Lovell…a look back in time

As Lovell’s downtown grows and gains new businesses thanks to the efforts of individual entrepreneurs and Lovell Inc., it might be instructive to remember a time when the town of Lovell was awash with numerous small businesses in an era before good highways and easy access to malls and Super Wal-Marts.

For help in remembering how Lovell was, the Chronicle turned to Melba Tippetts, who worked on Main Street at the Safeway Supermarket for many years and whose mother, Julia Nicholls, ran a beauty shop on Main when Melba was a child. Husband Ivan has plenty of memories, too.

Melba remembers when Lovell’s Main Street had many trees overhanging the street and had open ditches to water the trees and gardens. A shopper had to step over a ditch to get from the curbside to the sidewalk, so many shops placed a plank across the ditch for the convenience of their customers.

Melba was born to Herbert and Julia Scheeler Nicholls. Julia was born in Russia and immigrated with her family to North Dakota, then on to Lovell with the building of the sugar factory in the mid-1910s. Herbert moved from Leeds, Utah, seeking better farmland, Melba said, but when they married, the young couple moved to town where Herbert worked for Great Western Sugar as the beet end foreman. Melba came along in 1925.

Ivan was born to Isaac and Zelpha Tippetts. Zelpha was the daughter of pioneer “Honey Bee” Johnson, who was from Denmark, while Isaac was the son of Thyrza Ann and Heber Chase Tippetts. Heber drew a number for farmland near Cowley, but he didn’t like the alkali and greasewood parcel he drew, so he moved east of Lovell and bought land on the river bottom near the railroad. Ivan was born on the family farm in 1924.

Growing up in town, Melba remembers the Lovell of the 1930s.

“Lovell was full of shade trees, and trees hung over Main Street,” she said. My brother George and I used to sit on the pole fence across (East) Main Street from the cavalry and watch Nephi Shumway exercise the (cavalry) horses by the hour.”

Lovell - 1963

She recalled that the Mayes Fabric building near the former cavalry grounds was the American Legion building and was used as a dance hall.

On one bitterly cold winter day, Melba and George were walking to visit their grandparents and stopped inside the post office to warm up. The post office, just north of present day Minchow’s Service, didn’t have central heating, but it did have a warm stove. Melba can remember the young men who were manning the post office picking her and George up and lifting them over the counter so they could warm up next to the stove.

Melba and Ivan were married Sept. 16, 1942. Ivan had graduated from high school that spring, but Melba quit school to get married, she said. They lived in an apartment at first, paying $25 a month rent, they recalled, but then the couple moved to the Tippetts family farm, moving into a home that Isaac built. Ivan farmed some but also worked for the Co-op Service Station and the Ford Garage for Fen Richardson. He also played the trumpet in the famous Carroll Whalen Band and in Jake Adolph’s band before that.

Melba raised the couple’s eight children and also worked for Safeway for about 20 years during the 1960s and ‘70s. Ivan and Melba’s children include Michelle Corbett of Lovell, Julie Anne Frost of Lovell, Leslie Ivan Tippetts of Lovell, Denys Tippie of Sheridan, Rand E. Tippetts of Lovell, Shawn Tippetts of Lovell, Casey Tippetts of Buffalo and Corey Tippetts of Lovell.

Remembering Lovell

Lovell - 1916

Melba recalled that the main entrance to Lovell from the east – from the direction of the Tippetts farm on U.S. 14A – was on Second Street past the Showalter Dairy and Dover Laundry (603 E. Second). She remembers swimming in the Hunt Canal in that part of town – the swimming hole for neighborhood kids. Ivan remembers that several youths attempted to build a swimming pool near what is now the Lovell Camper Park and got the hole dug and some gravel donated, but the gravel disappeared and the pool was never built.

At the north end of Oregon stood the train depot for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad – a large, yellow, two-story building. The train ran south in the afternoon and north in the morning, bringing the Denver Post.

“The depot was a meeting place,” Melba said. “It had a waiting room, and people liked to see who was getting on and off the train. I even took it a couple of times to Denver. Nifty Sorenson delivered the Denver Post. Dad had to have the Denver Post.”

On down Second Street was the Frank and Ellen Strong house, the oldest house in Lovell – and it’s still standing. The house was originally a hotel.

“That’s where Lovell was” in the early days, Melba said, before the main business district moved two blocks to the south in a land dispute.

During part of her childhood, Melba lived in a sugar factory home now occupied by Absaroka Early Head Start (on Great Western Avenue). She remembers crawling with George through the irrigation pipe to the sugar factory against the wishes of her mother.

