Tag Archives: 1950s

Airport fun in the 1950’s

There weren’t many free recreational opportunities for Florence families in the 1950’s. In the summer we might drive down to the Black Creek swimming hole or walk to the Timrod Park pool. Once a summer or so we’d make that long drive to Myrtle Beach, if mama packed a picnic basket and cooler. Occasionally there were community concerts at the high school and once in a while somebody put on a talent show at the Colonial Theater.

One big entertainment complex for cost-conscious families was the airport. Saturday afternoons you’d find a few cars parked up against the chain link fence or under the tall pine trees growing alongside the terminal tarmac. Dads would point out to assorted children those tiny specks in the sky as they came in for a landing. “See way up there? That’s the airplane, see?”

And we’d squint against the glare, following the speck until it was discernible as a plane, then disappeared from view on a far-side runway. “Listen for it, listen!” And soon we would hear the roar of those big engines as the plane taxied into sight. We’d wave and yell as though the passengers, maybe even the plane itself could hear us cheering it on. We’d wait until the engines finally stopped, the tall steps were rolled into place and all those fortunate people began disembarking. Satisfied, we’d prepare to pile back into the car, excitement over.

Sometimes instead of heading home daddy would drive us over to general aviation to look at an airplane up close. Two seaters or four seaters, single wing or biplane, many shapes and sizes of planes were parked inside the hanger and out. Sometimes daddy would find somebody to talk to about engine size, airspeed, all that technical stuff. Nobody ever tried to run us off in those days as we walked around, letting our imaginations put us into those cockpits. Sky King! Red Baron!

The whole property was a community asset and not just for airplane watchers, riders or flyers. On the Cemetery Road side were large, leafy pecan trees growing near one of the narrow paved roads. When the pecans were prolific, moms brought their children and their paper sacks, parked on the grassy shoulder and picked up enough nuts for Thanksgiving and Christmas pies and fruit cakes.

Those back roads were also good places for novice drivers. That’s where my cousin David Allen tried to teach me to drive daddy’s straight-shift Ford. A slipping clutch got the best of me and the car choked off every time I went from first to second gear. Exasperated, we finally gave up on the lesson. But in mama’s punch-button drive Plymouth later on, I practiced driving, turning around and parallel parking, every maneuver that might be called for on my driver’s test, all out there on those airport roads. The light traffic made the airport the safest, yet most realistic place to learn driving for me and most of my friends.

On East Palmetto near the main entrance was the Airport Drive-in Restaurant popular with teenagers. It was a good place to go before a movie, or instead. Hamburgers, soft drinks, and a dimly lighted parking lot made it a convenient and more-or-less private place to talk. I don’t recall if the food was good or bad, but I spent a summer evening or two there with dates listening to the car radio and eating with the windows down to catch a breeze. (No car air conditioners.)

We’d drive through the airport over to Cemetery Road, stretching the minutes before going home. We’d pass Marlowe Manufacturing along the way and occasionally another car, making several circuits and passing the ends of unused runways. If it was still daylight, we’d look for the hulk of an old abandoned plane, parked and forgotten on one of those old runways.

The annual Agricultural Fair set up on the town end of the airport for many years, with a family-friendly admission charge. Mama and daddy insisted we tour the exhibition buildings before us kids could ride any of the rides. They stopped too often to suit me; they knew too many people in those exhibit booths! Pyramids of home-preserved jelly and jams sat next to quart jars of cucumber pickles. There were gigantic pumpkins and gourds and hand-pieced quilts, blue ribbons pinned on everything imaginable.

We’d meander through tractors and disc harrows, finally arriving at our last stop – the baby animals. Trying to pet the piglets or catch a baby chick, we’d lean over the fence rails as mama and daddy congratulated the proud 4H’ers who had raised these adorable creatures.

Well, the fairgrounds were eventually relocated down the highway and the old terminal building, hangers and all have evolved into a shiny, new regional complex. Still, I enjoy reminiscing about our old 1950’s airport, especially these days when I have to pay for parking out there.

School sports in the 1950’s

Recess at McKenzie Elementary School was often sports centered – not baseball, football or basketball, but tag, hopscotch, jump rope, and other “team” activities. The boys had their side of the yard, the girls had ours and never the twain did meet, so I can’t speak to what the boys engaged in, but tag and double-dutch jump rope were big things for us girls.

We did have real teams, too. The leader, whoever that might be, picked her best friend to captain the opposing team. Sides were then picked, always a daunting necessity. Some girls were good at chase, being taller and long-legged. Some were better at jumping, some at hopping, and some at tripping up the rest of us.

I did okay getting picked until about the fourth grade. That’s when the visiting eye doctor checked everybody’s vision and I started wearing glasses. Of course I could see the blackboard much better, but something weird happened to my depth perception on the playground. Nothing was quite where I thought it was any more. That only messed up my hopscotch skills a little, but running across the schoolyard was suddenly troublesome. Little clumps of grass, pools of rain water or chunks of broken brick kept getting in my way. Soon I became the last one picked no matter what the game, and cheering on the other girls gradually became my “sports” activity.

At Poynor Junior High the schoolyard was replaced by the gymnasium, where phys-ed was a more organized affair. Jumping jacks may not technically be a team sport, but they are supposed to be synchronized. I could manage okay if I stuck to the back row, where I couldn’t accidentally cause a disastrous domino effect. Running around the gym in formation was one way to warm-up for half-court basketball, but I always knew that would be it for me. No-one voluntarily chose me for their side if they could help it. Sometimes they couldn’t help it, like when the teacher did the selecting. Both me and the other girls groaned if she ever appointed me to a team.

