Taco Bell Loses its Bell

Taco Bell (two)

McHenry Avenue was and is the main drag for car cruising in Modesto, CA. At its southern end near the older part of town was a Taco Bell.

Peering at the Google map it appears the place may be gone.

But, surely many locals recall its claim to fame as I do; well, I recall the general story but it has been so many decades the details elude me and I attended neither of the schools involved.

The Taco Bell involved was of the old-style architecture. Were those real bricks making the walls? Or was it another substance with lines etched in for the appearance of “adobe” brick?

At the top of the front facade was a rounded area with a hole where the bell hung. It was a pre-drive-through building with an open patio in front and walk-up ordering.

What year was it?


I found a picture!!!  Hooray

I believe it was the later 1970s or, perhaps early 1980s.

Cruising McHenry with a friend piloting his ultra-cool 1963 Impala I looked up and saw a bare spot where the bell used to hang. I pointed it out and we knew someone had to have taken it.

The word got out quickly. I am pretty sure it was Modesto High School students who had grabbed the bell and hightailed off in the dead of night.

Back in those days most food joints of all types did not stay open nearly as late as they do nowadays.

The missing bell received much local attention with many guesses but after the bell appeared at a Modesto High football game, painted the school colors, and rung as part of half-time activities, the answer was obvious.

How immensely cool!!!

And Taco Bell’s owner(s) must have realized the great advertising gained by ignoring the event. Heck, I can envision the owner uttering, let the kids keep it and look at the goodwill I garner within the community.

He was right. Local folks all agreed that Taco Bell is COOL!!!!!!!! Cruising around most folks would go out of their way to grab their munchies at the bell-less Bell. Unless you wanted a burger or a beer, of course.

For Whom Doth the Bell Toll?

The bell rang with pride and delight, for awhile and then the word got out.

The Bell bell was GONE!!!

The mystery was immense and the talk of the “strip” as cruisers gathered in the favorite parking lots, showed off their cars and shot the breeze.

Of course, one or likely more people knew the truth but it was hidden to most of us. Of course I hung with the older non-high school crowd and we were not privy to all the kids knew just as they were not a part of our crowd with access to our parties, etc.

But the answer emerged and with a stunning reality; if my memory is correct it was a pack of Downey High School students, the cross-town rival of Modesto High, that brought out the Ball bell now clad in Downey school colors to be rung during their half-time ceremony during a football game against Modesto High.

We heard it was a near-riot condition but I wasn’t there to see it.

Interestingly, Downey High was American Graffiti creator George Lucas’ alma mater a few years prior. Though I really doubt he was involved.

And thus ends the tale of Bells’ bell.

I believe the bell was never returned but I am unsure of its eventual fate.

If anybody knows and they read this I invite them to leave a comment and wrap up this Sherlockian-type mystery.

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