“We associated with the factory people,” she said. “They had picnics on the Big Horns near Bald Mountain for the employees and their families.”

In those days, the entrance to Lovell from the west was similar to today, but the corner was square and was later converted into the current smooth S.

“Main Street was narrower. There was one lane in each direction,” Melba said. “There was no median strip, and both sides of the street had big shade trees.”

Just off Main to the south, the building now occupied by Lovell Chiropractic (207 Park) was St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, where the Nicholls family attended.

Before the stake center was built, there were two Mormon Church ward buildings, Melba said, the Lovell Ward at 140 E. Main (where the veterans park is) and the West Ward at 185 Park Ave. There were houses where the current Lovell Stake Center is, though the Methodist Church was on the corner at 10 Park Ave. where it stands today. In the middle of the current LDS Church parking lot stood a tall water tank. Melba remembers that sheets of ice would form “clear to the ground” if the tank ran over in the winter. A large irrigation ditch also crossed through the lot, she recalled.

The building where Pizza on the Run is now was the Highland Grocery and Lockers (490 Shoshone).

“They had the best candy selection,” she said. “Of course, the kids all had dimes.”

There was no Lange’s Kitchen in those days. Where Lange’s is now and the Rose Bowl before it was a log house with big shade trees, Melba said. Then when Gerald and Shirley Doerr opened the Rose Bowl, it was a drive-in restaurant.

Lovell High School was on Shoshone Avenue south of the current elementary school. When the “new” high school was constructed at its current location, the “old” high school became the middle school. It was torn down after the current middle school was constructed.

The old St. John’s Lutheran Church was on the same block, Melba said.

Highway 310 from Greybull came down what is now McKinley Avenue. The highway was later relocated to its current configuration for better traffic flow.

Gas stations galore

Main Street was dotted with service stations. An early 1950s Chamber of Commerce directory lists nine service stations in Lovell, all on Main Street: Walt’s Service Station at 375 E. Main (where the Horseshoe Bend Motel is), Texaco at 357 E. Main, Zimmerman’s Mobil Station at 303 E. Main, Big Horn Co-op at 287 E. Main (now the Chamber of Commerce building), Sinclair at 284 E. Main (where First National Bank and Trust is), Husky at 203 E. Main (where the mural park is, named Goldy Johnson’s Lightning Service Station, Melba and Ivan said), Standard at 187 E. Main (now Best Buy Auto), Culver’s Servicenter at 112 E. Main (now Walker’s) and Conoco at 8 E. Main (now Big Horn Federal location).

“Gas was cheap (in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s),” Melba said, remembering the price to be around 15 cents per gallon, tractor fuel 7 cents a gallon. “We’d put our nickels together and drive around all night. Lovell had more filling stations than bars. Every corner had a station (on East Main).

There were also eight garages, seven dry goods stores, six farm implement dealers, five automobile dealers, five hardware stores, four furniture stores, four bars, four lumber yards, four cafes, three dry cleaners, three law offices, two photo studios, two jewelers, one shoe store and a music store. There was even Ollie Hess’s Taxi Service.

Melba and Ivan well remember Shoshone Motors at 56 E. Main. That’s where they bought their first new car.

Lovell’s Main Street once had open irrigation ditches, and stores would put boards across the ditches for their customers, as can be seen in this photograph of (l-r) Ivan Tippetts, Melba Nicholls, Melba’s aunt Helen Scheeler and George Elmer Stevens when the two couples were preparing to leave for their double wedding in Billings in September of 1942.

“We got our first Hudson there,” she said. “Boy, it was snarky.”

The Tippetts’ 1949 Hudson was painted “Navajo Bronze,” Ivan said.

The Shoshone Bar was in its present location when Melba was young, but the establishment was split in two and had a lunch counter on the west side and a large dining room in the back. Her mother’s beauty shop was next door to the west.

Other recollections include:

• There was a bakery where the Shoppe Unique is, and the family who owned it (Brown) lived upstairs.

• Busy Corner Pharmacy was where Better Body Fitness is (215 E. Main). Lovell Drug was at 172 E. Main.

• The apartment building across the street from CK Hardware was the Shoshone Hotel and also had the Cactus Room Bar inside. Melba remembered that the hotel had a screened porch for guests. A flower shop, Lovell Floral, was also located at the hotel, run by Pauline and Lillian Stevens.

• Gorbutt’s Grocery Store was where CK Hardware is.

Editor’s note: If anyone has any other memories of this type, send us a message or write us a letter to the editor.

By David Peck