whammywah wants me to go on a cross-country trip with him sometime… reminds me of when my dad went cross-country while he was in college, so, for your reading pleasure:
by Mike Fitzpatrick
(Written from memory 19 years Later)
HOW TO TOUR THE COUNTRY WITHOUT PAYING TOURIST PRICES
LIFE’S MORE FUN IF YOU’VE GOT NERVE
Starting in June 1974
Day 0 and Before: Plans and Preparations
It was the summer before my 22nd birthday. I had been on cross country vacations before, but had never planned on being away for the entire summer before. The idea for the trip first started when I mentioned to M. Scott Christy (my geology lab instructor at the University of Maryland) that I wanted to drive out to Seattle and back that summer simply because I had never been mere. Scott was a 28 year old graduate student and we and several other students had gone on some day trips together during the school year. Scott suggested that the two of us go out west together, but instead of just driving out and back in two weeks as I intended we should spend some time working the wheat harvest in the mid west to make some money. He also said he had relatives in Seattle. I was glad to have an experience traveler go with me and quickly agreed.
When the school year ended I quit my part time job at GEICO and prepared for the trip by packing my camping gear, including my old boy scout sleeping bag, an Army jungle hammock (complete with mosquito net and rain fly) and a sterno stove. Scott said that I could borrow a backpack from him. I knew Scott was an avid photographer, and I bought my first 35 mm camera (an Argus) so that I could take some good pictures while on this trip. I had a couple hundred dollars in cash including a one hundred dollar bill that I folded up tight and put in the small watch pocket of my blue jeans as emergency money separate from my wallet.
Day 1: To Pennsylvania
At that time I had a teal blue 1968 Dodge Fury two-door with a V-8 engine and lots of power. Scott had an old white Volkswagen beetle that seemed to be running OK. Since Scott’s car would get better gas mileage, we decided to take his car. This was the first year that the speed limits had been reduced from 65 and 70 (or even unlimited in some western States) to the national 55 mile per hour speed limit. We first left Maryland going east on our way to Camden, N. J. to go to a large commercial camera shop that Scott knew about. We got lost driving into Camden and spent about 45 minutes driving in circles before we finally found the camera store. I bought a polarizing filter and some other supplies. I forget what Scott bought. We left N. J. and drove west. Darkness over took us in central Pennsylvania and it started to pour down rain. The rain was illuminated dancing off the pavement in front of us by the headlights of Scott’s Volkswagen beetle and Scott commented on the intensity of the storm. We did not feel much like camping out in the rain on our first night. We drove to Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania, and found the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity house. I introduced myself as a fraternity brother from the University of Detroit and we spent the night there.
Day 2: To Michigan
We drove to Scott’s parents farm in St. Joseph, Michigan. Mr. Christy had a full head of snow-white hair and Scott’s salt-and-pepper locks were well on their way to following the lead of his father. Scott’s father grew grapes and other crops on his small farm. There we spent the night.
Day 3: On the Christy Farm
I spent the day at in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph. While Scott took care of some business, I went down to the shore of Lake Michigan and met and talked with an old fisherman on the jetty, and a teenage girl on the beach. When we returned to the Christy place I got a chance to drive their farm tractor. It’s the first time I’ve ever driven something like it. Scott’s younger brother was there and we experimented with some black and white film, taking it to his dark room in the basement to be developed that night. Since Scott and I planned to leave in the morning, Scott’s mother volunteered to wash the clothes that I had worn for the last couple of days. Later that evening, she joked that I did not have to tip her so generously for doing my laundry. I was puzzled until she handed me a soggy one hundred dollar bill that had washed out of the pocket of my blue jeans. I then put the bill in my wallet figuring it was probably safer there after all.
Day 4: Visiting With Dr. Shea and Karen Dubre
We left St. Joseph and drove around the south end of Lake Michigan to Chicago. There was another big camera store that Scott wanted to visit. Pulling off the interstate on the South Side we were immediately approached by a shady character who wanted to sell us a watch. Leaving Chicago after stopping at the camera store, we drove south to St. Louis, Missouri. We stopped at the Gateway Arch and took the elevator to the top. Sitting in the cramped cylindrical elevator reminded me of riding in an automatic clothes dryer as it jerked and rotated during its climb up the curved leg of the arch. At the top we had a grand view of the city of St. Louis and across the Mississippi River into Illinois. Scott flirted with the female park ranger on duty at the top of the Arch and had me take their picture together. That evening we stopped at the home of Dr. Shea in Washington, Missouri. Scott had dated the Doctor’s daughter, Karen Dubré while he was an undergrad at the University of Missouri in Columbia. No one was home when we arrived and we had to wait until Scott got a neighbor to call the Doctor’s office. Dr. Shea came home and let us in. Later Karen arrived home and was pleasantly surprised to see Scott.
Day 5: Spending the Night at Wichita State University
We left Dr. Shea’s and drove through Columbia, Missouri, where Scott had done his undergraduate work. We continued through Kansas City and down to Wichita, Kansas. A big thunderstorm began to brew before we arrived at Wichita. It was dark night by the time we arrived and lightning was flashing ominously across the sky. Although it had not yet started to rain, once again we did not feel like camping out in the eye of a storm so we looked for a college where we hoped we could pass the night in the student lounge. We found Wichita State University, but unfortunately it was closed between semesters. The buildings were locked up and vacated, although a few lights indicated that there may have been some maintenance workers around some where. While looking in some dormitory windows, I discovered an unlocked window to a bathroom. Since it seemed advantageous to make use of such facilities after a long drive in the car we crawled in the window to use the rest room. Once inside and relieved, we began to look around. It seemed logical to us that since we were already inside and it was beginning to rain outside, we should just stay the night in one of the vacant rooms. We found a room with a couple of beds (although without any linens of course) and laid down to sleep. We were a little apprehensive about being caught, even though we did not plan to cause any damage or steal anything. I took the precaution of sleeping with my boots on, saying to Scott that if anybody came I wanted to be able to get away quickly. He made light of my caution, but in the end he slept with his boots on as well.
