Lunch boxes attract visitors on the I-5

Written by Bob on August 10th, 2009

Lunch boxes fill the shelves in the dining area of the Apricot Tree Restaurant near Firebaugh, California.

APRICOT TREE RESTAURANT, Firebaugh, CA – Speeding north or south on the Interstate 5 at 80 miles per hour, the off ramps become a blur as I sail on by. But there’s one off ramp I try not to miss when I travel to northern California or Oregon. The Panoche Road exit near Firebaugh and located between Fresno and Los Banos.

Panoche Road leads to the Apricot Tree Restaurant. And for me a step back into my childhood days.

For lined up in neat rows high on the restaurant’s walls in the dining area are about 400 vintage lunch boxes. Now the story goes – according to our talkative waiter – that the value of these little mettle boxes soars well into the six-figure range.

An Internet search confirms that these vintage and retro lunch boxes in which many kids carried their peanut butter sandwiches, carrot sticks, and thermos filled with milk to school in the 1950s, 60s’ and 70s’ indeed command premium prices.

As a little kid of the 1950s I was fascinated with cowboys and horses. So my wife Nanette and I took a table in the western theme section of the restaurant. My favorite TV show in the ‘50s was the Lone Ranger featuring the masked man and his sidekick, Tonto. And up above me on a shelf next to Little House on the Prairie sat the Lone Ranger lunch box.

(“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty “Hi-yo, Silver!” The Lone Ranger!”… “Who was that masked man? He’s the Lone Ranger!”)

And as a little kid I would glue myself to the old black & white when Roy Rogers, “King of the Cowboys,” and Trigger, his Golden Palomino galloped on to the screen. I wasn’t too fond of Dale Evans because as a little cowpoke I thought that real cowboys should only love their horses. And no one else.

When we arrived back home, I searched the Internet for my two cowboy heroes and their lunch boxes. I found a vintage lunch box with the Lone Ranger, Tonto, and Silver galloping into the scene listed at $85. While several varieties of Roy Rogers ranged from $8 to $210 at an auction site.

Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck commanded a steep price of $600, and a 1978 Charlie’s Angels (featuring the TV series original three actresses Farrah Fawcett as Jill Monroe; Kate Jackson as Sabrina Duncan; and Jaclyn Smith as Kelly Garrett) listed for $19.95.

However, if you’re not into lunch boxes, then pull off the I-5 for the Apricot pie. The pie along with the Apricot muffins is the restaurant’s desert specialties. Topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, the pie is delicious and worth the stop alone.

But for those wishing to step back into their childhood days, the lunch boxes offer a nostalgic “side dish” hard to find anywhere else.

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