June 2, 2010 Edition

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Let's go to "The Ridge"

Joe Towell
Guest Writer

In 1983, while working at Wright Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio, the organization where I was assigned received a new brigadier general of the Air Force as its commander by the name of William Bowden. New commanders were not a rare occurrence; however, this particular general was a little different as he had a southern accent, which immediately caught my attention.

To my surprise, I found out he grew up in Swifton. When I told him I was born in Walnut Ridge, he exclaimed, "Ah, yes, Walnut Ridge, my dad used to say, "Let's go to 'The Ridge.'"

Let's go to "The Ridge" is a phrase that I heard many times during my younger years. It is a phrase that was used to suggest a trip to the town of Walnut Ridge.

Before the town of Walnut Ridge, there was what is now called Old Walnut Ridge where my grandparents first settled. Old Walnut Ridge is where I attended the first grade.

During the late '40s and early '50s, the town of Walnut Ridge served the residents of the small town, as well as the people who lived on the many farms that surrounded the town. As I remember, the town had four automobile/truck dealerships, which sold Fords, Chevrolets, Dodges/Plymouths and Pontiacs/GMCs, and two tractor dealerships that sold John Deere and Farmall farm implements.

There were several grocery stores, with Kroger and Piggly Wiggly being the largest. There was a feed store, a lumberyard, two drug stores and several clothing stores. There were several cotton gins and one cotton compress and storage facility where I worked during the falls of 1953 and 1954.

If I were to let my mind wander back to the late '40s and early '50s, here is what I might see if I were to comply with a request to go to "The Ridge." As I would enter the small town on U.S. 67 from the north, I would see the sign at the city limits that read "Walnut Ridge, population, 3,107"

Immediately, on the right, I would see Ledbetter Motor Co., where I purchased my first two automobiles, both Plymouths. Almost next door, I would see the Hob Nob Café,where my dad treated me on my 12th birthday. Right next to the café was Neece's Service Station, a Mobil station with a big red flying horse sign, where my dad would purchase a dollar's worth of gas (five gallons) for our 1948 Dodge pickup truck.

The next place that would come to mind would be the Salad Bowl restaurant on the left. I was never in the Salad Bowl because it had the reputation of being too expensive for my cotton picking income. One of my friends once exclaimed, "Do you know that a hamburger costs 75 cents in that place?" We immediately compared that to the 20 cents that the Hob Nob charged.

The Salad Bowl was well-known and well-advertised. Several surrounding towns had big signs, shaped like a salad bowl, with several ingredients of a salad, and a fork and spoon sticking out the top. The sign didn't tell you how many miles to the Salad Bowl, but always expressed the distance in minutes, such as the sign just outside of Poplar Bluff, Mo., which read, "60 Minutes to the Salad Bowl."

The next stop would be the Main Street of Walnut Ridge. On the corner of U.S 67 and Main Street would be Rudy's Texaco. Here, the southern route of U.S. 67 would take a hard left toward the east to cover the three blocks of the business district of the town. This caused the truckers much consternation as they ground the gears, slowly crept through the business district and muttered their obscenities.

In the first block, immediately on the right, would be the Lawrence County Courthouse. The court square was a place where the denizens would assemble to solve the world's problems, spin some tall tales or just watch the traffic pass by.

In the second block, on the left would be the Sharum Theater where I spent many a Saturday afternoon enjoying their double features, popcorn, Coca-Cola and air conditioning. In this block would also be the Western Auto Store where I purchased my first new bicycle. Across the street would be the Kroger store, where I worked in 1952.

At the start of the third block, on one of the side streets, would be Dodd's Ice Cream, where they had a special made cone to serve double dips of ice cream, side by side, and also sold discount comic books. In the third block was Sterling's 5 and 10 Cent Store, which I frequented on Saturday afternoons when I had cotton picking wages in my pockets. At the end of the third block, you would take a right turn to continue south on U.S. 67 through the town of Hoxie and other towns along the highway.

I have many memories of the old hometown. Even though it has been over 55 years since I last lived there, every now and then, I get an urge to go to "The Ridge."

(Joe Towell is a 1953 graduate of Walnut Ridge School. He is a resident of Beaver Creek, Ohio.)

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