Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Vintage Roadside - News Bonanza!

Things have been jumping here at Vintage Roadside with traditional hot rod shows galore!

We were lucky enough to participate in the first Billetproof Northwest, had a blast at Tacoma's Hotrod-A-Rama, and are headed down this weekend to Ventura, California for the Sixth Annual West Coast Primer Nationals. We've wanted to see this show for quite awhile and are looking forward to a great weekend.

In other news, hot off the press this week is The Stirrup Room, a popular and very cool western-themed lounge once located in Portland, Oregon, circa 1955. The shirt looks fantastic and will be up on the Vintage Roadside website shortly.

A few more things that are currently under way and/or forthcoming:
  • Work on the Tik Tok Drive In documentary film is going great. We've been lucky enough to meet and film several former employees and family members
  • We've been busy expanding the "History" section behind several of our t-shirts. Look for updated histories over the next few weeks including more photos and memorabilia
  • We'll be at the Rod Run to the End of the World up in Long Beach, Washington September 6th & 7th
  • Down to Antioch, California on September 20th for Billetproof Nor-Cal
  • We'll have a book review for Fading Nostalgia, a fantastic look at Route 66 through the lens of a Polaroid camera by Christopher Robleski
  • Loads of new photos and vintage items for the Vintage Roadside Flickr page located here
  • Final details on the next few Vintage Roadside t-shirt designs
So, that's pretty much a look at what's been going on here. We hope everyone is enjoying the tail end of their summer and we'll see some of you at the next few events!

Jeff & Kelly

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Vintage Roadside and Black Eyed Susan Skate Shop team up for an exclusive design!

We're huge fans of all things roller skating here at Vintage Roadside. Rink histories, vintage skate labels, Skating Vanities, real organ music, roller skating bears, and of course roller derby. Which is why we we're thrilled to be working with the Black Eyed Susan Skate Shop in Baltimore, Maryland. BESSS was founded in January of this year by three members of the Charm City Roller Girls who realized how great it would be if you could actually try out your gear before spending your money.

So, if you're on the East Coast give them a call at (866) 443-2051, set up an appointment and they'll bring everything you could ever need to your derby event. In addition to skates, pads, socks, leg warmers, helmets, and wheels, BESSS also carries the entire line of Vintage Roadside Roller Rink t-shirts.

But, there's more! Since we're both such fans of skating history we thought it would be incredibly cool to offer a shirt with an authentic, vintage Baltimore graphic. After talking it over we chose one of Baltimore's greatest rinks - Carlin's Rink, once located at Baltimore's famous Carlin's Amusement Park. We're thrilled with the results and are proud to offer this piece of Baltimore history exclusively through the Black Eyed Susan Skate Shop.

Photo courtesy of BESSS

As you can see from the photos below BESSS offers everything you need to turn your Vintage Roadside t-shirt into a complete outfit. The super hero booty shorts go great with our Riverside Stadium shirt.

Photo courtesy of BESSS

Here they've paired our Canadarago Park shirt with this super cute polka dot flare skirt.

Photo courtesy of BESSS

If you can't wait for the next Charm City bout to get your Carlin's t-shirt you're in luck. BESSS recently launched their website and you can find all the Vintage Roadside t-shirts in the "Shwag Dept."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vintage Roadside Visits: The Polar Bear Drive In

A couple of weeks back it was time for the annual "Mrs. Vintage Roadside Family Reunion 2008" down in Klamath Falls. We always look forward to seeing the whole family, and as an added bonus, any destination more than 2 miles from our house means we'll be stopping to gawk at roadside stuff every 100 yards or so. It generally takes us about 3 days to travel more than 100 miles.

One of the day trip options this year was a brother-in-law guided tour of the Lava Beds National Monument. We had never been so it sounded great. Driving south to visit the park, we passed through the small town of Merrill, Oregon located near the Oregon/California border. It's always exciting passing through a town for the first time and we look forward to seeing new things.

