Street Scenes: Vintage Rolling Stock In Their Prime

Many times in the past I’d think, “why didn’t someone take pictures of common things 30-40 years ago?” I would have loved to see pictures of my town in the 1960s and 1970s, especially the new and used car dealerships! (NOTE: This was before Facebook and all manner of ‘retro’ photo groups popped up.) Things can change so gradually that we don’t notice it until we’re confronted with scenes of normal life from 1991, 1982 or 1965.

Kewanee IL, 2/19/86

But wait! My first job in high school was microfilming closed files at my dad’s office. Today you can simply put a pile of paper into a scanner and it will be imaged into your computer in seconds, but back in the 1990s you used a microfilm camera. I would put a stack of paper on the tray, push the button, remove the sheet just photographed, then repeat. Over, and over.

Yep, it was a repetitive job, but it was still a nice place to work, plus I had a radio! Reading depositions on some of the bar fights, crash reports, etc. was pretty interesting too.

Manteno IL, 7/13/93

As you might guess, the paper copies of the files were retained for a while, just to be safe. At some point in the early 2000s, I was tasked with getting rid of all the paper files. As I went through each file, I noticed there usually was a photo of the bar or restaurant in each file. Once I noticed this, I paid more attention and saw that some were some pretty old photos from the 80s and even the 70s, and most of them had neat (to me, anyway) cars in the background. No one minded if I kept some of the pictures, so I saved quite a few from the landfill. Probably at least a hundred; likely more. That’s where these came from.

Naperville IL, 1/27/93

Most of these photos are circa 1985-97, and were taken all over Illinois. There’s something for everyone, whether you like ornate, boxy Town Cars or Liftback Corollas.

Peoria IL, 3/3/86

You can tell that GM had quite a lot more market share than they do now, and that Japanese cars, while seen, were not in near the concentrations they would be in in another 15-20 years.

Galesburg, IL, 2/21/86

After all, this is the heartland, and us Midwesterners still liked GM a whole bunch, even in the ’80s. And most of them were CARS, not the rolling, tippy toed, drunk stupid combovers we’re plagued with in The Year Of Our Lord, 2021.

Rockford IL, 8/17/94

Another interesting thing in these pictures is all the unique eating establishments. They were very diverse, unlike the usual chain restaurants seen today in any fair-to-middling town. After cars, my second obsession is restaurants, so these are doubly interesting to your author.

South Beloit IL, 12/18/85

Woudn’t you like to pull into Frank and Mike’s in your Country Squire and have a burger basket and a beer? Maybe before going to the Showcase Cinemas to see Ghostbusters or Back To The Future…

Sublette IL, 1/30/86

I can’t help but wonder if any of these establishments are still around. Maybe some of them, but time marches on and everything changes once enough years pass. Just look at that rust free K5 Blazer. Hubba hubba!

Wapella IL, 3/3/86

20 Replies to “Street Scenes: Vintage Rolling Stock In Their Prime”

  1. John Van Stry

    I have a bunch of old photos of some of my cars. I should probably scan some of those in.
    I know one of my brother’s still has my father’s old B&W photos, a lot of which have cars in them. My dad went through a lot of cars – mainly because he’d buy cheap ones, then fix ’em up and either use them until they died, or someone bought it from him. Also, he was a serious gear head. I should see about finding those and scanning in a bunch of them next time I’m up north.

  2. Patrick King

    Fun stuff Tom! I recognize every car in your photos and owned a couple of them: a green ’78 Fairmont wagon that I bought from a neighbor for $500 and a brand new ’87 Plymouth Horizon America that I bought for my mother, metallic burgundy with crushed velour bordello red interior. Thanks for sharing these time capsules!

  3. -Nate

    Nice looking at the Mid West in the past .

    I’ve enjoyed looking at some old pictures of here and there way Down East where I grew up, it certainly has changed .


  4. toly arutunoff

    somewhere in this house are color movies my much older brother took, driving down rodeo drive in 1940. 1970? the first full year automobiles of italy was open? that was just about the other day. we have a bunch of coordinated-tape-sound movies (the projector cued the cassette recorder) from our abarth 2000sp in the sebring 12hr race in ’70. and i do appreciate your nostalgia for things that were just stuff that happened in your youth as i was edging into middle age!

  5. tmkreutzer

    Judging by the cars our front, Frank and Mike’s was patronized by a lot of older people. That means the food was probably pretty good. Old people always know.

  6. CJinSD

    It’s striking how different the composition of traffic was compared to the college towns where I spent those years. Even ignoring that that imports were much more prevalent where I lived, the American cars people bought tended towards less traditionally styled models like the Taurus, Grand Ams with polished wheels, and XJ Cherokees. There were also lots and lots of Fox Mustangs.

    The Peoria IL, 3/3/86 photograph looks most like a parking lot I can remember; with a couple GM cookie-cutters, a Regal, a Corolla, a 245 and a Renault Appliance. The photo would have had to have been taken in 1984 or 1985 though, as imported-from-Kenosha and retail-buyer A-cars were short-lived phenomena in my hometown.

    • Tom Klockau Post author

      I actually ate at that restaurant. Circa 1991 my dad, brother and grandmother met my aunt Bobbie and cousin Alex there (they lived in Champaign/Urbana, Peoria was about halfway between them and us) for lunch. It was pretty good, kind of supper clubish. As a kid I thought it was cool to eat in vintage dining cars.

      Haven’t been there since, but a friend who lived in Peoria said it’s been gone at least 10-15 years now.

    • Disinterested-Observer

      Not to get political, but the difference in population is staggering. I have a picture of a national monument from ~1980, taken on a cold but clear day, where there is a single person in the picture. Now that place would have at least a couple hundred people day or night, any time of year. It’s also striking how the past 30-40 years of massive productivity growth has somehow led to the death of small towns and the opoid crisis. But hey, at least we have iphones. Iphones are way better than an intact nuclear family and community.

