Travelogue of Travel with a Travelo
From the original manuscripts of Samuel A. Esser
Introduction by Paul Dobbin
In 1937, My Grandfather, Samuel A. Esser bought a new 17 foot Travelo travel trailer for a family trip across the United States. With his wife and his 20year old daughter, (my grandmother and my mother) he had the adventure of a lifetime with his family. He kept a log of this 7000 mile adventure that’s still interesting to this day.
Before Interstate Highways, giant motor homes, slide outs, GPS and RV Resorts, they traveled in style to see things most people only read about. To see many of the wonders of the world and some of the wonder why’s. They followed a trail of wanderlust that many modern-day RVers try to recapture today.
With Travel Trailers with name brands like the Kozy Camp or Rolling Home and the Ozark, they pulled their Travelo with its masonite sides and varnished canvas roof to Tourist Camps and Parks when available and dry camped without hookups elsewhere when there were none, just like today.
The story is especially interesting to me as a modern day RVer with 17 years of camping in a travel trailer, then motor homes, right up to now when we spend about 100 nights on the road towing our antique car, as third generation RVer’s.
I’ve retyped the story without changes and added photos from my mother’s old photo album (and a few others) to bring a visual reality to the story, of one family’s big trip around America, that happened 70 years ago!
I hope you enjoy this short story of family adventure and discovery from 1937. In the process of typing and adding photos to my Grandpa Esser’s Travelogue, I found many similarities and traits in us that must be hereditary in addition to getting his red hair.
– Paul Dobbin, Grandson of the Pilot & Chief Engineer aboard “Betsey”
Grandpa’s Travelo named “Betsey Land Yacht” and his 1932 Oldsmobile.
Paul Dobbin 221 44 Ave NE St. Petersburg, FL 33703 PaulDobbin@aol.com Written in 1937 and retyped 2007, Copyright 2007 by Paul R. Dobbin
Finally we are rolling, after a few hectic days of stowing cargo. All the hatches are battened down and we are on board, feeling gleeful. When I say
“we”, it must be understood as captain and crew as follows: Ethel (wife) as
Captain, Betty (daughter) as First mate, myself Chief Engineer and Helmsman and then there is little Mickey (Boston Terrier) as Cabin Girl and general purveyor of entertainment while on the waves of concrete ribbon.
As I said before, finally we are rolling, yes down the alley; where we kept Betsey at anchor for a few days. The green inexperienced pilot (that is me) nervously navigating the summer ensemble, being car and trailer at about 33 feet long. Slowly out of the alley, around a sharp corner down another alley over a kind of gutter bump, and out in the open street. After a few more turns we had a long straight stretch of city streets ahead of us.
About three miles further but still in the city we made a slight detour to receive a last “Bon Voyage” from some of our good friends and well-wishers. By this time all nervousness had left the pilot and he felt like a veteran. We were leaving our hometown, Minneapolis, on U.S. highway #65 going south. We have a beautiful State, and we admit it. After following 65 for a few miles, we turned right on #169, through Shakopee across the Minnesota River and through the rich, lush farm country to Mankato, an interesting busy little city. From Mankato it is a short run to Fairmont where we soon spotted a beautiful lake surrounded by lovely shade trees. Everybody on board was hollering “when do we eat”, so it was up to the skipper to nose his craft down to the ideal spot where the captain who is also the Chef soon prepared our first meal out. It was a pretty hot day so the temperature in the trailer was plenty hot too. While I was lighting the cook stove the girls got all the windows open and also the roof ventilator. In a short time we were very comfortable and a nice breeze blew from the lake. This was such a delightful place that we decided to “bid a wee,” and after a sufficient rest, take a dip in the lake.
Boy, Oh Boy this is going to be some vacation, we don’t exactly know where we are going, but we are going to have one grand time getting there.
After our swim, I piped “all on board”, all promptly responded except Mickey who had treed a squirrel and considered it her duty to “stand by”. Well after winning the ensuing argument with her, we were off or at least we expected to be, but by that time the captain was a bit nervous about how to get out of the rather narrow space into which we had so joyfully glided but a few hours before. The pilot however was equal to the occasion and by backing and considerable zigzagging finally got the thing turned around. This was our first experience in backing and it was a bit confusing you know, because one must turn the front car wheels in exactly the opposite direction from that which one wished the trailer wheels to travel. One must be careful to go very slowly or car and trailer will jackknife, very to much the discomfort of the trailer.
Leaving Fairmont we took U.S. #16 passing through Worthington. About 20 miles further west through Luverne, where at the east end of this town, we noticed an apparently nice tourist park at which we looked longingly as the day was nearly over. Feeling as no doubt the pioneers of old, we must carry on and reach our goal, which in this case was Sioux Falls, S.D. It was about 8 PM before we got there, daylight was still with us and we had no trouble finding a very nice harbor in “Sherman Municipal Tourist Park”. Upon entering the park an attendant jumped on the running-board and pointed out a good anchoring place to us. The conveniences there consisted of E. W, Tf. Bs. L. (Electricity 110v, Water Toilets flush, Bath showers, Laundry). After jacking up the trailer and uncoupling the car, I started to look around a bit, and to get acquainted, while captain and mate were doing the house keeping and making preparations for the evening meal. Mickey of course by this time had struck up an acquaintance with nearly everybody in camp.
To our right in a Hayes coach was an elderly couple with two young men, not their own, but the lady was like a mother to them. After we had our supper they invited us to come over and sit with them and swap yarns. It was then we learned that the three men went out during the day to do some sort of repair work and “done real well with it too”.
Well the driving and fresh air had made us all rather anxious to try our new house for comfort and sound sleep, so soon we said good-night. I was unanimously appointed the official bed setter-upper, so from that time on it was my duty to convert the “forward” studio couch into comfortable bed for two and do the same with the dinette table and seat “aft”.
The “First Mate” and “The Captain” in “Aft” Dinette Area
It made me feel like a chambermaid but I managed to draw the line at spreading the sheets and blanket. After a sound sleep and a refreshing shower we enjoyed our simple but satisfying breakfast of grapefruit, pancakes and coffee. While the housework was going on inside I touched up the outside of the trailer with a sponge and chamois which disappeared from then on. Yes, one learns a lot when on the road.
At breakfast we had agreed it would be nice to run back into town, give it the once over and make the necessary purchases such as groceries, ice and a few odds and ends. A swell live city it seems to be and it left very pleasant memories. By noon we were again at the trailer just in time to wave goodbye to the newlyweds who were parked on the other side, and were now shoving off. It was a beautiful day with the temperature at 84o, so after lunch we did not feel a bit inclined to move on. We had just decided to stay another night when a bum trailer with very unattractive looking people pulled in right in front of our door. So being snobs we decided to “up anchor”. It was now 4:15 so we knew we could easily reach Mitchell, some 60 or 70 miles away. Two rough detours delayed us so that we reached Mitchell at about 7:30 where we stopped at the Westside Cabin Camp, crude but well enough. E. W. Tf. Bs. 50 cents.
