SUMMER of 1957

The following is an edited excerpt from a year to year journal that I have compiled for my five grandsons. In its original form it is much more family oriented but I tried to cut out the genealogy and get to the remembrances. 

Frank Madsen was one of my best friends during our high school years. As most of you are aware, he and I were active in the PBHS sports programs. I was a better than average football player who also played basketball and ran track. Frank was a fantastic basketball player who also played football and excelled in swimming and diving. In June of 1957 Frank and I had just finished our junior year at Palm Beach High School and were destined to have quite a summer ahead of us.

All of the coaches knew that the two of us might form the nucleus of some of the following year’s sports teams and one in particular did not want to waste the summer months if it could be helped. Coach Hank Williams was the head basketball coach and end coach on the football team. To his way of thinking, what would work out better than to devise some plan for Frank and I to spend the entire summer practicing basketball and football.

“Co Hank” figured out a way to get Frank and I signed up at Chimney Rock Camp for Boys as work campers for the summer. This meant that we only had to pay half the fee but, in turn, would be called upon to help the councilors in running the camp. The camp was, and may still be, in the mountains of North Carolina just east of Bat Cave near Hendersonville.

Naturally this can’t be just another “WHAT I DID OVER MY SUMMER VACATION” story so let’s get to the fun.

On the morning of our departure both of us had our suitcases in hand and were dressed in coats and ties. The somewhat formal attire was suggested by my father who was an expert on the mode of travel we had chosen to get to North Carolina. Soon after sunrise Frank and I were at the intersection of Belvedere Rd. and Olive Ave. with our thumbs out HITCHHIKING! My father had been raised during the depression of the 1930’s and had been faced with many situations where this was the only way a young man could get from place to place. He had no doubts that two clean cut high school athletes would have no trouble “thumbing” the 700 plus miles from West Palm Beach to what had been his old stomping grounds. Eugene Powell was raised in Horse Shoe NC.

Daddy may have had no doubts but Frank and I soon did. It became readily apparent that somebody might like the idea of having one six foot stranger as a traveling companion but nobody wanted two of them. The sun was getting higher, we were starting to sweat and after an hour or so we decided to split up. We would turn our journey into what virtually everything we did together eventually became……a contest.

First we flipped a coin. I lost, walked over to the Howard Johnson’s restaurant that covered the entire city block across the street and, taking a seat at a counter next to a window that offered a full view of where I had left Frank, ordered a cup of clam chowder. The agreement was that I would give him 30 minutes to get a ride without me and after that he would yield the site to me and he would give me a shot at it. It was also agreed that we would race to see who could get to my Aunt Tude’s house in Hendersonville first.

No sooner had my chowder been put in front of me than, without me seeing anyone stop, Frank was gone and the race was on. I was in such a hurry that I think I left my food untouched, put the money down, picked up my “grip” and ran out the door.

I don’t remember all of the rides I got that day but I do remember one of them. I believe the old man picked me up on U.S.1 in downtown Jacksonville (there were no interstate highways in 1957). He was driving an old forest green two-door Nash sedan with black smoke pouring out the exhaust. As it turned out it was burning so much oil that the entire back seat was filled with full and empty bulk oil jugs. (In the 50’s you could buy cheap re-refined “bulk” motor oil pumped from 500 gallon tanks but you had to furnish your own gallon jugs.) We would pull off the road every twenty or so miles and add a quart or two.

Just after leaving a red light at Callahan, FL, still on U.S. 1 near the Georgia line, there was Frank standing alongside the road with this thumb out. Naturally I waved and hollered at him as we started to pull out of the intersection. Forgetting our contest and reverting back to the concept of camaraderie, there was my buddy running along with his suitcase banging on the roof of the Nash and exhorting the old man to let him in the car. It was like a scene from the old “Keystone Cop” silent movies of the 1920’s. The old man had no idea who this maniac was and, even if there had been enough room in the front seat or in the back with the oil jugs to squeeze him in, he had no intention of stopping. At that point I was laughing my head off. I wasn’t sure if the car I was riding in would last another mile and if it did I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in it but I was sure of one thing–I was definitely a nose ahead in the race.

