Monday, December 29, 2008

Owens Alley

My Mother, Elsie Branscomb.
Even having two teen aged kids at home, raising Flying Squirrels Grey Squirrels, and every other kind of a critter that I brought home, she still had time to run a soda fountain, with my aunt Vivian as a partner.


My mother, Elsie Branscomb and my aunt Vivian Newland owned a small soda fountain and hamburger grill in Garberville back in the late fifties called Owens Alley. It was the quintessential “Chocklit Shop” right out of an Archie Comic book. The shop was literally built in an alley between the Ford garage and the Unique Log House. It was about ten feet wide and maybe fifty or sixty feet long all together.

Back then, all of the Garberville waitresses wore uniforms . It was thought of as “professional” to do so. People took food service very seriously back then. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, and all that stuff.

Most all of their customers were "regulars". People that worked in town would have their lunch there, and they always had a large after school crowd. The grammar school kids would come in and have their after school treat to tide them over until dinner. The high school kids would come in on the bus from Miranda and they would gather there. It was more a social gathering than food eating, but they would all enjoy a treat before heading home.




One gentleman that my mother remembers well was a world famous man that most of the north coast surfers will remember. Doctor John Ball was the town Dentist back then. I still have a tooth with a root canal that Dr. Ball put in for me. He used to have lunch there every day. He was a health nut even back then, and he used to worry about what was in everything. The one downfall that he had was that he got hooked on moms “Sweet-potato Pie”. He never asked what was in it, he would just order his wicked little treat, and eat it like he was a little kid with candy.




Dr. Ball made his own surf boards back then, and he helped a friend of mine build one out of plywood. It was hollow inside and it was fiber-glassed on the outside. It was about nine feet long.

The fountain served any kind of a sweet concoction that you can imagine. We made all of our own Ice Creams and Ice Milks in the ice cream machine right out front. I say “we” because I used to work there after school. So, I get “part-time” credit. The ice cream room was state certified and it had to be built to state standards to sell ice cream that was made for retail sale. It had concrete floors and walls up four feet, with a central drain for hosing out the room on a regular basis. I’ve often wished that houses were built that way, so instead of dusting and cleaning all the time, all you would have to do is get out a hose and hose everything , dust and all, to the central drain.

We had a full “Soda Fountain” with the Swan-Neck tall faucets. One for soda water, and one for fresh water. We had all of the little tubs filled with strawberry sauce, pineapple sauce, and chocolate. We had pumps with every kind of syrups known to mankind.




We made malted milkshakes on order. One person that came in liked a chocolate malted milkshake, with a raw egg in it, then all whipped together on the milkshake mixer.

One of my girlfriends liked a chocolate cherry coke, and she always wanted me to make it for her because it had extra stuff in it that wasn’t really on the menu. The standard drink was three pumps of syrup, and soda water mixed up with ice. We would put an extra pump of syrup in the drink no-charge, but she liked three pumps of coke syrup, one pump of cherry syrup, and one pump of chocolate syrup. I had to sneak the extra pump of syrup past my mom. (I think she knew, but she liked all the kids that came in there, and the pretty much got anything they liked.)

I’ve said before that we made all of the ice-creams for the upscale restaurants in the area at the time. We were the only ones that could provide the restaurants with the high butterfat content and freshness that they required in their ice-creams. So we were kept quite busy with making ice-cream out front.

I think that the best way to describe the place, is that it was the Starbucks of the fifties. Everybody had their own custom designed drink or fountain treat made to order. My personal favorite drink was a Vanilla Soda. Three pumps of vanilla, one scoop of vanilla ice-cream, soda water, then blended on the mixer with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on the top. That’s called a “Soda”. A freeze is soda and ice cream mixed on the mixer, like a Brown Cow, which was Root Beer and ice cream mixed on the mixer. A Purple Cow was grape soda and ice cream mixed. A Pink Cow was Strawberry soda and ice cream, unless you wanted a Cherry Pink Cow, which was cherry syrup, soda and ice-cream mixed.

The shop also had a broiler grill that they made hamburgers, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, and hot dogs on. They also served a variety of cold deli sandwiches.

Boy, has this ever been a trip back in time for me. One of my old girlfriends from Alaska stops into the store once or twice a year and we reminisce about the good old days, when all we had to do was hang out in a soda fountain. (It’s okay, my wife and her are friends.)