Driving down Front Street we caught a quick glimpse of a drive in restaurant. Being part of the official family convoy and laden with nieces and nephew, locking up the brakes and whipping a U-turn was not practical. Someone would have noticed their children missing long before we had enjoyed our meal. We realized the best way to get in a visit would be to plant the idea of stopping on the way back in everyone's subconscious. Questions like "Hey, have you ever eaten at that drive in?" "You have?" "Is it good?" "It sure looks like a great place." I'm happy to say we stopped on the way back and found it to be as good as we had hoped.

Located on Front Street the Polar Bear Drive In is easy to find. Look for the water tower and the 30' x 50' (giant) flag.

Built in the late 1940s next door to the former Merrill School, the Polar Bear must have enjoyed the benefits of its location tremendously. It would seem natural to stop by after school for an ice cream cone, or a soda, maybe some fries...okay, might as well have a hamburger too! Exhibiting incredible business savvy, the founder of the Polar Bear was none other than a teacher next door at the Merrill School.

In 1980, new owners took over the Polar Bear. Janet and Ernie dug in and, for the first time in decades, the Polar Bear began operating year round. Today the Polar Bear is operated by Jan and Ernie's son Tony and his wife. You'll find Tony manning the grille and his wife busy taking orders. They continue to offer a great assortment of classic drive in fare, and something you see less and less of these days, a wonderfully maintained neon sign. Although we were there during the day Tony was kind enough to flip the switch so we could get a few photos of the sign.

A few of the things our group ordered: Chocolate malt - fantastic, French fries - very good, Corn dog - nicely done, Hot dog - very good, Double cheeseburger - also great, tater tots - good, various ice cream cones - perfect.

Next time you're down that way do yourself a favor and stop in at the Polar Bear. If you're a fan of classic roadside architecture, neon signs, mom and pop businesses, or just a great malt, here's a chance to see something you don't see every day - a vintage mom and pop drive in restaurant, complete with working neon sign, friendly owners, and wonderful original Coca-Cola decals in the windows.

If you'd like to give Tony a call the number above is area code (541).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Vintage Roadside and Tik Tok news

The Oregonian article featuring Vintage Roadside prompted some wonderful memories of the Tik Tok Drive In. Below are a few of those published on the Oregonian website by Inara Verzemnieks. We've been lucky enough to sit down with a few of these people and capture their memories on film for the Tik Tok documentary we're working on. Further information on the film will be coming soon.

Tik Tok: The Sound of Time and Memories

by Inara Verzemnieks, The Oregonian
Monday July 28, 2008, 11:54 AM

Above: Kelly Burg of Vintage Roadside sells a Tik Tok t-shirt to Ted Beecher at the recent Tik Tok Drive In reunion. Photo by Leah Nash.

Yesterday we wrote about Kelly Burg and Jeff Kunkle, a couple who, through their business, Vintage Roadside, are trying to preserve the histories of mom and pop establishments like the Tik Tok, Portland's first drive-in restaurant, and bring long-gone places back to life. Their efforts inspired a number of people -- from former employees to customers -- to call in and share their Tik Tok memories -- the kind of everyday details that are often overlooked by history, but which make a place real.

* The man who called to say that after he came back from two wars, each time, the first thing he did, after he kissed his mother and shook his father's hand, was ask for the car keys and then head to the Tik Tok for a BBQ pork sandwich and a hot fudge sundae -- "Those were things you dreamed about."

* The fourth-generation farmer out in Eastern Oregon who recalled that, as a boy, after they finished the harvest each year, the big treat was to head to Portland and to the Tik Tok. "There was no drive-in in Eastern Oregon at the time." He remembered the novelty of being served in the car, having someone come out and put a tray on the window. He always ordered fries. "Growing up on a farm, you got potatoes one way -- mashed."

* The employee from 1945 to 1946 who talked about the way the guys behind the soda counter would throw the ice cream in the air and catch it in a glass; the jewelry store owner who would bring his 39 Ford Convertible, pure black with white sidewalls... His sisters worked there, too, as carhops. And at that time, the carhops dressed in more demure slacks. The little skirts -- they came later.

