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Driving West

Camping Through the Parks

During World War II, gas and tires were rationed and the factories were producing tanks and vehicles for the troops. We had a black 1940 Ford two door sedan.
My mother loading the 1940 Ford with lead cages for an experiment in 1946

My mother loading the 1940 Ford with lead cages for an experiment in 1946


We lived in a little house in Roland Park Maryland.
Our house - brown shingles and red shutters. My mother on the porch and my sister at the gate

Our house - brown shingles and red shutters. My mother on the porch and my sister at the gate


In 1948, my parents bought a new Ford - a grey two door sedan. We named it Daisy Mae after L'il Abner's girl friend. We were going to drive out to Colorado to see my grandmother - my father's mother. We had only gone out once by train during the war, whereas we visited my mother's parents at least once a year.

This is the story of that trip written from my memory and from my dad's photos. My dad took 35 mm slides and he had a new Bolex movie camera. I had a little Brownie box camera but I haven't found any of my photos from this trip.

Since my dad was as assistant professor, we didn't have a lot of money and we were going to save money by camping. We got camo sleeping bags from army surplus that we rated for Alaska. We didn't have a tent - just a ground cloth to put the sleeping bags on.

Anticipating that it might rain or that there might be a lot of bugs, my mother made screens for the car windows and my dad figured out a way to take the cotter pins out of the front seats and make the area inside the car a level bed. My parents were not tall and I was 10 and my sister was 8. My dad would sleep with his feet under the steering wheel diagonal to the back corner. My mom was on the passengers side beside him with my little sister beside her and I was on the driver's side next to my dad.

During the day my sister and I were in the back seat separated by a pile of sleeping bags. We left Baltimore and drove west. The first photos I have are of a place in Pennsylvania called Eighty-Four.
Post Office Eighty Four

Post Office Eighty Four


I do not know why we stopped in Eighty-Four. Maybe just because it was the reverse of the year 1948. Eighty Four was originally named Smithville. Due to postal confusion with another town of the same name, its name was changed to "Eighty Four" on July 28, 1884. In spite of what the sign said it was not named in honor of Grover Cleveland's 1884 election as President of the United States, because that occurred after the town was named.
Eighty-Four sign

Eighty-Four sign


Maybe the town was named after the year the town's post office was built, by a postmaster who "didn't have a whole lot of imagination"
Queen Anne's lace - near 84 going west

Queen Anne's lace - near 84 going west

Mother, my sister and me in a field of wild flowers.  Mother has a book so we can identify or press the flowers

Mother, my sister and me in a field of wild flowers. Mother has a book so we can identify or press the flowers


F0555-000002160020-012.JPGCloseup of flowers

Closeup of flowers

WIld flowers

WIld flowers

F0555-000002160020-010.JPGOne flower

One flower

Flower close-up

Flower close-up


My sister and I were to write our maternal grandmother in Philadelphia about the trip. My mother gave us maps to look at and keep track of our progress. As we were driving through Ohio, I decided to name my sleeping bag and I picked a name of a town on the map - Deerfield. My sister then wanted a name for her sleeping bag, so hers was Ravena (another town in Ohio. We camped the first night in a parking lot in Elyria Ohio. I think we stayed the next night with Ruth Ellen, the daughter of a friend of my parents, but I don't know exactly where she lived.

Cubby in Wonderland

Cubby in Wonderland

When my father was driving, my mother read to us. I remember that going through Pennsylvania she was reading a medical detective story called Eleven Blue Men. But of more significance to my sister and me - she read a book called "Cubby in Wonderland". Cubby and mama bear take a journey from their cave in the Tetons to Yellowstone. In the park they meet and learn more about other animals and the strange ways of the two-footed tribe. This is the story of their adventure. Among the topics discussed were the algae that made the water of the hot springs terraces colored, beaver dams and houses, otters, pelicans and moose. This was a great introduction for us as we were going to visit Yellowstone.

