By Blake Spurney
NEWTON—In 1962, Bill Hand rode out a tornado in the bathroom of the old Hand in Hand truck stop.
When he came out, the roof on the building three miles south of Newton was no more, and a hairless pig was in the building.
“He had to open the door to let the pig out,” said his daughter, Julie Sadowski. “The roof on that thing was really low, and the tornado was treetop level. As my brother said, it couldn’t have dropped in for a better man.”
Bill and his brother, Duane, operated the service station that was next to the restaurant on what is now Old Highway 81.
“It was kind of the stop on the way to and from Wichita, so it was a pretty busy place before the interstate came through,” said Jill Gatz, Sadowski’s sister.
Judy Hand, Bill’s wife, said the restaurant and station took a major hit when the interstate bypassed. Hand in Hand closed for good in the early 1970s.
“That was a different time, and restaurants were a lot different than what kids know now,” she said.
Hand in Hand was one of two truck stops south of Newton. The other was Newell’s Corner, which was two miles south at the intersection of K-196. Locals referred to the two spots as “three mile” and “five mile.”
“I remember it being a good place to eat because it was a truck stop at one time and a lot of people liked to eat there,” said Lon Buller, who would make the trip from Hesston in the 1960s.
Gatz said going to Hand in Hand on Sundays was a special treat for her and her four siblings. They would sit in the corner booth, which was the only table large enough to sit a family of seven. She particularly looked forward to getting chocolate ice cream for dessert. She said the restaurant had some of the tastiest fried chicken she ever had.
Sadowski said she and her siblings had a lot of fun visiting their father on breaks. The children would get chicken baskets, while their father would drink coffee. She said Hand in Hand remained open at least until 1972, and she recalled seeing a lot of truckers come and go.
“After the interstate was open, they weren’t going to go down the little highway anymore,” she said.
The land where Hand in Hand was located was owned by Roland and Rich Claassen. Roland’s son, Darrel Claassen, said his father, uncle and grandfather, Leonard, originally opened a truck stop just to the east of where South Dillons is located. The Claassens later erected a new building that became Hand in Hand. Darrel said the food there was excellent when Ofel Hahn ran the kitchen.
“Hand in Hand was popular, and the restaurant was good food,” he said. “Back then, there probably wasn’t that many good places to eat.”
Diane Claassen, Rich’s wife, said Hand in Hand’s menu was very similar to Curtis C’s Diner.
“It was just a typical town place to go and eat,” she said.
Gatz said her father, who died last summer, had a sharp mind until the end. She said he remembered things that no one else did.
One night, Bill was working late into the evening. He looked up and saw a red station wagon just like the one that should have been parked in front of his residence. He called Judy to see if the car was out front, and she told him it wasn’t there.
“Someone had stolen the car,” she said. “He just happened to see it drive by the station. They were able to get it because [the thief] hadn’t gotten very far by that point.”
John Torline recalls going out to Hand in Hand during many late evenings when he got off work at the Ku-Ku burger joint in Newton.
“They served great breakfast, and you could fill yourself up for $1.25, which means I go back a few years,” he said.
Torline said after scarfing down breakfast, he and the other young men would sneak back into Newton because of the standing curfew that was in place, and all of them were younger than 18.
“It was just a place to go to be around people we knew out there,” he said.
Hand and Hand, which stayed open all night, got a lot of traffic from a lot of young people who were returning home from a night out on the town in Wichita.
“It was just one of those places that was open 24 hours,” Randy Hague said. “Good, greasy-spoon food. Back then, it was all burgers and French fries.”
Neva Dyck said her late husband, Harold, started work at the service station that was part of Hand in Hand in 1962. They lived just down the road.
“I have a lot of good memories there,” she said. “If my husband were here, he could tell you all sorts of good things. He was more into the life of the restaurant especially than I was.”