LITTLE BALKANS CHRONICLES — Draggin’ the gut
The week I’m sharing a recollection by Terry Barlow that, to anyone of a certain age, will bring visions that sparkle like the chrome on a ’57 Chevy. My longtime classmate, Mark Matarazzi, likened draggin’ the gut to a religion for area high schoolers in the '50s and '60s — and outlined a “cruiser theology” that included things like adjusting speed to hit all the green lights, coming to a "stud" complete stop at the 2nd Street railroad tracks, and keeping your AM radio tuned to 7.10 WHB, the “World’s Happiest Broadcasters,” the Top-40 station from which we got an occasional shout out from disc jockey Phil Whitmore, the former Pittsburger known as “Phil J” on WHB. — J.T.K.
Gasoline was just $0.14 a gallon, and I was driving my first car — a 1948 four-door Dodge that I affectionately called the “Black Beast” because it was huge and solid black in color. It had tons of room for all of my pals and real “Mohair seats” for one and all to sit on.
This baby had what was called “fluid drive” which meant you could shift through the gears or just go automatic. But I liked the shifting and my hand on that Schlitz beer gearshift handle. Oh how cool my friends and I thought that was at the time!
It was early 1962 and what a prize auto that was for a high school sophomore to “drag the gut” in. Drag the gut? you might ask. What the heck is that anyway?
Well, being from a fairly small town, we had one long mainstreet or “drag,” and our street here in Pittsburg was Broadway. High school kids of my era that were old enough to drive and had some “wheels,” would spend Friday and Saturday nights driving back and forth from one end of the drag to the other; hence, draggin’ the gut.
In Pittsburg, my high school years, the gut was usually considered to run from the White Grill on the north end of town to the 1106 Drive-In on the south end. If you were looking for anyone that was “cool,” all you had to do was to hop in your car (or a friend’s car) and drag the gut.
Sooner or later you’d pass in the night on Broadway.
The gut was where the girls were just as it was for most of the boys. Wonderful and beautiful coeds from Pittsburg High, College High, St. Mary’s, Frontenac High and Arma High could usually be found cruisin’ Broadway. You might “pick up” a few to ride with you, or if you got really lucky, a couple of ladies might pick you and a friend up to ride with them.
A break in the action could be found at one of the two drive-in hamburger joints I mentioned earlier. You could watch Dennis Bicknell or Roger Edwards take a whole potato, turn it in a machine, and whip up a huge order of Susie-Qs. Or pig out on a colossal tenderloin sandwich at the 1106. And, of course, large Cokes or Pepsi’s were mandatory at either stop. I can smell those Susie Qs right now! (Anyone have some Rolaids?)
My trips and fun up and down the main drag improved during each one of my high school years. The girls just kept getting prettier, and my cars to drive just kept getting nicer. In 1963, I got to drive my dad’s red Chevy Impala Super Sport convertible a lot, and it was a magnet when it came to the ladies. My last year in high school, I was the proud owner of a 1963 Buick Skylark that I was in love with. How sweet it and life was at that time!
College arrived for me, and most of my buddies, in the fall of 1964; some stayed here and some of the gang moved away. We all began to find new interests as opposed to draggin’ the gut. We still ate a lot of burgers, tenderloins, chili dogs and Susie Qs, but now more often than not with a steady date or girlfriend sitting as close to us as possible.
I’m still living and working in Pittsburg today, and each time I pass the former locations of the 1106 Drive-In (now Jimmy John’s) or White Grill (now T.H. Rogers Lumber), I fondly remember the early '60s, the hot cars, the delicious but greasy food, and, most of all, those lovely high school girls of Southeast Kansas.
— Terry Bartlow
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