I addition to writing to our Philadelphia grandmother and answering questions on the maps (my mother would ask us to find the town we were in and tell her how far it was to the next place which meant we had to add all the little numbers between the intersections, and to estimate how long it would take to get there- math practice plus it avoided the question "Are we there yet"), my dad would sing. He would sing "You are My Sunshine" and then he would do it in various animal voices.

The wall of sleeping bags between us meant that we couldn't reach each other (none of that "She's on MY SIDE") but we could still talk to each other. I would often make up stories to tell my sister. I would ask her to give me three words that I had to use in making up a story. I remember one story about a Magic Hairbrush. I don't remember the plot - I just remember that was one of the stories.

Next we stayed a night with my mother's uncle (my maternal grandmother's younger brother) in Madison Wisconsin.
University of Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin


He was a French professor. My mother's first cousin Ann was only about five years older than I was.
Me, my mother with my sister on her shoulders and her cousin

Me, my mother with my sister on her shoulders and her cousin


I don't know what the reason for this bizarre photo is.

Some of the places in the west had minerals in the water (like magnesium salts) which would upset the digestion of people who weren't "from" there. In order to avoid such ailments, we would stop at a local ice house and get ice for our water jug and coolers. Ice freezes faster without salts in it. The ice in the jug would melt and give us cold water to drink

We stopped off at the Mayo Clinic for a photo
Mayo clinic

Mayo clinic


and then stayed with my dad's college friend's family in Minneapolis.
Schiele's family, me, my sister and my mother

Schiele's family, me, my sister and my mother

Eating ice cream cones at the Schieles

Eating ice cream cones at the Schieles


My dad took a photo of the PO of Dawson
Dawson P.O.

Dawson P.O.


because that was my grandfather's first name,
Capital of South Dakota

Capital of South Dakota


and we had to have a photo of the South Dakota capitol in Pierre. Pierre (pronounce Peer) was chosen as the capitol of the state of South Dakota because is was approximately in the center of the state. It is the second least populous state capital after Montpelier, Vermont. It is opposite Fort Pierre which was named for Pierre Chouteau, Jr., an American fur trader of French Canadian origin.
Pierre SD capitol (with our car in front)

Pierre SD capitol (with our car in front)


Road in SD

Road in SD


One of our entertainments was reading the Burma Shave signs. We also visited Wall SD - we wanted to see Wall Drug Store. Wall advertised all along the road. They advertised ice water and ice cream. My mother had a thing about milkshakes which were relatively new at that time. She always asked the counter person if they were thick (very embarrassing - what could they say). In those days they made chocolate milkshakes with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. My mother made them make chocolate milkshakes with chocolate ice cream and chocolate syrup. So I think I remember having milkshakes at Wall Drugstore.
Needles Eye - Badlands

Needles Eye - Badlands

Vampire Valley- Badlands

Vampire Valley- Badlands


From an old postcard: The Bad Lands are the world's greatest example of the production of the weird, fantastic, unexplainable freaks of nature, through early erosion. Great mountains, deep canyons, little hills, castles, palaces, fortresses and figures of every shape stand silently, without a spear of vegetation, while at their feet is that nutritious grass...

Road around the mountain ahead of us

Road around the mountain ahead of us


We camped at an overlook in the Badlands National Park. We would find a level spot and first move all the rocks and sticks from the area. Then we put the ground cloth out. We had brown kapok pads (non-waterproof) which went under each sleeping bag, and we put the sleeping bags on top. I thought the sleeping bags smelled sort of like turpentine. We had pillows and we would take off our shoes and put them under the sleeping bag (to keep them from getting wet with dew) and then get into the sleeping bag fully dressed. There was a flap on the bags to pull over our heads. A toad hopped across our sleeping bags during the night.

This particular morning, some other tourists came to the overlook very early while we were still sleeping. They didn't see us at first - our sleeping bags were camouflaged. When they did see us, they shushed themselves and started to whisper and left quietly.

In the morning, mother would make breakfast on the camp stove (she would rub brown soap over the bottom of the pan so that the pans wouldn't get sooty and hard to clean) and she would boil water for Daddy's coffee and so he could shave. He would hang a mirror on a tree so he could see to shave. My sister and I would sit on the front fenders of the car and eat our cereal out of little boxes.

