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11 Things You No Longer See on Playgrounds

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If it seems like today’s kids have gotten “softer” than we ever were in our youth, perhaps it’s because playgrounds have gotten softer as well. Literally. Blacktop has been replaced by wood mulch, sand, and rubber chips. And there are governmental organizations that actually oversee such precise details as “Is playground-quality sand being used? Is there any lead content in the recycled rubber?”

Thanks to state laws and personal injury lawyers, the landscape of the typical playground has changed a lot over the years, making it a safer and more “educationally interactive” environment. On the other hand, maybe those rough-and-tumble recreation areas of yesteryear served as an early life lesson that the world was a harsh and unforgiving place. A place where Mom’s only admonition was “If you fall and break your neck, don’t come crying to me!” If you remember proudly displaying your stitches or plaster cast as a badge of honor after suffering a fall from the monkey bars, then you may also remember playing on some of this other equipment that is slowly disappearing from our public playscapes. (Sure, you might see versions of these things on playgrounds, but let's face it—they don't make them like they used to.)

1. Merry-Go-Round

The object here was to get the thing spinning so fast that kids began flying off, one by one. The last one holding on for dear life was the “winner.” And to really test your mettle, you didn’t sit placidly in one of the “slots”—you stood up, or climbed astride the bars, or assumed some other death-defying position.

2. Teeter-Totters

Whether you call them see-saws or teeter-totters, they just don’t make ‘em like they used to. The ones at my elementary school and neighborhood park were wooden, with splinters and chipped paint. They were also pretty tall, and installed on blacktop. A girl in my second grade class broke her collarbone when her fellow teeterer pulled the old “I’ll get off of my side while you’re up in the air” trick.

3. Metal Slides

Those towering metal slides of yesteryear are being replaced with molded plastic models, and in order to conform to Consumer Product Safety Commission standards, the height and slope of those slides are far more restrictive. There was nothing quite like scooting down a metal slide in a skirt or pair of shorts after it had been baking in the hot sun all day. The sharp metal edges sometimes nicked you in a tender area when the surface seams began to separate, and since there were virtually no protective side rails, it wasn’t too difficult to accidentally flip over the side on your way down (say, if the heel of your sneaker accidentally caught and tossed you like a car skidding on the ice). Savvy kids brought a length of wax paper with them from home to sit on for extra-fast descents.

4. Witch’s Hat

Yet another piece of equipment that taught us Fun With G-Forces. Kids gathered around the outside of the ring and grasped it. Then they ran around and around, faster and faster, until the thing spun so fast your body was lifted off of the ground and you were (hopefully) flying almost horizontally. It was all good, clean fun—until someone barfed.

5. Metal or Wooden Swings

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Swing seats today must be made of vandal-proof rubber or some similar protectively coated material. It’s hard to find those thick steel or wooden seats that chipped many a tooth when they were thrown just so. The chains no longer have open S loops, and are quite often coated in vinyl … no more going home with orange palms from grasping rusty chains. And the swingsets aren’t nearly as tall, which takes a lot of the fun out of jumping from the seat when you’re at the highest point in your arc.

6. Giant Stride

Preservation in Pink

Similar to the Witch’s Hat, but with individual hanging pieces, so that the slower kids got rammed into, or perhaps smashed into, the center pole.

7. Horizontal Ladder/Monkey Bars

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At my school the horizontal ladder was made of metal and perched over asphalt. Blistered hands were the natural result of crossing, especially in warm weather. When the safety monitor wasn’t looking, we engaged in “dog fights”—one person started from each end, met near the middle, and kicked and flailed their feet, trying to knock each other off the bars.

8. Geodesic Dome

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Truly adventurous kids climbed on the inside of this structure, so that they were upside-down at the top, then continued that way to end up head-first on the other side. And when the bell rang to signal the end of recess, if you happened to be on or near the top, you saved time by simply jumping down to the ground. Because only wussies bothered to carefully climb down when time was of the essence.

8. Tetherball

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Thanks to the danger of getting smacked in the face, plus the steady stream of broken/jammed fingers as a result of kids hitting the pole instead of the ball, this game is slowly becoming extinct on public playgrounds.

10. Still Rings

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Metal rings hanging on long chains are also now considered a safety hazard. Maybe that’s partly because kids used to do things like sit on top of the ring and swing and bash into one another, or hang upside down from their feet.

11. Animal Springers

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Or whatever they’re properly called. Today they’re all lightweight plastic with coated springs. But the real deal was made of solid steel, as was the coil beneath it. Heavy duty fun for all!

Please share your fondest playground memories:  broken bones, sprained fingers and all!

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The Funniest Town Name in All 50 States
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Lucy Quintanilla/Mental Floss

You can send your Christmas wish list to Santa Claus, Indiana, or get a refill in Hot Coffee, Mississippi. Whether honoring its founders, a local landmark, or its reputation for rowdy bar-brawling, the funniest town names in all 50 states show a sense of humor and personality.

1. ALABAMA // SCREAMER

Screamer, an unincorporated community in southeastern Alabama, has a noisy history. According to a local historian, the name may have two origins. In one version of the story, it comes from the fact that 19th century Native Americans used to loudly heckle white train travelers as they passed by what was then a reservation. The "screaming" could have also referred to the din made by local bears, panthers, and wildcats.

2. ALASKA // UNALASKA

unalaska, alaska
Weston Renoud, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Don’t let the name fool you; Unalaska is as Alaskan as it comes. With a little more than 4500 residents, Unalaska is the largest city in the Aleutian Islands. Originally, Unangan residents named it Agunalaksh, a word that means "near the peninsula." As Russian fur traders arrived, the spelling morphed into Ounalashka, which eventually became Unalaska.

3. ARIZONA // WHY

Why call a town "Why?" This teeny-tiny community near the U.S.-Mexico border is named after the Y-shaped intersection of two nearby highways. But because of an Arizona law requiring place names have at least three letters, "Y" became the much more existential "Why."

