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Historic Mammoth Orange serves Main Street America

UPDATE June 2012: Mothballed Mammoth Orange shell may be saved from storage. Residents of Fairmead, marking their 100th anniversary of city’s founding, are at odds with Chowchilla’s District Historical Society over the historic landmark.

Update May 2008: The last Highway 99 roadside burger stand, The Mammoth Orange in Fairmead, was moved to Chowchilla in May 2008. Plans are to incorporate the Orange shell into a retail center.

[/media-credit] While Highway 99 has diminished somewhat in its original charm, same quaint reminders of the past remain, including various farmers’ markets and one of the last “Orange” hamburger stands in the United States.

The highway stretches into the horizon as the vacationing family in the 1965 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser watches the scenery whiz by through the spacious station wagon windows.

Piling the kids into the family car in preparation for a road trip has been an American family tradition. Forty years ago a family would fill up a station wagon, whereas today the kids climb into an SUV.

Although vehicles have changed, many things remain the same. The L.A. to Chicago highway, Route 66, was known as the “Main Street of America.” In this tradition, Fresno has its own version of Route 66, Highway 99.

Teens or families who are not planning a vacation may instead drive north on Highway 99 for a unique date destination only 30 minutes from Fresno.

Highway 99 was built between 1955 and 1957. It is a 250-mile stretch of asphalt that passes through eight counties and 30 communities. This old highway has long been a transportation route, spanning from just south of Bakersfield, north to Sacramento. The current highway paves the way for transporting California produce, dairy products and retail goods.

While Highway 99 has diminished somewhat in its original charm, same quaint reminders of the past remain, including various farmers’ markets and one of the last “Orange” hamburger stands in the United States. Since 1954 Chowchilla and Fairmead has been the home of the Mammoth Orange, serving a variety of families, truck drivers and curious passers-by.

The Mammoth Orange restaurant has retained its original appearance. An eight-foot wooden orange protrudes from the main kitchen, and guests are served from its round counter. All seating is outside, allowing customers to experience the sights and sounds of the passing traffic. Its classic setup also allows for personal contact between the workers and their customers.

“I think the Mammoth Orange is cool because of how close the employees are to the customers,” John Stevenson, ’04, said. “They haven’t changed the way they operate and do business since they opened. Its admirable that there’s a place like Mammoth Orange that reminds us of the grass roots of American food.”

The Mammoth Orange is the last restaurant of the Orange chain operating as was originally intended. Its menu includes homemade, hand-pressed hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, onion rings, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and its “famous” orange juice shakes. Just like mom and pop diners of the 1950s, the Mammoth Orange emphasizes quality over quantity.

Doris Stiggins, owner of the Mammoth Orange since 1981, believes it is the simple yet classic values of the menu keeps the customers coming back.

“Our food is always the same and always fresh,” Stiggins said. “That’s why we are famous. We do our thing, and we do it well.”

Many Valley residents as well as truck drivers agree with Stiggins and say the high quality food helps the burger stop retain business.

“We enjoy coming to the Mammoth Orange because the service is great and the food is one of a kind,” Ellen and Jim Le Baron, regular customers, said. “Our favorite menu items are the bacon cheeseburgers and the orange juice milk shakes.”

The Mammoth Orange caters to young and old alike. Many of the older customers look back on the Mammoth Orange as a dear childhood memory.

“I remember pulling over and having a frosty cold orange-aid on my way to Turlock, my hometown,” Scott Falk, computer teacher, said. “Mammoth Orange is old school; there is no comparison at the Golden Arches.”

Sharon Scharf, campus art teacher, remembers stopping at the Mammoth Orange as a little girl on her way to Washington to celebrate Easter with her family.

“I always looked forward to visiting the [Orange] restaurant when I was young,” Scharf said. ” It was the neatest place to eat, and my favorite thing was the fresh-squeezed orange juice.”

While the memories of Orange bring in the older set, young people also frequent the unique fast food hangout.

“I love working at a place everyone knows about,” Ira Stiggins, grandson of Doris, said. Ira has worked at the stand for three years. “Many kids my age envy my job at the famous Orange.”

Although the Orange has produced many memories and a convenient rest stop located just yards away from the road, a major highway remodel threatens the hamburger stand. Doris hopes to move the historic landmark to a new location close by so that the tradition of the Orange will continue for the next generation.

“I am trying desperately to make sure that the Mammoth Orange is preserved,” Stiggins said. “A good thing like this should stay around.”

Despite the loose gravel driveway and the chipping orange paint, this unique rest stop has endeared itself to the young and the young at heart. Designated a National Historic Site due to the efforts of Congressman George Radonavich, the Mammoth Orange stands as a monument to old-fashioned values and the timeless qualities of integrity and service.

For more information on Mammoth Orange, read the Nov. 24, 2002, Fresno Bee article, Feds’ plan could put squeeze on Mammoth Orange. Also visit Roadside Peek: Spotlight on the Mammoth Orange. A 2002 review on the Orange can be read on Chowhound.

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