Driving through the Badlands

Driving through the Badlands

Bluffs in SD

Bluffs in SD

South Dakota

South Dakota


From the Badlands we visited
The Shrine of Democracy

The Shrine of Democracy


Mt Rushmore
Rushmore Memorial, Black Hills, S. Dak.

Rushmore Memorial, Black Hills, S. Dak.


and we saw (although we did not visit) Devil's Tower
Devil's Tower

Devil's Tower

Devil's Tower Closer

Devil's Tower Closer


Road near Yellowstone

Road near Yellowstone


Driving through the west in the summer it was hot. We did not have A/C in the car of course. Not many people had A/C in those days. So we would have the windows open and we would stick our feet out of the windows. Daddy would also give us a piece of ice and tell us to put it behind our knees, or on our neck to cool the blood that was close to the surface there.
Hills and prairie - WY

Hills and prairie - WY

Next - our adventures in Wyoming

My sister remembers this trip a little differently than I do - the heat seemed to affect her more than it did me. This is what she wrote

I was just thinking I need to tell my grandchildren about our trip out west in 1948 in a two door Ford named Daisy.

She was Daisy Mae because that was L'il Abner's girlfriend's name. The 1940 black 2 door Ford also had a name, but I can't remember it. We got the new car because we didn't think the old one was up to the mountains. To keep it from overheating going up the mountains, we would release the hood latch and the hood would then be up a bit and it would squeak in that position.

I was 8 and in 4th grade, my sister was 10. We camped, and even with no tent we had so much gear that there was a tower of stuff in the back seat between my sister and me. And we had stuff under our feet. Of course we were always arguing about who had less room. Mother said she did it that way so that we could not physically reach each other.

And no radio or other entertainment. And no air conditioner. Blistering hot through farm country.

Even with no AC, there were the triangle shaped side windows that we could strategically position to have a breeze, and the back seat windows could open (we could stick our feet out of them). When we came to a town, our first stop was the ice factory, to replenish our ice chest and pass around good-sized cubes of ice which we placed (again strategically, this time with anatomical strategy) on our pulse points. I can still remember how the ice felt on the back of my knees, elbows, and on the back of my head.

Though our mother used to decry all the AV available to children today, I reminded her that, before interstates, there was always something to look at or count. We had endless contests. Red barns. Cows. and of course colors of cars. See a white horse and you made a fist, licked it, kissed it, stamped it, and you would have good luck. All bridges and tunnels required holding your breath (perhaps a holdover from the Billy Goats Gruff?)

And maps - how could you forget the maps. Endless math problems figuring out how far to the next town.

My sister had the role of story teller. She spun endless yarns. The only one I remember was called "Rub Don't Blot," derived from a sign on the paper towel dispenser. . (BTW when you drive so many miles, how the rest rooms are becomes a big part of your life.)

The story: There were two children named Rub and Blot. One was good (Rub) and the other (Blot, of course) was always into mischief. I believe the gist of the story was that the mother was always saying "Good, Rub! Don't do that, Blot!" And to be sure her children behaved, she went around writing it on walls everywhere, shortened for efficiency, as in "Rub, Don't Blot!"

I remember begging and pleading and finally being said yes to, to buy a couple of comic books. My mother did not approve of comic books, but we did have a few, worn thin with rereading. I can recreate Archie and Veronica in my mind. Also some Classic comics, like Tale of Two Cities, hard to understand.

When we weren't counting things, we whiled away the long hot hours by singing, any song that anybody could remember, often in animal voices. Using the Old MacDonald pattern, we sang each song in animal talk, especially Oh Susannah! and You Are My Sunshine. Usually we stopped singing when we got to a town, but I would squeal with delight when -- at an intersection -- my father would stun the passersby with his Woody Woodpecker laugh. This trip is what I think of when I hear those songs, those words, whether in human talk or pig oinks or horse neighs or cat meows or ..