4. ARKANSAS // SMACKOVER

This town of 1800 people in southern Arkansas, at one point one of the nation’s biggest oil producers, was settled by French trappers in the early 19th century. The name Smackover may have come from the French name for the local creek, Chemin Couvert, which means "covered way"—and "sumac couvert" means a covering of sumac trees, a local plant. Alternate theories trace the name back to the legend of oil streaming "smack over the derrick" or a settler jumping "smack over the creek," according to the state’s website.

5. CALIFORNIA // ROUGH AND READY

rough n ready california
Isaac Crumm, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The early residents of Rough and Ready, California, were prepared to get down and dirty for their independence. Named after a mining company with the same moniker, the town—with a current population of about 1581—was the first to secede from the Union and become its own “republic” in 1850 as a protest against mining taxes, prohibition mandates, and laws that weren’t enforced. Though their rebellion was laughably short-lived (the town rejoined the United States three months later), its residents still pay homage to Rough and Ready’s spirited past with a celebration on the last Saturday in June.

6. COLORADO // NO NAME

What started out as a temporary solution has become a point of pride for locals (currently fewer than 200 in number) in No Name, Colorado. According to reports, a government official first marked a newly constructed exit off I-70 with a sign reading “No Name” as a placeholder. By the time officials got around officially labeling it, “No Name” had the support of the community and it stuck. Visitors can find the spot near the No Name tunnels, No Name Creek, and the No Name hiking trail.

7. CONNECTICUT // HAZARDVILLE

Hazardville, Connecticut, began as a 19th-century industrial village that made gunpowder. Thankfully, that’s not how it got its moniker: The town was named after Colonel Augustus George Hazard, who purchased and expanded the company in 1837.

8. DELAWARE // CORNER KETCH

It’s rumored that Corner Ketch—an unincorporated community in New Castle County, Delaware—got its name from a rough-and-tumble local bar, whose patrons were so quarrelsome that townspeople would warn strangers, "They'll ketch ye at the corner."

9. FLORIDA // TWO EGG

Two Egg, Florida, got its name during the Great Depression. According to local lore, two young boys were so strapped for cash that they paid a local shopkeeper for sugar by giving them two eggs. These make-do business transactions occurred so regularly that patrons began referring to the establishment as a “two egg store.” Eventually, the name caught on with traveling salesmen, who spread it to other towns.

10. GEORGIA // CLIMAX

Founded in the 1880s, the tiny town of Climax, Georgia, got its name from its location: It sits at the highest point on the railroad between Savannah and the Chattahoochee River.

11. HAWAII // VOLCANO

A cozy little burg near Hilo, Volcano is adjacent to several volcano hot spots. (Sorry.) You can walk the dormant Kilauea Iki Trail, the site of a 1959 eruption, and then stop by the Lava Rock Café for a coffee before heading to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

12. IDAHO // SLICKPOO

Near Culdesac, Idaho, sits the multiple-house assembly of Slickpoo, a slice of real estate that may barely qualify as a town but was once a bustling village. Originally the site of a Catholic mission, it was said to have been gifted to the missionaries by landowner Josiah Slickpoo.

13. ILLINOIS // SANDWICH

No, it’s not named after the cold-cut concoction. Originally called Almon after land developer Almon Cage when it was founded in 1855, Sandwich got its name when a train stop liaison named it after his hometown of Sandwich, New Hampshire. It still capitalizes on the connotation, though: the town holds a Sandwich Festival annually.

14. INDIANA // SANTA CLAUS

santa claus indiana
Doug Kerr, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

It feels like Christmas every day in Santa Claus, Indiana. But the origin of the name wasn’t quite so festive. As the story goes, the town was first named Santa Fe. In 1896, when the town wanted to secure a post office, postal officials told it to pick another name since Santa Fe was already taken. Someone thought Santa Claus was an acceptable alternative, and the post office agreed. To their dismay, children began mailing letters to Santa Claus, Indiana, with regularity.

15. IOWA // WHAT CHEER

A former coal mining town in the southeast of the state, What Cheer was christened Petersburg by Peter Britton, who settled here in the 1850s. But enterprising shop owner Joseph Andrews, who created the town post office, suggested calling it What Cheer, possibly after an old English greeting. Britton protested, but the name stuck. Today What Cheer has about 600 residents—down from a peak of 5000—and hosts a seasonal flea market and musical events at its opera house.

16. KANSAS // GAS

The wags in Gas know what you're thinking. "You just passed Gas." "Gas Kan." "Get Gas!" The jokes write themselves. Gas got its name when, no surprise, natural gas was discovered in the area in 1898. Farmer E.K. Taylor promptly sold 60 acres of his land to industrial interests and subdivided the rest into lots, laying the groundwork for Gas (a.k.a. Gas City). Today it's home to around 600 people.

17. KENTUCKY // BUGTUSSLE

bugtussle kentucky
Brian Stansberry, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

The name of this tiny hamlet on the Kentucky-Tennessee border is an homage to, you guessed it, the local bug population. The town’s oldest residents say that when workers helped out during the harvest, they would sleep in barns—on hay that was infested with doodlebugs. Legend has it that the workers stayed so long that the bugs grew big enough to “tussle” for the prime napping spots.

18. LOUISIANA // UNEEDUS

The Lake Superior Piling Company established a settlement of model farms here in the 1920s, bringing prosperity to this corner of rural Louisiana. The company’s owners tweaked their corporate slogan, “you need us,” into the town’s new name—and apparently, the feeling was mutual. Residents allegedly founded another model farm community nearby and dubbed it Weneedu.

19. MAINE // BURNT PORCUPINE

It’s easy to imagine where this island off the coast of Maine got its unusual name—just squint at it. Located near Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, Burnt Porcupine has nearby sister islands with equally intriguing names: Bald Porcupine, Long Porcupine, and Sheep Porcupine.

20. MARYLAND // BORING

The village of Boring could have avoided all of the jokes if they had just stuck with the town’s original name—Fairview. But there are a lot of other Fairviews in the U.S., so when a post office was established in the village in 1880, the postal service requested a rename. Residents voted to honor their first postmaster, David J. Boring—and he surely thought the recognition was anything but.

