did remember the name of Carlton Trigg, and that was not surprising 

The event that seared Carlton’s name onto many people’s memories happened one night probably early in the year of 1961. Carlton, a lucky child born into the silver spoon crowd, always had nice cars, and he drove the hell out of them, which meant that when his father bought the cars for him, Carlton got to choose how they were equipped.  He always picked them fast and well equipped with speed options.

On this particular night, Carlton was with Roger Rankin, a friend who was two grades behind him. Carlton Trigg was one of those people who had a vast array of friends in every crowd. His personality was such that he was welcomed by nearly everyone because he was so outgoing, extremely upbeat, always having a good time, and he had a long history of fabled behavior behind him. He made things happen, and often those things were bizarre.

Carlton was driving his new dark blue 1960 Pontiac Bonneville, a two-door hardtop. It was a beautiful car, and it was hot, and it was headed for trouble.

Under the hood was a huge V-8 engine with a set of three two-barrel carburetors that fed the high performance engine, a result of General Motors’ creativity of those years.

Carlton and Roger had just pulled onto the south end of the Odessa College campus paralleling The Andrews  Highway, traveling north on the front driveway.  They were headed towards Tommy’s Drive-In, which was a long city block away.  It was a Saturday night, and the parking lot was full of occupied cars as well as young people mingling both outside and inside the eating area.  It was well into the peak hours of the evening, and the place was rocking and rolling.

For some reason or the other, Carlton supposedly floor-boarded the accelerator and punched in all three carburetors even though he had only a short distance to go. 

That in itself was not wise, but it would have been no big deal if he had immediately gotten off the accelerator after hearing the lovely sound of those carburetors sucking air and fuel into the hot-rod engine. Many of us could have, and would have, done that little trick for the thrill of it. And it was a kick many of us car lovers loved to experience, but this time it turned into more excitement than any sane thrill seeker could have bargained for, because the linkage on the carburetors allegedly stuck open, and the gas pedal was down to the floor.

Supposedly, when Carlton took his foot off that pedal, nothing he wanted to happen, happened. Instead, the car reared, roared, and raced right at the drive-in’s plate glass windows. The eating area was full of unsuspecting teenagers munching on burgers and listening to the music of the time, socializing and totally unaware that Carlton and Roger were fighting for their lives and the lives behind the windows at Tommy’s as the dark blue Pontiac streaked right at them.

Even today, any onlooker can drive by the old Tommy’s site and see the intersection of roads at the northeast corner of the campus property. Tommy’s property had a curb and a drainage ditch separating it from the campus asphalt roads. The curb was around six inches high, and the drainage ditch was concave paved concrete that amounted to sort of a moat on that side of Tommy’s.  It was around two feet deep and around six feet wide before the sides of it rose up to meet the paved driveway that outgoing cars used when exiting Tommy’s Drive-In onto the Andrews Highway.

Carlton is deceased now, so we will never know what went on in his mind as he (or Roger) tried to check his out-of-control high performance car. If he swerved to the right, he would be on the main street of the town, headed into oncoming traffic, so that was no option, even if he could have managed the significant drop-off onto the street.

Whether by instinct, or divine intervention, or plain savvy, or just plain luck, Carlton veered left , and the car jumped up onto the campus lawn paralleling the driveway.  The car’s fishtailing action graphically engraved deep tracks into the fresh dirt, tearing up grass and flattening rose bushes as they swerved, showing the desperation of the car’s occupants as they tried to maintain control.  With that deviation onto the grass had come a slight rise in the elevation of the terrain; it was a lucky move.  As a matter of fact, it could not have been luckier, because when the car left that slightly higher elevation, it became temporarily airborne.  It was just enough to save all the lives that were in imminent danger.

The heavy Pontiac took a nosedive over the asphalt and over the curb, right into that moat, where it smashed to a stop, nose down, almost jarring the brains out of its occupants; but they were lucky.  Though Carlton’s skull busted out the windshield on the right side, he suffered nothing more serious than a cut that the emergency room doctor stitched up.  Roger was not hurt.

Immediately, garishly, steam rose from under the crunched front end up into the cold night sky with a pungent anti-freeze smell, mixed with the smell of hot engine metal, as the crumpled radiator spewed its contents out onto the asphalt drive.  Windshield and headlight glass glittered in tiny fragments, scattered about the wreckage.

 There was a dead silence, a terrifying silence at first, and then a mob of shocked spectators, including Tommy the owner and all his hired help, ran to the car expecting to see death. Instead they saw injury only, and that was not even all that bad. The car definitely got the worst of it, as it was totaled.

After some quick maneuvering, and the following of Roger’s requests by stunned and sympathetic bystanders, the occupants were whisked away, ostensibly to the hospital emergency room, while the remaining crowd somehow cleared the driveway of the wreckage by hand, lifting it up from its teetering posture off the curb, out of the moat, and onto the college driveway. There was plenty of wide-eyed help, and if the truth be known, they all knowingly and willingly rearranged the evidence, and then made themselves scarce before the police arrived. The teen-age oath of omerta was in force.

