The Town Crier

When I was a kid there was a Saturday morning treat me and my cousin got to have and that was to go to Gaines’ Skating Rink south of town on 41 Highway.

The building is still there but it’s been used for different businesses since Gaines closed. I went back in there once when it was a discount/clearance-type business and just seeing the old steel girders and large open space brought back memories.

They had a skate session on Saturday mornings, probably from 9 or 10 until noon, and back then nobody thought anything about parents dropping their kids off at a place like that and coming back for them when it was closing time.

Flying through the stars

Some of the things I remember about skating there was of course the loud music blaring the Top 40 hits out over the speaker system. I was too young to go to concerts then so it was as close to seeing those musical stars as I was going to get.

It was always darker in there than outside so it seemed you were in a special place and certainly the colored lights and the disco mirror ball in the center added to the visual excitement.

It was always fun when they turned off everything but the disco ball with spotlights hitting it, and the reflected lights, which I always thought looked like glowing horseshoes, spun around the rink faster than you could skate. But it gave the illusion you were flying through the stars.

Another fun memory was that after two or three hours of nonstop skating, when it was time to go, I’d pull off the skates and put on my sneakers to head to the car. With those heavy skates off my feet I felt like I was walking on the moon.

Bravery required

Learning to skate took a little time and some bravery. Falling on your “can” on a hardwood floor after your feet have flown out from under you will give you pause when you get back up and try again.

First there was the hand-over-hand travel along the railing. Eventually I would venture out on unsteady legs to try and figure out how to make myself move when the wheels on my feet made every step forward roll out from under me so I wasn’t getting anywhere. It was like you were on a kitchen floor covered in slick cooking oil trying to run.

Eventually one would get to the point where they could motivate themselves around the rink, although for a novice it was a frightening experience with all the older, much better skaters zooming around. It was like trying to drive in Atlanta traffic in a go-cart. Then, finally, I figured out how to push off with my feet to propel myself and could take step after step while the skates did the rolling, and I was a good skater at last. Not, great, but good.

I learned, to my surprise, that my dad, Bill Hannah, had been an excellent skater. I never saw him skate myself but he talked about it with an expert’s knowledge. Turns out, when he was a teen he worked at a skating rink in Chatsworth that his uncle owned. Fun then, but long gone now.

About 1949, give or take a year, when Dad was still in high school but old enough to drive, his uncle Fletcher Charles bought a rink and brought it to Chatsworth. Fletcher learned there was a rink for sale in Adele and my dad and his other uncle, Mr. Legget everyone called him, drove down to check it out.

Adele then was a good ways away as there was not interstate to drive on, so there and back in one day was quite a trip. This included a flat tire along the way. The rink was disassembled and in a shed. They looked over everything and once back the decision was made to buy it and move it to Chatsworth. Uncle Fletcher would be the owner with Dad’s mom, Carrie Hannah, and her sister and brother-in-law, Eva Charles and Mr. Legget, as investors.

Once it was brought to Chatsworth the floor had to be put together and fit together very tightly, so carpenters were brought in to assemble it. The covering was a large tent, like a big circus tent or an army tent, not a permanent structure in a building. The tent was a canvas color like a circus tent, not olive drab like an army tent. The tent poles were on the ends so that it didn’t interfere with the skating. It was waterproofed so it wouldn’t leak on the floor if it rained. I’m not sure how it was waterproofed but back then one way large tents were treated to resist water was to dissolve paraffin wax in gasoline and then “paint” it on the canvas. The gasoline would evaporate, leaving the wax protection. My dad remembered it as being at least 25 feet by 50 feet or larger.

The rink came with a variety of skates, perhaps 25 pair in different sizes, and you could rent skates or bring your own. Dad had learned to skate on those “overshoe” skates that you put on over your regular shoes, but by the time he worked at the rink he had his own “one-piece” boot skates. The wheels would have been metal back then.

The rink was open full time in the summer months and on weekends in the spring and fall when school was in session. The sides of the tent would be rolled up when it was open and dropped when it was closed. It was lit inside, so skaters could skate at night, and it would open about 8 in the morning and stay open until 10 at night, and on Sundays it was open in the afternoons and evenings. No refreshments were sold there.

Uncle Fletcher ran it for a while himself and then got another man as manager, but Dad couldn’t remember his name. For years Dad told me he worked there at the rink and one day I asked him what his wages were back then. Dad “worked” there but never got paid. First, it was family, and second, he loved to skate.

Skate boy

Dad’s job was as “skate boy.” He basically just skated the rink and kept the kids from skating too fast or too reckless. He was the skating rink equivalent of a school hall monitor. Of course, that gave him time to skate around and talk to the customers ... especially the ladies. Many times kids would skate together, start holding hands sometimes and romances would blossom on the rink. Dad got a girlfriend there and began walking her home from the rink. She lived about a block away and he would escort her back home since she didn’t have a car.

Dad got pretty good at skating and could skate forward and backward with ease. He could leap in the air, spin around and land still going, and there were other good skaters there as well.

Many people would come just to stand at the rail and watch, talking with the skaters. One time a fellow was skating too fast and went through the railing, missing the spectators and flying completely out of the rink and out past the sidewalk.

The Murray County High basketball team would stick together and, although they didn’t skate, they would come and hang out at the rink. Dad, although born in Murray County, was living in Dalton at that time and the Murray County guys didn’t care for him much, especially when he skated with the local girls.

Fights would sometimes break out. One Saturday night Dad went with one of his buddies and as he was skating two guys came out and got faster and faster. Dad told them to slow down but they paid no attention. Dad’s friend Howard Schuler was watching when Dad finally stopped them and told them they had to turn their skates in and leave since they weren’t obeying the rules. One of the fellows reared back to punch Dad. Howard saw what was about to happen and, in the words of Dad, “floored” the guy. The two guys pulled off the skates and left.

There was a ticket seller and he had a speaker so he would call out different things for the skaters to do such as “find a partner and skate holding hands,” “Ladies Only,” “Men Only,” and he played music. In the late ’40s/early ’50s a lot of the music was still big band “hit parade” songs. Dad doesn’t remember what it cost to skate there since he always skated for free, which is what he was working for there as well.

The rink was only there for maybe two or three years, Dad says, and as far as he knows it was lots of fun and a draw for the community but never a money maker. It was finally sold, disassembled and went to another town somewhere for memories to be made there.

Mark Hannah, a Dalton native, works in video and film production.

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