We've had quite a few requests for our sold-out Casper's Alligator Farm t-shirt so we decided to reprint it just in time for the holidays. And, to add a new twist, we've decided to print it up on a one-time only Moss Green shirt. We just picked them up from our screenprinter and they turned out amazing.
You can pick one up for yourself or the roadside attraction lover in your life over on our website here.
Have you ever looked at a vintage postcard and wondered what the story was behind it? Who's the person in the photo? How did they end up there? What became of them?
Being history geeks we end up asking ourselves these questions over and over as we look through the postcards, brochures, newspaper articles and promotional photos we've gathered as research for our line of t-shirts.
With the release of our limited edition Atomic Tunnel t-shirt we decided to dig back into our research and see if we could uncover any new clues to the story behind "Florida's Biggest Little Attraction."
The Atomic Tunnel was built by W.R. Johnston and offered guests the chance to see exotic birds, tropical fish, monkeys and the opportunity to be photographed as an Orchid Queen - all while wandering through a circular tunnel pierced with porthole windows.
In addition to three wonderful brochures, the Tunnel also offered the staple of every roadside attraction - postcards. After several years of research we've come to the conclusion there were a total of three postcards offered in the few short years the Tunnel existed. Our favorite has always been the one showing a woman admiring one of the many orchids on display.
Over the years we've looked at the card and wondered who she was. Did she work at the Tunnel? Did she have memories of the attraction? And the biggest question of all - was she still out there somewhere?
All those questions, and more, were answered today in an amazing 90-minute phone call.
The woman in the photo is Joy, an 87-year-old resident of Daytona Beach, and her appearance in the postcard was her second job as a model. Her first modeling job was appearing in a promotional brochure for the Elena Village Country Club, a post-WWII development in Daytona Beach. That work, which also included her two-year-old son, led to her being asked by a local marketing firm if she would be interested in working with the Atomic Tunnel. She remembers the Tunnel as being quite beautiful, with gorgeous birds and tropical fish, and how wonderful all of the orchids were. When asked about the red sweater she wore she remarked that red always makes her happy...and the one in the photo was very tight! :-) It was also quite an occasion when the photo was featured on the cover of the Sunday supplement that appeared in numerous Florida newspapers in May of 1955.
We also talked about her family, a little about what we do, and all of those unrelated things you talk about when you meet someone for the first time. It was exciting to discover a shared love of history, of having traveled to some of the same places, and her involvement with the Daytona Beach Red Cross Volunteer Lifeguard reunions.
But for us the most rewarding part of our conversation is that now, when we look at the postcard, we don't have to wonder who it is - it's our friend Joy. And that's probably a pretty good way to explain why we do what we do.
We've got a couple of great limited edition t-shirts currently available over at the Vintage Roadside website!
First up is the 2012 Jake the Alligator Man t-shirt. Each year Jake has an amazing Bachelor & Birthday Party up in Long Beach, WA and this is the fourth limited edition t-shirt we've created to honor the birthday boy.
You know those days where you crave nothing but a real drive in cheeseburger? Not something from a chain, or that fancy "sit down" place, but a burger grilled just for you and, more often than not, with some sort of catchy name that makes it just that much better. And while you're at it you might as well throw in an order of fries and a milkshake, you know, as a way of showing further support for mom & pop businesses. They appreciate it and you'll sleep even better after the meal.
Here's an example of what we're talking about. Ladies and gentleman exhibit A:
Photo courtesy of Eastside Big Tom
After staring at that photo for days we knew the only way to find out if the food tasted half as good as it looked in the photo was to make the drive up to Olympia, WA and eat at the Eastside Big Tom. So, in the name of research we loaded up the wagon and headed north. 115 miles later we spotted the first Big Tom plywood mascot and we knew we had found the type of place we're always hoping for.
Before we talk about the food we wanted to share a bit of the Big Tom history. For us the only thing better than a great roadside business is one with some history behind it and we were lucky enough to hear some of that history from the owner Michael.
Originally founded in 1948, the Big Tom is the oldest "drive thru" restaurant in Washington state. Here's a look at the original building on the site:
Photo courtesy of Eastside Big Tom
Around 1960 or so the building was upgraded and locals were lining up for the "Big Tom" burger at the Eastside In & Out.
Photo courtesy of Eastside Big Tom
In 1969 the Fritsch family purchased the business (after working there for several years) and a new chapter was born with the Eastside Big Tom. In 2008 Michael Fritsch purchased the business from his parents and has devoted himself to quality food, great customer service and a welcome sense of humor as evidenced by this photo of him gamely posing with our mascot Stinky.
