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
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
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
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
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
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
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.