Off on time the next morning, it was a fine clear day and visibility seemed infinite. South Dakota prairie land is beautiful, yes in its vastness. Poor looking crops and the dwellings seemed in need of painting. We were still on #16 and nearing Kadoka, gateway to the Badlands. Seven miles west of Kadoka we left #16 and followed #40 for about 13 miles straight west and there connected with the Badlands Highway with about 40 miles of scenic beauty through canyons, tunnels and along rim roads. We marvel at the grotesque formations and all wonder at its history and God’s scheme of it all. “Ain’t nature grand?” On again after a few stops to take pictures and utter Oh’s & Ah’s.
What was that on this hill, engine pretty hot, pop-pop-pop? Mixture too lean? No, maybe the high altitude? Stalled at last near the top of the “Pinnacles”. Now, what to do?
1935 International Harvester pickup towing a trailer (note it’s a 5th wheel), headed downhill.
Just then a little car came scooting up the grade, stopped, a friendly young man, who was a geologist working these parts, jumped out. After inquiry as to our trouble he decided it was “vapor lock”, so he very obligingly walked to the rear of the car, took the cap off the gas tank and with his mouth over the opening blew as hard as he could. Imagine our embarrassment when after all his accommodating kindness, the blooming gas tank (which was pretty full) kicked back and sprayed the poor man all over his face and even his mouth. It helped though, because after this we reached the top easily enough. Just over the top was a refectory where we stopped for “The Pause that Refreshes”.
After this, it was down hill and only a few miles to Wall. At Wall we stopped at Hill Crest Cabin Park. It was not up to the mark, water was undrinkable and it had no 110v electricity available for 75 cents, a parking space and a shower, but we wanted to stay and knew we’d be well repaid in watching the town of Wall celebrating its 30th Anniversary. A holiday had been declared, the main street roped off and a Merry Go Round was doing its stuff. Natives from all around were there, men, wives, kids and sweethearts in all modes of dress and everybody happy and having a good time long to be remembered. No ice for the trailer could we get, but I did succeed in obtaining a gallon of pure drinking water and small pieces of ice from the local drug store which was doing a land office business selling root beer and such to the celebrants. (Could this be today’s Wall Drug?)
Next morning we were off bright and early on our way to Rapid City and the famous Black Hills. Rapid City is a beautiful town with arms wide open to receive the tourists. Baken Camp in the north end of town was chosen as our harbor during our stay. It lived up to our expectations in every way as it is shady and lovely. E. W. Tf. Bs., 75 cents for the first day and 50 cents thereafter. They had a grocery store right on the grounds that saved us the trouble of going into town. After “Betsey” had been properly taken car of we had plenty of time to look around and get acquainted with some of our neighbors. To gaze at the prehistoric monsters such as “Stegosaurs, Diplodocus, and Tyrannosaurus” which can be plainly seen from the camp, high up on the bluff, at the foot of which the camp is located. The next day we drove up there to make a closer acquaintance with these cement constructed colossus. While up there we also admired hangman’s tree where in the days of ’76 cattle rustlers and other miscreants stretched a rope. There are many places of interest, both present day and historical, to be visited and the scenic beauty is superb. We saw much, caves, mines, museums, an Indian Pow-Wow, but not enough time, and we made up our collective mind to come back.
Before leaving the Black Hills I have to tell you about the “Rushmore Monument”. On our way to it we bought “Rushmore Pottery” which really has merit. It rained all the way out there which dampened our ardor. When we finally reached our goal, the sun came out and we all felt fully rewarded for our efforts. The heads of Washington and Jefferson are about finished and Lincoln and Theo. Roosevelt are getting along nicely but slowly of course because they are so large. It was said that Washington’s nose is sixteen feet long. Just think of that, nearly as long as our trailer. The men that were working on these huge statues looked like flies, indicative of distance. It is a great work, these faces for posterity. We got back to camp before dark and were we ever hungry, fire in the heater felt good too.
Our next door neighbors are pulling out in the morning for Sheridan, Wyo. Too bad, we hated to see them go, they were charming people. Our plan was to go to Deadwood first and then to Sheridan where we hoped to catch up with them again. Perhaps enjoy the “Rodeo” in their company.
The next day, after a morning shopping expedition, we left Baken Camp. Off for historical Deadwood the city of “Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickock, and Deadwood Dick”. The city stage coach, the gold rush and Indian fighting, the glamorous days of ’76. Leaving Rapid City via highway #14 we soon came to a place some 20 miles north where a side road branches off to Crystal Cave. Claims being made that “this particular cave is larger, better, prettier, and what have you, than all other caves in the Black Hills”. We felt compelled to see it. Unhitching the trailer was the work of only a few moments and soon we were on or way over a very primitive road to the cave entrance, a distance of only a few miles. Soon after our arrival there, a guide was available and we were part of a quite large company that entered the cave. In visiting caves it is essential to take an extra sweater or coat as the temperature will be found rather chilly and this one was no exception. It is quite a large cave and has a number of passageways, but the stalactites and stalagmites
seemed not very impressive “just another cavern”. Upon leaving we were permitted to take some small pieces of crystal with us as souvenirs.
“The way back to our caravan”, as the English would say, was uneventful as also the rest of the way to Deadwood, except that when we entered the town it was raining hard and already quite dark. We were told to go through town to “Vaughn’s Camp”. On we went for a ways and there we saw the neon sign, turned in and found ourselves in a sea of mud. Not very pleasant, but the proprietor assured us it was a new camp and the next time we came he would have it all fixed with cinders or gravel, which he has probably done since. Too wet for a shower so we had a fire in the heater and a nice dinner after which we wrote postcards for a while to the folks back home, then went to bed.
Next morning up early. It was a beautiful bright sunny day. Our dear Captain and Mate whose duties are legion, decided a little laundry work would be in order, so off to the camp laundry they went while yours truly was scraping the red mud from the car and trailer. After a short interval we were ready for sight seeing. Off to the Adams Memorial Museum, adjoining the town of Lead where the Homestake Goldmine is located. The graves of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane all had to be visited. In the later part of the afternoon it started to rain again so we decided we had better move on, at least out of the narrow gulch in which Deadwood is nestled.
Following U.S. #85 a short way going north we connected with #14 again and turned west following the highway to Wonderland View Park, perhaps 50 miles out of Deadwood. This was the place for us for the night. It looked like more rain and the engine was balking on hills, so why not stay in this delightful spot, friendly, unsophisticated people managing a few cabins, grocery store and filling station. There were no modern conveniences at all, but we could get along for one night, besides they were glad to let us park without charge.