In rainy weather we slept in the car. If in the car, my father took out the cotter pins so the front seats would drop down. Being sure you did not lose the cotter pins was important. Every several days we would stay in a motel or, more likely, a tourist home. Motels weren't ubiquitous in those days.

We always started out at the crack of dawn, or before dawn, to do as many miles as possible before the heat. I did not like those breakfasts, sitting on the fender, eating sloppy cold cereal out of the box. I was expected to be cheerful, but if I managed to be that, it was under duress.

Lunches, however, were very satisfactory. We had a standard lunch. Mother loved milkshakes. We would find a Walgreens, and she would order thick chocolate milkshakes all round, and lecture the waitress on how we wanted them *very* thick. The milkshakes would arrive so thick you couldn't pull them through a straw. Delight. They were always accompanied by packages of peanut butter crackers. Chocolate milkshakes and peanut butter crackers were the unvarying lunch fare, and always in an ice cold drugstore.

After hitting the ice house again, we would be off for a couple hours of driving and then make camp. Remember, we didn't have a tent, but we each had a sleeping bag, an industrial strength Army surplus camouflage sleeping bag good for 30 degrees below and with a waterproof cover. We spread these out on a big canvas tarp, and we had pillows. We camped in farmyards and in parks;

We had a small green gasoline stove (Coleman), My father was a good cook on that stove. And we had a set of nesting pots. I guess we had hamburgers and hot dogs, I don't remember, but I do remember his cooking some fish that we caught and famously teaching me that the fried fish eye was a delicacy. And of course I still like to scandalize diners today by crunching on those eyes. They aren't that bad but they do taste better fried.

Mother made a point of taking us to see the state capitals .Whatever there was to see, we stopped to see. And mother was an inveterate pointer outer of sights. She truly loved adventuring, and noticing, and learning about nature. We marveled at clear blue skies with rainbows, and sunrises, and sunsets. Every sunrise and sunset had to be photographed by Daddy. Every road side historic sign had to be stopped for and read. Every continental divide had to be honored with a photo of our feet planted, one on each side. Every mountain was anticipated, as we drew nearer and nearer but never seemed to get closer to the foot.

Shortly after we arrived at our uncles farm (he ran the State Game Farm, and he took in the injured animals and the baby orphan deer) I met my father's mother for the first time that I remember. We have movies of us on the farm, having fun feeding baby deer with a bottle and chasing the pheasants- and getting scolded for jumping on the feed stacks,

Within the next couple of days our grandmother died. I was dramatically distraught, sleeping in a bed with my cousins (who actually knew her), Sarah Bernhardt sobbing her heart out. To get us all out of the house so preparations could be made, my parents took us and the cousins on a camping trip for a couple of days. Carol Lynn was a little older than I and Dorothea is a little younger.

Then we turned around and drove home. It took the summer. We went out by the northern route (the Badlands) and home by the southern route (Carlsbad Caverns - we have movies of the bats leaving) and Tennessee (we spent some time in Oak Ridge, where I puzzled and puzzled over the comic book that was supposed to explain nuclear energy, but I still couldn't understand it.). It was there that we met Vannevar Bush

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Posted by greatgrandmaR 18:42 Archived in USA Tagged camping yellowstone south_dakota badlands cody pennsylvania minnesota 1948 wisconsin mount_rushmore

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Comments

What an adventure this must have been for you! I loved seeing the old photos and hearing your tales of camping in the open air. It's interesting to see Mount Rushmore so undeveloped as an attraction - when we went there I was surprised at the scale of the visitor buildings, viewing terraces etc., as I think I'd expected something altogether more natural, as in these photos. Silly really, since I was well aware of its significance to Americans and of the large numbers who visit

by ToonSarah

This is an on-going story because when I talk to my sister, she remembers different parts of it than I do. So I am constantly revising and adding bits. In those days, there weren't many people doing camping. I wasn't aware at the time that it was anything special. It was just fun.

I initially saved it with the Yellowstone part included and then decided to deal with Wyoming separately. I haven't been back to Mt. Rushmore but my 2nd daughter's family went back about 10 years ago.

by greatgrandmaR

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