21. MASSACHUSETTS // BELCHERTOWN

While we had hoped that Belchertown was named for the aftermath of a particularly tasty meal, the real story is a bit less delicious: It’s named after Jonathan Belcher, a colonial governor of Massachusetts.

22. MICHIGAN // HELL

Yes, there is a Hell on Earth, and it’s 15 miles northwest of Ann Arbor. There are several stories floating around about how this name came to be, but the one the town itself declares official is this: In the 1830s, the town settler, George Reeves, made a deal with local farmers to trade his homemade whiskey for the grain they grew. When the farmer’s wives knew their husbands were off dealing with Reeves, they were known to remark, “He’s gone to hell again.” The name stuck.

23. MINNESOTA // NIMROD

Nimrod Minnesota
Lorie Shaull, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s a pretty exclusive group of Minnesotans who can lay claim to being an official Nimrod: just 69 at last count. Though the town takes up just one square mile of the Gopher State, it’s got one big claim to fame—it’s the hometown of Dick Stigman, a pro baseball player who pitched for the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, and Boston Red Sox in the 1960s. As for the name itself, it’s a Biblical reference. In the book of Genesis, Nimrod is described as “a mighty hunter before the Lord” and is credited with overseeing the construction of the Tower of Babel.

24. MISSISSIPPI // HOT COFFEE

Back in the horse-and-carriage days, the spot where the town of Hot Coffee, Mississippi, now sits marked the midpoint between Natchez, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama—two popular travel destinations. In the late 1800s an inn was erected and, recognizing a good business opportunity when he saw one, a man named L.N. Davis built a store to replenish the supplies of weary travelers and hung a coffee pot outside, which advertised "the best hot coffee around.” His secret? He used spring water to brew New Orleans beans, then sweetened the drink with molasses drippings. Though the store is no longer there, Davis’s java made enough of an impression to become the town’s namesake.

25. MISSOURI // TIGHTWAD

Most legends surrounding the town’s name tend to trace it to a postmaster who was upset with a cheapskate watermelon farmer who sold a promised melon out from under him for an extra 50-cent profit. But these days, the main draw to this tiny town in central Missouri is its bank—customers from all over the country open accounts here just to be able to send checks with the Tightwad logo on them.

26. MONTANA // PRAY

While it’s true that you’ll likely spend more time staring at the heavens while in Big Sky Country, the town of Pray, Montana, wasn’t named as a religious suggestion. Founded in 1907, it was named for then-state representative Charles Nelson Pray.

27. NEBRASKA // MAGNET

magnet, NE
z2amiller, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

After mapping out a town in northeast Nebraska, settler B.E. Smith was tasked with naming it. He wanted an attractive name for the community that would draw visitors across its borders, so he christened it Magnet in 1893. Today the locale is home to about 75 residents.

28. NEVADA // JIGGS

About 30 miles south of Elko, Nevada, sits the small town of Jiggs. In 1918, businessman Albert Hankins owned the local hotel, dance hall, and general store—which basically meant he owned the whole town. Looking for a new name for the place, he took a suggestion from his kids. “Jiggs” was the top hat-wearing, Irish-American protagonist of their favorite comic strip Bringing Up Father. Following the name change, the women’s organization in town dubbed itself Maggie’s Club after the character’s wife.

29. NEW HAMPSHIRE // SANDWICH

The Fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montague, did more than invent a lunchtime staple. In 1763, he chartered a town between the Lakes Region and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. And just like the edible kind of sandwich, the town of Sandwich was named after him. The earl also lent his title to the nearby Sandwich mountain range and Sandwich dome.

30. NEW JERSEY // LOVELADIES

loveladies new jersey
Lauren Spinelli

The town of Loveladies, New Jersey, was actually named after a man, not a group of women. Located on Long Beach Island, it got its start as one of the life-saving stations that appeared on the Jersey shore in the 1870s. The station borrowed its name from a nearby island owned by Thomas Lovelady, a local hunter and sportsman. When the community grew into a town it tested out several new titles, including Club House and Long Beach Park. In 1952, the early name of Loveladies became official.

31. NEW MEXICO // CANDY KITCHEN

Sandwiched between Zuni and Navajo reservations in western New Mexico, Candy Kitchen Ranch purportedly got its name when a local moonshine distiller needed a front to hide his illicit operations during Prohibition. To secure the sugar necessary to concoct barrels of hooch, the moonshiner established a confectionary that produced pinion nut candy on the side. Candy Kitchen isn’t the only sweet-toothed locale in this neck of rural New Mexico, either: 85 miles down the dusty trail sits a place called Pie Town!

32. NEW YORK // NEVERSINK

The old town of Neversink is currently sunk under about 175 feet of water. Named for the Neversink River, the longest tributary of the Delaware River, the city of 2000 was one of the unlucky Catskill towns flooded in the 1950s to make room for reservoirs that would provide water to New York City. Luckily, the town relocated in the 1950s shortly after its old Main Street was sunk for good. Not all neighboring locales were so fortunate, though. The flooding forced locals to give a bittersweet goodbye to the now-underwater town of … Bittersweet.

33. NORTH CAROLINA // WHYNOT

whynot, north carolina

Around 1860, residents living in the fertile heart of central North Carolina had no name for their home. But when the United States Post Office planned to put down roots in the area, the townspeople convened to decide on a name. Debate ensued: Why not name it this? Why not name it that? The discussion dragged on until one frustrated local butted in and said, “Why not name the town Why Not and let’s go home?” Ambivalence won the day.

34. NORTH DAKOTA // CANNON BALL

Cannon Ball, North Dakota gets its name not from a battle, but from geological curiosities called concretions. Millions of years ago, sediment naturally cemented around plants or shells in the Peace Garden State and hardened into rock, forming unusually perfect spheres that—you guessed it—resemble cannonballs. While these round rocks dot the local Cannonball River, you can ogle at more if you drive 170 miles west to the northern stretches of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

35. OHIO // KNOCKEMSTIFF

Though nobody can quite pinpoint when the town of Knockemstiff acquired its odd name, they can at least agree that it certainly earned it. Most of the stories about the area’s early days, before it got its foreboding name, involve bar brawls, moonshine, and other types of delinquency. The most famous origin tale, though, centers on the advice of a preacher. When approached by a woman asking him how to keep her cheating husband home and faithful, the preacher responded simply: “Knock ‘em stiff.” Take that advice however you want. The town received mainstream attention in 2008 when author Donald Ray Pollock, a native of Knockemstiff, published a book of 18 short stories that shine a gritty light on life in this rough Midwestern community.