The next morning was a dandy; the air was so free and pure. This point was at 6000 feet above sea level and breathing was easy, there seemed to be no limit to chest expansion. The sun was shining and after breakfast we were all going to climb to the top of the lookout tower which was built there so that all who would tarry may enjoy the view. After enjoying the view, which was grand, we were off again. Although the road was good and the hills not to bad, we had to stop several times to let the sputtering Oldsmobile engine cool off a bit. I realized I would have to get this sputtering fixed before we could cross any real mountains. We just passed “Devils Tower”, a very curious cone shaped rock formation standing all by itself, reaching high into the sky.
Finally we reached the wide awake town of Sheridan at about 4 PM, dropped anchor at Reynolds’s Camp, E. W. Tf. Bs. Gs. And a filling station, 75 cents. A friendly young fellow jumped out of his nice new “Covered Wagon” ready to get acquainted before I had turned off the ignition. After giving our craft first aid and performing those little chores that are incidental to locating in a new place, we decided to see the town and locate our Rapid City friends if possible. It did not take us very long to spot their “Trotwood Trailer” in a camp at the opposite end of the city. Their home was there but they were not.
1935 Desoto Airflow Towing an Ozark Travel Trailer
While in town I ran the car into a garage and had the mechanic check it over. He found a broken spark plug on our engine. Just to make sure, I had him put in a complete new set. The car ran beautifully after that during the entire remainder of the trip. (This was a 1932 Oldsmobile in 1937, pretty good for a 5 year old car!)
That evening, we drove out to the Fair Grounds to view the Indian PowWow. A large crowd of people were there to see the show. Whom do you think was seated right in front of us? You guessed it; it was the traveling friends we had been looking for. We made a date with them then and there to attend the Rodeo together the next day. Three Indian tribes participated in the dancing and singing that evening, accompanied by beating on drums after heating them on the campfire to give them the proper resonance.
Next morning we were up and downtown as soon as the stores were open, these shops all had special window displays for the grand occasion. The streets were decorated and thronged with spectators for the parade late morning, followed by the big show at 1:30. Much local color was in evidence, Cowboys, Cowgirls and Indians with their women and children all dressed in their finest. Ten gallon hats, bright hued satin shirts and high heeled boots were everywhere. Betty was so enthusiastic that she insisted on dressing up her father the same way, but I argued and prevailed that it would be better to look at the real thing than to have her tenderfoot father make a spectacle of himself.
The parade was splendid, one of the most interesting we have ever witnessed. The Rodeo was exciting, with roping, riding and bulldogging. Being soft hearted, we could not help but feel sorry for the poor calves being thrown by the rope while in full flight. It sometimes happened that an animal’s leg was broken, in which case it is given to the Indians to be barbequed. That evening we ate dinner at a restaurant in town, the meal was fair although the steak was rather tough. I’ve heard that should be expected out there in cow country. After dinner we found enjoyment in parading on Main Street to watch the night life and celebrating.
The next day the girls spent a nice quiet day in camp knitting, and washing their hair. The said they had rather enjoyed it for a change. I went to town to attend to business and look around, then at 4:30 we all took a little spin along the surrounding highways. When we returned a little California lady who was living in a “Rolling Home” close by brought over some barbequed spare ribs, very delicious. It seems that the girls got acquainted with the family during the day. It is uplifting to meet so many nice, wholesome people on the road. There is a true fraternal spirit which is delightful.
The next day was Sunday, and a beautiful one. We left Sheridan by way of U.S. Highway #87. There were thousands of Mormon crickets on the road. This is a semi arid land and it makes us sad to think that the white men plowed under the native grasses and laid the land open to erosion. It was interesting to pass by General Custer Battlefield and National Cemetery about 85 miles out of Sheridan. It was here that the Sioux Indians wiped out Custer’s troops in the Battle of Little Big Horn, June 26, 1876.
By noon we had reached Billings, Mont. There we got gas and ice for the trailer. A few blocks further we found a shady park where we stopped for lunch. We did not tarry long in Billings because we were anxious to see the scenic beauty of the new “Red Lodge “Highway. We left the city by U.S. #10 going west south west for about 12 miles then turned left on highway #32 which we followed through rather level but green country until we reached Red Lodge, a little tourist town in a gorgeous setting. Over the bridge that crosses Rock Creek the road leads by the “See’em Alive Zoo” in to nature’s wonderland. First we traveled through the valley but gradually noticed we were climbing. After making a few turns we stopped for a moment to look around, never realizing just what was in store for us. Soon our glances followed the road and saw tier upon tier of road zigzagging up the mountain side. It nearly took our breath, I heaved a sigh and said: Golly I can never haul this outfit up there”, whereupon we all got boarded and shoved off. We only stopped twice for picture taking, going on and ever higher, until at last we had reached the top, well over 11,000 feet above sea level (Beartooth Pass). Here we stopped for a few snowballs and to watch the Woodchucks scamper around. The top being nearly flat we found we could see the tiers of road below us.
After all, the climb had not been as hard as it could have been; it was built on a 5½% grade. Next would be the trip down the mountain on the other side to the next town, which is Cooke, Mont. We should have bought gas at Rail Lodge, but failed to do so, not knowing there were no pumps between that town and Cooke. We had fun wondering if we would make it. The tank was so nearly empty that for the sake of safety we poured gas into it from the cook stove, lantern and auxiliary gas can. We made it all right and the first stop in Cooke was to fill all our equipment. It being nearly dark by this time we decided to spend the night there. We found an ideal spot to park at the foot of a nearly perpendicular snow capped mountain by the brink of a rushing mountain stream.
Shortly after dinner we retired for the night and had a sound sleep under four blankets. The next morning we were up early and took time to exult in fresh pure air and God’s beauteous handicraft. Our front lawn consisted of lush grass speckled with a myriad of wild flowers. During preparation of breakfast, Betty gathered flowers and soon had a bouquet that graced our table for a whole week thereafter. After our meal we leisurely rolled towards the Yellowstone Park that was only four miles further west.
Upon arrival there, after the customary formality of exchanging three dollars for a permit to enter, we passed through the rustic gateway and were at last in this wonderland of world wide fame. After entering we drove another fifty miles to Monmouth Hot Springs and the free Auto Campgrounds where we were to park during our stay in Yellowstone. We found all the usual conveniences there except electricity and we were much disappointed in not finding shade. The natural beauties and phenomenon of the park are to well known to enumerate here in detail. Suffice it to say that in the next few days we visited all the places of interest that we could reach by automobile.
We saw herds of buffalo, elk, moose and deer and numerous bears. The last are excellent “panhandlers” along some of the byways. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone River is simply gorgeous and so is the water fall. In all we drove within the confines of the park between 300 and 400 miles, returning to the trailer each night. At last, thinking we had seen enough, the wanderlust took hold of us and again we made ready to go on and investigate what lies in the great beyond. Before leaving we went to the Post Office at Mammoth once more for mail and to leave our next forwarding address as Spokane.
