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180122 January 22, 2018


Shock Theater

Where Did the Good Times Go?
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

    If you are a regular reader of the stories I feature in Lee’s Traveller, it will come as no surprise to you I have several recurring subjects I often share. This article touches on a couple of those areas.

    I miss the Friday nights of my past. I know this makes me sound old, and I don’t want it to sound so, but I can’t explain it any other way.

    In my younger years Friday nights were always special to me – I always seem to have something to do, even if it was almost a regimented routine activity. I can trace the feeling back to living on East Clinton Street and going to school at East Clinton Elementary. In retrospect, my memory takes me back to the time when I first remember our family having a TV set. I was 11 years old in 1957 when TV markets across America starting marketing Shock Theater, a syndicated package of 52 classic horror films produced by Universal Studios. Screen Gems encouraged local markets to create their own hosts, and before long, local newscasters, weathermen and other station employees found themselves slapping on greasepaint, fright wigs and capes. The viewers in Huntsville were served by a TV station in Nashville, since we had no local stations yet. 

    Nashville's Universal Monster Movies were on Friday nights with host Dr. Lucifur and aired from 1958 to 1967 on WSIX-TV. The show was live and ad-libbed. They were rated number one in Nashville in that Friday- or Saturday-night time slot. They beat The Tonight Show on NBC and whatever was on CBS.

    The only way we could receive the signal was to go outside and point the tower-mounted antenna toward the transmitter tower north of us . If we wanted to watch a Birmingham station we had to point the antenna south.

    My first memories of it being a special night was of late in the evenings when I prepared for the viewing by popping a big bowl of popcorn and mixing up a big pitcher of grape Koolaid. Of course our TV at the time was just a black and white set, but that seemed okay since most of the classic movies being shown were filmed in black and white anyway. Our set had a 21” diagonal screen with no remote. Besides the volume and 13-number channel knob on the front of the set, there were also knobs on the back to adjust the vertical hold, contrast, and brightness of the picture. It was a learned skill to finally be able to adjust the set to prevent the screen rolling and to get the blacks and whites contrasted enough to make out the images on the screen.

    For the first couple of months after Shock started I sat at home, usually alone, and watched the monsters on the snowy TV. Later I was sometimes joined by Bob Davis or Buddy Crabtree, Mike Thompson, or Mickey Drake - all kids that lived nearby. Eventually my primary viewing partner was David Sutton, when he started coming to my house and later me joining him at his house for the weekly horror shows. I especially enjoyed going to David’s because of the atmosphere – he lived up on Wells Avenue, just across the street from Maple Hill Cemetery. There was just something fitting about watching horror movies across the street from the stoned wall surrounding the deathly quiet cemetery. It was even spookier walking home alone after midnight.

    But monsters and creatures can only hold the attention of a young boy for so long, especially when the menu contained only 52 classic movies. Eventually the limited supply of movies begin be repeated. There are only so many originals and sons of and brides of them and one meeting another to hold one’s interest. I even got tired of Abbot and Costello meeting all of them. It was inevitable for my interests to eventually change to a different subject. This is especially true when in my case. About the time I entered the seventh grade my Friday nights were hijacked from Shock Theater as a result of a church skating party at Carter’s Skateland. I have repeatedly shared stories of my love of skating and how it consumed my attention, and my Friday nights.

    Of the previously mentioned group of Shock Theater companions, only one followed me to Carter’s and that was Mike Thompson. Mike was a friend from East Clinton who eventually went on to Huntsville Junior High and Huntsville High when my own path to higher education took me to Lee Junior High in the ninth grade and the climb to my high school diploma as the tenth, eleventh, and finally twelfth grades were added to grow my class year to becoming the first graduating class at Lee High School.

    In the beginning my Fridays were solely dedicated to learning how to skate. I had no time for members of the opposite sex – they would come later. I paid the 50 cents admission fee and rented my skates at first, but later on was given a wonderful set of precision skates by Gene Bales, a friend of my brother Don. On Friday nights Mike and I would walk the approximate two miles to the skating rink, with our biggest obstacle being the process of crossing Pinhook Creek to Traylor Island, without having a bridge on our chosen route to make the crossing easy.

The Hokey Pokey on Roller Skates

    A version of the Hokey Pokey found on Youtube - don't look for anyone you know since this is a generic video.

