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Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

Picturing the Past 36: Old Sonic, Burger Chef disappear

Posted Tuesday, November 24, 2009, at 7:16 AM

(Photo)
The old Burger Chef building in its final days. (T-G Photo by David Melson)
One more week of burger joints, then we'll get off the subject for awhile, I promise. (Next week's something I haven't posted before.)

And I didn't plan on the new photos you're seeing today, but I glanced over from Lane Parkway on Sunday and noticed...

Burger Chef is coming down.

This fall's brought the downfall of the skeletons of two 1960s and 1970s drive-in restaurants.

What was left of Shelbyville's original Sonic Drive-In was demolished in October. We have two Sonics now, one within sight of the original one, but the 1970s version held a lot of memories. The gone one was known to many as Bumpers but, for those of us of a certain age, it'll always be Sonic.

Now the old Burger Chef, built in 1965 and which last housed a Mexican store, is being demolished.

The Jan Phillips-provided photo of the original Burger Chef in a previous blog brought a lot of comments. Sonic was to those of us who grew up in the 1970s what Burger Chef was from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s.

Photobucket

Here's a last look at Sonic from Oct. 12.

In the 1970s you hung out at Dairy Queen and Pizza Hut on Lane Parkway, side-by-side just as today, then cruised out past McDonald's (which opened, I think, in '77), made the turnaround at Sonic and headed back in the other direction. Burger Chef was still around then as well. (Was it known as Burger Ch-i-ef at one point?)

One thing the original Sonic had going for it was its manager, Marion Tackett, who had two children attending Central High at the time. Most of us knew him as "Mr. T." He got to know his customers, frequently standing outside and talking to them, and was very involved in the community.

Photobucket

I photographed Sonic's takedown in October, and was maybe the last person to stand inside the filthy mess that once housed the kitchen.

And I wondered if the container you see above survived the old days or was from one of the new Sonics.

Photobucket

Here's a final look at the inside of the old Burger Chef. Are the white tiles original? It looks quite different from the old 'Chef I remember, maybe because the furniture's missing. I'm sure it had been extensively remodeled years before.

BURGER CHEF ON THE AIR: Does anyone else remember the role Burger Chef played in what I'll call the Radio War of 1971?

For a very brief time that summer WLIJ-1580 had a Top 40 rock format. They were daytime-only then but took advantage of long summer days to program a request show directly against WHAL-1400/102.9's longtime "RC Cola At Your Request" show at 7 p.m.

In the years up till then the WHAL DJs just read lists of dedications. WLIJ began putting their calls directly on the air. WHAL soon followed suit.

Then WLIJ's staff began taking their remote truck (remember the little Metro brand truck with the large window?), to Burger Chef and taking walk-up requests.

One night a walk-up requested a gospel song. The walk-up was told they didn't program gospel music on weekday nights. The walk-up's fellow church members complained - and apparently the DJ was told to play gospel if someone requested it. Soon WLIJ was back to fulltime country.

CAN YOU HELP? If anyone has any previously-unpublished photos of the 1934 courthouse riot, I'd like to scan them or have JPEG's e-mailed to me for a blog series I'm planning in December.

Picturing the Past is featured each Tuesday in this blog. Reader photo contributions are welcomed.


Comments
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David, back in the 50's, WHAL-1400 also had a Sunday morning music show, based on the Billboard pop charts, called "Sunday Song Shop". It came on the air at either 9 or 10 AM, and I can't recall at this point if it was a one hour show based on the top twenty, or maybe a two hour show based on the top forty, but I'm leaning toward top twenty. Could have been a ninety minute show based on the top twenty, because I remember they played several "filler" songs on each show. Maybe leeiii, or someone else whose memory is better than mine, can tie up the loose ends for me.

Great pictures, David. Every story needs an ending to be complete.

-- Posted by ilikeoldsongs on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 7:55 AM

David, This is getting to be old hat because I say it every week, but once again thanks for the great pictures. I await every Tuesday with great anticipation to see what you are going to reveal next.