By now you're all asking, "How was the food!?" We're happy to report it was seriously one of the best drive in meals we've ever had. We'd also like to point out the customer service was completely on the ball and the entire place was spotless. And as any local drive in should, they do have their own special ingredient used not only as a dipping sauce, but also as a burger dressing. The name of this wonder ingredient - Goop! We've enjoyed many special sauces over the miles but this one was unlike any we'd had before. Here's a photo of Goop in action (in a Big Tom compostable container none the less):
Photo courtesy of Eastside Big Tom
Another great feature of the Big Tom menu is the amazing selection of milkshakes and malts. We went with the root beer milkshake on our visit and now have plans to work ourselves through the entire menu. We also enjoyed the atmosphere of the place - it felt like a roadside attraction and that's always a good thing!
The Eastside Big Tom is located at 2023 4th Ave East in Olympia, WA. Open 7 days a week, they accept cash or checks only but do have an ATM on site. For all of us who live out of the area, but still enjoy looking at photos of great drive in food presented with a bit of humor, you can become a fan of their Facebook page here.
Ever been to a birthday party for a real alligator man? Each year a hard-working group of folks in Long Beach, Washington throws an amazing birthday party for everyone's favorite "Half Man - Half Alligator" - Jake. Jake is well-known in the world of roadside attractions, but if you've yet to make his acquaintance you can visit him daily at Marsh's Free Museum - one of our all-time favorite places to spend some time. (Our tip - look for the two-headed calf!)
The man of the hour.
This year Jake's annual Bachelor Party will be Friday, August 3rd followed by an all-ages celebration on Saturday, August 4th. There'll be a car show, live music and the always hard-fought battle to become Jake's Bride for the upcoming year! You can find more party info at Jake's birthday website here.
Mrs. Roadside with the 2011 Bride & Bridesmaid of Jake.
It's been our absolute pleasure the past few years to design the limited edition Jake t-shirt for the party and without further ado offer up this year's design. The theme for the party this year is "Under the Sea" and we decided it was time for Jake to don a little nautical attire. Ahoy Jake!
Last Saturday was the 5th Rose City Round-Up traditional hot rod show and it was another great show! It was fantastic to have some sun this year, so without further delay here are a few of the things that caught our eye at the show this year.
This weekend we'll be up at the Billetproof show in Chehalis, WA for another round of automotive art!
Howdy gang! Things have been jumping and we thought it would be great to catch up with all of you. So, here comes roughly 96 hours, jammed into 10 minutes of reading time. Or 12 minutes if you'd like to leave a comment. :-)
There were two great events this past weekend here in Portland - both presented by the Historic Preservation League of Oregon. Saturday's offering was the "Mid-Century Marvelous Home Tour" highlighting some of the homes built by Robert Rummer in the Bohmann Park neighborhood while Sunday saw the return to Portland of pop culture humorist Charles Phoenix at the Hollywood Theater.
As part of Charles' prep for his show he wanted to revisit some of his favorite places & things that you can only find in Portland, as well as visit a few new places. We were thrilled to get to ride along. Without further ado here's some of the things we saw and did over those four days!
It didn't take long for Charles to start spotting the good stuff. This 1955 Nash was his first stop between the airport and Vintage Roadside HQ.
Then it was time for a quick "hello" to our Burger Family. Here's Charles giving Mama Burger a friendly pat on the belly.
Next up was a visit to the Oregon Zoo for a ride on The Zooliner - a 1958 replica of the General Motors' Aerotrain. We made it just in time for the last ride of the day and it was a wonderful 4-mile trip through Washington Park. If you're in Portland you owe yourself a ride on this great little train!
After our train ride we were lucky enough to follow the train back into the tunnel and spend some time talking with the gentlemen that care for and operate the zoo's trains. They were incredibly generous with their time and shared some amazing history with us.
At this point it was time to grab something to eat. Our destination was The Original Taco House. The OTH is the sister restaurant to the fondly-remembered Waddles Drive In (which opened in 1938) and lays claim as Portland's first year-round Mexican restaurant. You'll find locations on both NE 82nd (the original location) and also on SE Powell. We chose the Powell location for our visit and thoroughly enjoyed our meal.
Then it was off for a little exercise to work off dinner. The activity of choice was roller skating at Oaks Park. The rink at The Oaks is the oldest continually operating rink in the United States, and to up the coolness factor, also features a massive Wurlitzer pipe organ. We had planned our visit for a night featuring live organ music and it's hard to describe just how amazing it it when the organ starts playing. Another can't-miss piece of Portland history.
