“It’s coming guys! Get your coins out there now and get out of the way!”
Looking east, we could just see the locomotive making the turn to follow Lakeville Street to D Street where we’d piled our bikes to have lunch and wait for the train.
We weren’t going anywhere, although we all knew stories of guys; bums mostly who did use the freight trains to jump from one town to the next in search of adventure or cheap booze. We talked about trying it one day and bragged about what we’d do if we ever did.
I joined the fun, but knew well that I’d never actually jump a train and just go with it where ever it went. I liked my warm home with food, family, clean clothes and moderate use of alcohol too much to actually put all that at risk.
We set our coins on the track as planned and quickly stepped back to watch and see how this experiment worked.
Petaluma, California in the mid 1960s was a magic place to grow up with good friends, cheap bikes and plenty of free entertainment for a bunch of boys with lots of time on their hands and the freedom to wander as we pleased.
Most of us mowed lawns or did simple jobs to earn a few dollars each week which combined with moderate allowances, gave us everything we needed to wander, explore, dream up adventures and hit the Scarf and Barf restaurant at the corner of D and Lakeville for lunch whenever adventure found us nearby around lunch time. We’d descend on the place like a hoard of 2-wheeled midget marauders, many of us with playing cards clothes-pinned into our spokes to make that great paper motorcycle sound.
We’d pile our bikes up in the shade on the north side and return to sit against the wall to enjoy our outrageously good-and-greasy burgers and fries. We’d talk about stuff important only to a squad of boys while enjoying their freedom and afternoon and the best burgers around.
If you were there, you know I speak the truth. If you never were, I’m so sorry but you have missed out on one of the most epics of growing up in Petaluma.
It was years later when I finally heard the real name of the place. The Snack Bar – seriously!? That name had no spirit, no pizazz. Everyone I knew called it Scarf and Barf, which like any small boy – I loved just the thought of naming a restaurant this and was disappointed to learn that it was only a term of affection that took root and would never let go.
Yes, they likely had other things to order, but the burgers were the reason anyone came there.
Yes, they likely had the first drive-through business model in town, but that was often blocked by a herd of small boys and sometimes their bikes making believe that we were driving-through ourselves..
Yes, like the sign says in the photo, you could get six of these burgers for $1.32 but that was later. I recall once accepting a friend’s challenge to buy and eat all six and it cost me all of $1. And yea, it took me several hours to even think about ever eating again, but when I did, it was another one of those burgers that I wanted. . .
But there was this one day, when we were sitting in the shade and the train came by about the time we were scarfing away and we got to talking about putting pennies on the railroad tracks to squash them because, how cool that would be? So, the next time we were there, we watched and waited and finally were were there at the right time and so, with the train in sight, we dashed out to the tracks and laid down our coins. I alone decided that just a penny was not going to be interesting enough so I invested 11 cents. Yup, I put a dime on top of a penny to see what would happen.
Once our coins were in place, we scampered back to our greasy bags of food to eat and watch. There was an old train station to our left on the next block where sometimes the train would stop but more often than not, it would continue over to the grain elevator about a mile further west.
This time, we suddenly heard the domino like: bang – bang – bang – banging of the engine braking and this would always ripple back along the line of freight cars as the inch or so of play in their linkage would close and start to slow the cars down for the stop. Well, shoot!, this meant the train was stopping at the station and we’d have to wait to collect our mashed coins.
So, we just had to sit there, finish our food like civilized feral kids, talk about springing for milkshakes, talk anything else (except for girls) and wait until the train moved on.
It finally did and we waited for the last car to pass and quickly collected our thin treasures.
Hmm — flat, dirty, irregularly oval-shaped and bent sheets of copper. Wow. This was so, unexciting. Whose bright idea was this anyway?
I bent down to find my double stack of a dime melded into a penny. It was different than the others, but whatever I dreamed it might look like, I was disappointed because it just looked like a metallic mess. Okay, “I’m going for the shake. Who’s with me?”
I kept it for a few years in a shallow drawer on my dresser just because it reminded me of that day when my whole world fit in my pockets, on my bike with my buddies making sure we were near Scarf and Barf for lunch and little else in the whole world mattered.
I had realized that the real treasure had been behind me the whole time and I could six of them for just one dollar.