New Yellowstone Tour Bus at Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
It was not until after lunch that we were all ship shape and ready to shove off. After a short run we left this truly famous park by the North Gate at Gardiner. A fine and easy road for leaving as it is down hill all the way, but I would hate to pull a heavy trailer into the Park via this route. It would be a long and steep grade coming the other way. On to Livingston, sixty miles away, an easy run north, for the afternoon. A nice level road through a wide valley got us there to early to call it a day, so on to Bozeman, Mont. In this city we stopped for the night at a filling station situated near the Montana State College. Leaving the trailer there we went down to town to do some necessary shopping.
The next morning I filled the tank with gas before breakfast and hitched the trailer to the car so there would be no further delay after we ate. Soon we were off and then the question arose, which way to go, via Butte or Helena? Betty favored Butte and her mother favored Helena. Appreciating what would be best for me, I remained quite neutral. Betty won of course, so Butte it was, and four miles shorter than by way of Helena, so father, who buys the gas, had his inning too. Butte is a mining town, built on the side of a hill, did not appeal to us very much, so we decided to go to Missoula. Leaving Butte at 3 PM going west on U.S. #10 we passed through the beautiful valley of the Clark Fork River and the Lolo National Forest.
Peterson’s Tourist Camp was our objective in Missoula. We had chosen it from the listings in the Official Directory of Trailer Parks & Camps issued by Trailer Travel Magazine, a guide that we used extensively during our wanderings and found very useful. Just before entering town we turned to the right and found the camp about a mile north of #10. Our joyful host Mr. Carl Peterson, formerly of Minnesota met us at the entrance and directed us to a lovely shady spot under the big pines. The camp was divided into two parts; the cabins are on the higher ground and the trailer area in a lower perfectly level grove. We were there about an hour before dark so we had ample time to admire the natural beauties of the place. We found a little creek, marvelous pine trees, E, Tf, Bs and we could have a campfire. The water supply was from an ice cold pure mountain spring. One pine tree right by our home on wheels measured eleven feet and four inches in circumference. After the sun-baked trailer grounds at Yellowstone, this came as a true relief. We hated to see the dark set in although we knew we were going to have a swell sleep.
Up early and after breakfast when the sun got fairly high, we could fully appreciate being in this cool grove rather than on the higher ground near the cabins. Soon we got acquainted with some very nice people. There was a family of four from our home state spending the whole summer there. Betty was after a short time quite chummy with the daughter of about her own age. They went berry picking and also made plans to go to the University ball game.
We liked Missoula and didn’t want to leave. The next day, Sunday, we went to church in the morning and in the afternoon drove around visiting the University of Montana campus located there. On Monday I washed the car while the girls were washing the breakfast things. After lunch I got acquainted with Dr. R.T. Pettit whose “Westward Ho” was then being serially published in Trailer Travel Magazine. The good doctor and his family were then on their homeward trip. We had intended to leave that afternoon for points west but conversations with Dr. Pettit, who had just come from there, soon convinced us that we should stay until morning. He said it was a nice day’s drive to Coeur D’Alene where we should camp at Silver Beach Trailer Park, a lovely spot about two miles east of the city. On Tuesday morning we reluctantly left Missoula for a delightful drive through beautiful valleys and over scenic mountain roads.
In due time we crossed into Idaho and shortly thereafter we could see the town nestling in the valley below us. The day was grand and the road good; we were enjoying every mile of it. Finally we reached the town of Wallace where the sign said “Home of the Largest Lead & Silver Mines in The World”. We could see where mining operations were going on along the road for quite a ways after leaving the city.
Crossing the Idaho panhandle was a very scenic trip. After passing through the little town of Kellogg we soon reached Cataldo where we found Fourth of July Canyon. Near the rim stands a tree which bears the original blaze and date, “July 4, 1860” carved on it by Captain John Mullan. Cataldo Mission is also close by, built by Jesuit fathers who started it in 1848 and took twenty years to build it without the use of nails. On we go climbing and winding until at last we get a marvelous view of Coeur D’Alene Lake. It is a gem, that beautiful blue lake in its setting of fresh green pines. As we moved along and downward we had an ever changing panorama. All too quickly we reached the very water’s edge. It surely was lovely there and still early so we could enjoy it to the fullest. Even Mickey liked it, to judge by the way she barked her approval right out loud.
A delightful swim was our first diversion. We had found a very cozy place to camp with the usual conveniences E. W. Tf. After a refreshing sleep that night, we found it quite impossible to tear ourselves away from this lovely spot in the morning, so we stayed until rather well into the afternoon and reached Spokane at about 5 PM. Here we wished to stop, not only to see the city but also to look up some relatives.
Entering Spokane from the eastside and staying right on #10 it led us through the center of town directly to the “High Bridge Municipal Tourist Park”. A fine park with all the modern conveniences and some natural beauty, we met many congenial people that evening and the next day. After parking we showered and dressed for the drive back to downtown where we ate a light dinner at the Dutch Shop on Howard Street. Then we called up my wife’s cousin John and told him we were coming out. With the aid of a good Shell map of the city, we had very little difficulty finding his home. We had a most pleasant visit, getting acquainted all over again as we had not seen each other in 17 years, his wife and children never.
It was getting late and rain clouds were blowing up from the west, so we decided we had better return to our own home before we got soaked. It rained intermittently all night and we were lulled to sleep by its patter on the roof. After a refreshing rest we awoke the next day to sunshine, in time to exchange a few parting words with our newly met acquaintance and neighbor, a retired navel officer and his wife. They were about to return home to California in their “Kozy Kamp” coach. We planned to stay the day in Spokane as we were very comfortable and the girls wanted to shop in the city. They did so, while I, being lazy, stayed in camp keeping Mickey company. A sudden shower brought the ladies back sooner than they expected. It was only a short shower, the sun came out brightly soon after. We decided to risk it again but this time on a sight seeing trip. We toured around and admired the fine city and were particularly impressed by the intricate system of roadways with over and underpasses in the west end of town. Back home in Minneapolis, we have some bad crossings that should be eliminated in this manner. Incidentally I noted our way out for the next day.
The morning came on bright and sunny, an ideal day for the trip to Coulee
Dam. Waving goodbye to our fellow campers, we were off and soon back on
#10. First we crossed the High Bridge, then a long easy grade up to travel The Big Bend Wheat Belt in level country until we reached Almira. There we turned off and went straight north for a way and on to the Dam site. This terrain was hilly and led us close to the Columbia River where we could behold the grandeur of the canyon through which it rushes on its way to the sea.
