Fallon drive-in closes this weekend
Nevada Appeal News Service
The classic cars will gather again this weekend under the giant mug. Memories and stories will be shared, burgers will be served and the homemade root beer will flow for the last time.
After 46 years of serving Fallon and Churchill County, Bob’s Root Beer is closing.
Current owners Stuart and Jennell Kimball have owned Bob’s Root Beer for the past four years. They say so many new restaurants opened in town that it drained their business.
“We couldn’t get enough local business. People said it was too far out of town. And when (another drive-in burger shop) opened in town, it was the beginning of the end,” said Stuart Kimball.
The business hasn’t performed well for the past 10 years, despite menu revisions and the classic homemade root beer, he said.
“We didn’t have the capital to go in and restore the buildings and put in a dining room. We tried to sell it as a restaurant for two years, but couldn’t find buyers.”
He says the property, which is currently in escrow, will become a used-car lot.
The end of an era
The drive-in was built in 1960 by Francis “Gunner” and Zola Signore and his brother-in-law and sister-in-law Bud and Opal Lambright and was first an A&W Root Beer franchise. In 1962 Gunner bought out his brother-in-law and changed the name to Bob’s Root Beer.
According to Ernestine Rich, Gunner’s daughter, he earned his nickname during World War II when he was a gunner’s mate. He was a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and he chose to rename the drive-in “Bob’s” to honor an old Navy buddy.
From 1963-1968 Bob’s was managed by Bob and Gracie Gamble, while Gunner opened and operated the A&W drive-in in Davis, Calif. Gunner and Zola moved back to Fallon permanently in 1970 and ran the business until 1995, when they sold it to George and Sharon Hansen. The Hansens ran the business until 2002 when Stuart and Jennell Kimball took over.
Kimball said 90 percent of his clientele were people over 35 who remembered Bob’s as a classic drive-in.
“There’s a lot of history there. People would come from all over the country. We had folks on road trips from San Francisco, Sacramento, Las Vegas, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. They’d stop in and have their picture taken with the big mug. It was amazing the amount of people who stopped to say that this was where their parents met,” Kimball said. “It’s the end of an era.”
“They’re getting rid of an institution,” said Karen Harrison, a former carhop who worked at Bob’s in the early 1970s when she was in high school. She said she met her husband at Bob’s while she was a carhop and he would stop in for lunch.
One customer she remembers was an old man who would walk over from the assisted living home next door.
“He would come over to get coffee every day and pay in change.”
Another regular at Bob’s was of the four-legged variety.
“Gunner had this old German shepherd dog named Ted that would lay in the back under the counter,” said Harrison. “That probably wouldn’t fly today.”
Another former carhop with fond memories of Gunner is Sue Douglas Miller, now living in Sparks. She worked at Bob’s during high school in 1972 and 1973, starting as counter help, then as a carhop and finally as a cook working opposite shifts from Gunner.
“Tuesday night was 29-cent hamburger night. It was very busy,” she said. A lot of families would stop by Bob’s before heading out to the drive-in theater.
Miller remembers that people wanted to keep the mugs all the time.
“If a customer ran off with a mug, the carhop would have to pay for it,” she recalls. She decided to leave carhopping after an incident that left her embarrassed.
“I was short and had to serve somebody with a brand new truck that was jacked up. I ended up dumping a milkshake down the door and had to pay to have the door disassembled and cleaned.”
Harrison remembers Gunner as a good teacher but stern.
“He wanted things done his way.”
Miller agrees. “He had a temper on him.” But she also describes him as “very Italian and a sweet guy.”
“He was really nice to people and helped them out, like if they had a broken down car or something,” Miller said. “It was a cool place to hang out and Gunner spoke to everyone, even the kids.”
Ed Pearce, a former resident and customer, says Bob’s is “almost the last of a dying breed, which is unfortunate.
“These places are different. They’re individual with their own menus. Bob’s was a destination.”
Pearce, whose first girlfriend was a carhop at Bob’s, says it was the place you stopped at on the way to or from the lake.
He mentioned other bygone businesses in Fallon like the Spud Nut, The Rocket, Starvin’ Marvins and the Dew Drop Inn.
“I regret the loss of each one of these,” Pearce said. “In our rush to build the future we put too little value on the past and are too quick to tear it down.”
The Hurricams classic car club plans to meet for a get-together at Bob’s one last time Sunday. Jennell Kimball says they’re offering free food and root beer to thank the community.
The famous brown and orange striped mug which has stood overlooking Bob’s for 46 years will also be coming down soon. Lou Carrica, co-owner of Fallon Glass & Signs, will be donating his time and equipment to remove the giant mug and restore it.
“We’ll repaint and reseal it. Whatever it needs.” He plans to give the mug a second life out at the Top Gun Raceway.
The new owner has agreed to let the mug stay in place long enough for people to say their goodbyes.