I am expecting some great blogs this week as the people of your generation chime in with their memories of both Sonic and Burger Chef as well as Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, and many others. It is sad to see the demise of some of the establishments that your readers grew up with, but we have to face it, "time marches on".

ilikeoldsongs, It does not seem to me that Sunday morning radio listening was a priority at our house. However, it does ring a bell about a show dedicating itself to the top 20 or top 40, but I never paid much attention to it. I can remember that my Dad always tuned in on Sunday mornings to catch a show that did Gospel Quartet music. There was a song that was either titled or had a line of "Life's Evening Sun" that was his favorite.

Before WLIJ came along we only listened to WHAL or WSM. When I was in the car late at night I listened to a lot of WLS from Chicago, and a lot of times I listened to good big band and jazz music "direct from the Blue Room high atop the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans" on WWL.

-- Posted by leeiii on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 9:01 AM

In last week's blogs FlaDon had mentioned that he had worked at WHAL, and that brought to my mind that Lynn Gibson had been a DJ there in the '50s.

-- Posted by leeiii on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 9:29 AM

leeiii, There is a real nice version of the song referenced above, by Jim Reeves, at the link below, somewhat different arrangement and tempo from typical quartet rendition, but very nice, especially for those who are fans of Jim Reeves.

carolynspreciousmemories.com/Spiritual/ABeautifulLife_JimReeves.html

-- Posted by ilikeoldsongs on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 10:01 AM

I always teased my children, when they were teenagers, that I always knew where they were on Friday or Saturday nights. They could be found somewhere between the places listed above. Wonder how many miles they put on my and then their vehicles.

-- Posted by reilly on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 10:06 AM

ilikeoldsongs, Thanks, that brings back a lot of memories. I do not think that I ever knew the title was "A Beautiful Life". I have got that song among some of my Gaither music, but I always have a hard time finding it. Maybe the title is the reason I have such a hard time.

-- Posted by leeiii on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 10:22 AM

This shows how out of touch I am but where do kids hang out now?

They'd sit on the old Shelbyville Motor Company parking lot a while back or the one at Big Lots.

They show up at Wal-Mart (like most everyone else) but I'm not sure what are today's equivalents to our Sonic,Burger Chef,Pizza Hut,D Q and "Mickey D's".

I'd hate to think kids are more isolated now and I confess it seemed safer for the youth to have them clustered in a few very visible public places.

I never quite understood what trouble folks thought we could get into out in the open or while patronizing a legitimate business that couldn't be managed in a worse way elsewhere.

In the absence of a Y,teen clubs,etc.(the discos and such never went over well,here),I think the young people have done pretty well.

So,what have they improvized now-or do we have some facility or outlet for "hanging out" I'm not familiar with?

(BTW,I know the churches are far more active in being available 24/7 than they used to be.

I know of youngsters who use their church as a community center and hub for activities rather than a place reserved for brief services one to three times a week.)

As has been said before,it'll be interesting to see what places and events are remembered in years to come.

"Y'all remember how empty Madison Street was for a while?

(That was before we got the college in ought nine.)"

-- Posted by quantumcat on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 10:29 AM

The kids were slowly "encouraged" to move on from many of the hangouts. At one time Pizza Hut became a favorite, but stuff happening in the parking lot got a little too rough.

I encouraged them to come IN the building and they could hang all day or night as long as they did not run off patrons. It seemed to be a reasonable solution, but eventually they moved to other locations.

-- Posted by stevemills on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 3:11 PM

The good ole days.......thanks David!

-- Posted by Bjaj1 on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 7:49 PM

Once again, thanks for prompting me with this story to take yet another trip down memory lane. Burger Chef was indeed the place to be in the early to mid seventies. When I obtained my driver's license (1973) the very first place I drove my father's car to was that parking lot. I actually met my first wife there, although we didn't start dating until a few years afterward. When the old Sonic did open, I was one of the first grill cooks they hired. I have many fond memories of Mr. "T". However I believe the Sonic had to have opened in early 1976. I worked there until my Army enlistment date, which was on May 15th of that year.

