Category Archives: On Writing

Going Home!

We spent a few days with Uncle Edwin in Glendale, resting up and knowing it was probably our last visit with him as he was too sick with asthma to come back east and it would be many years before we would return to Arizona.

Finally the day came for us to leave. We had breakfast with Uncle Edwin. We packed up the car, taped the refridgerator shut in the trailer and filled our water tank for possible vapor lock. We hugged Uncle Edwin goodbye with tears in our eyes. We loaded the children and Inky in the station wagon. Roland backed up to get in the right position to head out to the street.

CRUNCH!  We had backed into the water pipe. Water sprayed across the back of the trailer. Roland climbed out to see the damage. The pipe has just been knocked loose.  Uncle Edwin waved his arms and said, “Keep going. I’ll fix it. No problem”

We did. We left him standing on the desert, water spraying up behind him, waving until we were out of sight.

I remember little of the trip east. It took many days. The weather was brutally hot. The heat cut into the tires and caused flat tires each day. Here’s a photo of Roland down beside the wheels, as he was frequently all the way back home. Lesley, being aware of the sound of each tire going flat, realized that if she stood behind Roland as he was driving and made a hissing sound he would slam on the brakes thinking it was another flat tire. This didn’t make him laugh as much as she thought it would.fixing-tire

Finally we reached Quincy and Braintree, Massachusetts. The grandparents were beyond happy to see their granddaughters and us.

More photos to come.


Still Crossing the Long, Hot Desert

Journal: July 13, 1953
It was now three or four in the morning. I was dozing in the trailer when Roland finally returned with a used shackle. He had found a junk yard where he could wake up the owner, who lived onsite. He immediately jacked up the trailer high enough so he could work on the shackle. It didn’t take him very long to install the new one. Then he added new lugs on both wheels. Now we were ready to go. It was 6 am. What to do? Should we just go stay in a motel during the hot July day or should we press on? We decided to press on. Roland hooked up the trailer to the car.

By now the children were awake. We had breakfast, loaded everyone back in the station wagon and took off. It was cool in the early morning but by late morning it was getting very warm. By the time we reached Yuma it was hot! As we were driving past motels we noticed a swimming pool beside one. Several people were swimming. We pulled into the parking lot. I asked the owner if we could swim. He saw the children and said “Yes, have a swim.”

We donned our bathing suits and jumped into the pool. Roland stayed with Lesley and I held Sandy while we dipped and cooled for about a half and hour. Then we thanked the motel owner, offered to pay, but he refused. We climbed back in the car, leaving on our bathing suits to try to stay cool in the 100+ degree heat.

We drove all day across the baking desert, stopping only for lunch and supper, . It was late and the children were asleep when we finally reaching Gila Bend in Arizona. By now, Roland was exhausted. It was dark and cooler. We took a back road toward Phoenix. Away out in the country we saw a deserted, and empty motel off the road. Roland pulled into the long driveway which ran behind the empty building. We parked back there so Roland could sleep. We carried the sleeping children back to their beds in the trailer. Roland lay down in the car and fell asleep immediately. I rested in the back of the car.

For maybe an hour or two all was quiet. Not much traffic on the road. Suddenly along came a car full of young, rough looking men. They pulled into the driveway and headed for our spot behind the motel. I jumped out of the car and headed for the trailer. I was halfway there when the car pulled up beside me. Two of the men got out of their car. They shone a flashlight on me, playing it up and down. I froze. I still had on my bathing suit. Roland was still asleep. I was terrified. I pictured rape, robbery and even murder. There were no other buildings or houses anywhere around. After what seemed like forever, with the men staring at me by flashlight, in the dark, saying nothing, they got back in their car and took off.

I was afraid they would be back so I woke up Roland and we drove on until we reached Glendale and drove into Uncle Edwin’s yard in the wee hours after midnight. He turned on his lights and greeted us in his pajamas. We were soooo happy to see him!

Crossing the Desert

Roland pressed on the brakes and we scraped and screeched to a stop. He opened his door and jumped out. Minutes later he came back to tell me that the left wheel had come off the trailer. I sat with the children (who miraculously were still asleep), while Roland went to look for the wheel. He found it, got out the jack and jacked up the trailer and put the wheel back on. He borrowed two lugs from the other wheel to hold it on.