36. OKLAHOMA // GENE AUTRY

The community formerly known as Berwyn, Oklahoma, took on the name of the famous singing cowboy after the man himself came to town and purchased a 1200-square-foot ranch that he would turn into the headquarters of his Flying A Ranch Rodeo. A few years after the purchase, Cecil Crosby, the deputy sheriff of Carter County, where Berwyn was located, suggested the town change its name to honor Autry. The town’s 227 residents all signed a petition in favor of the change, with the post office and railroad agreeing to alter their names soon after. On November 16, 1941, the town of Berwyn officially became Gene Autry, Oklahoma. Though Autry sold the Flying A ranch after World War II, the town that bears his name still recognizes the late cowboy actor with a museum and film festival in his honor.

37. OREGON // ZIGZAG

The unincorporated community of Zigzag, Oregon, is a scenic spot that rests in the middle of Mount Hood National Forest. The community itself is named after the Zigzag River, which drains from the Zigzag Glacier. Though the history of the name is unknown, it might be traced back to Joel Palmer, a pioneer of the Oregon territory, who described the erratic movements needed to descend through a ravine near Mount Hood: “The manner of descending is to turn directly to the right, go zigzag for about one hundred yards, then turn short round, and go zigzag until you come under the place where you started from; then to the right, and so on, until you reach the bottom.” Though it was used to describe one particular ravine, the name stuck, and it eventually morphed into becoming a local community. In addition to a town, river, and glacier, Zigzag also lends its name to a volcanic mountain and canyon.

38. PENNSYLVANIA // INTERCOURSE

Ken Lund, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, village of Intercourse knows what you’re thinking. “It’s okay, you can giggle!” the village’s website says. “We’re happy with our name. It’s the perfect conversation starter.” Just how did the town by come its unusual moniker, which it adopted in 1814? There are several possibilities. According to one theory, the name came from the fact that the town—which was originally called Cross Keys after a local tavern when it was founded in 1754—was at the intersection of two major roads. Another theory posits that the name is an evolution from “Entercourse” because, at the time, the town was located next to the entrance of a racetrack. The final theory revolves around the original meaning of the word intercourse: “connection or dealings between persons or groups; exchange especially of thoughts or feelings.” The sexual meaning of the word intercourse didn’t come into popular use until the late 18th century. Intercourse isn’t the only Pennsylvania town name likely to delight 12-year-olds: Less than 20 minutes up the road is the town Blue Ball. It was named after an 1850s inn.

39. RHODE ISLAND // WOONSOCKET

The sixth largest city in Rhode Island was historically known as la ville la plus française aux États-Unis, which translates to “the most French city in America.” Although during the Depression three-quarters of Woonsocket’s residents were of French-Canadian descent, by the 2000 census, that number had dipped to 46.1 percent. “Woonsocket,” though, does not come from French. Historians agree that the town’s whimsical name is a corruption of a word from a Native American language, but they don’t agree on the language, much less the word, from which it derives.

40. SOUTH CAROLINA // KETCHUPTOWN

This Horry County town got its name from a country store built by Herbert Small in 1927, but not because of the condiments it sold. Every week, farmers would flock to Small’s store to “catch up” on news and gossip. As a town grew up around the store, the name stuck.

41. SOUTH DAKOTA // MUD BUTTE

Mud Butte was named for a nearby barren butte – that is, an isolated hill with steep sides and a flat top. In 1981, archeologists digging around in Mud Butte unearthed the sixth Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered, after a local rancher finally got around to calling a museum about the dinosaur bones he’d seen jutting out of a cliff on his property for years.

42. TENNESSEE // DIFFICULT

There are competing theories on the genesis of Difficult’s name. One holds that when town residents applied for a post office, the U.S. Postal Service responded, “your name is difficult,” referring either to its pronunciation, spelling, or the handwriting on the application. Residents took the letter as an order, and accepted the name Difficult. The other theory goes that the town named itself Difficult out of spite after a postal official suggested its name was too hard to pronounce.

43. TEXAS // DING DONG

Upon learning that the town of Ding Dong is located in Bell County, Texas, you might reasonably conclude that the two facts are related. But you’d be wrong. The community was named after its founders, the Bell family—but they’re unrelated to Governor Peter Hansborough Bell, in whose honor the county was named.

44. UTAH // MEXICAN HAT

Visitors to Mexican Hat, Utah, never have to wonder how the community got its name. The answer is as plain as day: a 60-foot-wide, sombrero-shaped rock formation on the northeast side of town.

45. VERMONT // SATANS KINGDOM

If New England town names are any indication, Satan’s been awfully busy. The prince of darkness evidently has franchises in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont—the latter of which was purportedly named by a resentful settler who "expected fertile, rolling acres and had received rocks and hills instead."

46. VIRGINIA // BUMPASS

It’s pronounced “bump-iss,” the locals will tell you—if they tell you anything at all. Many Bumpass residents have developed a no-talking-to-strangers policy. Maybe they're just tired of being the butt of every joke.

47. WASHINGTON // HUMPTULIPS

humptulips washington

This tiny town, located about 25 miles north of Aberdeen (famous as Kurt Cobain's birthplace), was once a major logging center. Today it's better known for its unusual name, which comes from a local Native American word meaning "hard to pole." The phrase is a reference to the nearby Humptulips River, which Native Americans used to canoe by propelling themselves along with poles. The unusual-sounding term has brought the area a bit of fame: Humptulips is mentioned in the books Another Popular Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins and The Long World by Sir Terry Pratchett.