Day 6: Anthony, Kansas
Early in the morning we heard a noise as someone entered the building. We were quickly up and out the window on our way back to our car. The rain had stopped during the night and the sun was up. It was time for us to start looking for work. We headed southwest trying to guess where the wheat was ready for harvest. We traveled around asking for harvest work in Medicine Lodge, Sharon and Kiowa, Kansas. Every where the answers were always the same. “It’s been raining too much lately and it’s too wet to harvest.” Finally, at Koon’s Appliance store in Anthony, Kansas, (which apparently doubled as a work clearing house) we said we would do anything, even painting. We figured that since Anthony was a town of just over 2,000 people and did not have any commercial handymen, we might have a chance at some kind of work. I was down to less than one hundred dollars by this time. An older gentleman in the store overheard our offer to paint and came over to us. He was a large man whose thumb had been smashed in some ancient accident so that it now grew two misshapen thumb nails. He was a farmer named William Pulliam and owned a second home in town as rental property. The house was between tenants and needed to have the exterior porch and trim painted. We agreed that if he would supply the scrapers, paint, brushes, and ladders, we would do the labor. That evening we stopped at the bridge over Bluff River to look at it in flood stage.
Day 7: The Terrapin Painting Company
Scott and 1 began to scrape and paint the house. We jokingly called ourselves the Terrapin Painting Company after the University of Maryland terrapin mascot. While we worked we were listening to the radio reports of approaching storms. The sky around us was still bright blue, but there was a strong breeze blowing. Soon the radio reported tornadoes in Oklahoma moving northeast. After a while, the radio reports suddenly stopped. A few minutes later they came back on the air saying that the tornado watch center in Oklahoma City had been hit by a tornado and that tornadoes were now in Kansas and moving towards Missouri. We kept working since there were no storms visible to us. That night we camped out in the city park just norm of town. My hammock was strung between two trees and it rocked violently in the strong wind that picked up during the night. Visions of tornados monopolized my dreams that night.
Day 8: More Painting
We finished painting the exterior of the house. Mr. Pulliam’s wife stopped by and complimented our work. She convinced her husband that since we did such a good job on the exterior of their rental property, we should next be hired to paint the inside of their own house. We agreed and camped that night in the field behind their farm house outside of town. This time I set up the jungle hammock as a tent firmly on the ground so it wouldn’t swing in the wind.
Day 9: Painting the Pulliams’ House
We moved the living room furniture away from the walls and covered it with cloths. Scott and I started to paint the interior walls of the Pulliams’ house. At one point we accidentally knocked a bucket of paint off the ladder and it spilled on the floor. After a momentary shock and panic, we quickly cleaned up the paint before it could spread or dry. Luckily, we were able to clean it up completely and left no trace that we had spilled some paint. Mr. and Mrs. Pulliam were not in the house at the time and never knew of the near disaster. When we were finished the Pulliams inspected the house and were well pleased with the results. We got paid in cash. We returned to Bluff River and the water was back down to its normal level, with sand bars in a wide flat braided river channel visible.
Day 10: Dale Steele
There had been a few days of dry weather and we thought it was once again time to look for harvest work. We headed west again and started asking for work at the grain elevators and work clearing houses in Pratt and Greesburg and finally Ford, Kansas. At Ford we learned that a farmer named Dale Steele needed some help during the harvest. He needed us to drive his grain trucks to the grain elevators. Mr. Steele was 64 years old and was working in his 50th harvest, having started helping his father when he was 14. We were lucky in that he needed us both and had a house trailer behind his farm house for us to live in. He introduced us to his son and his permanent hired hand. Since his hired hand’s name was also Mike, Dale asked me if I went by any other name. I told him to call me Fitz. Scott and I flipped a coin to see who would get first choice of bedrooms in the trailer. Scott won and chose the larger room on the end with windows on two sides. I had to settle for the smaller room in-the center with only one window.
Days 11-22: On the Farm in Ford, Kansas
Most of the days on the farm run together in my mind. Although a few incidents do stand out, I do not remember what day they took place. Early in our work at me farm Scott and I were asked to clean out an empty 500 gallon water tank. It was in the shape of a horizontal cylinder about four feet in diameter and six feet in length with a trap door opening on the top. It put us in mind of a submarine. I was inside the tank using a broom with a shortened handle to clean out the loose rust and dry leaves. Scott was standing on the top next to the opening. I called out “Polaris missile!” and threw the broom up the hatch trying to knock him off. He retaliated by shouting “Depth charges!” and pounding on the outside of the tank.
This part of Kansas was semi arid and the farmers practiced a technique called dryland farming. Each field was planted every other year so that crops were grown on only half the land at any one time and the other fields were left fallow. One day I was instructed to drive a tractor and pull a device known as a “one way” which was a set of disks. This had the effect of plowing under the weeds in one of the fallow fields thus helping to conserve the soil moisture for the next year’s crop.
The tractor was fueled with liquid propane. The fuel tank was situated over the engine in front of the driver’s seat. The liquid propane was very cold and caused the fuel tank to be cool. Since there was no cab, the driver was exposed to the sun. Driving into the wind, the air passed over the cool propane tank and felt good. But after reaching the far end of the field and turning around, the wind was to my back. Then hot, dry air loaded with all the dust kicked up by the tractor and disks blew over me in a choking cloud.
The tractor had a manual clutch that was engaged by means of a large lever rising from the floor in front of me driver. Pushing the lever forward engaged the clutch and pulling it back disengaged it. The throttle was a smaller lever that could be set so that the driver did not have to keep his foot constantly on the gas as in a car. Naively, I put the tractor in gear, set the throttle and pushed the clutch forward. With a lurch the tractor leapt forward. The sudden forward surge of the tractor threw me backwards in my seat, still holding the clutch lever. This disengaged the clutch and the tractor stopped short throwing me forward, still holding me clutch lever. As a result, the tractor and I jerked down the field forward-stop-forward-stop-forward-stop several times before I had the presence of mind to let go of the clutch while it was disengaged. I then reset the throttle at a lower setting and remembered to let go of the clutch as soon as I had engaged it. Then I slowly increased the throttle and proceeded to plow the field. It was very boring driving in ever decreasing circle in the field and my mind was continuously wandering.
The temperature was well over one hundred degrees and after several hours in the hot sun I began to get chills. I had a headache and was probably in the first stages of heat exhaustion when I finished driving the tractor. I returned to the house trailer and drank a lot of water and rested.
