CARL PHELAN STORIES

A TRIBUTE TO KIRK'S DRIVE IN
LEVELLAND, TEXAS, IN THE 1950'S
A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS

The 1950's was a Golden Age for everyone. It was a time when drive in's were prominent. Drive in cafes, drive in movie theaters, nickel juke boxes, pinball machines, 45 RPM records, vinyl albums, roller rinks, greyhound dog races, jitterbug dance routines, bobby sox and week end matinees of "B "western movies with Tom Mix, The Durango Kid, Tex Ritter, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. It was a time for the carefree life; you did not have to lock your house when you left to go anywhere, and you did not have to lock your car when you went anywhere! It was also a time for all kinds of other activities such as kick the can, Hop Scotch, hide and seek, Annie Over, flying kites, Pogo Sticks, marbles, Yo Yo's. Spinning Tops, sand boxes, play house, making mud pies, pretending to cook, wash, clean, iron and vacuum.

It was a time in Levelland, Texas, where almost everyone went to Kirk's Drive In to meet and greet their friends. Kirk's became the place to be, eat, drink, listen to the music and see who was there. That place was a paradise for teenagers who wanted to come and be heard & seen.  Everyone has fond memories of that unique place called Kirk's Drive In. That place became the focus of attention for a whole generation of young and old alike. Kirk's was located on Houston Street and Avenue D in Levelland, Texas.  Kirk's was owned by Walter B. and Estelle Kirk with their three daughters Carolyn, Sharon & Donna and a son, Walter C.  Carolyn and Sharon worked as waitresses and car hops at the drive in; Donna & Walter C. were too young to work there. That business began in 1949 when the Kirk's bought the Super Dog Stand and, as they say", the rest is history!

In my humble opinion, Kirk's Drive In is the most honored and revered establishment in the history of Levelland businesses.  I, Carl Phelan have a personal attraction to that place.  First of all, the Drive In was only one half block from my house. I lived at 505 Avenue D; I could hear the music, the tires squealing and all the other night sounds that emanated from that place. Next, my wife Jackie Qualls Phelan was one of the car hops at Kirk's along with several other young ladies that worked there. On many nights, I would go down to Kirk's, go in and talk with the customers and I would stay there for hours visiting with the Kirk's and all their customers.

Sharon Kirk Wilson & Carolyn Kirk Rush Story, Part 1
Kirk's Drive-In Carolyn Rush April 16, 2014

Our parents, Walter B. & Estelle Kirk bought the Super Dog location in November, 1949. It was located at the corner of Houston Street & Avenue D.

We had moved to Levelland from Littlefield, Texas.  They were a young married couple with four children, Carolyn, Sharon, Walter Clyde & Donna.  I was in the eighth grade so, Daddy & Mother permitted me to stay in school in Littlefield with my aunt & uncle to be able to graduate with my eighth grade classmates.  It was really a big deal to me since Levelland and Littlefield were such big football rivals during that time.  I would come to Levelland on the weekends & Daddy would take me back on Sunday evenings.

The first new life-long friends I met were Jackie (Wynn) French, Gay Johnson, Julia (Terry) Wakley, Patricia Bowman. Patsy (French) McCulloch, Gayle (Ewing) Smith, Kay (Russell) Atchison, & Joann (Alexander) Atchison.  After I became a permanent resident there were many others ie. Aline (Hughes) Prather, Janice (McKenzie) Lee and Marie (Robinson) Hatfield.  I am including that info, because we are all still close even now.  We do miss those who have passed away -- Gay, Julia, Kay & plus many others.

We were truly blessed that our parents made the decision to move back to Texas from our journey of living in Portland, Oregon for eight years.  That was their first adventure into buying and learning to manage & operate their own business.  It included each of us, but it was fun, hard and manageable.

We had wonderful employees---know they must have gotten awfully tired and frustrated having to "put up" with the Kirk kids.  We truly did love and appreciate everyone of them.  We had the best customers which included lots of families whom we still cherish in our memories.  Daddy & Mother always remembered that the people in Levelland had welcomed them with loving kindness when they needed it most.  It made a tremendous impression on us as a family.  Our parents really did like and love all of the kids who came to Kirk's.

We were blessed that, as kids growing up in our circumstances, we did meet so many new friends from Levelland and all of the surrounding towns.  We even had customers coming to eat with us from Lubbock.  Sharon and I also car hopped to make our own spending money.  We were paid 50-cents per hour plus our tips.  I just knew I would be "rich " someday.  Maybe I should have kept it up. It was fun, and we learned a lot of good things that have stayed with us.  It was a great life.  We thank our parents for knowing that we needed to learn good work ethics.  I pray we have taught our families those same values---regarding friendships, loyalties, spiritual values and the importance of loving and working together.  God is so good!!!

