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Pauls Valley is bidding farewell to Ballard's Drive-In

Longtime restaurateur Johnny Ballard will close the Pauls Valley institution, Ballard's Drive-In, after more than six decades on Friday.
by Dave Cathey Modified: July 16, 2012 at 10:04 pm •  Published: July 16, 2012

Ballard returned to his hometown and settled into a job at the family business, Ballard's Food Store.

“My brother and I worked at Daddy's grocery store,” Ballard said. “But I never much cared for the grocery business.”

When Ballard heard the local Dairy Queen was for sale, he pounced on it. That was 1951. He opened Dairy Queens in Purcell, Davis and Lindsay in the 1950s, which he operated for 30 years.

Ballard built his circular drive-in on I-35 in 1974, changing the name from Dairy Queen to Ballard's Drive-In two years later.

“We got crossways with Dairy Queen, so we put our own sign up,” Ballard said.

Ballard leaned on the drive-in to support his family for many years, but the friendships he's developed along the way are what he'll miss most.

“I think of the people that come in here more as friends than customers,” he said. “It will be very hard to say goodbye to them.”

Pieces of history

If you decide to visit before the closing, you can dine in or at one of 24 curbside spots via low-fi Order-Matic speakers. Your carhop might not be fleet of foot, but he will likely be the oldest carhop in the universe — at least that's what his wife, Ouida, thinks.

If Ballard isn't delivering to cars, he's answering the order phone and running a register that looks like it might've been delivered in a brand-new Edsel. The kitchen boasts equipment destined for “Antiques Roadshow.”

The soda fountain, as Ballard still refers to it, is pushing midlife crisis.

“It's the last of its kind in captivity,” he said.

All the items will be auctioned by Dakil Auctioneers July 27. A full list of the items is available online at under the Upcoming Auction tab or by calling 751-6179.

“We're selling a piece of Oklahoma history,” said Louis Dakil. “It's a sad day but at the same time happy as we'll be helping some great folks out.”

The property will be converted into a tractor supply outlet.

Ballard said if you plan to visit the drive-in this week, you might call ahead, as he will be running out of ingredients.

“We already ran out of strawberries, and I can't really justify ordering more because I won't have anywhere to store them after Friday.”

But Ballard can rest assured his many friends will store memories of peanut butter shakes and cherry limeades from Ballard's Drive-In far beyond the end of the week.

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