-- Posted by Tim Lokey on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 9:37 PM

Not changing this subject of the old Burger Chef Which I personally have some great memories of..

it was our hang out and so was the Bowling Alley. I don't think I ever ate at Burger Chef but was there every weekend nor did I ever Bowl a game but spent many hours there. We were there to socialize and talk with friends the same thing the teens of today wish to do.

The teens of Shelbyville have no where to hang out.

If they cluster at the old Red Food parking lot they are run out by the police if they move to Kroger parking lot they are again run out if they go to Sonic they must be eating to stay if they go to the Bowling Alley again they must be spending money to stay.. Lord help them if they go to Wal-Mart they tend to panic when a cluster of teens come inside and loitering in the parking lot is not allowed. The Rec Center closes early..so they are left to drive up and down Madison Street and group up at each other's homes.

It is a shame there is nothing here for them, it is an even bigger shame that we thought it was okay for us to hang out but when teenagers hang out these days they are labeled trouble makers.

I have yet to understand what they are hurting in a parking lot on a Main Stretch of road where there is no businesses located.

I think this explains why so many teenagers are so glad to leave Shelbyville, it offers them nothing. I guess someday when the City looks around and sees there is nothing here but older people then maybe they will wish they had done more for the young people.

Again sorry for the change of subject it just makes me mad that we had so many places to hang out yet we feel the teenagers today should have nothing.

-- Posted by Dianatn on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 12:07 AM

leeiii, other early DJ's at WHAL included: Bud Rick, Morton Loyd, Coke Crowell, Knox Holley and Charlie Bragg ( From a History of the Station by Mr. Tim Marsh)

-- Posted by FlaDon on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 9:11 AM

FlaDon, Yes, and Charlie Christian as well. The long history of WHAL would not be complete without a large slice of it going to Tim Marsh who must have been Chief Engineer from slightly before the discovery of fire. There are a lot of good memories concerning WHAL including "Swap and Shop", "Rat Brantley" at the piano, and the noontime news sponsored by Boyd's Chevrolet and Oldsmobile that involved a ride with Lucille in my merry Oldsmobile.

-- Posted by leeiii on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 9:21 AM

Anyone remember listening to the "King Bisquit Flour Hour" on WHAL. If I'm remembering correctly, it aired nightly at 11:00pm and it was an entire hour of album music.

-- Posted by Tim Lokey on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 11:18 AM

leeiii and FlaDon....Thinking of those early announcers on WHAL...can you remember Louis Penuel and Teddy Barnes....and that merry Oldsmobile ride at noon also sponsored "Telequiz" for 15 minutes...Saturday mornings had "Youth on Parade" directly from their upstairs studio...and also that religious show for kids by Rev. Geiger from Livingston, TN.....good old WHAL...your Mutual voice of Bedford County!

-- Posted by steadyeddie on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 12:16 PM

steadyeddie, All of this brings back a lot of good memories, for instance the siren on top of the fire hall on the square blowing at exactly 12 noon each day.

-- Posted by leeiii on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 12:31 PM

Couple of notes here:

For steadyeddie, according to "Tempo" magazine distributed by the Tullahoma News, Teddy Barnes was still on the air as recently as two years ago (and may still be) mornings at WYTM-FM in Fayetteville. The story said he only plays records -- no CDs or MP3s.

For leeiii, the siren still exists behind today's fire hall. It only blows now for tornado warnings.

-- Posted by David Melson on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 1:35 PM

Thanks, David...for the update on Teddy Barnes..and for the news that the old fire siren still exists....Yes, we always heard it at noon everyday but Sunday (when the church chimes were ringing)...and the main use, of course, was to signal all the volunteer firemen to jump in their cars and head for the blaze. I also remember it being used to warn us to turn off all lights for "blackout" drill during the big WWII...and it sounded for a long, long time when word was received that we won the war in 1945!