Now this wealth of power and moisture is being harnessed for the use of mankind. Below us we could see the mighty foundations of the Dam which will eventually be the largest in the world. When finished it will be 550 feet high and 4300 feet long and produce 50% more power than Boulder Dam. Part of this power will be used to pump water, from the swollen Columbia River above the dam, over the hill and into the gigantic reservoir to be made of the Grand Coulee nearby. Before visiting the Grand Coulee, we wanted to see more of the Dam building operations. So, we drove a short way and found a fine large level parking lot where we unhitched the trailer and left it while we drove down the steep grade to the west observation stand to hear a government official give a lecture on this great work.
We were also shown a model of the completed Dam and power units. Afterward we passed through the model village where the employees live and then crossed a high bridge to the east side to listen to another lecture. This time, on the actual construction work of this great project. We marveled at the ingenuity of it all. Continuous conveyer belts carried sand, gravel and cement to mammoth concrete mixers. As soon as the mix was ready, it passed to diesel motivated dumpcarts rolling on tracks to all sections of the dam. After seeing all this we felt a strong desire to visit again when it was finished and in operation.
Returning to our Travelo it was but a moment’s work to hitch it to the car and be back on the roads over the hill leading away from the river. We then entered the upper section of the Grand-Coulee. This portion will be fitted with a retaining dam at its lower end, thus forming a huge reservoir after which water backed up by the big dam will be raised by the pumps into this rocklined canyon where by means of canals it will flow out to reclaim the parched but fertile acres of the Columbia Basin.
As we entered this awesome chasm it was unlike what we had expected. It was bigger, more majestic and overall gaunt and somber. From where we entered the upper Coulee, the rim of the Columbia Canyon was about 500 feet above the river. To the end of the lower Coulee is a distance of fifty miles. In places this enormous flat bottomed valley is as much as five miles wide and its walls are perpendicular, towering upward to nearly one
The Captain (Ethel) and First Mate (Betty) with “Betsey” at Grand Coulee
thousand feet. After we had driven only a few miles in the upper Coulee, we passed by what is named Steamboat Rock. It is perfectly flat on top and shaped like a steam ship. There it stands in the middle of this giant canyon, reaching as high as its vertical walls.
After passing out of the upper Coulee we came to the Dry Falls. This is the place where at one time the mighty Columbia River took a 400 foot drop at a width that would make about ten Niagara’s, but not one drop of water is going over it now. Only a dark pool of water at the base bearing mute evidence of ages long past. Our road also led us down to enter the lower Coulee. While the upper Coulee is quite dry, the lower Coulee contains several beautiful little lakes. The last one of these is called Soap Lake and is said to contain medicinal properties.
After reaching the town of Soap Lake, we turned west again, reaching Ephrata before dark. In this town we soon found a hospitable filling station attendant who said he would be glad to have us park there for the night. We found an “Elcar” there ahead of us and soon a trailer of some other make pulled in. We enjoyed getting acquainted and visiting back and forth with one another that evening. There is little to say about the town except that it is situated at the northern boundary of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Area which contains 1,200,000 thirsty acres that some day hope to get their life-giving moisture from this wonderful project that we just inspected.
We decided to go to Seattle by way of Ellensburg. We drove down to the
Vantage Bridge and there crossed the Columbia River. Passing by the Ginko Petrified Forest we soon reached Ellensburg. We were happy we chose this way to the coast because we have seldom had such a delightful drive through a beautiful fertile valley and choice mountain forest scenery. Finally we reached Renton and as the campsite there did not seem to appeal to us, we decided to go on to find something closer to Seattle.
We found what we thought would answer our expectations close to the city limits and right on #10. The place was called the Brown Derby and we had grass and shade but the only conveniences consisted of E. Wc. Tp. After dropping anchor we drove the car to the city as it was still early enough to collect our mail and look around a bit. The next day we would investigate the city more thoroughly, so after a quick look-see we found ourselves returning to our home. It had been a warm day and I guess we were looking for a good night’s rest. It did not take us long to get under the covers after dinner, and Oh how we slept.
It rained that night and the next morning we awoke to a beautiful fresh sparkling world. We felt it was just good to be alive. Even Mickey felt exceptional, I think because she started clamoring for something to eat, which was unusual as ordinarily she ate around noon. We started for town as soon as the housework was done, which thanks to the compactness of the house, never took long.
Stopping at the first Shell station for gas and a map of the city, we could soon orientate ourselves. We were going to have a full day. We wanted to see the Aquarium, the University, Fort Lawton and the canal locks. We finally ended up at the waterfront after browsing about for awhile in the Old Curiosity Shop. We were tired but satisfied and ready for a good dinner, so we went to Don’s on 5th Ave near Pike Street where we had a splendid fish dinner. As we had many more miles to cover, we agreed to go on the next day. First thing in the morning I had the car greased and otherwise serviced, so we didn’t get away until half past ten. We went south to Kent to say hello to some relatives. Leaving that town we went west for a short distance to pick up U.S. #99 which proved to be a fine four lane road that carried us through Tacoma and almost to Olympia before it narrowed to two lanes.
Sam & Ethel Esser in Front of the Washington State Capital Building, Olympia, Wash.
At the capital of Washington we stopped for lunch and the usual snapshots. After a short interval we were again rolling southward through this beautiful lush green country. We took it easy enjoying to the fullest natures beauty along this shady winding road along the Cowlitz and Columbia rivers.
Along this road we passed through Woodland. At the south end of town we found an inviting shady tourist park called “Woodland Auto Camp”. Equipped with a grocery store, oil station, E.W.Bs.Tf.Bt.L, this was the place for us. Especially after we noted some big pine trees in the lee of which we could drop anchor. An ideal place to rest, so that was the way we spent the evening and night. The next morning we awoke to one of those big beautiful days giving us plenty of pep for sightseeing. So, we decided to stay another night and in the meantime spend the day retracing our steps about eighteen miles to Longview in order to visit the large veneer and plywood mill located there. Also to see one of the largest paper and pulp mills in the country. That trip proved very interesting and instructive.
The next day we left camp in time to reach Portland at about noon. First we called for our mail at the new Post Office. As we did not intend to stay in the city overnight, we found a shady place by a little park where we could leave Betsey for a little shopping. Here we uncoupled and drove the half dozen blocks back to the shopping district. It was a hot day, in fact the natives told us it was the first hot day they had that summer. We liked Portland and it seems to be a real city. Among other things Betty bought wool yarn for a new dress she wished to knit. That girl is some knitter, while traveling she knits but also sees everything along the road just the same.
When we returned to our home, Mickey, who had watched over it during our absence, welcomed us with snorts and yaps. Lunch was soon ready and we ate right there before shoving off again. Soon after leaving the city behind us on U.S.#99E we had a beautiful view of snow-capped Mt. Hood about forty miles east of us. It is the highest point in Oregon at 11225 feet.