Most days were spent driving trucks- There were several mat we would use for different jobs. There was an old white 1940 Chevy pick-up truck called “Old Whitey,” This was one of our favorites. We drove it as a car just to get us from one place to another. Its starter switch was a button on the floor so that after turning the key on it was necessary to step on the starter to turn the engine over- Although the paint was old and scarred, there was no body rust due to the dry climate. The seat was very worn with springs coming through in places. There was no interior head cloth, just the bare metal of the roof of the cab. Someone in the past had begun to stick banana stickers all over the inside of me roof; Chiquita, Dole, and a wide variety of lesser names. We continued the tradition. There were also initials scratched in the paint on the dash and roof, no doubt from past workers like us.
Another truck used for special purposes was an old grey Dodge Powerwagon pick-up with a rebuilt combine engine. It had what we called marshmallow breaks because the pedal felt as if it were pushing on a marshmallow. It did not stop very well. The powerwagon had a tank in the bed of the pick-up that was used to carry diesel fuel to the combines in the fields. The fuel was pumped from this tank with a hand crank.
There were three large farm trucks used to haul the grain. One was early 1950’s vintage with a off-balance fly wheel in the clutch. This truck could not go very fast before it set up a terrible vibration. The other two trucks were 1946 and 1964 models, but the newer one had the bad habit of not starting again for a while once it was turned off. These trucks had a two speed differential so that there was a total of eight gears; four low and four high. The driver would shift from first low to first high by pulling a knob on the gearshift lever and so on for all eight gears. The bed of the truck had a hydraulically operated dump operated by a switch inside the cab.
The typical day began at six o’clock in the morning. Dale Steele would yell into the trailer that it was almost noon and we should get up. Next we would go into his house where his wife had a hearty breakfast waiting for the three of us. Each morning we would eat eggs with bacon or ham, cold cereal, juice, coffee cakes, and hash brown potatoes. After breakfast we would go out to gas up the trucks and combines. We might have to make several trips to ferry all of the trucks and combines out to the field we would be working that day. Out in the field we would meet Mike, the hired hand. Occasionally Dale’s son would be there too, but he had his own farm down the road and usually was busy there.
By ten o’clock the dew had dried enough so that the combines could cut the wheat and separate the kernels from the straw and chaff. Dale and Mike would drive the combines while Scott and I would wait with our trucks. When the combine had a load of wheat, it would come over to our truck and pour the wheat into the back of the truck. We would have to take a shovel and smooth out the wheat to keep it from piling up too much in one spot. When the truck was full we would drive it to the grain elevator in either Ford or Kingsdown, Kansas.
At the grain elevator the truck would be weighed. We would then pull the truck into the elevator. An elevator worker would unlatch the tailgate and we would raise the bed of the truck to dump the wheat through a grate in the floor under the truck. Then we would lower the bed of the truck and return to the scale where the truck would be weighed again. The difference in weight would be me weight of the wheat credited to the individual farmer who owned that load. We would be given a duplicate of a credit slip for the wheat which we would keep in a clamp on the dashboard. At the end of the day we would turn in all of the credit slips to Dale Steele. The number of trips we could make in a day would depend upon the distance from the field we were working to the grain elevator and the amount of time it would take to drive there, wait in line with the other trucks and then drive back. We each probably made an average of eight to ten round-trips a day.
After making a couple of runs to the elevator in the morning it would be time for lunch. About twelve or one o’clock Mike would go home to his house and Dale Steele, Scott and I would go back to the farm house. Mrs. Steele would have another large meal waiting for us with meat, potatoes, vegetables, bread or rolls, salad, fruit and deserts. We always had plenty of iced tea to drink. This is where I first had three-cup or ambrosia salad made with marshmallows, nuts, fruit and whipped cream.
After lunch it was back out to the fields to continue harvesting the wheat and driving it to the elevators. It was not uncommon for the temperature to reach 100 degrees in the shade, except we could not usually find any shade except that which we made ourselves. Scott had found a thermometer from the Anthony Dead Animal Company that read “dead animals removed free of charge.” This thermometer topped out at 107 degrees and it would be at the maximum inside the cabs of the trucks by lunchtime. We would joke that we would be the dead animals that needed to be removed if it got any hotter. Since none of the trucks were air conditioned, we invented our own ways to try to keep cool.
Whenever we would park the truck in the field we would always take note of the position of the sun. We’d park by pointing the truck so that the sun was at our right rear with the sunlight just coming in the right window. As the sun moved across the sky, the hot rays would move around to our direct rear and not be able to heat the cab of me truck. Depending on how long we were going to be parked, and especially if we were going to be away from the truck for any length of time, we would judge how much sun should be coming in the passenger-side window so that by the time we got back the sun would be directly behind the truck.
At the elevator we would fill a bucket with cool water from the hand pump and then dunk our head completely into the water all the way to our shoulders. On the drive back to the farm we would feel very refreshed. But the water would completely evaporate on the trip and we would be hot as ever once back at the farm. Another attempt to stay cool was to fill our gallon water jugs with ice in the morning and again at lunchtime. The ice soon melted, but it provided us with cool drinking water for most of the day.
I liked to take candy bars with me to help me last through the long stretch between lunch and dinner. Unfortunately, the chocolate would melt in the heat and I would have to lick the sticky mess out of the wrapper. One day I experimented by putting a Milky Way bar in with the ice in my water jug. Later that afternoon, my water had turned brown and had a definite chocolate flavor, but more importantly my candy bar was still hard. I decided to continue with this practice although Scott would make faces at me when I would pull the soggy wrapper out of my chocolate water.
We usually quit work about sunset, although on a few occasions we did work until well after dark in order to finish with a given field. About ten o*clock the wheat would start to get to damp from dew and we would have to quit for the night even if we were not finished with that field. When we returned to the farm house, Mrs. Steele would again have a huge meal laid out for us. By working twelve to eighteen hours a day, we would bum up quite a few calories and would be starved by the end of the day. Our typical dinner would be beef steak or occasionally ham, baked potatoes or casserole, vegetables, bread, fruit, puddings, and pies with tall glasses of cold milk or iced tea. After going to our quarters in the house trailer we would take our showers and collapse into bed.
