texasmonthly.com: How long did you work on this story?
Anne Dingus: I worked about a month, took five separate trips, and traveled 1,900 miles. Fortunately, getting to sample T-bone steak, chicken-fried steak, and many soda fountain treats helped make the driving tolerable.
texasmonthly.com: Was it hard to find information? What kind of research did you do?
Joe Nick Patoski: My memory served me well . . . sort of. I had to comb through files and old magazine and newspaper clips, and the fractured recollections of some of my peers.
Patricia Sharpe: No, the information wasn’t that hard to come by. Mostly it was what people here at the office knew, including myself. I called a few friends too. The point was to visit the places in person, so I just mapped them out and went. Then I did follow-up phone calls after I had visited.
AD: It was almost too easy to find information; the hard part was narrowing the choices down to one. For example, there are about a dozen drive-in movie theaters still operating in Texas today. Any one of them would have made a nice little story (well, except for the couple of X-rated ones!), especially because nearly all are in smaller towns. I finally settled on Lamesa because I liked the fact that the town was in West Texas, where it’s generally flat enough that the big movie screen can be seen from miles around, and the Sky-vue there hasn’t changed for decades.
texasmonthly.com: Why did you decide to write on your particular topic?
Kathryn Jones: I’ve always loved prowling through old hardware stores. When I walked in the doors of the Carter Ivy Hardware Company in Weatherford, my childhood came rushing back. That store had it all—dusty wooden floors, bins full of nails and screws and hooks, shelves lined with crockware, implements I couldn’t even begin to identify hanging from the walls, older guys hanging around just because it was a neat place.
PS: All my topics were food-related, and food inspires strong, lasting memories. In particular, if a person has a childhood memory of some food, even a whiff of it—like watermelon—will bring back a whole summer’s worth of memories.
JNP: They were of personal interest. As for barbers, I started with my old barber, Mr. Ray Shuler, on Montgomery Street in Fort Worth. After getting my “summer special” from Mr. Shuler—a severe buzz cut that was close enough to the skin to guarantee you wouldn’t have to see him again for the duration of the summer—he’d give me a “buddy nickle” to feed his gumball machine with. Louis Ayala, the barber I picked, got his license from Mr. Shuler, now deceased. The sense of community at Ayala’s shop defines the essence of the classic barber shop, though there are others like his everywhere in Texas.
Patricia Busa McConnico: In an early meeting I suggested Shelby for the volunteer fire department barbecue because I had been to a barbecue there previously. I was nominated to do that story.
AD: I picked both drive-in movie theaters as well as the main-street-style walk-in theaters because I grew up in a relatively small town, Pampa, which is up in the Panhandle, and those two types of theaters are where I always watched movies when I was a kid.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on this story?
PMC: Well, I found out that the roller rink in San Benito that I wrote about was the same rink where I used to have my birthday parties when I was little. After talking to my mother about it, I learned that she used to go there when she was little. That was really neat.
KJ: I learned how a saddle is made from start to finish from Troy and Danny West of West Bros. Saddlery outside Center. They are two of only a few people in Texas who build an entire saddle anymore. I was impressed with their commitment to turning out a perfect saddle, a work of art.
PS: I looked up the recipe for root beer for the article on Schilo’s in San Antonio and was astounded at all the variations and all the ingredients that can go into it: Here are two “recipes,” which I copied exactly from the Internet.
2 ounces, birch beer extract
10 ounces, root beer extract
1 pound, honey
1 cup, blackstrap molasses
1 cup, grade B maple syrup
1 gallon, sugar (about 8 pounds)
carbonated water, evaporated cane juice, caramel color, natural flavors, phosphoric acid, extract of chicory root, birch bark, vanilla bean, and juniper berries.
texasmonthly.com: What was the strangest thing you learned while working on this story?
PMC: That kids will pay money to drink pickle juice.
JNP: Curb service is harder to find than you think, and Jeris Hair Tonic still exists.
KJ: The strangest thing I learned while working on this story was that, according to Troy West, the majority of the horses in Texas live east of Interstate 35. The perception is that horses are a “Western” creature and saddlemaking is a “Western” art. But Troy may be the best saddlemaker in Texas, and he’s smack dab in the Piney Woods of East Texas.
texasmonthly.com: Why do you think readers will be interested in the story?
PS: Every person over a certain age (who has lived here a while) has a personal memory of how Texas used to be. They want to know if it matches what we found out. And if they think we’re wrong, we’ll hear about it. This is the kind of story that invites audience participation.
AD: Anyone who’s, say, forty or older will be interested, I think, in revisiting some places from his collective past. And the “revisiting” can take two forms—one, reading the article, and two, actually driving to and experiencing the store or cafe or whatever yourself. Anyone younger than forty would, I think, get a kick out of seeing something you’re not likely to see in most of Texas today.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think we need more reminders of our past?
PS: Oh, yes. I run into young people every day who don’t have an inkling of things that I thought were common knowledge, especially old-timey expressions. I would hate to see that lost.
texasmonthly.com: Were you surprised to find that there were so many old-fashioned things, people, and places still out there? Why or why not?
AD: I wasn’t at all surprised. Since I grew up in a small town and had many relatives in even smaller towns, I understand the appeal of a lifestyle with a slower pace. In fact, we could easily have done twice as many old-fashioned things. They’re out there, everywhere, even in big cities; you just have to be on the lookout.
texasmonthly.com: What does “old-fashioned” mean to you?
KJ: “Old-fashioned” to me means that people still take the time to make things by hand, do things the hard way, ignore the trends and fads of the day, and follow traditions, as well as their hearts. The people behind these old-fashioned places take pride in their work, take the time to do things right, and go the extra mile. And not necessarily for money. They do it because it makes other people (and themselves) happy.
PS: I used to think of it as a derogatory term, as in “stuck in the past,” but after doing this story, I’m quite fond of it. People find change threatening, and anything old-fashioned is reassuring.
PMC: Something good.