Passing through Salem we soon reached Albany at which point we swung west on #26 to Corvallis to visit friends and make a one night stop. We did our visiting that evening and the next morning awoke to the thundering rumble and mighty splashing of enormous fir logs being dumped from trucks into the close-by river from where they floated to the big sawmill. After breakfast we drove over and inspected that mill in full operation. Here we saw huge fir logs being reduced to building material, very interesting indeed. After this we picked up our trailer and took highway #34 to the coast. This road, although not so good, gave us gorgeous scenery and we enjoyed every foot of it. As we neared the coast we became aware of the salty tang of the ocean. This increased our impatience to get there until at last we beheld that great expanse of water and we all laughed and shouted out loud just for the pure joy of it all.
At the little seacoast town of Waldport we stopped long enough to buy a big salmon steak and a crab so large I bet it was fully seven inches in diameter. While the Captain was doing her shopping a funny fat man came over to the car and started telling all he knew about these parts. Mickey thought she had found a long lost friend because he pulled many pieces of raw meat from his pockets feeding them alternately to her and to his own dog, meanwhile explaining that he had just killed a bull that morning. Then he would walk off a ways and come back again. This went on until Ethel was ready to move on again, so waving goodbye to our newly found friend we rolled on to join U.S. #101, the coast road going south. We only went a very short way however when we felt impelled to stop. We had come to one of those wide places along the road made purposely so one can tarry and take in the view or otherwise enjoy one’s self.
So here we stopped for lunch and a delightful lunch it was too, as the “piece de resistance” was our newly acquired crab. While we were still eating, another car stopped and soon its owner stuck his head in our open doorway and welcomed us to the state. He said he noticed from our license plate that we were from Minnesota and soon was telling us all about his work in Oregon and how he settled here five years ago and originally also hailed from our state. We enjoyed his visit, asked him to join us for lunch, but he assured us he had just eaten.
After the dishes were disposed of, we went outside and it was glorious with an invigorating breeze blowing forcing us to don heavy sweaters. We were so elated with the Pacific that nothing short of wading in it would satisfy. So, off came the shoes and stockings. We were not the only ones either as we noticed another family doing the very same thing. Funny how things like that can make kids of us again and we are thankful for it too. But was the water ever cold, why it was simply terrific. Undaunted however we stuck it out for awhile until we mutually agreed we had enough. Mickey had her fun also but she was shivering and willing enough to be traveling again, scolding us from the back seat for being slow.
On we went along this beautiful scenic coast highway, up and down and around many rocky curves. Now right up to the water’s edge then a bit inland. This went on until after crossing a beautiful new bridge spanning Coos Bay, we reached North Bend. There we stayed for the night in a camp at our right which had looked inviting. Here we found E. W. Tf. for 50 cents. A pretty place to stop. After dinner we took a brisk walk through the town partly over a funny old fashioned wooden sidewalk. We walked all the way to the south end of town and back, after which we were ready for bed.
The next morning the road led us inland for the first 20 or 30 miles, but after that we could enjoy the sea again. We reached Smith River, the first stop across the border in California, where a pleasant official asked to examine our belongings. It made me think of entering some foreign country where customs officers look for contraband goods.
He showed great interest for lemons, sweet potatoes, etc. When he spied the Captain’s English Ivey gracing the table he became very suspicious and carried it out doors for better light to examine it. Happily he decided that it was quite harmless and let us keep it, provided we promised to carry it with us when we left the state. We promised. We had a good laugh. Another tourist who had just bought a dozen oranges, was told that he could not bring them into California but would have to throw them away, whereupon he replied: “No sir, I bought these oranges to eat and eat them I will.” So the officer said “OK; that will be the only way you can bring them into the state.” When we drove off the poor man was just starting his fifth orange.
We were handed some tickets, perhaps they should be called Clearance papers, with the laconic remark that we should “hand them to the official 92 miles down the road”. We however only went as far as Klamath that day and never did see anyone to hand that ticket to.
We stopped over at the Cates Bros. Auto Park on #101 south. It is a nice place with lots of room and all the usual conveniences, 50 cents. After dinner we investigated the town and the Klamath River where it empties into the Pacific. It is said fishing is very good there.
We departed from Klamath at six thirty AM and drove three hundred miles to Santa Rosa. After following the coast line for a short way, we entered the Redwood Forests. They are dense and magnificent and it did our hearts good to read the signs displaying the names of clubs and women’s organizations that were instrumental in saving the different groves of these age old giants for posterity. “Oh Woodsman Spare that Tree”. Well, many have been spared and let us thank the California people for that.
Mickey, Betty, the 1932 Oldsmobile 8 and the Travelo in the Redwood Forest
In Santa Rosa we parked under a magnificent pepper tree and could have lingered there had time permitted. The surrounding territory is a true wonderland and full of interest and scenic beauty. It was here that the late Luther Burbank lived and worked and found his last resting place beneath the Cedar of Lebanon Garden that is located here and open to the public.
Saturday morning we left for San Francisco only forty eight miles away. We reached that city at about ten AM. After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge it was only a matter of a few minutes to find our friends on Chestnut Street. Only the lady of the house was home, of course, and she showed us a most hearty welcome. Nothing would do but she would pilot us through the center of the city to Coloma, a little town south of San Francisco where we wanted to park during our stay.
After arrival, we had tea and made plans for the two families spending as much time as possible together during our visit in their home town. The next few days were spent in one round of continual visiting and sightseeing. The Presidio, the Marina, Golden Gate Park, Aquarium, Japanese Gardens, China Town, and what have you. One night we all drove to the top of Telegraph Hill to enjoy a beautiful view of the city by night. We saw the fleet come in and Alcatraz Island, visited the fish market with its outdoor kettles for boiling lobsters.
Finally our time was up and we simply must go on, so we bid farewell all to our dear friends and the next morning we were off again on our trek southward. We followed the bay until we nearly reached San Jose, then we took a road to the right which carried us through Santa Clara, of prune fame, to Santa Crum and the coast. From there we took #101 south. This proved to be rather disappointing as the road was hilly and crooked with heavy fog banks and poor visibility all afternoon.
It was already dark when we reached San Luis Obispo where we stopped for the night at Star Auto Camp in the south end of town. Nearby is the old mission from which the town derives its name, built in 1772.
The next day was very pleasant; we followed U.S. #101 again which after a short drive led us back to the coast. We reached Santa Monica in the afternoon and found a suitable tourist park at 1200 Pico Blvd. Beside the usual conveniences we had newspaper, ice and milk deliveries on the grounds daily. We choose this place as our headquarters during our short stay in these parts. Within easy access to the beach and Los Angles, with delightfully cool nights and warm but bearable days. We enjoyed the sea bathing to the fullest. As could be expected, one of our first trips led to Beverly Hills where with the aid of a handy map we easily found the homes of many of the movie celebrities. Another trip was taken to the beautiful Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Much to be admired and great interest for the “Wee Kirk O’ the Heather”, the reconstructed church of Annie Laurie in California. Relatives were visited and acquaintances looked up, we crossed the city in every direction, went shopping and investigated the outskirts and suburbs.