  7. JMcG

    For a decade or so, maybe ‘85 to ‘95, my climbing partner and I would do a lot of long drives in search of vertical relief. In the summers, we’d go west; in the winters, north to the Adirondacks and to New Hampshire.
    I remember being astounded at the time that imported cars were virtually absent from what would come to be called the flyover states. It seems almost surreal to remember seeing my first Taurus- on the NYS Throughway. It was shocking to see something so futuristic looking just wheeling down the road. I was completely innocent of politics then, but I remember feeling a little tinge of pride that Ford had made that car.
    Thanks for the post, Tom. I have many great memories of small town bars and restaurants and of walking out of them and into them.
    Hopefully, in the spirit of the season, the comments will be full of happy memories. Merry Christmas to you!

  8. John C.

    In addition to the different import-domestic and car-truck mix it is nice to see the smaller places where the cars are newer and the buildings less rundown. Such places have really paid a price for so many of the children moving away when they grew up. When I was involved in banking, the small-town local banks were there to help with mortgages for the local young adults, basing the decision more on the long-standing relationship with the family. Modern banks see the small branches as surplus now.

  9. JustPassinThru

    Modern banks see the customer as surplus, now…but that veers into the politics of the Financialized economy we live in, and how modern banks “make” their money.

    It is, indeed, interesting to see clean, well-kept small-town scenes…and cars of that era, also, well-kept. Keeps the memories alive, too – of an era where cars weren’t all wheeled blobs, styled in a wind tunnel, and upholstered with the same roll of grey fabric and vinyl.

    I will say, in fairness: Old cars today are MUCH older than they were, back then. I made the trip home from the maternity ward in a 1957 Ford Country Squire…apparently purchased in anticipation of my arrival, since up to that point, the family was three, and the family vehicle was a 1950 Chevrolet Advance Design 3100 series.

    The 1950 truck was an old truck by 1957 (had been worked, too, as my old man built his house at the time). And the 1957 Ford was rusty and needing an engine (Y-Block V8s tended to overheat) by 1962.

    The aluminum-engine Rambler that replaced THAT one, was raggedy and losing a fender to rust, by 1968. Back to Ford, where at least the 302 V8 and Cruise-O-Matic lasted longer than the frame…five years.

    This summer I gave a Toyota to charity – because it was convenient. It was a beater, I used it a year…a 1994 Camry that still ran like new, with 222,000 miles on it. I made a trip to buy a recent-model used truck, far from home, and the convenient thing was to consider the $1600 I had paid, fully depreciated. (Unfortunately, the Ford F150 was less of a success).

    Twenty-seven years. And it was far from the only one of its generation on the road. It had been rebuilt, and had a cheap back-of-the-garage paint job to go with what new metal it had gotten, and that faded badly…that, and the salvage title, were the reason for the low price. Others look better, and they’re pulling their weight as daily drivers.

    That simply didn’t happen in 1970-1990.

    It’s not looking to be happening with cars that are new now, either, given the elaborate engine and emissions controls required today.

    • John C.

      Speaking in the generic, it was perhaps better when it wasn’t an economic necessity to get the last little bit of life out of an old car that had long before earned it’s keep. Sure even in the old days some lasted in the hands of spendthrifts and giving a young person a little freedom and mechanical learning in exchange for a lot of swear equity. I wonder at what point though we start resembling Castro era Cuba running 50s build cars forever.

      • JustPassinThru

        There’s some truth to that; but it wasn’t because I was desperate that I drove from Western Montana to Las Vegas to pick up my former Enterprise rental F150. It was because it made the most sense, in terms of cost, convenience, lack of hassle. I’d have dumped the Toyota anyway; better to let a charity make a few bucks off it, and write it off as the cost of the trip.

        There is NO….FLIPPIN…WAY I’d have gone cross-country in that old Rambler when my father traded it in, or the later Ford Galaxie with the rusted-through, broken frame.

        Cars, at least some of them, are better today. Or at least were better, 10, 20 years ago.

    • LynnG

      Love that C-10 Cheyenne in Wapella, anyone notice where the gas cap was???? Gee you had to be careful flicking cig butts out the drivers side wing window window. 🙂 🙂 Dad owned a series of regular cab long bed pickups in the 1960’s and 1970’s and I always worried when dad let the gas tank get below a quarter and you could hear the gas sloching around and vaporizing in the tank that was directly behind that vinyl bench seat…. 🙂 🙂 Oh well we lived….and those pickups are bringing real money at classic car autions today….

      • JustPassinThru

        Oh, yeah. The gas tanks were all there before 1973, except for Kaiser Jeep and IH trucks. The tank was behind the seat…I worked for a small-town DPW that had a fleet of 1961-67 Chevrolet pickups and stake trucks. You could tip the seat back forward, and there was the tank.

        It was vented outside. Tanks weren’t sealed in those years. Even in 1973-75, Ford’s Camper Special trucks had the tank in the cab. The spare on those models was where the gas tank would go in the regular new trucks.

        We weren’t as worried about such things, back in those years. With the landscaping crew, I used industrial lawn mowers and riding tractors to mow and blow/vacuum leaves…a lot of those engines and tractors vibrated enough to send gas spraying out the vent pinhole in the cap. When you shut it down, the stink of gas would hit you. Moving, working, you never noticed it.

  10. dumas

    Thanks for posting these pics up- with a bit of searching you may be able to find the locations on Google Maps. I had a look for the Frank and Mike’s restaurant and have found that it is now a pet boarding/grooming store called “Bubbles & Bows Pet”. So no more burger baskets and beer, but your dog will have nicely trimmed nails.


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