In nearly two weeks on the farm we had only one half day off. That was due to a brief rain shower after lunch that made it impossible to cut more wheat that day. With a beautiful rainbow behind us, Scott and I jumped in the Volkswagen and drove to Dodge City, 18 miles away. It was hot. We stopped at a local bar to have a beer. It was still daylight outside and was not late. Although I had been drinking beer legally in the District of Columbia since 1 was 18, I was now 21 and for less than a year could legally drink it in the majority of states that had 21 as the legal age. I enjoyed the thought of being eligible to drink the beer more than I enjoyed the beer itself. After leaving Dodge City, we drove south to St. Jacobs Well and Big Basin. This is a large circular depression caused by underground solution and collapse of the surface. We got out of the car and looked around the cattle pasture but could find nothing of geologic interest so we returned to the farm.
As I mentioned earlier, most of the days run together in my memory and I cannot separate out specific days, but I do remember a few specific anecdotes.
Most of the roads in the area were dirt. Only the main highways were paved such as the road between Ford and Dodge City. Once, while driving with an empty truck back to the farm, I saw a small gully eroded across the dirt road. I slammed hard on the breaks but could not stop. The truck was still going about 25 mph when I crossed the gully. The ditch was less than a foot deep and a few feet across, but with the stiff springs the empty truck bounced so hard that I literally came off the seat and hit my head sharply on the roof of me cab. I always made sure to keep my seat belt on tight after that.
Another anecdote that I remember involved the truck that would not start if the engine was hot. I had gotten in a line of trucks waiting for the scales at the grain elevator. Without thinking, I turned off the truck and went to the water pump. When I came back I wore out the battery trying to restart me truck. By now me engine had cooled off, but the battery was dead. Since I was blocking the scales, the other drivers were getting a little upset. One volunteered to help me jump-start the truck. He pulled his truck in front of mine and hooked a large chain to the rear axle of his truck. The other end of the chain he fastened to the front of my truck. I assumed he had hooked it to the frame, but in actuality he had only hooked it to the bumper. When he pulled his truck forward there was a big jerk as the chain tightened and my truck was pulled forward too. I popped the clutch with the truck in gear and luckily the engine started. When I went to unhook the chain 1 found that the front bumper of my truck had been bent up at an angle. I felt rather sheepish having to explain to Dale Steele how I had managed to bend the front bumper of his truck. He gave me a short lecture on making sure that a tow chain is fastened to the frame and not just the bumper, but thankfully was not too angry.
When the harvest was finished Scott and I were paid off at a rate of about $5.00 an hour. But because we had worked so many hours each day including weekends, we each ended up with a check from Dale Steele for over $800.00 (a lot of money for two weeks work by a couple of college kids). It was too late that day to cash our checks, but Scott and I were anxious to get on the road. Dale Steele had family in Tribune, Kansas, 150 miles to the northwest and said his checks would be recognized by the bank there. Since we were headed in that direction anyway, we decided to leave that afternoon and cash our checks the next day at the bank in Tribune-
We had kept our camera film stored in the refrigerator of our house trailer to protect it from the heat. Scott said that the film would keep better for the rest of the trip if we put it in our cooler. Scott and I packed our things and loaded up the Volkswagen. We bid goodbye to Dale and his wife and turned towards the west. After driving trucks almost exclusively for two weeks we both remarked about how low to the road the VW beetle seemed. We felt as if we were sitting on a roller skate and dragging our butts on the pavement. We arrived at Tribune after dark that evening and camped for the night in the town park.
Day 23: To Colorado
We went to the bank as soon as it opened and cashed our checks without any problem. Then, full of anticipation for a grand adventure, we set off towards the Rocky Mountains. At the small town of Sheridan Lake, Colorado, we stopped so Scott could look for a geomorphic feature. Apparently, the town got its name from a depression that in wet years fills with water. Scott struck up a conversation with a young worker at the grain elevator and the next thing I knew we were invited to take in the view of the Rocky Mountains from the top of the elevator. The grain elevator was a couple hundred feet high. We took a small elevator to the catwalk near the top, then a ladder took us through a trap door onto the roof. The roof was flat, less than 50 feet square and had no railings. The view was terrific. On the western horizon the mountains were just barely visible through the haze over 125 miles away, but up close everything looked like a little toy town and countryside. We could see the houses and rail yard near the grain elevator, the square farm fields all around us, and the lake that gave the town its name. Returning to the car we headed west once again; through Sugar City (where they grow a lot of sugar beets), and on to Pueblo, Colorado.
Day 24: Stocking Up in Pueblo, Colorado
At Pueblo we went to a camping store. There, under Scott’s tutelage, I bought a down sleeping bag because we expected it to be cold in the mountains. I also bought a poncho, and some other equipment. Also, because the car had been acting up, we took it to a Volkswagen dealership to have the clutch worked on. I discovered that one can of exposed film in the cooler had leaked and gotten wet. I ended up losing all the pictures on that roll taken in Anthony, Kansas, including most of the pictures of us painting. I didn’t put any more film in the ice chest for the rest of the trip.
Day 25: Royal Gorge
We spent the day trying to find a kids summer camp near the town of Florence in the mountains just west of Pueblo. Scott knew some college kids who were working there. Late in the day we re-read the directions Scott had and looked again at the map and realized that the camp was not near Florence at all, but near Florissant, Colorado, about 75 miles to the north. We drove to Royal Gorge and looked at the highest suspension bridge in the world (1053 feet above the Arkansas River), but because of the expensive toll for a bridge that didn’t go anywhere special we did not drive across it. We saw several deer by the side of the road as we drove away.
Day 26: Visiting Scott’s Friends in Florrisant, Colorado
We stopped at Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs on our way to Florissant. We drove through the vertical formations of red rock and walked around a bit taking lots of pictures. We stopped at Balanced Rock and Steamboat Rock. We continued up into the mountains and found the summer camp we were looking for. Scott spent some time visiting with his friends. After leaving the camp, I wanted to go to the nearby Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument to see what was there but Scott didn’t want to take the time. Since Scott was driving, we didn’t go to the fossil beds. We camped that night in the mountains.
Day 27: Car Problems at Salida, Colorado
The fuel pump on the Volkswagen began to act up and we found out that a man up the road worked on cars sometimes. We had to push the car to his garage. While Scott and the man were fiddling with the engine, it caught fire. We managed to quickly smother the fire. Soon the car had a temporary repair that we hoped will allow us to make it to a genuine repair shop. We learned that there was a foreign car specialist in Salida, Colorado. We drive there and when the car broke down again just outside of town, we camped for me night by the side of the road. I pitched my jungle hammock on the ground, using the car door handle to support one end of the rain fly. To save money on food we eat tuna fish and ketchup sandwiches and other such delicacies, with bananas for dessert.
