By LARRY VAUGHT
MT. AIRY, N.C. — Before we took a squad car tour through town here today that left from Wally’s Service Station just as Andy Taylor and Barney Fife did in their squad car for years on the Andy Griffith Show, our driver relayed one bit of wisdom that really describes this special place.
“This town did not replicate the TV show. Instead, the TV show replicated the this town,” Allen told us.
He’s right, too. So many parts of the popular TV series from about 50 years ago were all real parts of Andy Griffith’s life growing up here. We saw where he worked as a teen. We saw where he went to church. We saw his home — it is now owned by Hampton Inn and can be rented for overnight stays now.
Wally’s Service Station was built in 1937 and the Mayberry Squad Car Tours — which are $35 total for up to five people per trip —leave from here and return here. It’s about a 30-minute ride filled with history not only about Griffith, but also the city. I was actually fascinated by the world’s largest open-face granite quarry and how much granite has been used to build churches and other structures in Mt. Airy.
You will also find the Mayberry Courthouse and jail cells in a neighboring building. You can sit in the jail cell that Otis called home or sit at the sheriff’s desk that included an old typewriter like one I used early in my journalism career at The Advocate-Messenger. Naturally, I had to go in the jail cell and try to the desk chair out as well.
Our driver/guided explained how Ford came to Griffith and offered him a new squad car free to use in the show. He accepted the offer and each year the show aired had a new squad car.
“Just look at the model year of the squad car when you are watching the show because what year it is, that’s the year the show was filmed,” Allen said. “Every car you see in the show was a Ford, too. But if you saw a car that was broken down, it was not going to be a Ford. Go back and see.”
Rhonda McHone works at Wally’s Service Station said there can be 50-70 squad car tours given on a weekend day and 25 per day or more daily during October. The average year-round would be about 15.
“Some people call ahead knowing we might be busy. A lot just walk in and wait if we are busy,” McHone said. “Some days we might have a two-hour wait but nobody minds. We have people from everywhere come just to enjoy what we have here.”
The service station is open year-round on Monday through Saturday from 9 to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 336-786-6066 for info. For squad car tours call 336-789-6743.
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We had planned to have lunch at Snappy Lunch, a place where Griffith ate growing up, and our squad car driver said it was a must to try to pork chop sandwich as others had told us.
We had only a short wait but by the time we left the iconic Main Street restaurant almost 40 people were standing in line on a Thursday.
Snappy Lunch is about 90 years old and has not changed a lot. Prices are unreal. A cheeseburger is $2. Ham and cheese sandwich $2. A hot dog is $1.50. Breakfast prices are just as low — country ham with egg is $2.65, sausage with egg $2.35.
It’s not fancy. No real plates or utensils. It’s all about quick service one can afford.
The pork chops are cooked by the front window for all to see. The “famous” pork chop sandwich comes with cole slaw, chili, mustard, onion and tomato.
In one TV show Andy told Barney to go to Snappy Lunch — and folks are still coming.
Charles Dowell owned Snappy Lunch from 1960 until his death in 2012. His wife runs the restaurant now that is as popular with locals as it is tourists with help from some family members.
“We don’t worry about making money. We just worry about making people happy,” she told me.
Again, only in Mayberry would you hear that — and remember all the downtown parking is FREE.
Snappy Lunch is open 6 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and 6 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. on Thursday and Saturday at 125 North Main Street. Call 336-786-4931 for information or go to www.thesnappylunch.com.