An Oil Station with a Fokker Plane on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles
After spending a few days in this manner, we agreed that we had seen enough. Our original plan had included a visit to San Diego, but time was a big factor as we simply had to be home by September first. Therefore the next morning as beautiful as all the others, we turned our faces homeward. We took the just dedicated “Will Rogers Highway” #66. Our first stop was in Alhambra where we made a flying visit with some people we know. Only staying a few minutes, we were soon on the trail again and driving through orange groves which certainly looked inviting. It is said that here are some of the finest groves in the state. By noon we found a nice shady spot by the side of the road where we could eat lunch. Before leaving behind this section we bought a goodly supply of juicy fruit to eat on the way. We figured they might come in handy later in the desert.
Soon after passing through San Bernardino we got a laugh out of a sign on a fence, it read “Semi Nudist Colony”. No, we did not see the inmates. After reaching the top of a hill we spied a white structure ahead with the caption in big black letters, Orange Juice Garage. Arriving there we partook of the beverage and in exchanging pleasantries with the attendant we learned that they had to haul their water supply from a distance of ten miles. This indicated to us that the desert was not far off. In reminiscence we speak of the place as the “orange juice garage”.
After this came a long steady upward grade which brought us to a level plateau containing an oil station and some other buildings. As evening had set in and it was now quite dark, we asked for and were gladly given permission to park there for the night. We had a good night’s rest because the air was grand but the place was not exactly quiet. At least half a dozen or more giant oil trucks stopped there during the night. One other house trailer
and some other vehicles stopped but only for a few hours’ sleep before moving on.
Leaving Cajon Pass behind us the next morning, we rolled down into the Mojave Desert country towards Barstow. Arriving there the Captain expressed the thought that we must be nearly through the desert. Little did she realize that we were just getting started into it and had two whole days of desert travel ahead of us. After Barstow we left #66 and took U.S. Highway #91 instead.
When we reached Las Vegas at about one o’clock we thought it more pleasant to stop there and start early the next morning to dodge some of the heat. Upon entering the city, we were hailed by an enterprising Jewish ice peddler who sold us ice right in the middle of Main Street. It was amusing and he agreed “Ja, I ketch’em on the wing”. Las Vegas is a regular oasis and we surely enjoyed its shade. We found a camp with a delightful swimming pool being constantly refreshed by a running creek. The afternoon was spent lazily watching all the youngsters in town splashing in this pool. We showered, ate dinner and did not go swimming until about eight that evening.
We were up at three the next morning and on the trail as soon as possible after breakfast. It was cool and delightful driving in the dark, then into the semi darkness meeting the sun. That day we left Nevada and crossed over the northwest corner of Arizona and got well into Utah. For the night we stopped in Beaver. As we knew of no trailer park there, we dropped anchor in a vacant lot behind a filling station. It was nice and level and piped with running water. We were quite alone there until during the night a “Covered Wagon” pulled along side of us and I awoke just long enough to hear a young voice call out “Jack, come to bed”. The next morning we left quietly before daylight leaving the other trailer by itself in deep sleep.
1930 “Covered Wagon”, Looked Homemade but They Produced 1000 a Month by 1936
After a pleasant and swift drive we entered Salt Lake City while the day was still young. Selecting one of the numerous tourist parks with trailer accommodations, it did not take us long to shower and be ready for sight seeing. Thinking of Salt Lake City is thinking of Mormons, so off to the Tabernacle we went and arrived just in time for the free daily organ recital. After the music we admired the huge Mormon Temple with its pillars, domed roof and seating for eight thousand people. Not open to the general public, we could only see it from the outside. We did see many other places of interest, the Seagull Monument, Brigham Young’s grave, his former residence and Immigration Canyon through which Mr. Young led his pioneers and proclaimed to them, “This is the Place”. We must hand it to them; they made the valley bloom where formerly only sagebrush grew.
The state capitol building was interesting to visit as was the Great Salt Lake where we took a swim. It was a very funny experience because of its salt content, said to be 22%. One cannot sink; in fact one can only with difficulty keep ones feet down in order to walk around in the water.
It was nearly dark when we drove back. The city in the distance seemed to be nestling in the lap of the mountains, looking pretty with its myriad of twinkling lights. In camp that evening we had some fellow tourists over, telling their experiences. We got a kick out of hearing the man from Missouri tell he had “lots of hoags”.
In the morning we took a trip to Brigham Canyon, an interesting and picturesque mining town. It has but one street that winds its way for three miles up the canyon with the miner’s houses hanging along its sides. It is said to be the “longest, narrowest, steepest and crookedest street in the world”. At the end of this street you finally come to the largest open-cut copper mine in North America. It works a score of terraces in plain sight with giant electric shovels moving vast quantities of ore. Between work periods blasting goes on sounding like a good size war.
In order to avoid having to cross the Wasatch Mountain range out of Salt Lake City, we went straight north on #91 to Ogden. In that city we picked up U.S. #30-s going east passing Devil’s Slide and traveling through Echo Canyon past Castle Rock and into Wyoming. The first town in that state was Evanston, elevation 6747 feet. By noon we had reached Fort Bridger where we found an interesting historical museum, old stockade guard houses and a Pony Express stable. Here we stopped for lunch before driving to Point of Rocks for the night. We parked at a wide spot by the side of the road at a Texaco Station. Without electric, we pressed our gas lantern into service again as we had on many previous occasions.
At about six fifteen the next morning we were off for Cheyenne. Through the Red Desert and on over the Continental Divide at 7107 feet giving us a grand view over the surrounding plains. We came to a Texaco Station in Harper where we filled our tank. It was the only habitation we could see for miles around. An aged Negro came out to wait on us. Apparently he lives there all alone with his goats, in some structures made of logs and stone. While the ladies were feeding the Mama goat and her young some apples, the old man requested me to make out a charge slip for the gasoline we got.
The poor fellow leads a lonely life there I fear. Talking about charge slips makes me think to mention what a great convenience the credit cards are that the Oil Companies now issue. They forestall carrying any great amount of ready cash and making change.In Cheyenne we did not find the western atmosphere we had expected but that was probably our fault and not theirs. We did find a shady camp by a creek and that would have been “just dandy” if there only had been water in the creek. A stretch of new paving was being put down in part of the business district and the building of the new railway station was causing considerable activity in town.
Leaving the city the next morning still going east on #30, the Lincoln Highway, we were soon in Nebraska. We drove in plains in the wide end of a funnel formed by the North and South Platte Rivers. Before we got to Ogallala we had the South Platte very close at hand. The country was gradually getting greener and Cherry juice was for sale everywhere. Finally at the town of North Platte the two rivers join forces and there we stopped for the night.