29 comments:

ross sherburn said...

thanks to my mom!i still have all the teeth in my head!she used to take me to ball for floride treatments all the time!guess it worked?i think dr.ball had a son about the same age as my sister patty???

Ernie Branscomb said...

Thanks to Dr. Ball I still have some teeth also. I had a terrible time with cavities up until Dr. Ball gave me a fluoride treatment, and I have hardly had a cavity since.

He had two sons, John and Jay. You are right they were Patty's age.

ross sherburn said...

ross spelled fluoride wrong!shame,shame!you said,one treatment!i had them all the time,they tasted like sheeeeet!

ross sherburn said...

ernie,how come i can remember stuff from fifty years ago,but can't remember what happened last week???

USelaine said...

Next time you're in Willits, check out the ice cream counter at J.D. Redhouse. They get it from Cowlick's Ice Cream, made in Fort Bragg. They can do sundaes and banana splits, but I don't think they have soda capability.

It's nearly midnight, and you've got me thinking of the pint of cherry vanilla in the freezer...

Kym said...

I came round after your soda fountain was gone...more's the shame but I remember Dr. Ball. Unlike many people I'm not afraid of the dentist because he was so friendly.

oldmanriver said...

I first passed through Garberville in 1959 en route to a life in Alaska. Was your shoppe open then? I would have loved one of your malteds. I miss a good chocolate malted, but my teeth don't.

spyrock said...

one of the teachers aides when i was in kindergarten also worked at the local soda fountain. somehow, i went to school at the wrong time and because my mom worked at her own school 3 miles away and my dad was out on a plumbing job, she took me to work with her so there i was sitting at the counter drinking a chocolate milk shake and she would refill it from the metal jar from the machine. that was a rare treat for me. i had a job at the local grocery store filling the soda pop case which was chilled with ice water with more soda and then i would take the empties to the back room in exchange for a pepsi and reading all the superman, green lantern, etc. comic books for free. then i got $2.50 a week for stocking the shelves on Saturday. but what could be better than a job at a soda fountain. no wonder you are such a nice guy. all that sweet stuff from your sweet mom.

Carol said...

What a thoughtful post, Ernie! I have gained 10 pounds while reading it. Your mom was a lovely lady.

Kimba said...

Once again I had a really pleasant EB read to go with my coffee today. Thanks Ernie. Was this the origin of Ernie the Refrigerator Man?

Kathy said...

I too still have a tooth with a root canal from Dr Ball,it must have been around 1968 or so.

Indie said...

What a fun place for kids to hand out. By the time I moved to the area (1991) there was Treats, but I don't know if it ever had the same kind of action you're describing. All those sodas and malts sound soooo goooood right now.

Anonymous said...

Is your Mom as sweet as she looks like she is?

Ernie Branscomb said...

Anon
No she isn’t. (Actually she is, but she reads this blog and I don’t want it to go to her head.)

Indie
In addition to the regular chocolate sauce, there was hot chocolate for dipping cones, and hot fudge sauce for hot fudge sundaes.

“Was this the origin of Ernie the Refrigerator Man?”

It had a lot to do with it. I just have to know how things work, and refrigeration was way up there on my list of things that I had to know. Also My uncle Tom Newland was a partner in the Riverside Farm Dairy, and he had refrigeration out the wazzoo.

There was an old fellow by the name of Howard Martin. He was a refrigeration contractor, and he would let me help him fix the refrigeration. I never seriously considered refrigeration as a career until Wally Pedersen talked me into it. I was in Heald Engineering College in San Francisco at the time studying electronics engineering. Wally told me that I would do just as well in refrigeration as I would in electronics, and he would teach me for free. It sounded like a very good deal to a very homesick kid.

EkoVox said...

Ross, do you remember the ice cream shop in Weaver? I remember having a dish of lemon ice cream purchased by my grammer school principal on a field trip to study Gold Rush history. Probably, 4th grade.

ross sherburn said...

yep!it was called "youngs confectionary"it was there for many years!during high school,we used to go there quite often for lunch.speaking of weaverville&highschool,there were several students from the s.trinity area that knew kids from garberville,that i had went to grammer school with in garberville.

