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Can you tell me about the Mil-Jo Drive-In?

Ben Steelman
StarNews

Through the 1950s and 1960s, the Mil-Jo, at 5213 Oleander Drive, Wilmington, was the place to go for great 15-cent hot dogs and its signature Pizza Burger.  Along with Carroll’s, at 3031 Carolina Beach Road, Wilmington [Map this], and the Chic-Chic, at 1404 N. Fourth St., Wilmington, it was one of the Port City’s top drive-in spots.

Wilmington's Mil-Jo as it appeared in the mid-1950s. Postcard image courtesy of New Hanover County Public Library.

For young people in particular, it was the place to meet and mingle. New Hanover High School alumni from the late ’50s and early ’60s say again and again that you headed to Varsity Drugs on Princess Street for lunch and the Mil-Jo after dark.

“The greasers would park on the left, families and parents would park in front, and the cool people would park on the right,” Susan Wells told Star-News staff writer Si Cantwell in 1996.

“What I wouldn’t give for some of those six-for-a-dollar hot dogs,” added former City Council member Charlie Rivenbark, who used to drive to the Mil-Jo in his mother’s ’62 Chevy.

The proprietor was Joseph M. Hines, who coined “Mil-Jo” from his name and that of his wife, Mildred Dixon Hines.

A World War II veteran, Hines and his wife bought the Dixie Pig No. 2 on Oleander Drive in the late 1940s. (Contrary to local legend, the Hineses never owned the original Dixie Pig on Carolina Beach Road.) When Oleander Drive was widened to four lanes around 1950, the road work wiped a lot of the Dixie Pig’s parking. Hines therefore tore the old restaurant down and built the Mil-Jo on the same lot, set further back from the highway.

In all, the Mil-Jo had 62 parking spaces, and at peak hours, just about all of these were filled. “There were times back in the ’60s when traffic was backed up solid on Oleander to the Elks Club,” Hines told Star-News reporter Cammy Bain in 1976. On weekends, Hines had to hire off-duty police officers to help patrol the lot from 9 p.m. to midnight. State Highway Patrol officers learned to post themselves near the restaurant, Cantwell noted, to catch young hot-rodders tearing out of the parking lot.

A large canopy shielded parking lots on the right side of the building, and car hops delivered orders to cars. Customers called in their orders from their parking spaces by means of tw0-way radios. (According to his children, Hines learned to listen carefully for the sound of beer-can tops popping in the background; if he heard one over the radio, he ordered the underage drinkers off the premises.) For a while in the late 1950s, the Mil-Jo experimented with the “Chef-O-Matic,” a system that let customers order menu items by push button.

For abeut a decade, beginning in December 1956, local radio station WMFD (630 AM) would broadcast nightly from the Mil-Jo. Hines  built a special glassed-in booth, just outside the drive-in, where the disc jockey — usually, WMFD personality Bill Weathers — could sit, survey the scene, take record requests from customers and read out local high school announcements between songs.

Hines became a father figure to his younger clientele — a stern father figure. “He’d sit on a stool by the front door,” recalled future Wilmington Mayor Hamilton Hicks, a member of New Hanover’s Class of 1955. When high school boys began setting off cherry bombs in the toilets, Hines had to rig a silent alarm in the toilet tank.

By the 1970s, however, inflation and competition from franchise fast-food outlets were cutting into the Mil-Jo’s profits. In 1974, Hines razed the drive-in and replaced it with Joe’s BBQ Barn, a 400-seat restaurant. He sold that business and retired in 1986, a decade before his death in 1996 at the age of 76.

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John

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8 Responses to “ Can you tell me about the Mil-Jo Drive-In?”

  1. On February 20, 2010 at 12:49 am Wayne wrote:

    Well done.
    I remember the Mil-Jo – went there frequently around 1959-60. Moved to Fla. in summer of 1960, and don’t recall Shields Ice Cream at all.

  2. On February 20, 2010 at 7:41 am Jim King wrote:

    Mil-Jo’s was a great place to hang out at when crusing around Wilmington in the 50′s. I left Wilmington in 1959 (NHHS 1959) and have only visited there several times since then. I am very proud to have been born and raised in Wilmington.

    I read the on-line version of the STAR each day and keep up with what is happening in Wilmington although it certainly has changed over the years.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. On February 20, 2010 at 8:15 am Bob Carter wrote:

    Was the place to be on the week-ends..remember many enjoyable moments and some not so good…got my first legal beer here, tall Colt 45 Malt, several if I remember correctly; then, slid off the road going to the beach, the old Wrightsville Beach cut-off…took awhile to get out of that ditch, by Arlie Gardens, and had a heck of a time explaining the dented rear end to my Dad…think he knew; but, never said a thing…

  4. On January 26, 2011 at 10:11 pm Carlene Mc Keithan wrote:

    My friend Brenda and I would beg my older brother to use his car. We just wanted to circle around the drive in. We were circling, and she actually met the man that she is still married to. (1968)
    We would laugh and have sooooo much fun.
    Wish I was still young……not young, but I am sooooo
    happy. I have a wonderful life.

  5. On December 7, 2011 at 9:06 am Gene Page wrote:

    Clarence “‘Lucky” Swartz patrolled Oleander back in those days. He was known as the “Oleander Ranger”. Lucky is still around. I enjoy breakfast with him every week.

  6. On July 11, 2012 at 9:46 pm carla wrote:

    Do any of you people that remember the mil-jo and frequenetted remember the waitress that killed her boyfriend at the mil-jo dr in her maiden name was (scott)not a real long time before it closed

  7. On July 12, 2013 at 5:55 pm Tony McCue wrote:

    What was the name of the produce market that had a seafood market in the back on Oleander where the waterslide is today? any old pictures of it,Carroll’s,Varsity,Dixie Pig? How about The Frontier on 3rd St that sold hot dogs?

  8. On January 1, 2014 at 8:15 pm suzanne ward wrote:

    Tony,
    Were you the light tech for Stormz during the Mad Monk days?



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