-- Posted by steadyeddie on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 5:34 PM

Yes David, Thanks for the update on the old siren.

steadyeddie, That was one more celebration when we got news that the war was over. I can also remember car horns blowing all over town. I would like to think that all of the people would be together on an occasion like that today, but I am afraid that also is a time gone by like some of our memories.

I can remember on at least one occasion when the noontime siren and the call for volunteer firefighters was just minutes apart.

-- Posted by leeiii on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 5:42 PM

I have a Burger Chef story. For awhile if you were looking for somebody you always checked in at Burger Chef. One night a guy from Murfreesboro came by with a picture of his daughter. He was obviously desperate. One of "the baddest dudes in this town" looked at the picture and said " I know where she is, and I'll take you there". The man got his daughter back, I'll always wonder how that turned out. That bad dude was actually a pretty good man. Still is in my book.

-- Posted by MyMrMarty on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 6:42 PM

Whoa! My husband and I got engaged at Burger Chef, over 43 years ago. Not very romantice, next to a cemetary, but he couldn't wait to offer me the ring and a proposal. I remember the Rebel Maid, the Dairy Queen at the corner of Madison and Whitthorne Streets, Brantley's drug store on the square, Bud's drive in, WHAL & WLIJ, etc. What was the name of that bar-b-que place out on Tullahome highway? It was open the early-mid 60's. Hey, class of 1964!

-- Posted by jp1946 on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 7:06 PM

JP I think your talking about the Merry Go Round.It was a beer joint but they also had a pit on the side of the building where they made BBQ.Oh how I remember the 15 cent burgers and 15 cent fries and drinks at the Chef.I almost had a stroke when they went to a quarter.Based on the time I guess they were high when you compare what we made then to now.The dollar menu has saved us all.haha

-- Posted by mytaxesaremine on Thu, Nov 26, 2009, at 5:53 PM

mytaxesaremine....thanks for reminding me of the old Merry Go Round....Yep, I remember that pit on the side.....Now, thinking of the Tullahoma Hwy., does anyone recall the old "Villa"...the nightclub at the intersection of the Wartrace Pike and Tullahoma Highway? Our little high school dance band played out there a few times much to the chagrin of our parents. People at the Villa were known to smoke cigarettes, drinks some beers and slow dance with their dates. (Not quite like the Rebel Maid.)

-- Posted by steadyeddie on Thu, Nov 26, 2009, at 6:18 PM

steadyeddie, Speaking of the Merry Go Round, a buddy of ours, Bobby Henry, came in to the bowling alley one afternoon and his face looked as if it had been through a meat grinder. I asked him what had happened, and he said that there was a drunk at the Merry Go Round who had said I think that I will whip somebody's sitting down place, and I stood up and said why don't you try me, and that is the last I remember.

-- Posted by leeiii on Thu, Nov 26, 2009, at 6:46 PM

My wife grew up here in Shelbyville she has told me of her exploits at the Burger Chef. Tullahoma had one as well back in the day; it was across from THS where Arby's is now. I loved their burgers and the fun I had there with friends. I am sure that the Shelbyville one was the place to be as well. This was long before the golden arches populated the area.

-- Posted by docudrama on Sun, Nov 29, 2009, at 11:10 AM

I worked at the original Sonic all thru my high school years and that was the busiest place in town on a Friday night.

I also spent many a night cruising from Sonic to Burger Chef with friends. We rode for a while, parked for awhile and then rode some more. Simple nights, but boy they were fun.

I worked for Mr. Tackett from '75 thru '79.

We also sat at the Quick-o Muffler alot. Mr. Farris told us as long as we were sitting there he didn't feel a need to worry about being robbed.

I do miss those days. Thanks for the trip.

-- Posted by chuck1964 on Tue, Dec 1, 2009, at 5:34 PM


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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.