Car Collector Corner; More nostalgic memories from the 1950s and 1960s

More nostalgic memories from the 1950s and 1960sThe early McDonald’s restaurants were “walk up service” only, as seating was yet years away. Shown are two classic cars from 1955, a Chrysler New Yorker and Chevy Bel Air. (McDonald’s)

By Greg Zyla —

Q: Greg, I remember many years ago you did a column on growing up in the 1950s and the many nostalgic items you mentioned. It was long ago that I first saw it, and I’m hoping you could do a reprint as it was loaded with many brand name items. Thanks, Carl from Owego, N.Y.   

A: Carl, that column you mention came from a question submitted by reader Dan York, from Pottstown, Pa. It was first published in 2017, and indeed was filled with many “brand name” memories.

Here we are in 2024, and as I re-read the answer, I failed to mention many other nostalgic memories all tied to cars and my family memories that I enjoyed back then.

So, here we go on an updated column for a second time since 2017 as I clearly remember the top-of-mind new four-lane highways and turnpikes that were being built coast to coast.

With these new highways came a bevy of what would become established businesses and expansions like Howard Johnson’s motels and restaurants; Stuckey’s Pecans, Snacks and Gasoline; Dairy Queen; and more and more gas stations than ever being built.

Another vivid memory is the first McDonald’s I ever went to. It was located near New Brunswick, N.J., and we arrived thanks to my aunt Rose and Uncle John in their brand new ’60 Impala sport coupe. I remember it was situated on Rte. 18, not far from my aunt and uncle’s Rutgers Village home while heading south towards Old Bridge, N.J.

More nostalgic memories from the 1950s and 1960s

Wally Dallenbach Sr. passed away April 29, 2024, at the age of 87. Dallenbach had a spectacular career in racing, starting with numerous wins in modified stock cars in the 1950s to winning five IndyCar races along the way. He went on to become chief steward of competition for CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) IndyCar racing and made significant safety improvements and reforms. (CART photo)

Speaking of Old Bridge, many times we went to the modified stock car races at Old Bridge Speedway and watched Wally Dallenbach dominate the field. He just passed away on April 29 at the age of 87, and I saw him win many modified features at both Old Bridge and Vineland, N.J. speedways.  

Dallenbach went on to win five Indy car races in a spectacular career and then served in an executive capacity with the IndyCar CART series when he retired from driving after the 1979 season. (Sorry for going off center here, but Dallenbach lived near New Brunswick and was one of my early racing heroes driving the XL-1 modifieds.)  

Back to the memories.

These first McDonald’s were “order at the window” as no seating was available yet, but soon to come. I remember, at McDonalds, many customers came over to check out my uncle’s blue and white 1960 Impala two-door “bubble-top.”

More nostalgic memories from the 1950s and 1960s

Charles Chip deliveries were commonplace during the late 1950s and 1960s. Popular today are the toy trucks that sell well on the auction sites and online toy stores. (Charles Chips)

Cities Service gas centers, around since the 1930s, popped up at the service plazas on the state turnpikes and were very impressive. Also, in the heyday of street delivery ice cream, it’s hard to forget the original Good Humor Ford trucks and the soon to follow Mr. Softie ice cream trucks.

Charles Chips, too, had their fleet of Chevy panel trucks, and to this day is the only potato chip I know of that became famous because of home delivery. I still have my Charles Chips can and a Buddy L Charles Chip metal toy truck. Charles Chips ceased home delivery in 1975, although I not long ago purchased a bag of Charles Chips at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Elmira, N.Y.

Sears and Montgomery Ward stores also bring back memories. Reader Dan noted in his letter that he remembered the toy departments were great to see at Christmastime, and the hobby department was filled with 1/24 scale cars and other models. He also noted that his dad owned a Sears Elgin boat that he learned to water ski on while hooked behind.