Would like to include that we had sooo many classmates that we have all stayed in touch with over the years.  We have enjoyed many reunions with classes starting as far back as the groups in 1948 thru 1960's.  We continue to get together with many of our former classmates & their spouses. It is surprising that one can truly love so many different personalities.  Guess the song "True Love" applies to all of us. I think of so many old friends even today.

I met Guy Rush, my husband, at Kirk's.  Dated him twice and decided he was too old for me.  He had graduated in 1950 (age 16).  In 1950 I was only 14 way too young, so we did not date again until the summer of 1953.  We just recently celebrated our 59th wedding anniversary.  We have two wonderful daughters and our great son-in-law.  They gave us our ready-blessed grandchildren & one extra special great-granddaughter.

After the drive-in, Daddy & Mother built Kirk's Resturant on Avenue H.  Timing was not in their favor; most customers felt more comfortable going to Lubbock, so it was a hard process getting a new clientele.  Daddy was injured in a plane crash that kept him incapacitated.  Mother continued running the business, but eventually had to close it permanently.

When Daddy was able to work again he tried selling insurance, but decided he had been "his own boss" too long to work for someone else.  That was when they made the decision to build their first Dairy Queen store in Seminole, TX; that was probably in 1959.

I believe our parents (Kirk's) were in the food business operations from 1949 to 1982. At one-time they had, I believe, 35 DQ's.


Sharon Kirk Wilson & Carolyn Kirk Rush Story, Part 2
Sharon Wilson April 19, 2014

These are names we can recall. I am sure we missed some.  Talitha Allen, I'd say she was head carhop for longest period if time.  She had pretty auburn hair.  She had two sisters, Bessie May and Anne Marie.  Anne was cheerleader with me one year (both are deceased).  Mitzi May and Jan Hofacket (Jan deceased) were two of my best/life long friends.  Wayne Thompson (deceased) may have been first person to come to drive in and introduce himself; he was working at the little store across the street. at the time.  He got a crush on Carolyn, and came mostly on the weekends when she was there. :).  Wayne became a trusted friend and was until he died.  His first wife, Carlene, died of Cancer at a young age.  He remarried to Mary Ann, who became Mother to his two daughters. Mary Ann is still a friend.

Robbie Hammet; was one of Daddy's favorites and was a hard worker. I would go with him to the locker at Green's Grocery to get ice, meat and produce, until we built the 'walk in.'

Other friends included Judy Owings Rose (deceased), George (deceased), Bonnie Blakely & her daughters (Della and Irene), Patsy Pigg, Melva Reid (our cousin who stayed with us when her husband was in service).  Last, but not least, Jackie Qualls, the best/classiest dancer in Levelland!

There were so many good folks back in the day. We were very fortunate to love and be loved by those who helped provide our livelihood. Thank you, Carl, for doing this.
Sharon
Sharon Kirk Wilson & Carolyn Kirk Rush


THREE Short Stories
Sharon Wilson 3 short stories April 19, 2014

One night, cleaning up after closing, Daddy stepped in the bucket of mop water??  He went sliding across the floor, saying his 'go to word' (Carolyn told me not to put in print) in the special way, only he could say it. He was S00000 mad AT ME!  He said I put it there on purpose; of course, I didn't.  He had a huge bruise on his arm for days! In later years, we laughed about it.

As you know, soft ice cream (which was then called frozen malt) started with a liquid mix that came in five-gallon milk cans.  Once, when pouring that mixture into a bucket to refill the machine, I spilled the entire five-gallon can.  As you can imagine, it went everywhere.  Those accidents had consequences.  My paycheck was docked each week until the total cost of the mix was paid even tho it was accidental; that was a good life lesson.  You wouldn't believe how careful I was afterward and what a responsible person I became!

Then there was our brother, Walter Clyde.  He was always in trouble!  He wasn't old enough to work in the drive in, so he had 'chores.'  We had a store room built onto the North side of the building; when we needed supplies, WC was the designated gopher.  We began to notice that it was taking him a long time to get back with supplies. We went to check and found him SMOKING in that little storage room with stacks of paper goods!  He was probably all 10 yrs of age!