After spending some time talking with a gentleman who'd been skating at the rink since 1941 it was decided we'd wrap the night up with a look at the incredible Palms Motel neon sign on Interstate Avenue. We've personally photographed this sign hundreds of times and just never get tired of standing underneath it. It's truly a treasure among the neon sign world.
Day two started off with breakfast at another Portland institution - The Original Pancake House. Founded in 1953 by Les Highet and Erma Hueneke, the business has now grown to include 120 franchise locations, including their first-ever Japanese location opening soon. We were asking our server questions about the history and before we knew it both the 2nd and 3rd generation of the family were at our table talking with us! They kindly invited us up to the company offices after our meal to share more of the history and to make sure we had all the information we were looking for. Needless to say they made a fantastic impression. Oh, and the food was incredible...as a matter of fact we've already planned our next meal there!
Then it was on to "Mission Myrtlewood." Charles had long known of the famous Oregon souvenirs made from Myrtlewood, and knew no trip to Oregon would be complete without taking a piece home. It took a bit of hunting around but we finally found this hazelnut snack set at an antique mall. The Phoenix household will now be graced with a little piece of Oregon.
Since we were considering this a "road trip" of sorts the idea of eating on any type of schedule goes out the window. Case in point - we had just eaten a huge breakfast about an hour earlier but there was no way we could pass up the 99-year-old soda fountain at Fairley's Pharmacy on NE Sandy. And like on our visit last month, and well, almost every time before, I chose the chocolate malt.
We spent some time poking around a few antique and vintage stores and then realized...it's National Doughnut Day! In honor of the "holiday" we visited another Portland location now known around the world - Voodoo Doughnuts. If you're in Portland on National Doughnut Day there's really no more perfect place to celebrate all that is doughnut.
After the Home Tour on Saturday we managed to squeeze in a few more stops. We began at the old McDonald's building on SE Powell. We've not seen it used for anything in the past few years but we're glad it's still there to enjoy. Oh, yes the Camaro was the rental car for the weekend. Guess which of these three words describes the new Camaro: Subtle, Fun, or Roomy? Here's a hint - it's the middle one. :-)
After some time watching the giant spinning loaf of bread on the Franz Bread building, it was over to the Lloyd Center Mall for a visit to Joe Brown's Carmel Corn. Started in downtown Portland in 1932, closed shortly after WWII, and then revived again in 1960 by Mr. Brown's sister Betty, you can still enjoy a bag or box of carmel corn served from the same location in what was once the country's largest outdoor mall.
Our final stop of the day was for something Charles is well known for - his incredible suits. We had spoken with him prior to his visit and he asked if we might know of an airbrush artist to create a one-of-a-kind suit highlighting all that is Portland. We just so happened to know two local artists whose airbrush skills have always floored us. We put Charles in touch with Matt Stanger & Ian Pian and the rest is fashion history.
Here's a look at the suit in all its glory.
Charles' show on Sunday was an absolute home-run and everyone thoroughly enjoyed his personal take on our fair city! The weekend ended with a large gathering at The Alibi tiki bar and hopes of doing it all again soon.
We'd personally like to encourage anyone that gets the chance to see one of Charles' shows to not miss it. It's not often you can be entertained, educated and left shaking your head all in one amazing evening!
(All non-watermarked images courtesy of Peter Kim - photographer.)
We wanted to give a tip of the Vintage Roadside cap to a local Portland, OR business that's been a neighborhood institution for 99 years - Fairley's Pharmacy on NE Sandy Blvd.
In addition to weathering the onslaught of discount chain drug stores, they've also kept a great piece of history alive - an actual working soda fountain! We're talking real ice cream milkshakes and malts that are served up in a tall glass along with that frosty metal can that's become a bit of an endangered species.
We swung by again today just to make sure the offerings were as good as we remember (it was a tough assignment, but we were thinking of you guys ;-) and are happy to report things are as tasty as ever!
We recommend the chocolate malt. At $3.25 it's the same price, or less, than most fast food chains. And remember, the can that comes with your first full glass gives you an entire refill.
And for you phosphate fans out there they offer those too!
So, if you're in Portland and looking for a bit of nostalgia stop by and grab a seat at the counter!
We're pleased to share another one of our interviews with the former Aquarama Aquamaids. Here's our first visit with one of the performers from the final years of the show which ran from 1964 - 1973.
We hope you enjoy reading a bit of Ginger's history with the show.
Vintage Roadside:What year did you perform at the Aquarama?
Ginger: I believe I was 17 years old the year I swam at the Aquarama in 1972 (I think.)
Vintage Roadside: 1972 would have been the 9th year of the shows. Were you familiar with the Aquarama before you got the job?
Ginger: I hadn't heard of the Aquarama. We had just moved to the Lake from California the fall before though.
