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I wrote this article in 2013 during an evening when I was having internet problems at Valley Auto.  Couldn't get any work done so it was time to do a little reminiscing! (Much more fun than, say, dusting.)  It was revised and given a few updates in the spring of 2014, and a few more edits in early 2016. 



Main Street in the early 1980s. It looks pretty much the same today.

Forsyth nightlife as a teenager (or 20-something) in the ’70s and ’80s

In the 1950s and ’60s, “cruising” became a major way for young people to socialize. Every town had a "main drag" or a “strip,” and every teenage boy was pretty much expected to have a car if he wanted to have any kind of social life.  (Driving the parents’ car was just not cool, unless you were a girl.)  Songs, TV shows and even movies all celebrated the fine art of driving aimlessly around, cavorting with friends and chasing the opposite sex.

I was late to the game of cruising.  I was a shy kid, and I was never in a huge hurry to get my driver’s license.  It wasn’t until just after I graduated high school that I finally went to the courthouse and got the job done.

After I got my license, two of my younger sisters immediately started pestering me to take them “uptown.”  Whenever I would drive them somewhere, such as to a friend’s house, they would always want me to “go down Main” even if there was a much more direct route available.  Even worse, they kept wanting me to honk at boys for them! 

It wasn’t too long until they got their own licenses, and I got to where I liked to “go uptown” myself, since it was really the best way to casually socialize in those days.  It was also the cheapest, since gas was still around 35 cents a gallon.

I don’t think the young crowd these days has much knowledge of how much effort it really took, compared with the wired world of today, to get together with friends.  Herewith, then, a number of bullet points to give the young reader an insight – and maybe jog a few memories among their parents – as to what it was like to be a teenager (or a 20-something) in Forsyth in the late 1970s.  I should mention that this entire thing is from my own point of view; for some guys, the procedure might have been somewhat different.  But the basics would be the same.

  • Cruising wasn’t just a pastime; it was the #1 way to find your friends.  Think about how busy Main Street is now when everybody goes to lunch and the kids get out of school.  It used to be that way all evening, every night of the week, from about 7pm till midnight.  On Friday and Saturday it was more like 6pm to 2am, and on Sundays it was pretty busy from mid-afternoon until at least 10:30 pm -- later in the summer.

  • You needed to go uptown to find people. You couldn't necessarily call your friends,  because there was probably only one phone in your house, and if you had sisters they were probably using it.  And it might be hard to call your friends because their sisters were using THEIR phones and you’d get a busy signal. Or they might not be home anyway. So it was just easier to go uptown and look for people.

  • If you didn’t have a car, you could walk uptown. Within about five minutes somebody would stop and pick you up.

  • When cruising, you would proceed along Main Street and you would turn around at the Husky Station on the west end, and the GTA Elevator at the east end.  This would get boring to just keep doing over and over, so to change things up, you could turn around at IGA or Art’s Tires, or you could go around the courthouse block, or you could drive all the way around “the circle,” crossing the tracks at the east end of town from Main to Front Street, then proceeding west all the way to the other end of town and back again. (It took about seven minutes to drive all the way “around the circle.”) Or you could go drive through the “dam” area.  Or if you were feeling adventurous you could drive to Rosebud and back, or go to the “top of the hill” (across the bridge) or to one of several other out-of-town spots like the Springs, the “Picnic Tables,” the “Boneyard,” and others) and back.  These last few were sometimes poor choices because something might “happen” while you were gone from Main Street and you didn’t want to miss out.  You didn’t want to leave a packed street and come back to find an empty one, because you wouldn’t know where everybody had gone.

  • The worst thing was to get stuck on the south side of town when the trains had all three crossings blocked. (There was no overpass on the west end at that time.)  The three crossings were almost never blocked for more than a couple of minutes but it seemed like an eternity when you were waiting to get across.

  • When meeting other cars, you would greet casual friends with a wave.  If you met a good friend, you might greet him with a short honk on your horn.  If you met a girl you liked, a honk was also a good greeting; if she honked or waved back, that was a sign that maybe she liked you.  If she really leaned on the horn when you passed by….you should definitely pull her over.  On the other hand, if she ignored your greetings multiple times…forget it, you had no chance.

  • You might recognize people by their license plate numbers or the front end of their cars before you saw their faces.  I still remember that Karie Weamer drove a dark green Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with the license 29-1030.  Therese Schatz had a faded beige Pontiac with 29-1251. 

  • You could get somebody to pull over by signaling them with a flash of your headlights.  Or you could make a hand gesture out your window for them to go around the block and meet up with you. After a quick visit, you would either proceed to your plans for the night, or else one of you would park your car at the IGA parking lot and hop into the other car.   It didn't really matter if the other car was already full or not; you would just squeeze in to whatever space was available.

