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Oregon Trails: ‘American Graffiti’ Diners

By Ron Brown

MEDFORD, Ore. — For many people, high school years hold some of the fondest memories of growing up and for Southern Oregon residents; the local drive-in hamburger place represents the place where a lot of those memories were made.

“Gosh, those were good memories. Not just the free hamburgers! They were good, but, just the, the high school experience I think was enjoyed more with those kinds of uh, experiences than maybe now. There’s so many other things that kids are involved in, but those were, uh, pretty special memories,” says Tom Blanchard, Grants Pass High School Class of ’66.

For Tom Blanchard and his classmates at Grants Pass High School in the sixties, the big gathering spot, especially after Friday and Saturday night games, was Larry’s Drive-In, at the south side of Grants Pass.

“That was where all the guys and the girls went, and it was absolutely, typically, it was American Graffiti all the way. I mean, the letterman’s jackets, our rolled up pants and white socks,” Tom says. “The guys, driving around, Larry’s, the people parked in the drive-in’s stalls, talking to their girlfriends. It was so American Graffiti, you could not believe it. And it was THE place on Friday and Saturday night. That’s where everybody was!”

The old Larry’s is still there, but it’s nothing like Blanchard and his generation remember. It’s now known as Herb’s La Casita. Blanchard says another hamburger place at the north end of Grants Pass also drew a crowd.

“American Graffiti” is the George Lucas movie that Blanchard was referring to, and the movie’s scenes at “Mel’s Diner” are iconic. The American Graffiti-like hangouts in Medford were Jack’s Drive-Up on Riverside, and Cubby’s Drive-In at the south Medford interchange, here where Carl’s Junior and Arby’s are now. Resterauntuer Stan Smith operated Cubby’s throughout the sixties and says he got to know quite a few Medford High students.

“We had boy car-hops and I put tan pants on them and tennis shoes and white shirt and tie and told them to run. Sid Deboer commented uh, not too long ago, that uh, he learned one thing from me. It was service. I had them run,” Stan says. “One of the kids the other day–I ran–guys–I ran into, he said, “Yeah, we could walk to the car, but we had to run back!”. We had Sid Deboer and Danny Miles, and Gary Miller, and quite a few of the local guys. Kids at that time as car hops.”

He says he was even contacted once by a McDonald’s representative.
“They were selling franchises. And I thought I didn’t want anything to do with a franchise operation. I wanted to do my own thing and make my own hamburgers,” He says. “And that’s before, long before, McDonalds arrived in Medford. Maybe I missed the boat there!”

The big weekend ritual was to cruise down central and up riverside in a circuit between Jack’s and Cubby’s.

“That had definitely a social component to it. And I actually fell in love at Cubby’s! ‘Course, it was with the Smith’s French fry sauce that I fell in love with, but uh, uh it was–you’d go and you’d see people and it was different than it is now,” White recalls. “And we didn’t have those things in Central Point either, so, we’d come into Medford to do it.”

Smith and his wife finally left Cubby’s about 1971, and took over the Mon Desir Dining Inn and made it a landmark meeting place as well. Cubby’s was never really the same after they left. It’s been quite a few years since one of Southern Oregon’s favorite gathering spots for teenagers, Cubbys’, sat where Carl’s Junior and other restaurants and stores are now. A lot of things have changed in all those years. More national chains have pretty much replaced the local hamburger places.

The big hangout in Klamath Falls was said to be Jerry’s Drive-In, which was known for it’s “Big Jer Burger”, orange milk shakes, French fries and gravy, and vanilla cream cokes. They also had a large graffiti board outside where anyone could post their latest gossip messages, without profanity.