Eel River Ernie said...

Ross/EKO, Young’s Confectionary was the Weaverville equivalent of Ernie’s mom’s Owens Alley. All through grammar and high school that was our special place for all of the sodas Ernie mentions, my personal favorite was a Cherry Phosphate, still don’t know what was in it.

Also, in regard to Doc Ball, I had the opportunity to meet him a couple of times and hear a lot of stories about him (a most memorable one about him skateboarding in his 90’s) as I have fly fished with his son Norman over much of northern California in recent years. Norm, whom we call Doc Ball, retired from his practice as a dentist in Eureka two or three years ago.

For a real great bio on John Heath “Doc” Ball go to http://www.legendarysurfers.com/surf/legends/ls07.shtml he was truly a legend.

ross sherburn said...

the name"norman"sounds correct to me as being one of the sons names.

ross sherburn said...

BTW,happy new year to all!!!

Ernie Branscomb said...

Duh.... I just remembered. John's son was Norman!

His youngest son was named "Jay" and I think that his given name was John, but the called him jay for short. Not sure...

Sorry for giving bad info Ross.

ross sherburn said...

ernie,don't worry about the info!its been 45 years since i lived in garberville!sometimes it makes my brain hurt to try and remember this stuff!LOL BTW,i always feel very fortunate to have lived in garberville and weaverville as well!small towns,normal folks!!!and a litle timber in the hills!

sohumborn said...

I really want a Vanilla Soda now. Thanks for a great read Ernie, being your girl sure had great perks!

ross sherburn said...

ernie,who was owens?also,did owens alley burn down in that fire downtown, back about 1960-1961?i can't remember the year very well???i was downtown that nite,and remember the fire,very well.

Anonymous said...

I sure wish the soda fountain was open now. I wasn't here, in G'ville, until the sixties, but I have very fond memories of the one in my home town.

S.C.

Bunny said...

I can smell it, I can taste it, I can feel it. thanks!

spyrock said...

thanks for the doc ball reference. i have never heard of him. i started out body surfing at stinson beach and later on i was a regular at kelly's cove near the cliff house back in the mid sixties. there were very few people surfing even in santa cruz in those days. we were some of the few who would go surfing outside of the box of local safe places. this is before oneils wetsuits. he had a shop in a garage out in the sunset district in those days when i bought my first long john. but the normal suit in those days was white boxer shorts that you could pretty much see through when wet. people's knees and feet would get great big knots on them and without a wetsuit, you would start turning blue and have to come in a sit by the fire and go back out after you thawed out. we would go up to drakes bay and farther up the coast and surf places all along the coast that nobody ever surfed before all the way down into big sur. but the wet suit changed all that. we used to wear rubber booties back then we got from a scuba shop on mission street and get laughed at. but it's common gear now. we rode skateboards too. down twin peaks, through golden gate park, down lots of steep hills in the city and down haight street where even the hippies thought we were crazy. so its nice to see that someone cool preceeded us in that fun lifestyle and has pioneered north coast surfing up there as well. we had all those santa cruz waves to oursleves for years. nowadays, people surf everywhere along the coast. anyway, i can appreciate someone like doc ball. and i know he lived a great life.

Robin Shelley said...

Spy,
Harking back to your surfing days, I wonder if you ever knew a guy by the name of Greg Callis?

lilly said...

pretty late comment on Owens Alley, but this little Alley fountain was opened by Ralph and Jewell Owen in the early 50's. I worked there every summer for at least 4 years. Jewell' claim to fame was her home made pies, which rhubard was the specialty - the locals would come early for lunch to beat the tourists for first on the pies.

Anonymous said...

I just googled Owen's Alley and am thrilled to find this blog! My grandparents, Ralph and Jewell Owen were the original owners...(thanks for posting Lilly!) I don't know when they first opened Owen's Alley but when I was born March 16, 1956 they put a big pink bow on the door to announce my arrival. It must have been just a short time after that, that they sold the place to Ernie's mom and moved to Blue Jay (near San Bernardino). My grandpa died in March of '59. Grandma Jewell lived to be 95 years old and her pies and cakes continued to delight her family and friends. It is so nice to know that the place remained so popular! Thanks so much for sharing these great memories Ernie!
Fondly,
Jewell Dvorak Baker