As it turned out I ended up, I forget after how many rides, spending the night in an old two story wooden hotel on the main street of Statesboro, GA. The next day I, again, was on the road. All I remember was one long stretch along route 25 just north of North Augusta, SC. It took forever to get picked up and I remember the old barns that seemed to mock me from the red clay fields along the road.

Rock City

Most of the barns along these and all the other highways in the “50’s” deep South were painted the same way……no paint at all but a big sign “SEE ROCK CITY” painted on the side. The only break in the monotony as I walked along the asphalt were the small sequenced Burma-shave signs along the highway.

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Sometime in the late afternoon I reached my aunt and uncle’s house outside Hendersonville. Frank was waiting for me. He had beaten me by some 3 hours, having spent the previous night in Orangeburg, SC. As I remember it he had had much better luck than I had. He was picked up by some guy in a brand new Buick Roadmaster. His ride even let him help with the driving. That’s why he said he didn’t mind going a little out of the way by going northeast to Orangeburg. Knowing Frank, if it had been a good looking woman I would have won the race and he’d have ended up in Bangor ME.

There was much more that happened that summer. Frank and I were thrown in with a lot of boys from the Coral Gables High School football team and their coach, Nick Koty (the premier high school football coach in Florida whose recommendation later that summer to the coaches at Georgia Tech proved to have quite an impact on my educational prospects). The boys from Gables were full-blown councilors working for the camp and they were also the defending State Champions (only one champion in 1956, no Class A, Class AA, or Class AAAA etc.) and the Chimney Rock Camp was a de-facto Coral Gables private farm system for summer training. (a matter of interest as previously mentioned by Jerry Browning: in the first game of the year for both schools: Palm Beach High – 14, Coral Gables & the Asian Flu  Pandemic – 7). Lest we “jocks of old” get too stuck on ourselves, I seem to recall that there was another Palm Beach High football game played our senior year in which the victorious team scored 14 points. Does a wooden horse outside the walls of Troy or the advertisements on the vending machines inside the men’s room at Billups filling station give us a clue to jar our memories as to the team in question?

Frank and I actually did a little work that summer. We taught boys how to make things called lanyards. We snuck into the town of Lake Lure and then wondered why? We tried to set up a still but never had the courage to actually drink the awful looking liquid we ended up with. Many of the younger campers, whom we were supposed to oversee, were from wealthy families in Cuba. They spent the summer running around in the mountains playing cowboys and Indians Cuban style…….Castro and Batista. After Fidel took power on Jan. 1, 1959, I suspect those that played the rebels changed their minds as they and their families found themselves on the ferry to Key West having had everything taken from them in the revolution. We spent the summer listening to Pat Boone being “fond of sand dunes and salty air”, playing basketball and football, canoeing, and visiting Hendersonville and Asheville. Frank was writing love letters to my old flame Betty Newsome (as it turns out Nick Coppola was helping her read them). I was writing letters all summer long to a girl a year older than me that I had only been out with once or twice (Pat Quigley, whom I would have only one date with after returning at the end of the summer – she dumped me). On our visits to town Frank would take my cousin Sharon out. Sharon ended up in WPB teaching at Jeff Davis Middle School where my 8th grade sweetheart Sandy Cliff was Principal.

The style rage that year was to wear as much pink and charcoal as possible. I’m having difficulty convincing my grandsons that the two colors are what any red-blooded American boy would be caught dead in but, as you know, it was. We had charcoal pants and pink shirts, pink pants and charcoal shirts, pink and charcoal socks, sports coats, even handkerchiefs. The shirts all had button-down collars and the pants were always accompanied by the extra skinny little belts with, not one, but two or, sometimes, even three buckles. Where the money came from, I don’t remember, but by the end of the summer the Belk’s Department Store in Asheville had my wardrobe for the coming school year ready to go.

Dee always ask me in later years how her husband had turned into such a slob when I had been such a neat dresser when we first started going out together during my senior year? I suppose it was the pink and charcoal … or maybe it was just the magic of the summer of “57”.

Jim Powell

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