Vintage Roadside: Did you have any type of performance experience which helped you land the job?
Ginger third from left. (Photo courtesy of Nancy)
Ginger: I had no experience but could swim and we all had to try out for the part. Not sure how the girls were picked out, but was glad I got to be one of them!
Vintage Roadside: Did you have a favorite routine in the show?
Ginger: My favorite routine was the leopard routine with the bunnies. I drank a soda under the water so was at center stage. I would have people say they didn't believe I did it - I'd tell them to come to the show and see!
Vintage Roadside: Do you remember any of the other routines?
Ginger: I remember the acts - I dreamed about them for years. Such a feeling of freedom, like flying!
Vintage Roadside: You have to admit it was a pretty special job. Looking back how does it feel to know you had what many people would consider a "dream" job?
Ginger: Yes, I did have a great summer. I worked as a life guard by day and a mermaid by night. Talk about a Water Dog - although the tan marks got me into some trouble with my night job.
Ginger (in center) drinking soda.(Photo courtesy of Nancy)
Vintage Roadside: Before we let you go we've found everyone that performed has at least one funny story from the Aquarama. Do you have one you can share?
Ginger: Here's one. Where we changed clothes was over the pool on a scaffolding and sometimes it wasn't easy putting on the costume for the second show because it was still wet (and tight.) One night, one of the girls was trying to put on her costume for the second show and fell into the pool - not all the way into her costume! The rest of us were trying to pull her out of the pool before the lights came on. Just as we got her pulled up Mr. W. wanted to know what that was. Apparently part of her body was still in the water! We did get in trouble for cutting up and I'm sure they thought we were cutting up then.
Vintage Roadside: Thanks so much for sharing a bit of your history with us Ginger!
Ginger: You're welcome.
As always, if you've got any Aquarama info or stories we'd love to hear from you here in the comment section!
Here's Part 2 of our interview with Bob talking about his new Aquarena Springs documentary. In case you missed Part 1 you can find it here.
Vintage Roadside: We've spent years tracking down the former Aquarama employees. Has it been difficult to find the former Aquarena performers?
Bob: When I began the Aquarena documentary project back in 2006 my goal was to interview the people I knew that were still around San Marcos. It was somewhat easy for me because I already knew many of the people. The first person interviewed was my step-mother Shirley Rogers, granddaughter of Aquarena Springs developer A.B. Rogers, and daughter of Paul Rogers who continued the dream of his father. Shirley told me about Edwin Cooper, one of the first glass bottom boat drivers from 1946, and the 99-year-old gentleman who told stories about dancing on top of the Aquarena Hotel between 1929 and 1932. I found and interviewed them both.
Then I met some people I did not know at the 2009 Aquarena reunion. That was a great opportunity to hear stories that took place before I worked there. One of the gentlemen I did not get to interview was a San Marcos native who began working there when he was 12 years old and later became the CEO of Busch Entertainment. He told me he would love to be interviewed, but with so many other people to help tell the story I never did track him down...
Vintage Roadside: The reunion sounds wonderful. Any idea how many people came to it?
Bob: There must have been about 150 people there. I was like a kid in a candy store without enough time to eat it all!
An Aquarena Mermaid.
Vintage Roadside: Are there still former employees you'd love to talk with?
Bob: Yes, if there are folks out there who I did not get a chance to talk to I would love to connect with them to learn more of their stories.
Vintage Roadside: You put together an amazing archive of film and images for your documentary. How difficult was it to track those down?
Bob: I spent years collecting the photos and film footage. I first went to the Texas Department of Transportation Tourism Information Division's photo library where I found over 100 great vintage photos. Also, I found great photos at the San Marcos Library and the Texas State University library. Aquarena Springs also had some great video footage. I found some footage online that was shot in the 1960s and contacted that person and got approval to use some of it. Shirley, my step-mother, produced some pure gold with her 16 mm footage that was shot in the 1940s and 1950s. It included great footage of her father and grandfather at the first submarine theater performance as well as her family trip to Florida where her father had gotten some ideas from visits to Weeki Wachee, Silver Springs, and Marine Studios. There was also a film from the 1940s about the town of San Marcos that included the first glass bottom boat.
A Facebook page was created prior to the Aquarena Reunion in 2009 where I posted a request for images and footage - I got a good response from that, too. Also, the lady who trained Ralph the Swimming Pig had some great video footage as well.
In the beginning I thought I might not have enough images to back up the interviews, but as the project progressed I ended up way more than I could ever use in a single documentary.
Ralph enjoys a refreshing beverage.
