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The Trip to the Mountains
When I was a kid, June was an important month. As soon as school was out, we began to plan our annual trip from Portland, Oregon, to Colorado. We usually left the last week of June, so we’d be at our summer home on Big Owl Road by the 1st of July, which was my father’s birthday, and we would stay until after my parents’ wedding anniversary, on August 18th.
But school wasn’t really out, because I learned a great many things on that annual journey.
We learned about packing, for one thing. Packing a car with everything we would need for almost two months was a science, and my parents devised over the years a pattern which insured that there was room for everything, without a cubic inch to spare. When we finished packing the trunk it was always touch and go whether the lid would close, and then my father would go around the car, clucking his tongue and shaking his head as he contemplated the depth to which the rear end had sunk. And he always bought cars with big trunks.
When I was very small my brother and I fought over who was going to have the front seat window, because there was no air conditioning at that time. Many cars had water bags draped on their front bumpers and some had tubular evaporative coolers hung on a window. But since we traveled only five days out of every year, my father thought such an expense unwarranted. So we perspired as we made our way to the mountains by various routes. Sometimes we took a northern route, through Ontario, Oregon, to Pocatello and Little America through Cheyenne and up the Big Thompson. Or we might take a more southern route, stopping at Winnemucca, Nevada and Heber, Utah, over Rabbit Ears Pass and Trail Ridge. But it was always 1300 miles, more or less, and it always took two and a half days.
We passed the time in various ways. My mother was occupied by keeping her two boys occupied, and my father drove the Dodge or the Buick Special. My mother had a lunch-box size tin box, which she filled with various candy treats and she doled them out as the miles rolled by and when we stopped for gas. When my older brother was very small we started out from Portland and after just a few miles he startled her by saying, “Isn’t it about time we stopped and refreshed ourselves?” She told that story for years.
We played the usual games: I’m Packing a Trunk, Twenty Questions, various license plate games, but mostly we thought about the fun we were going to have when we got to Colorado. Mom looked forward to not having a telephone or meetings she had to go to. Dad looked forward to fishing. We boys just looked forward to being there and a summer of playing in the woods.
Both my brother and I had our first taste of long distance driving as soon as we had our learner’s permits. My first experience became an important part of my education as I carefully drove the first few miles from Portland, observing the speed limits and rounding every curve at the prescribed speed. My father stood it as long as he could and finally, his patience at an end, said, “At 50 miles an hour you’re never going to get anywhere!” So I pushed it up to 72 and kept my cars at that speed until the 55 miles per hour speed limit came in. Then I had to drop back to 65, like everyone else.
We learned about the states we traveled through, too. Oregon had good highways, but when we crossed into Idaho we were greeted by narrow roads and plenty of washboards which made the wheels chatter. As we crossed the state line my father would always mutter, “Bad roads in Idaho. Lots of graft.” But he loved the Nevada highways, which were wide and smooth, and there was no speed limit at all. “All that gambling money,” my father would confide. One year we stopped at the Bonneville Salt flats with our new Buick, drove out on the salt, put the pedal to the floor and let her rip. My mother was none too pleased, but the boys, (at the moment, all three of us) had a wonderful time.
We often stopped at Heber, Utah, and we stayed in a motel where sheep grazed on the front lawn. In the summer of 1947 we saw, at the tiny theater in Heber, “Miracle on 34th Street,” and knew we’d seen something very special. I have no idea to this day why it was in Heber, Utah in the middle of the summer.
When we finally arrived, at the middle of the third day, we were all too excited to be tired from the long trip on two lane highways in cars vastly inferior in every way to those we have today. The end of June had finally come and we were once again at the place we had been thinking about all year.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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