48. WEST VIRGINIA // LICK FORK

While the name of this unincorporated community might whet your appetite, it's likely named for a nearby salt lick, which was probably more appealing to horses and wild animals than humans. There's a Lick Fork creek, road, and more nearby, so there's no shortage of photo opportunities.

49. WISCONSIN // BOSSTOWN

This Richland County, Wisconsin, community reportedly takes its name from William Henry Dosch. Nickname: Boss. According to The Romance of Wisconsin Place Names, Dosch was sick as a boy, and he got so used to the attention he received while ill that he later became rather bossy with his family. Later, he owned a store on the site of an old saw mill.

50. WYOMING // CHUGWATER

It’s Chug-water, not Chug-water. The land that this tiny Wyoming town calls home was once the territory of the Mandan tribe, whose chief was reportedly injured during a buffalo hunt and sent his son to lead the hunting party in his place. According to Chugwater’s website, the son determined that the easiest way to kill the buffalo was to drive them off the local chalk cliffs. “The word ‘chug,’” the town’s website notes, “is said to describe the noise that the buffalo or the falling chalk made when it hit the ground or fell into the water under the bluff, depending on which version of the legend you wish to believe. Indians began to call the area ‘water at the place where the buffalo chug.’” When white settlers came to the area, they used the Native American terminology for the land, dubbing it Chug Springs. A local stream was named Chugwater Creek (after Chug Springs), and that’s where the town gets its name.

By Erika Berlin, Stacy Conradt, April Daley, Michele Debczak, Kirstin Fawcett, Shaunacy Ferro, Kate Horowitz, Kat Long, Bess Lovejoy, Erin McCarthy, Jen Pinkowski, Lucas Reilly, Nico Rivero, Jake Rossen, Jay Serafino, and Jenn Wood.

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Food
The 50 Best Drive-In Restaurants in the U.S.
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The prime of American drive-ins might be behind us, but there are still plenty of these nostalgic roadside eateries available. Whether you're looking for a quick bite or a more specialty meal, drive-ins offer one benefit that most other restaurants simply can't—fries and floats from the comfort of your own vehicle.

1. ORIGINAL SONIC DRIVE-IN // STILLWATER, OKLAHOMA

sign at the original sonic drive-in
Yelp/Kenneth H.

Sonic might now be America’s largest chain of drive-ins, but it got its start as a single restaurant with a slogan of "Service with the Speed of Sound." The original Stillwater location opened in 1959 and was fully renovated in 2015—it now has TVs to watch sports and an outdoor fire feature, but the the original sign is still on display and the carhops will still roller-skate out to your vehicle to deliver cherry limeades, chili cheese coneys, and tots.

2. MUGS UP ROOT BEER // INDEPENDENCE, MISSOURI

Located in the Kansas City metropolitan area, Mugs Up has been serving homemade root beer in old-fashioned frosted mugs since 1956. And with their trademark loose-meat Zip Burgers still only costing $2.15, and a side of onion rings only setting you back $1.75, Mugs Up feels like a preserved slice of mid-century Americana.

3. RED RABBIT DRIVE-IN // DUNCANNON, PENNSYLVANIA

The '50s-style Red Rabbit Drive-In hasn't changed much since Sam and Maggie Snyder opened on Mother’s Day 1964: You’ll still find fried chicken dinners, ice cream, pizzas, made-to-order milkshakes (in regular and thick!), and fries sprinkled in “Bunny Dust” on the menu, and it’s still in the family—Sam and Maggie retired in 1988 and handed the baton to their daughter, Cindy, and her husband. Stop by and sink your teeth into the drive-in’s signature Bunny Burger, a beef patty with smoked bacon, melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, and a special mayonnaise-based sauce on "a special seeded roll." There’s no indoor seating, but hungry diners only have to put on their hazards and a server will come out to their car; they either eat in their vehicles or at picnic tables. Red Rabbit is closed in December and January; plan accordingly!

4. THE VARSITY // ATLANTA, GEORGIA

the varisty drive-in
Ken Lund, Flickr // CC by SA 2.0

If you’re looking for a chili dog in the ATL, the call of Varsity’s signature "What’ll ya have?" is too hard to resist. When it opened in 1928, Varsity was a small hot dog stand located near Georgia Tech University, perfect for college kids to pop in for a cheap bite. Today, it’s a sprawling restaurant that can accommodate 800 people inside and 600 cars, and the carhops still don paper caps while delivering Frosted Orange milkshakes and slaw dogs to the masses.

5. MATT'S PLACE DRIVE-IN // BUTTE, MONTANA

Matt’s Place, opened by Matt Korn in 1930, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. There are plenty of delicious treats to try here, from hand-churned ice cream to a BBQ pork sandwich, but the real stand-out is the Nut Burger. Cooks use an ice cream scoop to toss the ground beef on the grill; it’s flattened into a patty, cooked, and placed on a bun, where it’s topped with Miracle Whip mixed with salty chopped peanuts. There are seats inside this 2016 winner of the James Beard American Classics Award, but car-hop service is also available.

6. CAMERON'S LOBSTER HOUSE // BRUNSWICK, MAINE

When in Maine, stop by Cameron’s Lobster House in Brunswick. This drive-in seafood spot serves fresh-caught crab and lobster with every meal, including breakfast (crabmeat omelet, anyone?). Whatever time you stop by, come hungry: Menu options include a seafood combo appetizer (half a pint of scallops, shrimp, and crabs), lobster stew accompanied by oyster crackers and a grilled biscuit, and a "must try" lobster BLT that comes with chips and a pickle (if you upgrade the sandwich to a basket for an additional $3, you can choose an additional two sides). Park and leave your lights on for car-side service (there are also options to eat inside the restaurant or at outdoor picnic tables).

7. ARDY & ED'S DRIVE IN // OSHKOSH, WISCONSIN

ardy and ed's drive-in
Ardy & Ed's

Ardy & Ed's Drive In has been a summer staple in Oshkosh since 1948. Originally called the Southside A & W Drive In, it served root beer, hot dogs, and chips, before changing names—and owners—and becoming Ardy & Ed's Drive In. Even if you don’t own a vintage convertible, you can still swing by and order a draft root beer and drink it by the shores of Lake Winnebago.