  • If you were low on gas, you could just park at IGA with your lights facing the street, wait for some friend to drive by, flash your lights to signal them to drive through the parking lot, and jump in with them. Or if you already had somebody to hang out with, you could just sit there facing the street, visiting, and watching the other cars go by. Other friends would eventually pull in to see what you were doing, and before you knew it a full-blown party would materialize in the parking lot. This same thing would happen at Kokomo Hill, in the gravel lot near the grain elevator, or various other places.

  • Another place you could go if you were bored or low on fuel was the courthouse lawn -- but only in the daylight, however, and only if you had a friend or two along. You could hang there until somebody you knew drove by, at which time they would either pick you up or would stop and join you for a while.

  • If Main Street suddenly emptied out…it meant there was probably a party somewhere.  Usually at Cherry Knob, the Boneyard, or at the home of someone who lived in the country.  Or maybe the Springs (not too often though, it was very likely to get busted there.) Or maybe at Rosebud. Or Twin Tunnels.  Or just somebody’s house. You can use your imagination about what went on at parties but no matter what went on, TV wasn't the driving factor the way it is today.

  • If a popular movie was playing at the Roxy, Main Street was noticeably quieter in the early evening due to people being at the movie.  In the summer, the drive-in theater (located where Stevenson's Funeral Home is now) was also the place to be.  Many a movie at the drive-in went unwatched, because a lot of people were going from car to car socializing (while avoiding those cars with the windows fogged up).  

  • For a short time, virtually all males had CB radios in their cars.  My CB call-sign, or "handle," was “Fleetwood Mike.” I don’t remember any girls who had a CB but there probably were a few.

  • Of course, if you had a girlfriend or boyfriend, almost none of the above complications applied; your night was usually fairly well planned before the sun even went down.  You would pick your girl up at her house (or meet her uptown, maybe) and go to the movies, or just drive around together, stopping to talk to various friends and maybe hopping in with other people before you went off to spend a while alone at the end of the night.

  • It was often possible to tell who people were with based on whose cars were parked in the IGA parking lot.  For example, if Steve Roll’s car was parked there, he was probably with Dennis Critelli, or vice versa.

  • If you were cruising with friends and a girl you liked happened to get into your car, suddenly all your buddies would remember that they needed to be dropped off.  The girl, knowing what was up, was likely to ask to be dropped off herself, if she didn’t want to be with you.  If you were lucky and/or played it right, you either wound up with a girl to spend some time with, or you might wind up with a couple of your buddies.  If you played it wrong, you ran the risk of winding up alone…but no worries, you could just pull somebody else over, or wait for somebody to pull you over, and the process would start again.

  • Just about everybody had 8-track or cassette tapes by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Fleetwood Mac, Steve Miller, Alice Cooper, Foreigner, the Doobie Brothers, Journey, Boston, or April Wine.  (April Wine was popular in Forsyth before they were even known in Billings.)  The very first thing a teenager did upon acquiring a car was figure out what kind of stereo to put in it.  Loudness was more important than sound quality.

  • Of course cruising wasn’t the only pastime.  If you wanted to start your Saturday night early, or have some daytime fun on Sunday, you could go to the bowling alley.  It wasn’t necessary to bowl to have fun, because they had three pool tables (7 cents a minute) and four pinball machines (3 games for a quarter), a jukebox (25˘ for three songs) and were the first place in town to have video games when they came out. The place was always full of young people. In the late ‘80s, another local “hangout” was Geno’s Pizza, which also had a fine game room. Geno's was in the building now occupied by the Stevenson and Sons Funeral Home.

  • There were lots of dances held at the Sanders Gym.  These were attended by people from Forsyth, Hysham, Rosebud, and Colstrip, and sometimes other places like Custer and Miles City. Several dances were held every year at the schools too, of course.  People from all the surrounding towns were often found at each others’ school dances, with no "permission slips" being required.

  • Legal age for drinking was 18 then, so if you were 18 or older, you might be found dancing at the Kokomo, because they had live music many nights, or Buff’s. Nobody went to the Kokomo until after about 10:30, however, because the drinks were cheaper at Buff’s or the Lariat.  Most people stayed away from the Oak Room because it was for older people.  The C Club (a mile east of town, now gone) was for older people too, unless you had a date and wanted to impress her with a nice dinner.  The Howdy was for REALLY old people and nobody ever went there, unless they wanted to have a serious “talk” and not have anyone else around.  It was unheard of for any bar in town to close before 2:00 AM.

  • As the hour got late, if you didn’t go to a house party (or heaven forbid, home), you may have ended up the night at the Speedway Diner even though it only had 9 seats at that time.  If you didn’t get there in time to get a seat, you stood around the perimeter of the seats, or you squeezed into the entryway, and waited for one to open up – or you got an order to go.  The burgers and breakfasts were worth whatever time you spent waiting.

  • Somehow a weekend evening became more fun if you were out past midnight. If you stayed up long enough to witness the sun come up…even more so.