Tommy, the owner, had to be wondering if baby-sitting teen-agers to make a living was worth it. After all, here he was staring at a disaster barely averted, and that only by the fickle finger of fate, or luck, or whatever. Surely no one could credit Carlton Trigg with last-second good judgment. I think it was blind luck and the good Lord looking out for everyone.

I was one of the crowd that arrived short minutes after the incident. In fact, the car’s occupants had been taken to the emergency room, or at least that is what we were told. Some of us immediately went to the hospital emergency room to wait on news of the injuries. But when we got there, all we learned was they had been there and left, so we left. We were all shocked and amazed that no one had been killed, and the speculation about what could have happened can still be a topic of conversation after all these years to anyone who witnessed the most memorable event ever to happen at Tommy’s Drive-In.

The facts of the above incident may or may not be totally accurate. I have heard other versions from a knowledgeable source, and I was told that it was close enough, and I was told to leave well enough alone, and that is all there is to be said about that! (Some people will speculate that the driver's alcohol intake might have contributed to this incident.)

 

 

RED HOT ENVY

 

 (This scene happened before the Trigg wreck at Tommy's and it happened with a different vehicle, a 1957 Chevrolet two door hardtop that Carlton modified to be his own, a car I would have loved to owned.)

 

Recently, and while writing these pages, I let a friend of mine peruse some of my efforts.  We share a love of reading and flying.  My friend, Donald Lee, is approaching his 80th year in 2005 and he has spent his life reading and appreciating books.  He graduated from Odessa High School in 1943, and he honestly critiques some of the things I write when I ask him to.  He opined that when I write about the ‘50s I overly emphasize the cars.  In response, I explained to him that the cars in that decade were so exciting, at least to the males, that all of us males did focus on cars.  Also, car ownership dictated whether or not you could date, or even be really serious about a girl.  Cars dictated whether or not you were mobile or subject to the whims of someone else’s good luck for transportation.  Cars played a huge role and were a male’s identity.  I don’t think most of the ladies understood that at the time.

 

He accepted my response, acknowledging that he was so wrapped up in his USAF military career at the time that he had paid no attention. He was of another generation.  Having thought about our exchange, I mentally examined my concept of the past and again questioned whether my concept was representative of other people’s recollections of those times, and I decided to stick by my story!

 

Having said that, I should mention that when it came to cars, there were those among us who were able to have exactly what they wanted, and the rest of us were just envious bystanders who lived somewhat vicariously through the lucky people.

 

Outstanding in my memory were people like Carl Goetz and Carlton Trigg.  Carl, the guy I considered the king of hot-rodders, practically hand crafted his 1957 Ford convertible into what it became (its photo is on the cover of this account), and he sacrificed many pleasures for the privilege of owning his car.  He loved it.  And then there was Carlton Trigg.  

 

Trigg, a 1959 graduate of Odessa High School, was not a die-hard hot-rodder like Carl Goetz.  He was too social to be a die-hard anything, yet his father saw to it that Carlton could have anything he wanted, and Carlton often wanted a lot.  He was such an outrageous character that everyone wanted to be his friend.  A reader might wonder why Carlton’s name pops up repeatedly in these essays.  I, too, wondered, and then I concluded that he was an example of someone whose life was the exact opposite of mine in many respects.  He had outrageous freedoms as a result of his relationship with his dad.  His parents provided no hard-handed control whatsoever, but his life had its own consequences. 

 

Almost any American male can picture a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hardtop.  It is the most collected car in the world today because of what it represented in both style and function. The buyer of a ‘57 Chevy had a mind-boggling number of options appealing to the most conservative family member all the way up to most ambitious hot-rodder. 

 

The most coveted option available to the creative buyer was the Corvette engine, which could even be fuel injected, a first for a Detroit-made vehicle sold to the public.  In other words, the car could be turned into a beautiful hot-rod, and it often was.  Those who were lucky enough to be able to afford all those options were envied. Carlton was one of those lucky ones.  And Carlton Trigg obviously wanted a cool car.  I am not sure who performed all the custom work on his car; but I suspect it was a guy by the name of Laymon, who ran a custom car shop on east Second  Street.   If I were ever to restore one, I would copy it.

 

I was at Tommy’s Drive-In when I first saw Carlton’s car.  It slowly turned off the main highway into Tommy’s busy driveway, and it slowed even more until the engine was only idling.  Then it slowly and dramatically rumbled by the cars parked under the awning as though it was on parade, which it was.  Carlton, with his short, sandy blond ducktail haircut and perpetual smile, knew he was having an impact with his newly acquired toy fresh from the custom shop.  The music of the car’s exhaust from the glass-pack mufflers signified a hotter than normal engine; it was a sound we all dreamed of hearing in our own cars.   Slowly, Carlton made the complete outside route of Tommy’s Drive-in and turned left into the inside route.  He then pulled into a diagonal parking spot just in front of the main door, next to the car hop station.  He shut down the engine and casually got out from behind the steering wheel.  Every pair of eyes present was focused on one of the most beautiful Chevys any of us had ever seen.

