When I was between 17 and about 19, just out of high school, my pals and I spent many evenings cruising Tunnel Road in Asheville, N.C., my hometown. One of the primary stops on the tour was Buck’s Restaurant, which had not only a great burger, but also a drive-in, the first on Tunnel Road.
Two more burger drive-ins would show up shortly, but Bucks was first and always the best. My father ran the inside restaurant, which I don’t recall ever seeing. I never saw Dad at work, either, since he didn’t work at night (he opened the restaurant in pre-dawn) and I don’t think he had much to do with the drive-in.
Buck’s bragged that it was “air conditioned” and had three dining rooms with a seating capacity of 168 people. The curb service had an individual radio for each car and the restaurant–all of it–was open 6 a.m.-midnight. My pals and I often loitered in the parking lot until long after that, chatting up some girls we’d just met. I drove a mint green 1956 Ford station wagon I’d bought for $100 from my old friend Al Geremonte, my first mentor. Al used the car for hunting and fishing.
Buck’s was founded by Buck Buchanan in 1946, the year I was born. Buck bought the restaurant’s land for $6,125 when it was a forest and Tunnel Road was Black Mountain Highway. Tunnel Road, which still exists, gets its name from the tunnel running through Beaucatcher Mountain, which has long since been opened up for a highway, a cut that allowed the escape of the almost constant Champion Paper Company and the Enka Plant pollution. That pollution settled over Asheville in the summer. Asheville could truly smell to high holy hell at the time. We often referred to the Stinky Enky Plant.
Wink’s and Babe Malloy’s followed Buck’s as popular burger joints/drive-ins for the kids, but they were all gone by 1975. So was I. On to a sports writing gig at the local daily in Roanoke.
Margie and I are heading to Asheville today for a couple of days–to visit the Biltmore House for the first time. I used to live a hefty rock throw from the Estate, but never visited. We will drive by where Buck’s sat in the old days and say “hello” to my dad.