This is the second of a 2-part series

The early drive from “up north” down to the Sunshine state was as much an adventure as a journey; primitive cars traversing primitive roads, with few of the conveniences we take for granted today.

President Eisenhower changed all that with his Federal Highway System, and to further encourage highway travel, popular singer Dinah Shore, with her sponsor Chevrolet, belted out her theme song, “See the USA in your Chevrolet, America is asking you to call.”

Many answered the call by taking their two-week vacations to Florida, and Sarasota siphoned its share with some must-see tourist attractions as families in their chariot of choice, the station wagon came down for the sun, surf, sand.

Off of a narrow two-lane Fruitville Road, Texas Jim Mitchell’s Reptile Farm and Zoo opened in 1935. Before settling in Sarasota, Texas Jim had toured as a Hopi Indian with a Wild West show.

My brother David, student and alligator wrestler sitting in Texas Jim Mitchel's Reptile farm and Zoo. (I swore to my mother that I did NOT put him in the pit.)

He and his wife Mae reportedly started the venture with $14. The attraction expanded each year, and by the late ‘50s, its five acres were filled with alligators, crocodiles, snakes, monkeys and numerous exotic animals.

Texas Jim was a colorful character who never drifted far from his roots. When dry weather prevailed, he would don his Native American costume and do a rain dance around the War Memorial at Five Points.

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