3-22-2014 - Jackie may remember this: The configuration of Kirk's tiny building, nor the gravel parking lot were conducive for the car hops!  We either stood outside at the window or inside to stay warm.  Daddy decided to build the "car hop stand."  It was very small, standing room only, a lean-to attached to the North (coldest) side of the building front.  There was a sliding glass window for getting the tray/food and a small heater.  Even with the heater it was S00000 cold, and we just had to tough it out. "Those were the days my friend." Life was good but not EASY"
 


Quotes From People About Kirk's Drive In, 2014
Quote From Sharon Kirk Wilson
From Grand Prarire, Texas

 

3-19-2014 - "Carl, I will be glad to give you info, I am forwarding your note to my sister Carolyn, too. I am sure everyone will be glad to bring back the memories of our carefree life in the 1950's."

3-11-2014 - "Yes, Jackie Qualls Phelan was one of the car hops at Kirk's and I remember how she could dance and I wished that I could make some of her moves".

3-12-2014 - "I am sure Carolyn will be good to remember dates and events that took place at Kirk's. This should be another fun, nostalgic journey for all of us."

3-11-2014 - "Our sister Donna and our younger brother Walter C. were much too young to work at Kirk's. I can also tell of the many times that you, Carl Phelan, would come and sit at the counter for hours and talk to us and the customers that came in"


Quote From Mary Jo Woodrow Kennedy
From Auburn, California
 

3-9-2014 - "The days back in the 50's at Kirk's were great and treasured memories, thanks for sharing all those unforgettable stories"


Quote From Carolyn Kirk Rush
From Lubbock, Texas

3-24-2014 - "Carl, I recently heard a radio ad about a Pinball Tournament in Frisco, Texas.  I had to restrain myself to keep from entering.  When J.D. Harding put in the first pinball machine at Kirk's, it brought a brand new perspective to fun in Levelland, Texas.  So many kids, mostly guys, filled the small dining area to play.  I found myself playing during a lull in business, until Daddy informed me that I was to serve customers not play on the pinball machine"


Quote From Grace Wheeler Rogers

April 1st, 2014 - "Carl, I remember Kirk's, because I spent a lot of time there.  The made the best Corn Dogs (Super Dogs} I had ever eaten.  I still compare all other corn dogs to theirs and there is no comparison.  If corn dogs slathered with mustard were suppose to be bad for you, it didn't seem to bother for us.  We all survived and thrived even as we ate them on a regular basis.  The main reason for hanging out at Kirk's was to see all our friends.  We were together all day at school but that was not enough.  Many an afternoon and night were spent at Kirk's and we became forever friends.  I wonder how many romances were started on that parking lot?  By the way the Kirk girls were beautiful then and they still are today.  Levelland in the 50's was a great place to grow up, and Kirk's Drive In was one of the main reasons"


Quote From Mary Beth Eatherly Richmond
Henderson, Nevada

3-10-2014 - "Carl, what diversified and interesting stories that you have to tell.  Wasn't life simple and full of adventure back then?  It was so different from today's entitlement mentality.  You never thought that someone else was responsible for your welfare.  Thanks for reminding us of our roots and that sand storms and wind make good people"


Quote From Jim Metze
 

3-9-2014 - "Carl, I really enjoyed your stories, especially the one about Kirk's. We are forwarding the stories to our grand children and hoping to catch the attention of the next generations"


Quote From Boyd & Betty Patton
Houston, Texas

1-10-2008 -  I met this guy while I was in New York City and he has a motto to live by every day.  He said, "listen carefully and live by these four rules:  Drink, Steal, Swear and Lie.

I was shaking my head no.

He then told me to listen while he explained his four rules. So here they are"
Drink from the "everlasting cup" every day.
Steal a moment to help someone who is in worse shape than you are.
Swear that you will be a better person today than you were yesterday.
And last, but not least, when you lie down at night, thank God you live in America and have freedom.

Thought you might enjoy that list.  Pass it on for everyone to Drink, Steal, Swear and Lie"


Carl Phelan Final Message About
Kirk's Drive In Tribute

I would like to thank all the people that have helped me to do this Tribute to Kirk's Drive In. The memories and the good times that everyone had back in 1949 to 1958.  It was a time like no other time in history.  Levelland, Texas, was the ideal place to live, grow up and take advantage of the incredible life style and freedom that we all enjoyed back in the "Fifties".

P.S. If anyone wants the contact info for any of the people in this story, you can get it from Dock or you can get it from me. bsimrod@sbcglobal.net

Compiled by Carl Phelan


Click here to visit the KIRK'S DRIVE IN website

 

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