If you have further memories, photographs, history, or you'd like to know where to find one of our Tik Tok t-shirts we'd love to hear from you. You can click here for our contact form.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Vintage Roadside and the Tik Tok Drive In featured in the Oregonian newspaper

We'd like to say thanks again to Inara Verzemnieks of the Oregonian for the wonderful article she put together about Vintage Roadside. It was a pleasure working with her!

Tik Tok: The past comes rushing in

by Inara Verzemnieks, The Oregonian
Sunday July 27, 2008, 12:33 PM

Leah Nash/Special to The Oregonian

Gregg Clapp, left, films Jeff Kunkle, center, interviewing Lyle Lilja
about the good old days at the Tik Tok Drive-In.

Most people look at a city and see what is there, but some people -- possessing a more finely tuned connection to history than the rest of us -- can look and see what used to be there. The past overlaid on the present, an invisible, vivid landscape.

You know that parking lot at the intersection of Sandy and Burnside? There used to be a drive-in (restaurant) there, open 24 hours a day and the kids parked their cars outside — the El Caminos and the Chevys and Corvettes — and sometimes the kitchen made gooseberry pie, and the manager, he used to tell the girls who worked there (in short little skirts that showed everything but the president) that he needed them to hop up on the counter and change the lights. … He got fired.

“What is it about connecting with the past?” Kelly Burg asks.

She’s got her own answers to this question — and a life built around them — but it’s worth throwing out there to the rest of us, to all of us who drive by and only see the parking lots.

On a recent Saturday, Burg and her husband, Jeff Kunkle, actually were at the intersection of Sandy Boulevard and Burnside, along with a whole lot of other people, eager to conjure memories of the Tik Tok, Portland’s first drive-in and something of an institution from 1938 to 1971 — with its “Time to Eat” sign and giant coffee cup billowing neon steam. Eventually, like so many roadside attractions of that time, it disappeared.

The Portland Foursquare Church now owns the property where the Tik Tok once stood and, together with the Road Knights Car Club, had organized a daylong reunion — complete with classic car show, hot dogs and cotton candy — for anyone who wanted to reminisce. Near the classic car registration area, Burg and Kunkle had set up their booth, an inviting display of T-shirts with intriguing vintage logos, including one featuring the Tik Tok. But selling T-shirts actually was only a small piece of their overall mission.

Really, they were engaged in a kind of guerrilla campaign for historic preservation.

Both had always been drawn to the old, the overlooked, the disappearing. When they went somewhere on vacation, they made a point to drop by the local historical society. They loved taking back roads and staying at old motels. They were particularly fascinated by mom-and-pop businesses from the 1930s to the’60s — the golden age of automobile travel, as Burg puts it: drive-ins, bowling alleys, motor courts, odd roadside shops and displays.

On their travels, she says, “we would find the remains of places,” tantalizing clues to what used to be. “It looked so charming. We would wonder: What happened here?”

Their impulse always was to save what they could. One of their rescues: An A&W Burger family — the giant fiberglass statues that welcomed you to the drive-in chain. They now live in Kunkle and Burg’s backyard, hoisting frosty mugs of root beer and happily eyeing hamburgers for eternity. (”The alternative was a grass backyard,” Burg says. “This is so much better.”)

But what of the buildings, the places already gone? How could you bring them back?

That’s when Burg and Kunkle started thinking about the T-shirts. If they put the logos of these lost business on T-shirts, they had a chance to resurrect them, in a way. They could get people talking about these places again, wondering about them. They would research each one, piece together its history — often spending hours pouring over old microfiche, flipping through old phone books, calling on amateur town historians — so that when people bought a T-shirt, they weren’t just buying a piece of clothing, they were also getting a story.