Have you ever shot a basket and just knew it was right on? But the ball had a mind of its own and missed the rim by a hair? Every time? I could plainly see where the basket was, and I could plainly throw the ball in exactly the right spot. But it never was exactly the right spot – the refraction of my eyeglass lenses did something peculiar to all that. After a while even the well-meaning PE coach took pity on us all and let me stick to calisthenics. No more team sports for me.

At McClenaghan our physical education classes were shortened and their frequency lessened. Part of the class was spent listening to lectures, part on calisthenics, and part on choosing up sides for basketball or softball. That part of my time was spent on homework. I didn’t mind. I enjoyed watching the teams running and jumping, thoroughly exhausting themselves. Whenever we took the class out to the field behind the school, I sat on the bleachers and read history, occasionally looking up to yell encouragement to the players.

You know, there were distinct sports seasons back then. Fall meant football! Naturally the more accomplished females in gym class went out for cheerleading. Go, Yellow Jackets! I watched a few football games during the fall, but I really looked forward to basketball. That didn’t start until after football was over, and it didn’t require sitting outside in cold weather squinting against the field lights to see who was who under their helmets. In the relative comfort of the gym, despite echoes bouncing off the walls and the gallops of so many big feet, the players were quite distinguishable.

Then, as winter-time basketball was winding up, softball and baseball got under way and you knew it would soon be spring. Occasional breezes got us through the warm, then hot weather, and I was back to holding down a seat in the stadium bleachers. If we had winning or losing seasons I couldn’t tell you right now, but we sure did have enthusiastic teams and fans.

By my last year in high school, even gym class calisthenics were no longer required. Piano lessons, the McClenaghan chorale and choir rehearsals took up my spare time, in between dating. And I was looking forward to college – Francis Marion University was then USC at Florence and thus I pulled for all the Gamecock teams. I still do, but nowadays my own “sports activity” has morphed into flipping the remote control, watching TV while peddling my exercise bike.

“Cruising the View”

ETV recently lamented the demise of old style drive-in restaurants, the kind with the speaker on a pedestal right by your car and your food delivered to the car window. A film crew visited the Sky View, interviewing patrons about the way “Cruising the Sky View” used to be. One late 1950’s Cruising the View adventure is still vivid in my mind.

Eating places were as different as car styles in the 1950’s and Florence had a variety of choices for any taste buds. Smiley’s, on East Palmetto where Cheves Street veers off for downtown, offered the world’s best cheeseburgers. Fried chicken lovers headed to Ed Turner’s Chicken Basket at Coles Crossroads. You might drop in to the Sanitary Lunch across from McLeod Infirmary for a hot Apple Jack. If you had a really sweet tooth, you visited the Donut Dinette on West Palmetto for a dozen of those melt-in-the-mouth, hot-out-of-the-grease doughnuts. Quite a few full-fledged restaurants, corner cafes, serious steak houses and fish camps were scattered around town, each one unique.

For teenage drivers, however, the Beacon Drive-in on South Irby offered places to park, grab a bite to eat and listen to the radio. Palmetto Street offered two great destinations with similar fare and service, the 301 Drive-In across from the main Fire Station and the Sky View at Five Points. All three featured curb service, hamburgers, fries, milk shakes and fountain drinks. Remember Clarinets? Cruising the View in the 1950’s came to include making the rounds of all three several times an evening, boys in their cars, girls in theirs if not out on a date.

Tri-Hi-Y met at the YMCA downtown and I was fortunate enough to be trusted with my daddy’s car to attend these meetings. Since they were over early in the evening, all the kids hunted up refreshments afterwards. It was only natural that my friend Sally and I would do likewise. The way this activity worked, we might order a fountain coke at the 301, sip on it a while and watch other cars go by. We’d check out who was driving what and who was riding with who, then crank up and head over to the Beacon. There we’d park again, order french fries, munch and watch other cars go by.

Now, daddy had given me definite instructions about where I could drive his car and how many hours I could stay out, and I was supposed to keep his car in the downtown area. That meant no Sky View ( it was too far out on West Palmetto). But once you’ve cruised the Beacon and 301 a couple of times, it’s too obvious to keep on circling those two. It was only natural that you’d follow the cruising crowd out to the Sky View, right? And if we paid for the extra gas, daddy really wouldn’t mind, right?

Half way out to Five Points, we had a flat tire. In those days there were almost no businesses between downtown and Five Points, no gas stations and no tire companies, only residences. We made it to the phone booth at the Dairy Queen and sat in the car a few minutes, contemplating our dilemma. Who did we know that could change a tire? Having a flat tire wasn’t that big a problem — where we had the flat tire was a big problem! My earlier reasoning about Cruising the Sky View suddenly felt a little faulty even to me.

“Honesty is the best policy,” Daddy had drummed that into my skull a few times and when I finally ran out of options I called him. I was honest. We’d had a flat tire, and we were where we’d been told not to be, out in the middle of “nowhere,” way out on West Palmetto Street headed toward the Sky View. I don’t remember who came to change the tire, somebody daddy called, but I do remember the consequences. No more driving daddy’s car to Tri-Hi-Y meetings, no more going anywhere at night for a month, and definitely no more Cruising the View in his car.

We did Cruise the Sky View in later days (in Sally’s car) and it was still fun ordering a burger here, onion rings there, and a Clarinet somewhere else, watching the other cars go by and seeing who was riding with who.

A few years ago Tim and I would visit the Sonic out on West Palmetto, park and enjoy milkshakes on hot summer afternoons. As we sipped our shakes and listened to the radio, I watched other cars go by and realized cruising is still alive and well with a brand-new generation of teenagers, plus an extra destination or two. ETV may have lamented the demise of the old-time drive-in restaurants a little too early.