Petticoat Junction recalled
Posted by : July 20, 2013| On :
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer
MABANK–Long-timers in the area will remember the Petticoat Junction café and truck stop out on what is now Business 175. It served the area from1972 until 1996, for nearly 25 years at that location and thrived as one of the very few cafes around.
In last Thursday’s Monitor, it was reported that the dilapidated building once known as the Petticoat Junction is to be torn down. Since then, I have become acquainted with the café’s long history and its owners.
Ann January, who up until June operated a beauty shop on the property, spoke with me about her mother, Claudia Westmoreland, and her husband, J.T., better known as “Peavine,” the owners of the Petticoat Junction.
Claudia first bought the old City Café on Market Street that was located just east of where the city hall is now. Back then it was next door to Allisen’s LumberYard. She and Peavine, who married earlier that year, bought it from Louise Thompson in 1961.
At the time the couple was raising six school-age children from previous marriages and rented an old house out of town that did not have indoor plumbing.
Claudia typed out a brief history of the venture in 1989, after having taken one typing class.
“Not many people would be as foolish as Peavine and I, but the need was there, and we had nothing to lose except each other. We came close to that a few times,” she wrote of their venture.
It didn’t take long for her plan to start showing a profit. And the couple paid rent on the business to Peavine’s grandmother, Mary Casteel.
That café had a long bar in it, so locals nicknamed it the “Longbranch,” after the saloon in the TV series, Gunsmoke, and referred to its owner, Claudia, as Miss Kitty.
Aquiring old depot
In 1965, the couple bought the old train depot, which was being used as a warehouse. It was located where the Mabank branch of the First State Bank is now on Third Street. Claudia planned to increase business by expanding the café into a cafeteria with steam table.
Since the railroad still came through and her regulars kept calling the new venture “Petticoat Junction,” the name stuck.
“We had only three tables. We had no deep fryer. All our frying was done in a large skillet,” Claudia writes. “But each day we made a little money and as we could afford it, we would add to our stock,” she wrote.
Adding hotel rooms
In 1966, the Southern Pacific Railroad sent a crew to Mabank to elevate the railroad track. Excavation for Cedar Creek Lake had just begun and the railroad project had to be completed before the lake filled with water. For nine days the crew worked around the clock and so did Claudia, to keep the men fed.
Because hotels were scarce, she set up four bedrooms in the unimproved part of the building, the beginning of the “Shady Rest Hotel.” After five weeks, the couple was able to build two bathrooms, a shower and four bedrooms, and started renting out rooms. After the lake filled, “renting the rooms got out of hand,” so she and Peavine and the children (who were still living at home) moved into the depot and she rented out the homestead.
“Mother got people from the television show to send her photos of the Petticoat Junction set, the actors, just all kinds of things,” Ann recalls.
(Talk about the influence TV has on our lives, or “life imitating art,” as opined by Oscar Wilde. The philosophy holds that art sets the aesthetic principles by which people perceive life, and does not imitate life. But that’s another story.)
A brisk business
The Petticoat Junction was quite popular, so much so, that folks sometimes parked their vehicles on the railroad tracks as overflow parking. The Depot was built on the track in the early 1900s.
Claudia and Peavine operated the café there for nine years, from 1965 to 1973, managing to make repairs on the old building, as the money became available. The land on which it sat belonged to the railroad.
“The train crew grew to be a part of the Petticoat Junction. They would stop and eat with us and we looked forward to the once a day run,” Claudia wrote. “Something had to be wrong if they failed to show.”
Moving the depot
In 1973, Claudia and Peavine purchased land, one-mile west on Highway 175, across from Mabank High School, and moved the depot there.
“It was great to have it on our own land, but we did miss the train,” Claudia writes.
It took just a few days to move, but nearly two months to get it put back together, Claudia recounts.
Regulars and trainmen continued to come and truck drivers soon found it a convenient place to stop and get a bite to ear.
What’s on the menu?
“Back then, she was the only café that served around here,” Ann said. People came for her Chicken Fried Steak and homemade pies, among other favorites.
She made Chocolate Cream and Coconut Cream pies every day. “She used a big brown quart beer bottle as a rolling pin and could roll out a dozen pie crusts in the time it takes me to roll out one,” Ann said, adding she wished she had one of her pie crust recipes now.
Regulars also kept patronizing the café for the entertainment value of listening to Claudia and Peavine argue out their differences. Those who couldn’t stay until the end of one of their “discussions” would return the next day demanding to know, “who won the fight?” Ann said.
The couple added a small RV park, a garden and a swimming pool.
“She loved that garden and swimming pool,” Ann recalls.
All that’s left of trains
In 1982, the train stopped coming through Mabank and the railroad track was removed. Claudia lamented that the only thing left from the train days was that old depot.
In 1997, Claudia started slowing down and decided it was time to close. Two years later the building was sold to Wayne Sheffield.
Sadly, Peavine died the end of 2010. Shortly afterwards, Claudia, a victim of Alzheimer’s, moved into the Mabank Nursing Home, where she still resides today. Some former customers and friends still remember her kindly and visit with her without gaining any recognition of who they are or what they once meant to one another.
Soon the depot, which has been vacant for sometime, now, will be no more. And all that will remain are the memories of good food, laughter and the hard work, that was once the Petticoat Junction in Mabank, Texas.