There are many choices for tourists there so we just picked a park at random and it proved to be very pleasant. This is the home town of that noted character, Buffalo Bill, who lived here for thirty years. It is the center of a rich agricultural section. The trip the next day was through a level fertile country, so we kept rolling along at a good clip following the Platte River to Fremont where the river turns south to join the Missouri below Omaha. We went straight making a few detours on account of road construction on our way to Blair. From there it was over the Missouri River on a toll bridge into Iowa.
A short distance into Iowa we came to the town named Missouri-Valley and as the day was nearly at an end, we thought it best to stop there. Before we got fairly into town, just after some railroad tracks, we turned to the left because we spied a fine grove of trees. It turned out to be the county fairgrounds and as luck would have it, it was equipped for tourists. An attendant assured us of welcome so we were very comfortable there for the night. The conveniences consisted of E.W.Tf.Bs. We were quite alone there until much later some people pitched a tent a short distance from us, but they were gone in the morning before we got up, it had rained hard during the night and everything outside was dripping but nature looked good in the bright morning sunlight. After breakfast as we were ready to depart, we were amused to see a young traveler ride up on a bicycle. He stopped for few minutes chat and a cup of coffee and told us that he was bound for Seattle on his way from Pennsylvania. After seeing him peddle away on his long hard trek west, we also resumed our journey.
We enjoyed the ride through this beautiful green agricultural state. Our road, still #30, led us through Carroll where we stopped for lunch and a haircut for the pilot. Nearby is the battlefield where the Sioux and Pottawatomie fought one of the bloodiest battles in redskin history. We did not take the time to drive out to see it. Instead we drove on to Boone where it was the pottery that we couldn’t leave behind. The town after that was Ames, about 12 miles after that we turned north on U.S. #65 to near Iowa Falls where we found a tourist haven on a farm. It looked like and actually was a lovely place. Here were cabins and trailer space with all the modern conveniences. Besides catering to wayfarers these people run a farm and raise silver foxes. We were told they had over two hundred of these valuable fur bearers. It was amusing to watch them at feeding time and see how they would fight trying to keep each other away from the horsemeat that was given to them for food.
Heavy dew fell during the night. No doubt quite the unusual thing and perhaps the reason for the fresh green all around. Iowa appeared to us as the greenest and most intensely cultivated state we had passed through, and all the homesteads looked prosperous. Tourist facilities were scarcer but not a worry to us, as we soon would be home.
Mason City was reached in due time and there we felt at home as we had visited it on a previous occasion. In this city we just bought gas and pushed on again, feeling the urge like “Old Dobbin” to get home to the stable. In Albert-Lea however I just had to look up an old friend of mine and find a shady grove for lunch. Here we filled our tank for the last time on this trip.
From there we kept going until we found a safe haven in the very pleasant
“Minnehaha Tourist Park” owned and operated by the Minneapolis Park
Board. It is located on the beautiful bank of the Mississippi River. It was here I figured out how ridiculously low the cost was of this 7000 mile jaunt for three people and little Mickey. We gained health, lost weight, and got tanned. We saw a goodly section of our homeland and learned that this continent is full of splendid people. This trip brought us nearer mankind and nearer God. For all this we are thankful. So, after spending a few pleasant days there with congenial neighbors from all parts of the United States, all our city friends and relatives coming to see us, we truly regretted to leave our home on wheels and go back to the prosaic way of living in a house.
The Travelers: Left to right, Sam Esser, Pilot, Chief Engineer & Writer: Ethel Esser, Captain: Betty Esser, First Mate. Mickey the Boston Bull Terrier was off entertaining the Camp
Samuel Esser was born in Holland in 1880, the youngest son of a Dutch writer. In 1895 he came to Minnesota where he lived and went to school. About 1901 he went back to Holland and then to India to export wood to Holland. In 1910 he returned to Minneapolis where he lived in a rooming house owned by my great grandmother, there he met my grandmother. He rode a Harley Davidson and bought a brand new Model T Ford Roadster when they got get married in 1911. He opened an Edison Phonograph store, added radios, then appliances until just before the great depression, when he bought a grocery store. This travelogue was a vacation from that store.
This story of travel adventure held a special interest to me as the grandson of the Pilot & the Captain and the son of the First Mate. When I was a child, I knew Grandpa & Grandma Esser, who would travel through Princeton, N.J, towing a trailer on their way to Florida. We would then visit them, summers and at Christmases, living on the beach at the Gulf to Bay Trailer Park on Manasota Key in Englewood Florida.
Reading this adventure and plotting it on the maps across the country brought the enjoyment of travel not unlike the log of our travels that I send out via email to friends and relatives during our modern day RV travels. I’ve read this story to my mother who will be 90 before this story is 70 years old. She remembers most of it and doesn’t dispute any of it because it happened a year before she married my father in 1938. He too, was a writer, adventurer and great story teller who wrote things down for us to enjoy again.
During the typing and plotting of their trip, I was continually amazed at how similar it was to today’s campgrounds and tourist attractions, although on a smaller scale. I also think some of those early “Tourist Camps” are still in operation, unchanged, except the large sites that were built for his rig totaling 33 feet in length are now accommodating 42- foot Motor Homes with slide outs and towing Honda’s while totaling twice the length and twice the width of the Oldsmobile & the Travelo trailer.
When I plotted their trip it seemed to roughly follow where Interstate90 is now heading west to Seattle, then I-5 south to Portland and then the
Coastal Highway101 to LA before taking I-15 & I-80 (the Lincoln Highway)to I-35 and home again to Minneapolis. Of course none of those Interstates existed then, but the trip could be recreated using them today. We often still travel the old roads where they still exist and use the Interstates to get through the big cities. The country as described in Grandpa’s Travelogue still exists out there, just not at 75 MPH.
My other passion besides RV camping is antique cars. The idea that they drove that 1932 Oldsmobile towing a trailer for 7000 miles, only needing a single spark plug is a totally awesome accomplishment. The car was an 85 Horsepower straight eight with a standard 3-speed transmission. They didn’t need a special tow vehicle, RV Service Plaza’s, Roadside Assistance Plans, Camping World, Wal-Mart parking lots or Caravans to enjoy the whole northwest.
Having driven America’s back roads in cars 1935 & older in all 48 states over the last 23 years, I really connected with this travelogue that I found in my mother’s old stuff. We participate in things like the Glidden Tour for Pre-WW II automobiles and the Great American Race because they give us the opportunity to see this great country like my Grandparents and my Mother did in this story. At 45-50 MPH, on secondary mostly two lane roads, we know the America of 70 years ago still exists.
Paul Dobbin’s 1934 Ford V8 (with 85 Horsepower), on the 2005 Glidden Tour