8. DRIVE IN // TAYLORS FALLS, MINNESOTA

Located in the tiny town of Taylors Falls, the Drive-In turns cars into a time machine that transports passengers back to the 1950s. Poodle skirt-clad carhops bring orders of crinkle-cut fries, homemade root beer, and bison—yes, bison—burgers.

9. FENCE DRIVE-IN // MILTON, PENNSYLVANIA

Enjoy the Susquehanna River view with your burger while dining at Fence Drive-In Restaurant, a roadside drive-in located on Pennsylvania’s Route 405. It’s famous for its fish sandwich, but owner Matt Rabb also serves fresh-cut French fries; hand-breaded shrimp, scallops, and chicken; and homemade tartar sauce, red sauce, and cabbage salad, using the same recipes that founders Bob and Elva Reitz used when they first opened the Fence in 1951.

10. WAGNER'S DRIVE-IN RESTAURANT // BROOKLYN PARK, MINNESOTA

wagner's drive in
Yelp/Kohleen L.

Twin Cities residents with classic cars can show off their rides at the family-operated Wagner’s Drive-In Restaurant, which hosts a Monday Night Cruise Night where a group of motorheads called "The Wag-Niters" meet to enjoy fast-food favorites, admire other vehicles, and enjoy one another’s company. (Just don’t get any ketchup on their seats.)

11. SUMBURGER RESTAURANT // CHILLICOTHE, OHIO

Opened in 1953, Sumburger Drive-in in Chillicothe, Ohio was originally housed in a trailer and fittingly named "Trailer Drive-in." The following year, the restaurant moved to its present-day location, expanded, and changed its name to Logan View Drive-in. But since customers referred to their burgers as "some burger," they changed their name to its present moniker in 1974. Enjoy bourbon-fried chicken, fresh strawberry pie, and burgers smothered in a special "sumburger sauce" delivered carside, or drive across town to Sumburger’s newly opened sit-down restaurant for an indoor meal.

12. THE CHATTERBOX // AUGUSTA, NEW JERSEY

Settle in outside the Chatterbox or in its cozy, circular dining room for good food, classic cars and motorcycles, and great conversation. Expanding on the traditional drive-in’s all-fast-food menu, The Chatterbox offers wraps and seafood, too, although you can’t go wrong with a hefty half-pound Angus burger.

13. SUPERDAWG DRIVE-IN // CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

superdawg drive in
Jondoeforty1, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A Chicago institution for almost 70 years, Superdawg brings only the best in all-beef hot dogs and classic, kitschy culture. Don’t miss the gift shop for t-shirts, key rings, and wedding cake toppers, all emblazoned with the drive-in’s lovable dancing hot dog mascots. "From the bottom of our pure beef hearts," the slogan goes, "thanks for stopping."

14. SKYWAY DRIVE-IN // AKRON, OHIO

Love fast food but hate feeling guilty about where your food comes from? The Skyway is the place for you. All of the drive-in’s burgers and sandwiches are made with fresh, locally sourced food. Dig in to their signature double-decker Sky Hi burger with cheese, pickles, and their special house Ski Hi sauce.

15. ED WALKER'S DRIVE-IN // FORT SMITH, ARKANSAS

The oversized neon sign outside of Ed Walker's may advertise their French dipped sandwiches, but according to reviews, the real showstopper is the Giant Cheeseburger—5 pounds of beef on a homemade sourdough bun, which comes with a pie server for dishing up slices of burger. Rumor has it that when Ed's first opened in 1943, they served a side of moonshine to those in the know. Though that’s likely no longer the case today, customers can still legally get a beer delivered to their cars.

16. BAR-B-Q KING DRIVE-IN // CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA

There will be no multitasking here; the fare at Bar-B-Q King is sit-down-and-focus food that requires both hands and a lot of napkins. Guy Fieri of the Food Network is partial to the eatery’s barbecue fried chicken. Add some onion rings and a cherry lemon SunDrop and you’ll be good to go.

17. SYCAMORE DRIVE-IN // BETHEL, CONNECTICUT

sycamore drive in
Janine Lamontagne

Once a week during the summer, the sleepy little town of Bethel becomes a hotspot of rock and roll. Sunday cruise nights at the Sycamore drive-in draw chromed-up classic cars, leather jackets, and laughter from all over the local area. Be sure not to miss their root beer float with homemade root beer.

18. STEWART'S // VARIOUS LOCATIONS

You might know the name for their root beer—invented by Ohio teacher Frank Stewart in the 1920s—but Stewart's has evolved to include about a dozen drive-ins scattered across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia (they also have sit-down restaurants). Customers rave about the chili dogs, crinkle-cut fries, vast menu, friendly service, and of course, the root beer floats.

19. DICK'S DRIVE-IN RESTAURANTS // SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

One of the few Northwest drive-throughs left, Dick's is a nostalgic throwback in a city experiencing rapid change; several of the five Seattle locations date back to the 1950s or early '60s. Although the simple burgers (with locally made buns) don’t offer any customization, they're a great deal and a beloved late-night eat. Fans especially swear by the cheeseburgers.

20. FRISCO'S CARHOPS // CITY OF INDUSTRY, CALIFORNIA

frisco's drive in
Yelp/Brenda A.

Frisco’s carhops serve more than just burgers. The Carhops—who are decked out in pink skirts and roller skates—will deliver your food with a side of song and dance. The house specialty is the parmesan sourdough bread, which they swap for the buns on their burgers, but the restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in case you need a pancake pick-me-up in the morning.

21. AMMONS DRIVE-INN RESTAURANT AND DAIRY BAR // WAYNESVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA

If you want an old-timey meal at an old-timey price, you can't go wrong at Ammons, where a hamburger still costs less than $2. The menu has more than just burgers, though. You can also pick up some fried seafood, barbecue pork, a whole cheesecake, or one of their handmade shakes. The nearby Asheville Press recommends the cobbler, which comes in various flavors that rotate throughout the week.