 

Carlton had our attention and he knew it, because we all quickly migrated toward him and the beautiful red object beside him.  At that time, I personally did not know him, so I stayed a respectable distance from him as he conversed with others, answering their questions about the royal creation sitting before us. Carlton always emanated the impression that life to him was just a place to have another adventure, and here he was, having an adventure with his beautiful car.  It was wildly beautiful to someone like me.  I slowly walked completely around the magnificent  machine, keeping a safe distance so as not to mar it with even a fingerprint, and I am sure I gaped at the imagination that went into its creation. 

 

Any teenager of those days knew by sight all the components of any make of car on the road, and it was obvious that the grille in this Chevy had come from a 1957 Buick.  It complemented the car perfectly and gave it Carlton’s unique signature.  The hood had been shaved of its factory chrome, and atop the hood were two chrome air inlets from the sides of the fenders of a ‘57 Buick.  How cool and neat.  The front-end springs had been heated to lower the front end into a raked posture--artfully done. Growing out of the underside and sprouting just behind the front wheels were shiny new chrome Lake plugs (an alternate exhaust system to be used while racing) that went all the way to the back wheel wells.  There they angled slightly outward and were capped with two chrome bolts.  But best of all was the understated and tasteful pin-striping job beginning at the headlights and continuing to the farthest point of the finned tail.  Only a picture could explain the way it accented the car’s racy lines.

 

But imagination will have to suffice.  This machine was still Chevrolet red, as it came from the factory.  “If it ain’t red, it ain’t right.”   I heard the king of Odessa hot-rodders, Carl Goetz, say that late in his life.  It was a conclusion he came to after never having had a red ‘57 Chevy until after the climax of the custom car era was over.

 

It was an emotional experience to be able to examine that car.  It made my stomach hurt with “red-hot envious pains.”  I can only imagine the state of mind that Carlton felt as he stood proudly nearby, letting all of us commoners examine the princely metal trophy.

 

Carlton did not have to slave and save to get it—his father bought it for him.  I am sure he was never told that it would be best if he had to work for it.  He was given it just because he wanted it, and not only did his father pay for the car, he paid the bill for all the custom work and the unnecessary adornments his son wanted. And he gave Carlton the cash Carlton had in his pocket.  How luxurious! 

 

What kind of man did Carlton have for a father?  Everyone there had to wonder, because we all knew where Carlton lived, and we all knew the job his father had.  We all had to be questioning the luck of the draw no matter what kind of relationship we had with our fathers.  No one talked about it, I am sure, but everyone thought it.  I’ll always wonder if we had just seen the

car that Carlton’s father would have wanted when he was younger.

 

It was a long ride home from Tommy’s Drive-In that day for all of us stunned male teenagers, especially those of us who had no car we could call our own to drive.  In our contemplative silence, we all knew there was nothing we could do to match the incredible luxury we had just seen.  We were thankful for what we had, no matter how meager it might have been compared to the spectacle we saw that day at Tommy’s Drive-In when Carlton Trigg paraded by us in his new car, regally proud.

 

In all honesty, today the whole thing makes me think of a modern day Tom Sawyer and the love of his life, Becky Thatcher, a bright-eyed sweet young thing with a proud grin on her face, sitting close to Tom in his customized 1957 Chevy exactly like Carlton’s. 

 

As they pull out from Tommy’s Drive-In on the afternoon that Becky has been voted homecoming queen of Hannibal High School, Tom euphorically and quickly--just enough to get attention but not enough to break the law—floorboards the Chevy as they leave the scene. The sound and thrust of the souped up engine pops the two envied beautiful young people back into their seats for a quick roaring second.  It’s enough to get the wide-eyed attention of Tom’s gang of wannabe pirates sitting back at the drive-in in their plain ol’ cars, drinking their vanilla cokes on an Indian Summer day.  It’s enough to satisfy the occupants, Tom and Becky, who know they live in an exciting time in an exciting place and are the luckiest people in the town for at least a split second or two. 

 

And that imagined scene is exactly the origin of the red-hot pains in our stomachs when we viewed Carlton’s new car with uncontrollable envy.

 

I must add here that one day I heard Carlton say that the reason he was allowed to customize that car is that he and two friends outran a highway patrolman one day and finally ditched him by taking back roads through the oil fields near Notrees.  Carlton’s dad allowed his son to drastically change the car’s appearance so the highway patrolman could not identify it.  Is that creative or what?

 

And here I am in my 60s, and when I think of that car, my brain sez, "Man, that was a good lookin' car"

 

Michael Lewis Moore

 


 

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Red Hot Envy


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