Being born in the 1950s I grew up in the 1960s and came of age in the 1970s. These decades, shortly after the end of World War II, were some of the most exciting in the automobile industry. In fact, many of the classic cars we regularly see at shows and cruise-ins come from this era. From classic Tri-5 Chevy Bel Airs (Photo 1) from the 1950s, to iconic Ford Mustangs (Photo 2) from the 1960s, and MoPar muscle (Photo 3) that ran into the 1970s, this was surely a time when cars ruled.

There were a number of factors that led to the rise of the car culture during this period. It is easy to see that the economic growth following WW II was the first factor in this push toward our nation’s reliance on the automobile. When soldiers returned from Europe and the Pacific they found a plethora of jobs, well-paying jobs. This new found income allowed many to look toward buying a house and moving away from the crowded urban environment in which they had been living. Pretty soon, the suburbs, which had already begun to creep outward like an ever expanding spider web, began to grow more quickly as families yearned for open spaces.

To accommodate this rapid growth, Cincinnati, like most cities, built roads rather than expanded their existing commuter system. The reason for the choice of building streets rather than expanding rail lines is complicated but, here, as in many systems, was the result of a conglomerate buying up the streetcar system and shutting it down. This conglomerate, by the way, was made up of interests in the automobile, rubber, and petroleum industries.

For me, this spreading toward the suburbs meant moving from the small apartment near the top of Sycamore Hill in Mt. Auburn to a brand new three-bedroom house on the edge of the woods in Skyline Acres in Colerain Township. It was wonderful because it meant that I got to ride in the car to go just about everywhere.

When I was a toddler my mom would walk to the store, pushing me in a stroller and hanging onto the hand of my older brother. Suddenly, living on Planet Drive meant that a trip to the store saw us two boys sitting, kneeling, or even standing on the back seats of the family car. No, there were no car seats and not always seat belts back then. A parent driving with a child in the front seat next to them developed a reflex move of throwing out their right arm in front of the kid when they had to hit the brakes.

For me as a kid, riding in the car meant going on an adventure. Whether that adventure was a short trip into Mt. Healthy or onto Colerain Avenue to pick something up or a longer trek down the newly constructed I-71 to Louisville or I-75 toward Lexington to visit relatives, I relished every time I got into the car.

I do not remember how old I was at the time but there was talk among our neighbors of a new restaurant that had opened on Colerain Avenue. The restaurant specialized in hamburgers and my brother and I were excited to give it a try. One Saturday my dad loaded the whole family into the Pontiac Tempest (similar to the one in Photo 4) and we headed off to this new and exciting restaurant with the exotic name Burger King. We parked in the lot, went inside, and ordered up our burgers. The place was small so we got the food to go and just sat in the car to enjoy it.

That was not an uncommon event, even in the early 1960s. As more roads began to connect the city to the suburbs and roads and the highway system connected cities to each other, people began traveling more and, therefore, spending more time in their cars. As they drove to visit relatives or to vacations, they found a growing number of restaurants popping up to cater to this new mode of travel. And it was not just along roads to feed hungry, long distance travelers that these restaurants appeared, many popped up in neighborhoods around the country.

Perhaps the most famous of these restaurants was started in Glendale, California, in 1936. Now known as Bob’s Big Boy, this restaurant became something of a model for others to follow. Offering sandwiches and French fries and sodas and milkshakes, eating out was becoming far more common than it once was.

One of the most innovative aspects of the early Bob’s Big Boy was how they figured out a way to deal with serving more people than could sit inside. Let them eat in their cars. Rather than park in the lot and get out to eat, people would stay in their cars and have a car-hop server take their order and bring out the food when it was ready. In a way it was the precursor to the drive-thru window. Only instead of driving around, you parked and had someone come to you.

These restaurant trends and the desire to travel by car created a large increase in the number of drive-in restaurants across the country. Cincinnati was no different, seeing many of these restaurants pop up around the Tri-State area. Perhaps the most well-known was the Frish’s Mainliner located on Wooster Pike. This was one of the largest in the area and also one of the last to lose its car hop service.

Drive-ins soon became more than places for families to go have a meal and never get out of their car. As teenagers began to get their own rides, generally pre-war cars that they fixed up and even customized (Photo 5), they took to the road. This allowed them the freedom to go and do whatever they wanted. And what many of them wanted to do was to just drive around and see their friends doing the same. But while driving around was the thing to do, the place to meet up and be seen began to migrate to the local drive-in restaurant.

