Gallatin County News

Country Kitchen Restaurant

 Publication date: 02-18-98

 

Kitchen long closed, but the fire still burns

Column by The Post's Jack Hicks

 

WARSAW - Russell Hall can look back on a full life, having worked as a riverboat pilot, airplane pilot, self-taught barber, horse trader and ferryboat operator.

 But none was more a labor of love than the truck stop he started on U.S. 42 when he was just 24 and back from World War II Navy service.

 ''After I sold it, I had a lot of dreams about that place. It was my pride and joy,'' said Hall, 75.

 He opened with $750 that he borrowed from his preacher brother-in-law, and he called his little place the Country Kitchen.

 U.S. 42 was a major east-west traffic artery, which brought droves of truckers past the Country Kitchen, which was between Warsaw an Ghent.

 The location was perfect for a truck stop, even if Hall wasn't. At least not at first.

 ''I couldn't even cook a hamburger, but the good Lord took care of me,'' said Hall, who is best known as Bubby.

 ''We were open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We served things like chicken and dumplings. The truckers really liked that. The waitresses were all country girls. Some of them came to work on the Greyhound bus.'' 

The restaurant was such a favorite with truckers and other travelers, that a national magazine, Argosy, named it among the best truck stops in America.

 ''It was the July 1957 issue, and they had us in the top 10. There was a little star by the write up, which meant it was among the best of the best,'' said Hall, who almost missed the news of his truck stop's success.

 ''They sent me one but I thought they were just trying to sell me a subscription. It was all rolled up and I had just left it in the car.

 The Country Kitchen wasn't very big, just four booths and eight stools. When Hall started business in 1946, he didn't have much more than a coffee pot and a can opener. 

''There was the Gypsy Grill in Carrollton and another place in Bedford, but before long we had all the business. We just closed the others up,'' he said.

 The Country Kitchen was at a place called Beech Grove, where a breeze off the Ohio River blew through a stand of beech trees. Hall had noticed that a lot of truckers pulled over and napped there, so he made a deal with the property owner to build the truck stop.

 No doubt, the river breezes, the homemade pies, the soup and the 55-cent breakfasts brought many in. But the big draw was a pinball machine.

 ''We paid off on it,'' he said, of what was a gambling device.

 By the late 1950s Hall was aware I-71 was being planned, and it'd take the traffic and the trucks off U.S. 42. He sold the business, and a few months later the new owner went bankrupt. Today the premises is a bar.

 Hall went on to other things. He operated a water taxi during construction of the Markland Dam, and then ran the Warsaw Ferry for nearly two decades. He had taken flying lessons from money made being a self-taught barber while in the Navy, and his recreational pursuits included flying his own plane.

 Along the way Hall earned a riverboat pilot's license and became affiliated with B&B Riverboats, taking an excursion craft 1,039 miles along the Ohio and Tennessee rivers to the World's Fair in Knoxville. He continues to work for his friend, B&B operator Alan Bernstein.

 In recent years he and his childhood sweetheart Mary Folz have taken a traveling kitchen around to fairs and auctions, serving coffee and sandwiches.

 Hall enjoys it - but it will never take the place of the Country Kitchen. 


Jack Hicks is a columnist and political writer for The Kentucky Post.

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