That was just the starting point: Their secret hope was that all this would get people thinking about historic preservation, people who might not otherwise, people who maybe found the subject intimidating, thought historic preservation only applied to mansions or other fancy places, not the things close to their lives, like neon signs or roller rinks. Maybe they could get people to see history where they hadn’t before.

And like that, what had always been a passion became their life’s focus. They quit their jobs and last August launched Vintage Roadside.

They like events such as the Tik Tok reunion because they get a chance to unearth even more history, to hear people’s firsthand memories.

Jeff Kunkle and Kelly Burg collect memories of the past for their website,

Their Web site includes detailed histories of their featured mom-and-pop businesses, but they are always eager to add information — the more specific the better. (From the 77 Ranch Tourist Court entry: “While we haven’t been able to track down the exact dates that the 77 Ranch operated, we do have the following fun facts from Dallas City Directories. In 1947 the manager of 77 Ranch Court was Maude Montgomery. In 1948-1949 Howard Hites is listed as the manager. In 1950-1951 Maude Montgomery returned in the role of manager once again. Yes, it does seem like there might be a story here!”)

For the Tik Tok event, they set out a display case of memorabilia in the Vintage Roadside booth, including an old Tik Tok menu (which included creamed waffles, with butter and syrup, for 20 cents) and an ashtray. Next to the case, they left a pen and a notebook, inviting people to record their favorite Tik Tok memories.

“Ate at the Tik Tok and walked over to Scotties to request a song from (local radio DJ) Dick Novak. Announced our engagement over the radio (before we told our folks). 1957.”

It’s hard to describe just how happy Burg and Kunkle seemed, taking all this in, all the people who would drift in to look at T-shirts and end up sharing stories not only about the Tik Tok but other forgotten Portland places: the barns where they stowed the trolley cars, old service stations, boarding houses.

With each T-shirt purchase, Burg handed folks a card letting them know they were eligible for a year’s free membership with the National Historic Trust (which has invited Burg and Kunkle to come speak on a panel at their National Preservation Conference in Oklahoma in October.)

Soon the couple’s friend Greg Clapp arrived. They had been thinking it would be good to videotape some of these conversations — further preservation — and create a documentary series that they could post on Vintage Roadside site.

While Burg held down the booth, Clapp, armed with a video camera, and Kunkle made their way to the old Tik Tok site, now filled with classic cars. It didn’t take them long to find some good stories.

“This was where it all happened,” Lyle Lilja said, standing by his 1951 Oldsmobile. “It was kind of the beginning point of the cruise. People went to the Tik Tok and Jim Dandy’s and Yaw’s, and then back here.” They were all young and broke. “Any money we had, we stuck it into our cars.”

But the greatest discovery came as they were heading back to the booth. There, near the hot dog table, they ran into Dolly Harris, the daughter of one of the Tik Tok’s last owners.

From her handbag, she drew a framed photo of the Tik Tok in 1968.

“I started there when I was 18,” she said. “I never got to work in the kitchen because it was too small. I got to learn to be a soda jerk. We made everything from Suicides to Green Rivers. … We made milkshakes and we made sundaes and we made our own fresh pies from scratch.” She listed them off: raisin cream pie, pumpkin, apple, cherry, gooseberry, peach cream.

“Do you remember the cook?” Kunkle asked.

“Chad was his name, and he was the head chef. And there was Larry the bus boy. … George was our butcher.”

She told them about the time the cook made clam chowder without the clams, her short-lived career as car hop because her mom thought the skirts were too short (even though her dad was the one who picked out all the uniforms).

They talked so long Clapp had to run and get a new battery.

When they were done, Kunkle thanked Harris profusely. “This is such an important part of Portland’s history, and I wanted to share it with as many people as possible,” he said.

Earlier, Burg tried to explain how she answers people when they ask why preserving these sorts of places and the memories around them is important.

“I think for us, a big part of it is roots — roots in the community. With everything new and places being torn down, you lose your connection to the past. And I think that connection is important for stability, for identity.” Which is another way of saying that maybe who we were says a lot about who we are.

Check out Vintage Roadside and its histories at