22. MAC'S DRIVE-IN // WATERLOO, NEW YORK

Mac’s Drive-In has been operating every summer since 1961, when it was one of the first fast-food joints in its area and the first to offer curb service. Locals and tourists visiting the Finger Lakes have eagerly awaited the hamburger stand’s opening day ever since. In 2015, they served up 1500 pounds of French fries—all cut fresh on-site—on the first day of the season alone. Don’t leave without a frosty mug of Richardson’s beer, which they pour from a mini-keg that’s been a fixture on the front counter since the restaurant first opened.

23. CHUCK-A-BURGER // ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Chuck-A-Burger's '50s-style burger and shake experience doesn't end with the food: On the last Saturday of each month through September, the drive-in hosts a classic car show featuring customs and hot rods.

24. DARI-ETTE DRIVE IN // ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA

dariette drive-in
Jerry Huddleston, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Dari-ette Drive In goes beyond the normal burger-and-fries fare of most diners, serving up Italian specialties, too. Operating since 1951, they claim to serve the best meatballs in the Twin Cities and were featured on the first season of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. If you can’t give up the idea of having a burger at a drive-in, you can order the Pizza Burger, a patty melt made with Italian seasoning and homemade red sauce.

25. THE BEACON DRIVE-IN // SPARTANBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA

It may not be great for up-close conversing—the place goes through three tons of onions a week—but the seven-decade-old Beacon is worth the drive for its Chili-Cheese-A-Plenty, a burger drowning in chili and French-fried potatoes.

26. DOG HOUSE DRIVE IN // ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO

In general, walking in the footsteps of Breaking Bad's Jesse Pinkman is a terrible idea. Hitting up Dog House along Route 66, as he does several times in the AMC series, is one of the exceptions. Dog House is known for its spicy chili dogs, but patrons also say Dog House makes the best Frito Pie around.

27. KING TUT DRIVE-IN // BECKLEY, WEST VIRGINIA

You can get your burger fix here, but King Tut's menu is more than beef: Stone-baked pizza is served daily, and all of their breads are made in-house. Opening daily (save for Wednesdays) at 11 a.m., workers get there early to start making pies from scratch.

28. PEPPERMINT TWIST // DELANO, MINNESOTA

Gourmet burgers attract the adults, but it's the adjoining teddy bear-themed playground that keeps the kids occupied at Peppermint Twist, a favorite of Delano locals. The location was painted hot pink in the 1980s to make sure they stood out against a nearby Hardee's. It worked, and the Twist is a regular fixture of Minnesota "best of" lists.

29. KELLER'S DRIVE-IN // DALLAS, TEXAS

Keller's is one of the few places in America you can drive up, order a beer, and sip it in your car. If suds aren't your thing, you'll still get a buzz from their famous No. 5 burger—two patties on a poppy-seed bun.

30. BILL'S HOT DOG STAND // YPSILANTI, MICHIGAN

Famous for their chili dogs, Bill's also offers up a little bit of performance art. When patrons pull up to the bright yellow shop, car hops take their order instead of a speaker system. The servers then relay the menu items to workers inside via hand signal.

31. BOOMER'S DRIVE-IN // BELLINGHAM, WASHINGTON

Homemade milkshakes are practically a prerequisite for any self-respecting drive-in, but Boomer's goes a step further by sourcing from a local dairy farm. The custom is to order one of their regular or monthly special shakes and then use it as a dip for their trademark waffle fries.

32. CORRAL DRIVE-IN // GUYMON, OKLAHOMA

The menu at this drive-in movie theater goes beyond popcorn. The Corral is home to a full-kitchen pizzeria and grill serving up specialties like calzones and Philly cheesesteaks, but customers who don’t have the appetite for a full meal can find more typical movie theater concessions like hot dogs, nachos, and chili cheese fries as well.

33. GEORGE THE CHILI KING // DES MOINES, IOWA

george the chili king signage
Yelp/David D.

George the Chili King opened in the 1950s when drive-ins were a popular option for hungry motorists. A lot has changed since then, but their carhop service and all-American menu remains the same. The restaurant serves drive-in classics like burgers and fries, but (obviously) it's the chili that made it a local institution.

34. BOBO'S DRIVE IN // TOPEKA, KANSAS

Located on 10th Avenue in Topeka, Kansas, Bobo’s Drive-In is hard to miss. Hungry travelers can recognize it from the neon tubing poking out from the roof or the vintage 7-Up sign overlooking the road. Inside and in the parking lot, Bobo’s serves specialties like onion rings, apple pie, and burgers topped with their signature Spanish sauce.

35. MURDO DRIVE-IN // MURDO, SOUTH DAKOTA

Murdo Drive-In has been serving comforting roadside fare to locals for over 30 years. Every May, the restaurant reopens and fires up the grill for customers dining inside, on the front patio, or in their cars. But note that they close for the season on August 31, so you'll have to go elsewhere for burgers and soft-serve during the fall and winter months.

36. FROSTOP DRIVE-IN // VARIOUS LOCATIONS

You can't miss Frostop—it’s the drive-in with the giant rotating mug of creamy root beer perched on top of the building (or on a pole). The first Frostop opened in Springfield, Ohio, in 1926, serving classic soda fountain fare like burgers, shakes, and, of course, frosty mugs of root beer. Frostop had 350 locations across the U.S. at its peak in the early 1960s, but now they're down to just a handful in Louisiana, Illinois, Idaho, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Utah. You'd do well to find one, whether for the nostalgia factor or for the cold-brewed root beer made from the original recipe.

37. RAINBOW DRIVE-IN // HONOLULU, HAWAII

Rainbow Drive in
Eugene Peretz, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

When Rainbow Drive-In first opened in 1961, the menu included $.25 hamburgers and $1 steak lunches. Prices have inflated a bit since then, but the owners still pride themselves in serving classic Hawaiian lunch plates—with plenty of mahi mahi and spam options— at affordable prices.