I’ll add here you could buy a Henry-J automobile at some Sears stores in 1952 and 1953. It was called the Allstate and was a Henry-J clone that came with special badges, hood ornament, and Sears auto parts like spark plugs, Allstate tires, and some extra interior conveniences.

More nostalgic memories from the 1950s and 1960s

Howard Johnson motels and restaurants grew rapidly in the 1950s. The last restaurant closed in March of 2022, although the motel end of the business thrives today under Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. (Wyndham)

Dan knew from previous columns that I worked in the paint department at Sears in Vineland, N.J. in 1968, and he worked at both S.S. Kreske’s (a forerunner of Kmart) and at the Kmart in Burlington, N.J. He also noted that both Sears and Kmart in his town of Pottstown, Pa. had already closed in 2017.

My Sears recollections center on the Sears & Roebuck located at Landis Avenue and the circle of Rte. 47, in Vineland, N.J. When we relocated there, as a family from Ranshaw, Pa. in 1957-1958, Sears was the “in-store” to visit regardless of need. I remember many times my parents shopping while my dad’s 1955 Plymouth Savoy received an oil change at the Sears Auto Center.

Be it those Sears oil changes, a set of tires, tools, a Ted Williams baseball glove, or JC Higgins bicycle, Sears had it all. Many Sears of the 1950 and 1960 decades featured a Hires Root Beer stand in the middle of the store where they served hot dogs on a bread type semi-toasted roll.  

Sears had a great toy section, and the holidays were my favorite time to visit Sears and await its spectacular Sears Christmas Wish catalog that arrived in everyone’s mail.

Sears aside, the gas stations of the era are still ingrained in my head. There was so much activity back then as gas pump attendants were in full uniform, many with bow ties. There was always a friendly hello and “Happy Motoring” at the end if it was an Esso station, while Gulf made sure TV’s “The Life of Riley” was central at its gas stations in the late 1950s. Specifically, Chester A. Riley, played by William Bendix, was himself a bumbling wing riveter at Cunningham Aircraft on the half-hour hit show. Gulf gasoline requested that motorists tell the Gulf attendants “Riley sent me.”

More nostalgic memories from the 1950s and 1960s

Chester A. Riley, played by William Bendix, was a spokesperson for Gulf Oil gas stations in the 1950s, which sponsored his hit TV show, “The Life of Riley.” (Gulf Oil)

The gas attendants back then would clean your car windshield, check the oil, and even make sure the tire pressures were correct regardless of weather. The Flying A, Sinclair, Esso, Gulf, and Texaco stations stand out in my mind, as does Sunoco and later American, the latter the first to offer a no-lead gasoline before government mandates.

Unlike today’s “Food Mart” gas stations, the service stations of yesteryear were fascinating places for young and old. From engines being changed, transmissions rebuilt, to tires mounted and balanced, I loved everything about a gas station, and I always asked a lot of questions.

As for snacks, most gas stations back then had Coca-Cola, Nehi Orange, 7-Up, Hires Root Beer, or Pepsi Cola soda products. They also had to have a nice lineup of potato chips and pretzels, and perhaps five or six selections of candy bars, my favorites being Skybar, Chunky or Sugar Daddy. Oh yes, can’t forget those Planters Salted Peanuts or Lance Nip-Chee crackers at just 5-cents a pack.

Sadly, as the years pass on and auto manufacturers further enhance today’s modern, computer-controlled electric cars, the service stations we knew growing up have nearly disappeared. The few independent garages survived thanks mostly to dedicated baby boomer consumers, although some of the younger generations have found out how good these little service garages are. 

Still, with high tech cars advancing more every year, it’s just a matter of time before more of these wonderful independents shut their doors. They still, however, serve as a great place for your collector car to be properly serviced, as the small independents still know how to set up a Holley carburetor, install an Isky cam, fix the water pump, or replace a broken rocker arm.

Thanks for your letter, Carl.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader questions or comments on auto nostalgia, motorsports and collector cars at greg@gregzyla.com or at Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840.)

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