Since the advent of high school, teenagers all over the USA have walked out of school with one thought on their mind: “What can I do tonight?” In a little western South Dakota town like Timber Lake, it has been no different. If a teenager didn’t have chores at home, a part-time job or a sports activity of some kind, there were hours to be filled.
At no time in our lives have we craved social interaction with boys and girls our age than those years spent in high school. Girls looked at boys with a different shine in their eye and boys walked with a swagger not found in junior high. So, it is no surprise to discover that Timber Lake teenagers over the decades filled those many hours with a rich history of mischief, adventure and general “hanging out” as defined by the era in which they lived.
Some like Monica Garreau, TLHS ’69, isolated by a 25 mile school bus ride from town, will tell you that the family phone was their lifeline to the social world while others like Keith Scott, TLHS ’79, will tell you sports were a teenage bonding experience. This article will not address the evolution of rotary dialing to cellular text messaging or the many stories of big hits and memorable shots that are a history all their own. This is a tale of how Timber Lake kids filled the idle hours in-person, together away from school, sports and the family phone.
When I asked many how they spent time outside of school, the response was very often, “Hanging out with friends.” Ruth Olson, TLHS ’49, with friends Gladys Dolan, TLHS ’49, and Lottie Buchanan, TLHS ‘48, would walk around town visiting after school when the weather was nice. Other times Ruth and the “49ers” as they called themselves could be found at different homes playing board games. The screened in porch belonging to the parents of Patty Bellum, TLHS ‘46, was a favorite spot for this group.
Bev Ostrom, TLHS ’51, and friends kept horses in and near town. Hanging out for Bev and her friends was saddling up and riding around the outskirts of town. During the winter, they could be found skating on the lake or sledding down Scherr’s butte west of town.
Marge Ostrom, TLHS ’57, and Jeanine Pahl, TLHS ‘56, were spending some after high school time together back in the 1950’s. On one particular day, Jeanine had been left in charge of her two little sisters. The two little “darlings” were putting a damper on their quality time so Jeanine quickly devised a plan to free them of the little burdens. She tied them by the waist to the clothesline and put syrup on their hands. Once their little hands were good and sticky, Jeanine and Marge proceeded to take some feathers out of an available pillow and put them into their sticky mitts. This occupied the kids for over an hour and allowed Jeanine and Marge the all important “girl time”.
1964 classmates, Tom Taggart and Jill Kesling, could often be found hanging out with friends around the soda fountain at Fisher’s Drug Store swapping stories over cherry Cokes or reading the comics off the stand. Other times the 60s crowd were at Keller’s Café listening to the jukebox, playing pinball machines and enjoying a Coke with French fries.
When Timber Lake kids got together in mom and dad’s automobile, there was only one thing to do. With no “boulevards” and no “avenues” to cruise, the singular activity to accomplish in a car or truck was simply to “take a main” on the one and only main street our little western town has ever had. In the 1960s, kids took a u-turn on the north end by the train depot and the United Parish church at the south end. Twenty years later, the church remained but with the depot long gone, Schweitzer’s Ford Garage became the landmark. Today, the Ford Garage is now Biegler’s NAPA Store but the u-turn still remains the same.
The mid-80s saw the church fathers on the south end of town block off the parking lot to prevent teenagers from using their space to make the south end turn. While a prudent move for grown up reasons, teenagers in the decades that have followed were deprived of a gathering spot of sorts to laugh, joke and visit a bit before spinning some dirt and moving on.
DeMaris Ross, TLHS ’64, was the daughter of Dewey County Sheriff Frank Ross. During those days, the sheriff personally owned his cop car. After having kids over for a night of scary movies and mom’s homemade pizza, DeMaris would convince her dad she needed to drive friends home in his car. This was always an opportunity for a quick “main” or two. DeMaris and friends would also take a tour of town searching for couples who were “parking”. They had lots of fun turning on the lights and siren on many an unsuspecting couple.
Mike Card, TLHS ’77, and friends decided to see how many kids they could get into a 1972 Cutlass one day after basketball practice in the 70s. They squeezed and pushed a total of 14 kids into the car for a trip on the main drag. When someone suggested that the headline in Byington’s paper the next week could easily read, “14 Kids Dead in ONE Car Rollover”, the infectious laughter brought tears to their eyes.
Sarah Crance, TLHS ’00, and friends took hide and seek to a vehicular level in the late 90s. After taking a few mains, it would eventually be decided who was hiding and who was seeking. The rules were simple: 1) Stay in your car and 2) Stay in the city limits.
When the wheels quit spinning, it was often to take in a local weekend dance. For decades, teenagers would gather at whatever dance was taking place at the city auditorium that is now John and Patty Linderman’s grocery store. Kids would dance on the basketball floor and town elders would watch from the balcony seats above. Decades of teenagers prior to the sale of the auditorium in the late 1970s can tell many tales of memorable bands, love found, hearts broken and tempers that spilled into fights outside. On dance night, the city auditorium was absolutely “the” place to be if you were a teenager.
For a short time, the void left by the loss of the city auditorium was filled by the Trail City Hall, Isabel’s community building and to a degree the new Timber Lake community building although its cement and linoleum floor never had the feel and ambiance of the old wooden gym floor now hidden below aisles of food products.
Martin Biegler, TLHS ‘74, brought back the western ambiance and sense of community when he introduced the tent at the 1985 Days of 1910 celebration. Timber Lake once again had “the” place for teens to gather and dance albeit once a year. A sense of time and place is all that teenagers want to feel when they are young and all they fondly remember when they are old. The “city auditorium” and the “tent” define singularly unique eras in Timber Lake social history. It is fitting that one did not replace the other.
