The Dalles Chronicle -- February 7, 2010
Before IM and text messaging, teens found their friends on ‘The Gut’
"What else were we supposed to do on a Saturday night?"—Eva Jones on the Facebook group: "Yeah, I cruised The Gut in The Dalles"
By Kathy Ursprung
CARS OLD AND NEW pack ‘The Gut’ of downtown The Dalles every second Friday in August for the Neon Cruise, part of the Neon Classic Weekend.
Chronicle file photo/Mark B. Gibson
Rock music drifting on the breeze, the deep rumble of idling engines, the smells of hot rubber and gas fumes, the squeal of tires to see who was first off the stoplight line, juicy burgers, icy cokes and laughter — lots of laughter.
That’s the equation for a night of cruising “The Gut” in downtown The Dalles.
If you grew up five, 10 or 50 years ago, there’s a good chance you spent at least a small fraction of your teens cruising.
“What else were we supposed to do on a Saturday night?” asks a new Facebook group called “Yeah, I cruised ‘The Gut’ in The Dalles, Oregon.”
That question struck a chord with more than 1,100 current and former The Dalles residents, who have helped the group go viral (at least by local standards) over the past week or so.
The group has a lot of people digging through old memories for their best stories of “back in the day.”
Not least of those is Eva Jones, who started the group.
“It’s kinda weird, huh?” she said in a phone interview from Missouri, where she is a licensed massage therapist.
By cruising standards, she probably falls into one of the younger generations: The Dalles High School Class of 1993. But her nostalgic turn has inspired many former cruisers who now have a bit of snow on the roof.
The group was a whim for Jones.
“I was really just sitting around the other night, thinking about the crazy things we did as kids and getting back to people I haven’t talked to since I was in high school,” Jones said.
She started the group for the 50 or so classmates she has befriended on Facebook.
Since then the group has drawn interest from cruisers of 30, 40, 50 years ago, and more.
“That’s what you did,” Jones said. “That’s how you met up with everybody and figured out what was going on — what kind of debauchery you could get into. We didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t have texting.”
Russ Brown remembers cruising his ’57 Chevy downtown in the 1960s.
“I got into trouble cruising the gut all the time,” he said.
He recalls one particular stunt: “I went in reverse around the gut from the Hand-Out down Taylor, down Third and Madison and back to the Hand-Out.”
The Hand-Out was the place to meet up, he said, but sometimes it was hard to get out of the house.
“We’d say we had to meet for ‘Modern Problems’ study group, then we’d go to the Hand-Out and everybody’d meet down there.”
Jones remembers the guys who would pick up a couple of her girlfriends’ cars — when they’d gone cruising with someone else — and put the cars on the sidewalk.
“We did funny little things,” Jones said in reminiscing mode. “One winter night I pierced Jimmy Yate’s nipple at the old Payless building on the railing. He stuck his nipple to the bar to get it frozen and I pierced it.”
Steve Garrett (Class of 1970) wrote the “Injun Injun No. 9” column for the Tillicum, The Dalles High School’s newspaper. The column name was a take-off from an old Roger Miller song.
“I knew some guys with hot cars,” Garrett said. But his favorite part of the column was writing about the little imports and old beaters that weren’t quite as fancy or fast. “I’d try to make a piece-of-junk car sound like a jewel. That’s was the better part — the more creative part."
When Garrett cruised “The Gut,” it was in his dad’s pickup or his grandmother’s old Dodge Dart.
He tells the story of the day his buddy cruised up in the Safeway parking lot with two girls in his car. The friend was interested in one and wanted to dump the other one on him.
“I said, ‘OK.’”
He told her about the push-button transmission in his grandmother’s Dart.
“She said, ‘No way.’ I was showing it to her and she wanted to try it. She was hunkered over next to me and I was enjoying it a little and we ran into a post at the Safeway parking lot.
“I did forgive her,” Garrett continued. “I did marry her. And I’m still married to her.”
For their 25th anniversary, Garrett and his wife returned to Big Jim’s Drive In, their favorite hangout as seniors in high school.
Pat O’Meara (The Dalles Class of 1980) remembers cruising on the weekends in his 1970 Ford Torino.
“There were the drive-ins, the dances at the Elks Lodge or at the Armory and, of course, the parties,” O’Meara said. “But cruising was the thing. You cruised and then went to whatever event or went to the event and then cruised. Sometimes cruisin’ was the event of the night. It was the social network for us to keep up on people and their stories. Who was seen with who … who was having the party … who just won the drag race.”