Vintage Roadside: How fantastic you were able to gather so much material. It sounds like you won the "Researcher's Lottery"! Any idea just how much material you collected?
Bob: I collected between two and three hundred photos and about 10 to 15 hours of vintage video and film.
Vintage Roadside: One of the great images you have is the photo we posted above of Ralph enjoying a meal. We've always been big Ralph fans - can you tell us a bit of his story?
Bob: Ralph the Swimming Pig was cool. He began swimming in the show about 1956. In the beginning they called the pig Missy, not sure why, just seemed a good name for a pig I guess. Then in the early 1960s, Barbara Backus, the swimmer who was Missy's trainer as well as an Aquamaid, was in the water training a new Missy. Fellow Aquamaid Virgie Sheets was helping Barbara. Virgie just happened to be going through a divorce at the time with her husband Ralph and was telling some stories about it to Barbara. Well, Barbara, for the fun of it started calling the pig she was training Ralph. It became sort of a joke to call that pig and then all the other pigs Ralph. The name stuck and the rest is history!
Ralph was always a hit in the show and soon began to appear on national television. He became the one thing that people wanted to see when they came to Aquarena Springs - slightly edging out the beautiful mermaids, believe it or not.
A vintage Aquarena decal spotted in 2011.
Vintage Roadside: You recently had a screening of your film at the Texas Music Center in San Marcos. How did the screening go? Did you have a nice turnout?
Bob: I used the premier as a fund raiser for the San Marcos Heritage Association. They in turn got to use the theater for free and we had over 160 people pay $10 each to attend the premier. We served free popcorn and there was a cash bar. At the end of the movie 90 copies of the documentary were purchased and we ended up raising about $2300 for the Heritage Association.
The film was shown in High Definition on a 20' by 20' screen and the sound system blew me away. The music that I had heard a million times while editing on my computer sounded so much better on their system. I heard wonderful sound in the music I had not heard before.
It was surreal sitting in the theater I had grown up watching movies in, with 160 people, most of whom I did not know, quietly watching, laughing, and crying at the documentary I had spent years creating.
The one, the only, Glurpo!
Vintage Roadside: Before we ask you about some of the highlights of your film, we have to ask the one question most people ask us. Any idea why Glurpo was so frightening looking in his early costume?
Bob: Glurpo did start out dressed in an actual clown costume. Early photos (like the one you posted above) show him with a clown mask on, and a very scary one at that. Not sure why they would have a clown in such a scary looking mask, after all this was family entertainment. I'm hoping to hear back from some of the 1950s performers with their thoughts.
Later Glurpo wore a white swimming cap and a large red nose attached to his faceplate mask. In the late 1960s, the theme of the show was changed to a Polynesian Village and Glurpo became a witch doctor dressed in a grass skirt, beads, and a long-haired black wig.
Glurpo the Witch Doctor.
Vintage Roadside: Now that the DVD is available to purchase can you let people know a bit about the finished film?
Bob: In this 78 minute documentary the story of Aquarena Springs is told by over 30 people I interviewed along with vintage images, film, and video. The people in the documentary are folks who either worked at or visited Aquarena Springs. Viewers will see and hear every aspect of what made Aquarena Springs THE place to take the family for vacation from 1950-1990.
Vintage Roadside: We've watched the film several times and it's amazing the variety of things you've included. Being fans of old roadside attraction billboards could you list some of the things we'd see on Aquarena and Ralph billboards along the highway?
Bob: Here's some of what you'll see in the film:
Beautiful mermaids and aquamaids swimming, performing underwater ballet, eating & drinking underwater - and learn how they did it.
Learn how Glurpo the Clown smoked and blew smoke rings underwater.
How do you teach a pig to swim?
See Ralph the Swimming Pig's "Swine Dive" from above and below the water.
Hear the story about the alligators escaping after the flood of 1970 into the San Marcos River - and how they were rounded up.
See the dancing chicken.
Learn how the world's only Submarine Theater worked and hear what happened when the submarine flipped over during a show with 57 people aboard.
Take a ride on the Von Roll Swiss Skyride across Spring Lake.
Hear about the time Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan himself, visited the park.
See the 1956 underwater wedding covered by Life Magazine as well as hearing from the best man about what kept the bride's dress from floating over her head.
Much, much more!
Ralph enjoying the spotlight on To Tell the Truth.
Vintage Roadside: Congratulations, Bob, on creating such a great film. On behalf of Aquarena fans everywhere, thank you for the years you put into this! Where can people order a copy?
Bob: You're welcome. You can purchase a copy of the DVD for only $19.95 at my website here.
We hope you've enjoyed our talk with Bob and that you'll pick up a copy of his film!