Day 28: Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The car wouldn’t start so we ended up pushing it down the road to the Foreign Affairs Auto Repairs shop, but it was closed. There was a note in the window that said they were out on a service call. After waiting for quite a while for the shop owners to return we gave up and fixed me car ourselves. We drove over Monarch Pass on the Continental Divide and stopped at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado. We found the field house and went to the men’s locker room to take a shower. We looked like students and no one bothered us. Afterwards, we drove to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, arriving there about an hour before dark. Entering the park the clutch cable broke and we could not shift gears. We parked at the ranger station. It was Wednesday, July 3rd and the campground was full. We could get a free backcountry camping permit if we wanted to hike to the bottom of the canyon. We knew that there would be a full moon so we decided to hike down. The canyon is about 2,000 feet deep and the sun set before we got very far down the trail. We continued hiking down the trail (or what we assumed was the trail) by the light of the full moon in a cloudless sky. The trail started out as a series of switchbacks near the rim of the canyon and then descended rapidly following a rocky wash in a nearly straight line towards the bottom. We came crashing and stumbling through the underbrush at the bottom of the canyon into a small clearing under a few large pine trees beside the Gunnison River. There was a tent already there and a few campers were very surprised to see that we hiked down in the dark. They had heard our noise and assumed that we were a bear making all that racket in the dark.
Day 29: More Car Problems and a Shower in the Woods
Independence Day; Thursday morning, July 4th. We spent a little while looking around the river bank before beginning the climb back out of the canyon. We went back up the same way we came down. In most places we were climbing more than hiking. If we tripped over a rock we needed only put out our hand to break our fall and we were still almost vertical. It was a rugged climb and took a while, but eventually we arrived back at the top. Since the broken cable in the VW wouldn’t allow us to disengage the clutch, Scott had to start the car in neutral and then jam it into gear after I pushed the car to get it moving. I had to then chase after the car and hop in while it was moving. By carefully synchronizing his shifting Scott was able to shift gears with a minimum of grinding noises. We spent a little time looking around the top of the canyon before leaving the park. It was a almost a hundred mile drive to Grand Junction, Colorado, where we hoped to have the car repaired. Along me way we tried not to stop since it was a nuisance to get the car moving again without a clutch cable. Usually we could slow down at a stop sign and make sure that it was all clear before proceeding. But one time as we approached a traffic light in a small town it turned red. We pulled quickly into a car wash parking lot and circled the building. The light was still red. We circled again. The light was still red. We circled yet again. This time the light turned green and we pulled into the street and roared through the light to the stares of a few curious onlookers. We made it to Grand Junction without further incident and located a Volkswagen dealership. We explained our problem to the service manager and said that since the clutch was just worked on by a dealer in Pueblo we expected that there would be some type of guarantee on the work. The dealer said mat since the clutch cable itself had not been worked on there was no obligation for him to repair it for free. We maintained that if the part was so far worn, it should have been noticed and replaced when the first repairs were done. The dealer disagreed. We parked the car in front of the dealership and began to take it apart so we could attempt a repair ourselves. The dealer, concerned about the image this presented to prospective customers, compromised with us and said that if we would pay for the parts, he would have them installed for free. That sounded like a fair deal and we agreed. After me car was fixed, we were looking for a cool place to camp for the night. We drove from the desert up through Colorado National Monument to Fruita campground in an isolated part of the Uncompahgre National Forest. There we found a pleasant birch and pine forest. We asked some of the other campers there if there was anyplace we could go swimming so that we could get washed off. One man thought a moment and said that there was a reservoir farther up the road, but it was not open for swimming. Then he remembered something and told us that the reservoir water is piped underground down the mountain to the town below, but that out in the forest there was a break in the pipe and clean water was spraying out of the ground ten feet into the air. Perhaps we could take a shower there. This sounded ideal to us and we quickly got directions to the site. We stripped to our bathing suits and took our soap and shampoo into the woods. In the middle of a beautiful birch glade with green ferns and colorful wild flowers was a fountain of water jetting out of me ground at about a 30 degree angle. The water was cold but refreshing.
Day 30: Dinosaur National Monument, Utah
From Fruita campground we drove north traversing 75 desolate and unpaved miles across Douglas Pass to Rangely, Colorado. From mere we turned west into Utah and stopped at me visitor’s center at Dinosaur National Monument. After looking at the exhibits and the enclosed dinosaur quarry we returned to me car and camped for the night by me side of the road in the Uinta Mountains just north of Vernal, Utah.
Day 31: Gros Venire Mountains, Wyoming
We drove up the west side of Flaming Gorge reservoir into Wyoming. At Green River we turned east for a few miles to Rock Springs and then turned north towards Jackson Hole. We pulled into Jackson, Wyoming, in the shadow of me Grand Teton Mountains. I was very impressed with the rugged and abrupt appearance of the mountains rising sharply from the floor of me valley. Because it is the holiday weekend, all of me campgrounds near Jackson were full. We had to drive up into me Gros Venture Mountains east of the valley before we could find a vacant campsite. Not too far away was the Gros Venture landslide area where, in 1925, a landslide blocked me Gros Venture River and caused a lake to form. Two years later, when the water overflowed me dam, a flood wiped out the town of Kelly, killing 6 people. Now me lake was much lower man it was at me time of the flood and the landslide debris has stabilized. Scott and I looked at the remains of the landslide. Even after all me years since it occurred it still left an impressive scar on the mountain side. By the orientation and change in growth patterns of some of me still living the trees we could tell which ones had been part of the landslide. It had been estimated that me landslide had reached speeds of up to 60 miles an hour.
Day 32: Jackson, Wyoming
We go into Jackson and look around the town. There was an elk refuge in me valley and the park in the center of town had an archway made of hundreds of elk antlers. We stopped at a store that carried new and used camping equipment. Scott tried on a pair of used hiking boots. I chose to keep the yellow-leather K Mart boots I had even though the soles were not as sure-footed as lug soles would be. We decided to go to the local laundry- mat to wash our dirty clothes. The vending machine was sold out of detergent so we grated a bar of Ivory soap, mixed it with water in a plastic bottle and used that to wash our domes. That evening we returned to our camp beyond the Gros Venture Slide.