He remembers staying in one night with his friend, Tony, who had been grounded.
“It was Saturday night, didn’t his dad realize this? Of course he did. That was part of Tony’s punishment. I wanted to go cruise so bad, but instead I hung out with Tony at his house. We didn’t do anything except complain the whole night and listen to KGON on the radio.”
Art Labrousse remembers cruising, as well, but from a police car, not a hot rod. He worked for The Dalles City Police from 1971 through 1985, before being elected Wasco County Sheriff.
“For the most part, things were cool,” Labrousse recalled. “Sometimes, they’d leave their beer bottles and Safeway would ask us to go push them off. There was loud music on occasion. The era of big cars was starting to go down. Gas was so high. They didn’t have drag races, like they did when I was a kid.”
Before he became a police officer, Labrousse was a cruiser in his home town of Prineville.
Julie Reynolds, who attended Sherman High, remembers spending the night at a friend’s house in Wasco and sneaking into town to see what “The Gut” was all about.
“We cruised The Gut — very sedately. We didn’t do anything wrong,” she said, laughing. “I was one of the good girls. But we were curious about it. We always came down to go to the movies and things like that. I especially remember that one time, because we hadn’t cleared it and I didn’t get into trouble.”
Rena Hunley’s first job was at the Granada at age 15.
“I would wave to all my friends just cruising the gut,” she said on the Facebook group. “Then it was my turn. I don’t know how much of the need for new tires was from my cruising or my folks’ use. Hum Dinger, A&W to the Hand-Out … what a blast!”
One cruiser posted a photo of his many traffic citations on the Facebook group.
“I remember working at the Hand-Out and seeing all my friends and future friends driving by or coming in,” said Gail Armstrong, who cruised between 1962 and 1964.
“The best was getting cherry lemon 7 Ups or vanilla Cokes and sitting in the Safeway parking lot downtown or the Tapadera lot, wherever the guys were strutting their ‘hot’ cars, LOL, then meeting out by Dufur to watch them race!” Crystal Huskey said on Facebook.
Although he didn’t cruise in The Dalles as a teen, Steve Hudson is one of the people who have helped perpetuate cruising popularity in The Dalles today. He is one of the organizers of the Neon Classic Weekend, which includes the wildly popular Friday-night Neon Cruise.
Every second Friday in August, thousands of spectators and hundreds of drivers line the streets for a chance to drive, admire and celebrate the automobile. The finest classics roll next to speedy imports and the most mundane of grocery-getters for the annual cruise.
“It was beyond our wildest expectations,” Hudson said. “Everybody showed up and the rest is history. It’s unique, because it really isn’t an organized event. We don’t really do anything.”
The cruise started after Hudson attended something similar in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
“The thing with The Dalles is that ‘The Gut’ is just the same,” Hudson said. “It’s a much better set-up for that sort of thing than [Coeur d’Alene] is.”
The organized events are the car shows in The Dalles and Dufur on Saturday and Sunday, and the Sunday drag race in Dallesport. But the cruise draws, by far, the biggest crowd.
Hudson is also a member of the “Cruise” group on Facebook. He heard about it from his daughter, who is also a member.
“It’s kind of fun listening to the older people complain about the kids making noise, or doing what kids do — the silly things kids do to cars these days … My dad, who started hotrodding back in the ‘30s, he had something very similar to what the kids do now. It was a big, open-can exhaust and it made all kinds of noise. Everyone thought it was wonderful. As much as things change, they really stay the same.”
Things aren’t quite the same these days.
Cruising isn’t quite the same social connection for teens today as it used to be, said Steve Garrett, who now teaches at The Dalles Wahtonka High School.
“They’ve all got cell phones now,” Garrett said. “They tell each other where they are.”
For Eva Jones, who came home for the holidays, things were also a little different. She made sure to cruise “The Gut” once to see what was the same, what was different, who was hanging around.
“The old pharmacy is a tattoo joint, LeBreton’s is gone, and the Wagon’s The Vault,” she said, though the hang-outs of her cruising era — Big Jim’s, Burgerville, Taco Time and Taco Bell — are still there to provide some nostalgia for those partying time.
“These days, the party’s on Facebook,” she said.
She’s glad that her Facebook group has brought up some fond memories.
“I’m just happy people are having a good time, a good laugh and good memories,” she said.