While Saddle Club dances, Fireman Balls, Homecoming bands and a variety of school dances have come and gone (ask Roger Lawien, TLHS ‘75, about the Christmas Ball sometime!), the traditional prom has survived through Timber Lake teenage history. In the 50s, girls waited patiently hoping to “fill their dance card” while at the turn of the century it wasn’t uncommon for girls to ask a boy out. Regardless, the prom has always been an event remembered by every generation.
Picking out a theme better than the year before, decorating the gym, messing up your part in the grand march, wondering if the punch would be spiked, finding a spot to park after leaving the dance, and a long kiss good night (or good morning if you had a great night and understanding parents!) on a front porch are memories that have not skipped any Timber Lake generation.
Dating outside the prom involved many activities. Church group outings and events were popular places to hang out with that special one without being on an official date as Ruth Olson, TLHS ’49, and Dixie Schaefer, TLHS ’57, remember.
Jill Kesling, TLHS ’64, spent time on dates at the Timber Lake movie theater. She remembers sitting in the top row so she and her date could see who others were sitting with. They would often throw popcorn at those couples sitting too close together.
After the Timber Lake Theater closed regular service in the mid-70s, the generations of local teenagers that followed loaded up with friends on single, double and sometimes triple dates to attend movies in Mobridge which boasted a walk-in theater and a traditional drive-in theater. Gone With The Wind to Grease to Star Wars, teenagers in Timber Lake certainly were not deprived of any of the classics.
When not steaming up the windows at the drive-in, where did kids go for that alone time known as “necking” or “parking”? Unique to the 50s and 60s was the road near Jake Oster’s residence south of the catholic school. The rodeo grounds and the old football field between the sale barn and cemetery were favorites in the late 70s and 80s. The Little Moreau State Park was used by virtually every generation at some point.
Jill Kesling, TLHS ’64, has the unique honor of being the only one to leave the town ambulance/hearse overnight on lovers lane near Jake Oster’s. She, like DeMaris Ross, was able to get the keys from her dad for a joyride in the long station wagon. Looking to shine the light on parked cars, the car quit and would not start. Her father, J.D. Kesling, was forced to tow it to the shop in the light of day and suffer some good natured ribbing from his friends.
When mom and dad had the family car for the night, kids were left home bound all across town. In the 1950s, the radio provided entertainment in the form of the heroic Lone Ranger, the mysterious The Shadow Knows or the much scarier Inner Sanctum with its trademark squeaking door. In the 1960s, “Shock-O-Rama” was the scary show teens tuned into. Music began to dominate the airwaves in the 1970s when KOMA from Oklahoma City could be found locally or Wolfman Jack would play the hits on KFYR out of Bismarck.
Television arrived in the mid-50s to a few homes around Timber Lake. Dixie Schaefer, TLHS ’57, and friends would spend their school lunch time over at the living room of Roberta “Snookie” Lawien, TLHS ’57, to watch the Tennessee Ernie Ford show. Ed Sullivan arrived in the 60s followed later in the decade by the Wonderful World of Disney. Raise your hand if you just “had” to get home on Sunday in time for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom followed by that week’s must see Disney episode. Later in the 70s, Saturday Night Live was born and kids would stop on evenings out to check out the latest episode to be discussed in the halls at school on Monday. The 80s had MASH and All In The Family while the 90s introduced us to the Dukes of Hazard, Seinfeld and the X-Files.
After TV, getting together to eat was probably the next most used excuse for a teenager to get together with friends. If mom wasn’t cooking, it meant going out to eat. While the options were never many, the food was good. The Cuckoo Café, Lewis Café, Keller’s Café, Alf’s Café, The Lucky 7, the Ketch Pen and Conoco all fed many a hungry teenager over the decades. Buns glistening with butter, hamburger fried in grease, French fries salted to perfection, frozen pizza heated while you waited—it all was served by people the kids knew and who also knew the kids. It may not have been home cooking but it didn’t take but one call for mom to find out what was being served.
What about teenage drinking in Timber Lake? Each decade has a tale to tell but none worthy of putting into print. Interestingly, each decade also thinks the decades to follow consumed much more alcohol than theirs. Each will also tell you secretly that they are hopeful that one day a new generation will say, “Enough”.
Regardless of the time in history, teenagers acquired alcohol from home, older “bootleggers” or simply purchased it over the counter. The over the counter venue did change locations around the area over the decades but there almost always has been one vendor willing to forgo the charade of selling to a bootlegger and instead relented to selling it directly to underage minors.
Some will say it is a right of passage shared by every teenager. Others live in the “just say no” camp. There are even a few naïve souls who believe that it was the “other kids”. History shows that some kids drank, some kids watched, some kids got caught but all made a choice. This choice is our heritage and our history in regards to teenage drinking.
Generations of teenagers have come and gone, scattered across the United States from Maine to California. They are forever linked across the years by the Little Moreau Park, Panther pride, nights at the city auditorium, the #2 dam, dragging main, sneaking into the drive-in hidden in a car trunk, the crinkle of a new prom dress, sawdust under the tent, the pressure of that first neck tie, the hesitation of a first kiss in a parked car and the wonder of the wide world outside the gravel and pavement of our beloved little prairie town.
Wherever Timber Lake teenagers gathered around a jukebox or over a car hood on a hot summer night, they talked of growing up and leaving their mark on the world. Lucky for us all, when Timber Lake was our whole world, it left its mark on us.