Day 33: Yellowstone National Park
The residual Ivory soap foam turned into a solidified soap sponge that was very difficult to get out of the water bottle. We threw the bottle in the trash when we realized that any drinking water put in the bottle will taste like soap. We broke camp and drove north into Yellowstone National Park. Most of the campgrounds were either full or not open to soft-sided tents due to me danger from bears. We had to drive to Pebble Creek campground in the far northeast comer of the park to find a place to camp. Along the way we stopped to look at some of the more spectacular thermal features and waterfalls. At Tower Falls, a brief thunderstorm darkened the sky. As the sun broke out after the storm, it cast a bright golden light on the basalt cliffs on the opposite valley wall. The cloudy sky beyond was still dark grey.
Day 34: Old Faithful
We wanted to hike up to Specimen Ridge to see the geologically famous petrified trees in life positions. However, the Lamar River was too high to ford on foot because of the heavy snow melt from the previous winter which still had the river running bank-full. Apparently, the park had had 12 feet of snow on the ground at the beginning of June and it all had melted in the month before we arrived. We gave up on our planned hike and drove around the park visiting Old Faithful, and some other geysers and thermal springs. I took an impressive photograph of a bubbling hot spring with me late afternoon sun back-lighting the spray of steaming water. We returned to Pebble Creek for the night.
Day 35: Panic in Rexburg
Early that morning we exited the park by way of West Yellowstone and headed into Idaho. At Rexburg State College we decided to get another shower. We arrived on campus to find the place nearly deserted, but there were bicycles parked all over the campus. We meet a young coed and ask her where everybody was. She explained that this was a Mormon school and that most of the male students were away for summer missionary work. We located the field house and saw an open door with a locker room beyond. A sign posted in the hall said that students must wear official Rexburg gym clothes while in the gym. Scott and I figured that once we got in me shower with our clothes off it wouldn’t be obvious that we didn’t have official Rexburg gym clothes. We went through the open door into the empty locker room, stripped and entered the shower room. The room was about 30 feet long and 15 feet wide with numerous shower heads on each long side. One end of the room opened into the locker room, while a passageway off the opposite end disappeared around a comer. Shortly after we began our showers, we heard a lot of high-pitched voices coming towards us from the passageway at the far end of the shower room. We had a moment of panic as we tried to remember if we had actually seen a sign on the open door to the locker room that identified it as the men’s room. Before we could make a retreat or verify that we were in me proper room, a troop of about 10 or 15 young boys came bursting into the shower room apparently coming from a swimming pool out of sight around the comer. Needless to say Scott and I were immediately relieved. It did not take much imagination to picture the stir that would have been created by two naked men being discovered in the women’s locker room at a Mormon College. In the locker room the boys all got a clean white towel from a newly-arrived locker-room attendant. They all had neatly cut short hair and were getting dressed in good clothes. After our showers, Scott and I went back to the locker room and tried to look inconspicuous with our long hair, brightly colored towels and blue jeans.
We got back in the car and headed west towards Craters of the Moon National Monument, a volcanic area in south-central Idaho. There was a small airport in Arco, Idaho, about 15 miles from the park. Scott stopped there and asked the clerk in the office if he knew of any local pilots who would be willing to take us up to get a birds-eye view of the volcanic cones and rifts in Craters of the Moon. Scott knew that a noncommercial pilot cannot legally accept payment for his services, but said we would be more than willing to pay for his gas. The clerk gives us the name and phone number of a local pilot and we made the call. Scott asked if he would be willing to take us up in his plane if we paid for the gas. He went on to explain that we were a couple of geology students and would like to get an aerial view of the volcanic features. He also said that the long shadows of late afternoon or early morning would be best for giving definition to the ground when viewed from the air. Surprisingly, the pilot agreed to take us up first thing in the morning. He said to meet him by the hangar at six o’clock in the morning.
Scott and I then continued on to Craters of the Moon and arrived there in mid afternoon. We spent some time hiking around the cinder cones and looking a tree molds in the lava flows. We stayed in the park until after the sun set. The last few features we saw were some lava tubes and pressure ridges. It was getting too dark to hike and we had to use the flashes on our cameras to take pictures. We returned to the Arco airport and threw our sleeping bags on the open ground behind the far end of the hangar.
Day 36: An Airplane Ride
Scott and I woke up with the sun rise. Before the pilot arrived we found an old Stearman biplane that was parked at the airport and took turns sitting in the open cockpit. Soon the pilot that we are waiting for arrived. After brief introductions, he took us up in his four seat high-wing Cessna. He said he loved to fly and we gave him a good excuse to get up early and go flying. He seemed to really enjoy showing us around from the air and was very willing to make repeated passes over the volcanic fields from whatever angle we requested. It was a beautiful day and the low sun and early morning shadows gave us just the light we wanted for our pictures. After an hour or two in the air we returned to the airport where we paid the pilot a token amount for his gas and bid him farewell and thanks.
We drove north through the Salmon River Mountains and Lost River Range on US Highway 93, a heavily traveled, winding two-lane mountain road. Along the way we saw several bumper stickers on other cars saying “I Drive Highway 93, Pray For Me.” We were on our way to Montana to stop in at the home of someone Scott had met on a previous trip west. Late in the afternoon we arrived at the home of Dr. Fred Sayer in Missoula, Montana. He was a young orthodontist. He and his wife, Caroline, had a young infant son. They invited us to stay the night. Because of the troubles we’ve had with the Volkswagen, Scott was considering leaving it at the Sayer’s house while we hitch-hiked to Seattle and back. Half-jokingly Scott mentioned that he had always wanted to hop a freight train. Fred said that some of his patients worked for the Burlington Northern Railroad and suggested we give one of them a call to see if it was possible to catch a train. Fred gave us a name and number and we called the railroad worker to ask about hopping a freight. He told us it was no problem; to come down to the rail yard about an hour before we wanted to leave and to ask one of the yard workers for a train going west. This sounded too good to be true so we decided to drive down to the rail yard that afternoon to see if it was possible. We went to the workman’s shed and asked the two young men there if it was possible to hop a freight. To our surprise the men in the doghouse said yes, just come down about an hour before we wanted to go and they would make sure we got on a train. We returned to Fred’s house and made plans for Sayer to drop us off first thing in the morning.