38. MAC'S DRIVE-IN // MCCOOK, NEBRASKA

For homemade pies and tarts, thick shakes, and perfectly crispy fries, look no further than Mac's in McCook, Nebraska. Customers can order from their cars or opt for an inside booth, where they place their orders using phones at each table. And if that’s not kitschy enough for you, you can always order the Jell-O salad for just $1.60.

39. MOON LIGHT DRIVE IN // TITUSVILLE, FLORIDA

The Moon Light Drive In is appropriately named—it’s just a five-minute drive from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. When the owners opened the now-iconic establishment in 1964, they had the Apollo missions in mind. Locals and NASA tourists alike rave about the perfectly cooked burgers and creamy milkshakes, which one Yelper declares "the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my entire life."

40. DOUMAR'S DRIVE-IN // NORFOLK, VIRGINIA

Doumar's Drive-In.
iStock

After introducing the first waffle cone at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904, Abe Doumar turned his sweet invention into a business. Doumar's still uses Abe’s original waffle iron to make their ice cream cones 100 years later. Ice cream isn’t the only item you’ll find on the menu of this Virginia drive-in. They also serve burgers, hot dogs, and barbecue.

41. KING LOUIE'S DRIVE-IN // WOOD RIVER, ILLINOIS

This St. Louis-area burger stand is enough of a local fixture that when the owners of 18 years made the recent decision to start closing the restaurant each Sunday, they posted their personal cell phone number for patrons to call them with questions and comments. While you're there, make sure to try the homemade root beer, which you can buy by the gallon, and if you dare, try the King of the Jungle Challenge—if you can finish a 2-pound burger, loaded potato planks, and a 32-ounce soda in under 30 minutes, you’ll win a t-shirt and eternal glory.

42. RODEO DRIVE-IN // BREMETON, WASHINGTON

Built in 1949, the Rodeo Drive-In now claims to be largest drive-in movie theater north of California (they can hold about 1000 cars) as well as one of the oldest in the country. But they’re also known for having a great food selection, including Philly cheesesteaks, "mega-pizzas" with all the toppings, fish and chips, and distinctive pizza dogs. The use of a pager system means you can watch the movie in your car (they have a selection of latest releases, not just old favorites!) while you wait for your food, instead of standing in line.

43. WAYNE'S DRIVE INN // LAWTON, OKLAHOMA

Locals love the juicy burgers, steak fingers, ice cream, onion rings, and endless drink combinations at Wayne's (they've got 12 homemade flavors for mixing; the cherry limeade is a particular specialty). The servings run large, and so does the nostalgia—the business has been open since 1950.

44. AVI'S SCREAMERS // WICKENBURG, ARIZONA

avi's screamers drive in
Yelp/Rob P.

People drive from out of town just for their green chili burgers and chili cheese fries at Screamers, and leave raving about the taste and low prices. More than just a novelty stop, the hand-pressed burgers won’t disappoint.

45. JERRY'S CURB SERVICE // BEAVER, PENNSYLVANIA

Jerry's Curb Service has been flipping burgers and delivering fries and shakes to your car window since 1947. As legend has it, the Steak Salad was invented at Jerry's in the 1960s when an unnamed patron ordered a steak sandwich, hold the bun, with fries and salad dressing. According to Jerry’s, "Not one to disappoint a customer, [Jerry's wife] Donna Reed placed the order. She noticed the man cut up the steak, mixed in the fries and poured the salad dressing on top. Curious about this rather odd concoction, Donna decided to try it for herself, but with one small change. Donna placed her sliced steak, fries and salad dressing atop a fresh bed of lettuce." Today you can order Donna’s version as well as the man’s original order.

46. DON'S DRIVE-IN // TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN

With its neon sign, red banquettes, and summertime carhop service, Don's Drive-In is a delightful 1950s throwback. The menu is chock full of American diner classics—burgers and dogs (cooked "the way you like 'em," chicken fingers, patty melts, onion rings, and hand-dipped milkshakes and malts—and has barely changed since Don’s opened its doors in 1958 (although we’re guessing the veggie burger is new).

47. THE PARKETTE DRIVE-IN // LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY

Originally opened by Joe Smiley in 1951, the Parkette underwent a renovation and restoration in 2008. New owners Jeff and Randy Kaplan may have given the kitchen and dining room a makeover, but the car port call boxes, carhops, and landmark 40-foot-tall sign remain. Order a Poor Boy—a double-decker burger with all the fixings invented by Smiley—a Hot Brown Burger, or some Kentucky fried chicken for a gut-busting meal. The Parkette also hosts regular "cruise ins," or classic car showcases, in its parking lot.

48. THE DONUT HOLE // LA PUENTE, CALIFORNIA

The donut hole
Yelp/Indah K.

If you’re the kind of person who is afraid of driving through tunnels, the Donut Hole might be the place that helps you get over the phobia. Drive into short tunnel that’s capped by two 26-foot fiberglass doughnuts. The landmark, founded in 1968, is open 24 hours and boasts flavors ranging from the classic cake doughnut to ones covered in Fruity Pebbles.

49. FALAFEL'S DRIVE-IN // SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA

In 1966, Anton and Zahie Nijmeh moved to San Jose and opened a drive-in, where they sold typical American fare like burgers, hot dogs, and onion rings. But that was just the beginning. The couple slowly started to introduce falafel and other middle eastern foods into the mix. Where else do gyros, kabobs, tabbouleh, and delicious "yogurt drink" share menu space with fries and shakes?

50. CHARLIE'S DRIVE-IN // HORTONVILLE, WISCONSIN

When it comes to Charlie's Drive-In, Elvis has never left the building: For less than three bucks, the King of Rock can serve you a classic burger. Each Tuesday, the restaurant, which has been operating for 1965, hosts a classic car night where anybody driving a classic Chevy or Caddy will get a free mug of root beer with a sandwich.

Written by Erika Berlin, Stacy Conradt, Michele Debczak, Kirstin Fawcett, Shaunacy Ferro, Kate Horowitz, Bess Lovejoy, Erin McCarthy, Lucas Reilly, Jake Rossen, and Abbey Stone.

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