Popular culture has accepted this nostalgia and has used it time and again. The most famous use of a drive-in during a motion picture was probably in the film American Graffiti. Just watch the opening sequence and see how the whole tone of the picture is set as the main characters drive into Mel’s. This is a similar theme throughout the movie. While most of it takes place in cars cruising around town, the drive-in is the center of the universe for these young adults.

The glory of the drive-in restaurant soon began to fade. As more families discovered those new places like Burger King, people began taking speed of service over the opportunity to spill their food in their laps while eating in the cars. Eventually the drive-thru replaced the drive-in. And an entire era began to fade.

Oh, there are still some drive-in restaurants around. Sonic has kept the concept of a drive-in alive with its chain of restaurants. Various older classic drive-ins have managed to hang on in various cities around the country. If you’ve never taken the road trip to Lexington to eat at The Parkette, you owe it to yourself to do so. This place has been featured on a number of national television and cable programs. While its popularity has allowed it to be expanded and remodeled, it still holds much of the kitsch of its original drive-in appeal.

The end of the classic drive-in didn’t mean that the marriage between a good burger and a car ride ended, though. At least it didn’t in the Turner household.

I’ve related the story before about how my older cousins plopped me behind the wheel of a 1955 Chevy Bel Air several years before I was of legal age to actually drive. When I did hit that magical age, back in the early 1970s, learning how to drive was actually part of the high school curriculum. You took a class called Driver’s Education. Half of it was taken in the classroom where the teacher would go over the basics of operation and traffic laws. A small part of it took place in a driving simulator where you sat behind a wheel and drove a virtual car along while movies played on the screen before you. Keep in mind, this was way before Grand Theft Auto.

The other part of Driver’s Ed was actually getting in a car and driving around. Within one class period there would be three of us and the driving instructor in the car. For me, the instructor was the school’s head football coach. We spent each morning driving to other schools, picking up and dropping off game films and other hugely essential information. And when there wasn’t some grand strategy to share we would run to the local bakery and pick up donuts for the athletic department.

I was a fairly seasoned driver by the time I got behind the wheel of that Driver’s Ed car. Since before I had gotten my temporary license, also called a learner’s permit, my brother had been letting me drive the Volkswagen Beetle (similar to the one in Photo 7) he was using to go back and forth to U.C. In the Driver’s Ed car with me were two female students, neither of whom the head football coach thought could, or perhaps even should, drive. So I did most of the driving to the bakery.

When it came time to actually take my driver’s test, I was warned that those who took it in a standard transmission car, faced a lot of potential problems. The rumors were that even the slightest slip of the clutch would cause you to fail. So instead I took it in the Ford Maverick (similar to the one in Photo 8) driven mostly by my adoptive mother. It took all of five minutes and I aced the test. To celebrate, I went out and got a burger with a couple of friends.

By the time my kids were old enough to learn how to drive things had changed a great deal. While a Driver’s Education course was still required, it was no longer part of the high school curriculum. In addition to having to take the book and road work with a certified instructor, learning driver’s had to put in a certain number of hours behind the wheel, hours that had to be affirmed by a parent.

Being the parent who did most of the driving around with them I vowed that they would not only learn how to drive but also how to navigate through unknown neighborhoods. To get them to accept this challenge, I would bribe them with a good burger.

For weekend trips to accumulate time behind the wheel, I would choose one of the area’s many great burger joints. In order to get to nosh on one of the Tri-State’s best burgers, my sons would have to look up its address and then plot out the best route to get there. I would choose the locations so that at various times they would drive through city streets and highways, places that were familiar and those where they had never before traveled. I would also vary the location and direction in which we would travel. One week I might choose Quatman’s in Norwood. The next might take us to Wyoming to eat at Gabby’s or to Cheviot for one of Mad Mike’s specialties. Perhaps we would head downtown to Arnold’s or to Price Hill Chili for one of their fabulous old school flat top burgers. Maybe we would head to Zips in Mt. Lookout or just down the road to the Anderson Township Pub. In any case there was motivation behind learning.

Each of my sons passed their driver’s test on the first try. I take pride in that. But I also take pride in the fact that every once in a while one of them will ask if I want to head to someplace like By Golly’s, The Anchor Grill, Shortnecks, Pepper Pod, Salem Gardens, Blue Jay, Champion’s Grille, or any of a number of great restaurants that we have visited. It’s enough to make anyone want to get in their car and head out for a good burger.

Photo 1

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 4

Photo 5

Photo 5

Photo 6

Photo 6

Photo 7

Photo 7

Photo 8

Photo 8