Day 37: Riding the Rails
That morning we had Fred Sayer drop us off with our backpacks at the rail yard. We boldly walked into the doghouse and asked if we could hop a freight train headed west. We were met with deadly silence from the several men there. Several pairs of eyes turned to look at one man in the corner, apparently a supervisor. Just as we realized that we’d made a tactical blunder, the boss man shouted at us that we couldn’t hop a freight and to get out. We muttered some garbled apologies and quickly retreated. We decided to talk to one of the yard workers outside beyond sight of the doghouse. He told us to wait over by a certain stretch of track because an express freight to Spokane was due to stop there in a short while. We waited for much longer than told but no train pulled up on the indicated length of track. After a while another worker came over and asked if we were waiting for the express. We said yes and he replied that we had better hurry because rather than stopping where we were waiting the train instead had stopped about a quarter of a mile up the track and was now ready to leave. We knew that if we waited for the train to pass the spot where we were it would be going too fast to get on so we began to run with our packs to get to the train before it started. In doing so we had to go past the doghouse. Before we got to the train it started to pull out. It was coming towards us so we decided to jump on the first accessible car that came by. That proved to be a flat car, but rather than risk having the train pick up too much speed while we waited for a better car we threw our packs on the flat car and jumped on the ladder to climb up. We positioned our packs against the high wall at the end of the flat car and sat down next to them hoping that the boss man in the doghouse wouldn’t see us as we rode past his window. One of the workers who had told us about the train saw us and just shrugged his shoulders as if to say that we shouldn’t be on an open flat car. As the train picked up speed it began to rock from side to side and we could see the folly of riding on an open ear. After about 25 miles the train stopped to let another train go by in the opposite direction. We took advantage of the stop to run back along the train and find an open box car. We found one without too much trouble. We climbed in and threw our packs in one end where they were far from the door. Then we stood in the open doorway holding on to the side of the car to enjoy the ride as me train started again. We rolled along parallel to a highway for a time waving at people in the cars matching our speed. Eventually the rails diverged from the road and we were barreling along alone through the mountains.
At first we really enjoyed the novelty and sense of freedom that we got from riding on a freight and listening to the sounds of the wheels on the tracks and the whistle of the engine. When the train went around a curve we could see a long line of cars stretching out in front and in back of us. Bridges were only built as wide as necessary, which meant that they were only as wide as the tracks, or about a foot narrower than the width of the cars. When we would cross a deep mountain canyon on one of these bridges we could look straight down at a rocky stream several hundred feet below us and not see any bridge. Were it not for the rhythmic sound of the wheels on the tracks, it would seem as if the train were soaring through me air. Tunnels were also built only as wide as necessary, but instead of being a thrill in the sense of the bridges, the tunnels were capable of taking our heads off if we didn’t pull them back in the boxcar before the train entered the tunnels. Luckily we always saw them coming with plenty of time and had no close calls. When the box car entered a tunnel there would be sudden and complete darkness accompanied by a loud rushing sound. Depending on the length of the tunnel, we might be in the dark a full minute or more. Occasionally, we would play tricks on each other by changing position in the car while the train was in the dark so that we would not be in the same place as expected when the train left the tunnel. The sound would suddenly stop with the reappearance of daylight as the train exited the tunnel.
Occasionally, the train would stop on a siding to let another train pass. This was necessary since, for much of the time, there was only one set of tracks for trains going in both directions. It also became apparent to us that although this was a freight express, it was not going to be as quick as we had thought. Instead of taking a direct route between Missoula and Spokane, the train followed the valleys and looped far north, coming within 20 miles of the Canadian border before turning south again towards Spokane. We passed through the town of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, reading the name on the station as we rolled by. As a result of this round-about route it took us about 8 hours travel time on me train as opposed to the 3 hours it would have taken us if we had driven a more direct route by car.
Along the way we were occasionally subjected to a very bumpy ride as the train passed over sections of bad track. At these times the heavy-duty springs on the empty boxcar would cause the entire car to vibrate up and down violently and repeatedly for varying lengths of time. We would literally bounce 6 inches off the floor of the boxcar. At first we thought the vibration was fun as we were bounced repeatedly off the floor. If we were standing we could rock from one leg to the other and do a kind of Indian dance. If the vibrations started while we were seated we would bounce on our butts across the floor of the car. After a while however, we began not to mink of it as fun anymore. The bone-jarring vibrations got to be painful and our insides felt as if they were being scrambled. Worst of all, once an episode of bouncing began, there was no way we could stop or control it. All we could do was wait and endure it.
While on this train ride we had the opportunity to meet some interesting characters who also rode the rails. At one rail yard stop we saw a half dozen hobos sitting around a campfire not far from where our boxcar was stopped. One of them saw us looking out of the boxcar door and came over to talk to us. His appearance was typical of the lot. He was a white man by nature, but his face and hands were almost coal-black from dirt and grease. He was friendly and non-threatening but was also obviously inebriated and made a powerful olfactory impression. He was standing on the ground outside with the floor of our boxcar at his chest. As he talked at us he engaged himself in urinating on the tracks below the train. His conversation was rambling and non coherent. As he talked, we were polite in our monosyllabic responses, but did nothing to encourage his one-sided conversation for fear he might invite us over to meet his friends. When he finished his business under the car he left us and returned to his companions. The rest of them had not taken much notice of us.
At another stop a young backpacker joined us in our boxcar and rode for a few miles between small towns, He was friendly and clean and seemed much like the two of us. We were friendly to him, but did not talk too much about ourselves since we did not want it to become known that we had expensive camera equipment in our packs and several hundred dollars in each of our pockets. He told us he rode the trains often. He said that the hobos did not like to ride empty boxcars because they had such a rough ride. Instead they preferred to ride in the space between the frame and the slanted end of a loaded hopper car since the weight of the load softened the ride on the car’s springs. He went on to say that while the Union Pacific Railroad would prosecute hobos riding the rails, the Burlington Northern Railroad on the other hand had a policy not to throw the bums off the trains, but rather let them ride. This was in response to complaints from citizens of small towns that would be subject to petty thefts and other problems if the bums were kicked off the trains in their communities. So the Burlington Northern maintained their good community relations by letting the bums ride on the assumption that they were going to the larger towns were they would find menial jobs and blend in with the crowds.
