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By Marshall McClung
The drive-in was a central part in the TV series "Happy Days", and the film "American Graffiti." In fact the cover of the original soundtrack for this movie has a "carhop" on the front cover, and a scene at a drive-in restaurant on the inside cover.
Graham County was no exception, and also had it's drive-in. Arnold Buchanan started what is now the Black Knight Drive-In. It was first called Buck's Drive-In and opened in late June or early July, 1962. The photograph accompanying this story appeared in The Graham Star that year. Buchanan borrowed $4,000 from Citizen's Bank in Robbinsville to finance construction. Smith Howell was the banker then. Buchanan had a concrete floor poured, and Weldon Carpenter laid the blocks. Buchanan purchased the land where the drive-in still sits from Walt Wiggins.
Although the Buchanans built the drive-in, they never operated it. Buchanan 5 wife Hazel worked in Snider's Department Store for forty years, and never worked at the drive-in. A well, fifteen feet deep through solid rock, was dug just to the left of where the storage building is now located. A son, Max Buchanan, recalls pulling the pump from the well several times to see why it wouldn't work. U.S Highway 129 was under reconstruction at the time, and Arnold paid the highway contractor, Blalock Construction Company $100 to do the excavation work, and $200 to the State Highway Department for dirt.
The first operators of Buck's Drive-in were Cecil and Maxine Hyde. Milk shakes were 25~, hamburgers 25tp, and hotdogs were 15C. Some of the first waitresses were the two shown in the photograph with this story, Dorothy Eller Medlin, and Joann Wiggins Holder. Dorothy did not yet have her driver's license. The Hydes would drive to Dorothy's home on IU Gap Road and pick her up. Joann worked there for about a year, and later married Jack Holder in 1964. The customers that are shown being served in the photograph were Bill Carver and Marty Trost. Carver is sitting in a bright red 1962 "MG" that he had bought in Germany while in military service, and had it shipped to New York. Waynelle Pace began dating Bill and learned to drive in this car. A friend, Marilyn Moody, would often accompany her. Waynelle and Bill were later married and had two children, Mitch Carver, and Karen Carver Cunningham. Bill passed away in 1979.
Marty Trost is the customer in the other "MG", a yellow, 1959 model. Trost recalled that it, 5 original color was also red, but was repainted after a collision with a hearse. Trost speculated that if these two cars could be purchased today in mint condition, their value would range between $25,000 - $40,000 each.
"Sandy" Rogers Bowers was another waitress at the drive-in. Turned down bobby sox were a fad then, and that is where Sandy kept her tips. Cherry cokes and peanut butter milkshakes were much requested items, and Sandy made her first milkshake there. The customers were her brother "Junior" Rogers, and Johnny Ray McClincy. Nervous at her first attempt at making a milkshake, Sandy mistakenly put lemon in the base mix for the peanut butter shake. Although they couldn't drink it, they didn't mention it to her until later. Wonder how much of a tip she put in her bobby sox for that service! Although Sandy was very young at the time, this wasn't her first job. She had worked in a mobile x-ray at the age of fourteen that came to Graham County. Her first check was $40, which she used to buy a dog from Robbie Atwell.
Buck's Drive-In was later renamed "Tallulah Drive-in.1' In time, the business was sold to Jimmy and Christine Odom. In the May 7, 1965 issue of the Graham Star is a front page photograph of the Tallulah Drive-In burning. The accompanying article quoted manager Kathy Wilson as stating that the fire started in the deep fryer. The drive-in was rebuilt. Robbinsville's athletic teams had changed from "Blue Devils" to "Black Knights", and the name later changed to Black Knight Drive-in, the name it has retained except for a brief period recently when it was known as Smoky Mountain Drive-in
Alan and Iva Lee Jenkins Gibbs purchased the drive-in in September, 1967, and operated it until 1972. Although Iva Lee still owns the building, several people have operated it down through the years including Bernice Hill, Carolyn Patterson, Tammy Wiggins, Shannon Phillips, Lawrence Morgan, Freddie Carter, and Kathy Wilson.
The drive-in ceased to be a true "drive-in" when curb service was discontinued in the fall of 1970 or 1971. Iva Lee Gibbs who was then operating the drive-in said it was a chilly day, part of her help failed to report for work, and she decided to discontinue curb service.
Dennis and Laurel Jenkins now operate the Black Knight Drive-in, and are interested in obtaining items dating to the 1960's to display in their establishment.
The drive-in invokes in us who were teenagers then, a feeling of nostalgia, and a recognition of the lives we lived then. In a way, it was a more innocent time then. America was still making the transition from Eisenhower to Kennedy, from "rock and roll" to "rock". Favorite pastimes of the teenagers then were cruising, sockhops, parking and petting, and of course, visiting the drive-in for hamburgers, a cherry coke, or a peanut butter milkshake, without the lemon of course.
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These pages are from the people of Graham County, North Carolina.
For additional information on Graham County Adventures
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This page is maintained by Tom Livingston, Robbinsville, North Carolina