    So, on the early Friday nights I avoided the couples’ skates, the trio skate, and anything which required me to match up with a girl. That did not mean I had to give up The Hokey Pokey (Put your "back side" in!) or the reverse skate where we were required to reversed direction and skate clockwise instead of the normal counter-clockwise route. As my skills advanced so did my confidence as well as my hormones. Soon I got up the courage to ask girls to skate with me, but my advances were often rejected. Still, every once in a while my invitations were accepted and I had to learn to skate with a partner. With the new challenge of skating in tandem with a partner, my skill set had to increase as well. I learned to skate backwards and found it not as difficult as others made it seem.

    As my interest in girls in short skating skirts increased, so did my anticipation and enjoyment of the walk to the skating rink each Friday night. I can't name all of you, but the girls I remember the most from those early days were Pam Grooms, Barbara Seeley, Carol Jean Williams, Sarajane Steigerwald, Sherry Adcock, Carolyn McCutcheon, Dianne Hughey, and Ginger Cagle. Those were the soon to be Lee High School girls, but there were also some Huntsville and Butler ones as well.

    The last skate was at 10:00 pm and I always raced to find a partner for it. My night was a bust if I failed to do so. Sometimes later on the young couples were more interested in "going outside" for a quiet moment to make out in the dark beside the cinder block wall of Carter's, at an age when no one had a car and often were picked up by parents. When the lights went out Mike and I would start our trek home, which usually took about 30 minutes. Some nights I still got home in time to turn on the TV set and join the already-in-progress creature feature. Even at that young age it would normally be after midnight before the national anthem played, the test patter came on, and finally the TV screen became a sea of snow.

    As much as I enjoyed those wonderful Friday nights up to that time, my enjoyment would only multiply as I left my junior high days behind me and headed into high school. What would it take to draw me away from those unforgettable nights spent at Carter’ Skateland?

(Continued Next Week)

        Memphis, TN - Sue and I just got home from a two week vacation at the Disney Vacation Club on Hilton Head Island. Unlike previous visits this time of the year, this trip was very cold, with snow still on the ground when we arrived there.

    I hope many more of you will take advantage of my offer to share your memories if you will only send them in to me. I know for certain we have a great group of followers who love the stories of life when we were growing up and the events of our previous times.

My Bus Rides
George Vail
LHS '66

    Thanks to Tommy for posting his story about his bus experiences. Three of my own bus trips came to mind:  My trip to Gunter AFB to be inducted into the Army Jan 1969, my bus ride with all my fellow Warrant Officer Flight Candidates from Ft Polk, LA to Ft Wolters, TX in April of 1969, and the topper of all - a cross-country bus ride from California to Huntsville.

     My first wife and I were living in Monterey and we decided to move back home to Alabama. I went ahead on the bus to get a job and enroll again at UAH. I had most of my drums with me and it was my duty to see that they were well cared for on the trip. I even had to change bus carriers in Los Angeles and had to lug my belongings two blocks from the Greyhound Terminal to the Trailways. 

    I checked my luggage in a storage locker and took the drums on a borrowed hand truck to the other carrier and checked them in and then returned for my other bags. I had to change buses in Dallas for the last time and I waited to board the bus to make sure the drums were loaded. I remember having a long lay over in Memphis and I walked to the Peabody up the street and happened to catch the ducks  march to the elevator for their  ride to the roof.  It was pretty special and I remember being really exhausted.... 

    I pulled into the new bus station in downtown Huntsville later that afternoon and happened to think of the day I left from the old station on Clinton for the US Army.


From Our Mailbox 


Subject:    Cagle's Grocery

Brenda Bell

    Tommy in the January 15th issue of the Lee's Traveller CE Wynn was asking about Cagle Grocery. This grocery store belonged to my grandparents. It was on Humes in Northeast Huntsville. Many of the kids that walked home from school would stop for a cola and cake. The house and store building are still there but we recently sold it with the passing of our parents. My grandparents started this business in about 1932 and my Dad took it over after their death in 1968. That is a good memory for me.

Cagle's Grocery

Subject:    Rainer's Story

Eddie Burton

LHS '66

    Rainer’s great story brought back so many memories of streets and locations in Huntsville. I moved away in 1969 and it was fun remembering all those streets and places.



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