When we finally arrived in Spokane, Washington, it was late in the afternoon. The train pulled to a stop at a rail yard in the industrial part of town. We began walking towards downtown and discovered that Expo ‘74 was being held in Spokane. Inquiring at the gate we found that there was only about an hour and a half left before closing for the day, but that there was no discount on admission price for so late an entrance. We refused to pay the full price admission and set about finding some other way in. We knew that we couldn’t go over the fence with our backpacks nor could we leave them unattended outside. Scott met a college girl leaving the World’s Fair and began talking with her to find out about the possibility of getting in. She said that they stamped her hand so she could reenter. Scott got her to press the back of her hand to his and was able to transfer enough of the ink to make a mark on his hand too. We couldn’t get any more ink to transfer onto my hand so the two of them picked up the packs and strolled through the gate into the Fair while I went around to a secluded part of the perimeter and went over the fence. Once inside we bid goodbye to the girl and Scott and I looked at a few of the exhibits in the pavilions. Some of the pavilions were already closed by the time we got in to Expo ’74 and we were glad we did not have to pay to get in. At dark there was a fireworks display and then the entire Fair closed for the day.
We knew there was not much chance to find a place to camp in downtown Spokane so we tried to find a YMCA or a college to sleep at. By asking around we discovered that Gonzaga University, a men’s college, was located only a couple of miles away. We got directions and walked there. Along the way Scott kept making jokes about “Godzilla” University and the monsters that went to school there. We located the dormitory and talked to some of the students there. We asked if it would be alright for us to sleep on the sofas in the lounge. One of the students volunteered his room since he did not have a room mate. He said that we could have both beds since he could sleep in someone else’s room that night. We were very grateful to have two real beds and thanked him for his hospitality. It had been a long day and we had a chance for a hot shower and a comfortable place to sleep. Things were going well for us. Life was great.
Day 38: Hitch-Hiking to Seattle
In the morning we decided to hitch-hike the rest of the way to Seattle. It was less than 300 miles to get there. Our first stop in the morning was the local super market to pick up some food and other supplies for the trip. We also bought some white contact paper and red reflective tape. As we left the store, Scott was telling me about his philosophy as regards the proper way to hitch-hike. First he said we had to look neat and clean and remember to smile a lot. Second, he said we needed a sign to tell the drivers where we were headed. The sign should have our destination city written on it unless it was very far away. In that case it might discourage drivers from picking us up because they might feel that since they weren’t going that far they wouldn’t be able to help, not thinking that several shorter rides are better than none. When the destination was too far away, Scott suggested just putting the compass direction on the sign so that a driver going west, for example, would know that we were going west also. Scott also felt that the sign must be big and bright enough for a driver to read, even at night, as he was driving past at 60 miles per hour. Scott had a great contempt for those hitch-hikers who had dark brown cardboard signs with a faint pencil inscription that no driver could hope to read as he drove past. Scott believed that the effort to make a good sign was worth it because of the increased likelihood of getting a ride. We took an empty cardboard box and cut it into a flat rectangle. We taped a piece of bent cardboard across the back to give it some rigidity and keep it from bending. We then covered the face of the sign with the white contact paper. This served the dual purpose of waterproofing the sign and giving it a light background. We then took the red reflective tape and spelled out the word “SEATTLE” on the front of the sign. Now we were ready to go. We walked up the ramp to the Interstate Highway. Within a few minutes we had a ride with a traveling salesman as far as the exit for Moses Lake, Washington. There were no facilities at the exit, just a cloverleaf in what appeared to be me middle of nowhere. But we were almost halfway to Seattle from Spokane. A little while later we had another ride that took us all me rest of the way. When we arrived in Seattle, Scott called his uncle, Joe Aiti, who was expecting us and drove out to where we were to pick us up. He lived in a quiet neighborhood south of town past the Seattle airport. We were welcomed there and spent the afternoon and evening visiting with the Aiti family. It was a beautiful day with no clouds in the sky. We played for a while in the back yard with their pets; a brown and white tabby cat named Shawnisee and a large black and white rabbit named Clementine.
Before retiring for the night we made plans for the next day to hitch-hike up to North Cascades National Park and backpack over the mountains.
Day 39: Marblemount, Washington
In the morning we got a ride from Joe Aiti to the waterfront in downtown Seattle. We spent some time looking around at the open-air fish market. Some fishermen were mending their nets at the dock. Scott knew of an Eddie Bauer camping store in Seattle so we walked to it up the hill from the waterfront. There we stocked up on some freeze-dried camping food and other supplies. I remember I bought some freeze-dried tuna noodle casserole.
From there we walked up to the Interstate and caught a ride with a young man in a van similar to a UPS panel truck. The van was customized into his version of a camper. He asked us if we would mind if he took a short detour since he had to pick up his girl friend. Of course we did not object; after all, he was kind enough to give us a ride. This day was grey and misty. He said that in the northwest many people said it rained a lot, but it was really Angel piss. I mink he meant that it was because of the constant moisture that the forests were kept so green. On the west side of the Cascade mountains there was a spruce-fir forest with 110 inches of rain a year, while on the east side of the mountains only a hundred miles away there was only 10 inches per year and a dry scrubland. He took us as far as Burlington where we were going to turn off the Interstate and follow Route 20 east into the Cascade Mountains. At Burlington we caught another ride as far as Marblemount.
Marblemount was the jumping-off point for the North Cascades National Park. From just outside of town a 20 mile unpaved and dead end road branched off from Route 20, crossed an old steel girder bridge across a cold mountain stream and led up to the Cascade Pass (railhead. The National Park was pretty much an undeveloped wilderness. We knew it was too late in the day to start hiking up the road. At the junction of Route 20 and the dirt road to me Cascade Pass trailhead was an old abandoned farm house. In the front yard was a broken-down school bus that had been colonized by a group of about 6 Hippies. These free-spirited young people lived in the bus, drank beer (and probably consumed other mind-altering substances) and played loud music. We politely turned down an offer to spend the night with them in the bus. However, we did learn from them that there was a laundromat and public shower about a quarter of a mile down the road. This we took advantage of. That night Scott and I camped under the steel bridge. We were out of ear-shot of the Hippies, out of site of the road and away from the cow-pies in the pasture.