Meanwhile we were in the middle of the road just before a traffic signal. Good thing it was two o’clock in the morning but still there were some cars which pulled around our bulky blockage. No one stopped.

Roland climbed back in the car and turned the key. Silence! The battery was dead from all the running lights on the trailer and car.

“I’ll have to push it,” said he.

“You can’t push all that weight, car and trailer,” said I

“Quiet! And don’t steer into the curb!,” said he, a bit irritated by now.

He climbed out of the car. I jumped behind the driver’s wheel ready to steer but having no hope that Roland was strong enough.

Roland (who was not a big man), put his back against the back of the station wagon and pushed with all his might. It must have been desperation that did it because soon the car began to move and he managed to push car and trailer to the side of the road.

“We’ll have to unhook the trailer so we can push the car and get it started,” said he.

I didn’t argue. By now the children were awake. I lifted Sandy up and took Les by the hand as we headed back to the trailer where I put them in their beds. Back outside Roland had unloaded the water tank (the one that saved us from vapor lock), and put it by the side of the trailer. He had the jack out and was jacking up the trailer so we could lift it off the hitch. We put wood blocks under the trailer hitch to rest the trailer on. He was so stressed and angry that they may not have been lined up. Finally it was high enough and he lifted the trailer off the car hitch. For a moment it hung on the blocks and then crashed down, hitting the water tank as it fell. Instantly the big plexiglas window in the front of the trailer popped out and fell, landing in Roland’s arms. The air was BLUE.

Now we could push the car which we did, me in the back and Roland steering and running beside the driver’s door. Up the road we went until I said,

“Roland we’ll have to push it back because we can’t leave the children.”

Back we went to the trailer. It didn’t start so we tried again. The third trip back and forth the car finally started. Roland took off down the road to find a junk yard where he could buy a shackle. When the trailer scraped along the road it wore out the shackle on one side. The shackles on each side hold on the axle and therefore the wheels. It was now about three in the morning. Not so many places would be open.

I climbed back in the trailer with the children to wait.

(More tomorrow)

Good bye California

Back with Harry and Florence in Escondido we shared the news that we would be returning to New England. They didn’t seem surprised. Then we told Florence’s sister, Helen. No surprise there, either. Guess they were expecting us to go back home.

For the next several days Roland fixed some odds and ends in both houses. Helen’s screens and Florence’s kitchen counters. We drove to El Cajon to find a gift for Harry and Florence.
Finally we were ready.

Journal Sunday, July 11, 1953
The children were taken down to Helen’s to play with their cousins for the last time, while Roland and I prepared to leave. I cleaned the trailer and secured the loose objects, filled the water container and washed our clothes. Roland checked the car motor and put new tires on the trailer.

All the family came to Florence and Harry’s house for dinner. We had ice cream together for dessert and then we all said good bye. We planned to leave at midnight to get across the desert while it was cooler. Roland went to sleep in the trailer for a few hours to rest up for the trip. We put the children to sleep in their car beds.

When we were ready to leave Harry told us to go to Lakeside, California and take Route 80 straight to Phoenix where we would stay with Uncle Edwin for a day or two and say good bye to him. Harry said there was one big long hill between Ramona and Lakeside, then it was clear sailing to Phoenix. Well, we made it to Lakeside without any trouble, then we took Route 80 and started to climb – and climbed – and climbed – and climbed – put water in the radiator – and climbed some more. It was about the same as the Grapevine Grade. Finally we reached the top where it was lovely and cool. We were in Alpine, California.

Roland started to feel sleepy again so we looked for a place to pull off so he could have a little nap. However, we didn’t find a pull off place until we got down out of the mountain into the valley, then the heat just closed in on us and it was too hot to stop.

We finally reached El Centro and were driving through town when suddenly CRASH. I clapped my hands over my mouth and looked behind us just in time to see the trailer coming in for a landing like a flying fortress without any landing gear.

(continued tomorrow)

Decision Time

Morning came. The sun was out. It was a beautiful day. The children had breakfast. Lesley seemed to be in fine shape this morning. We didn’t move from the trailer park. Still in shock, I guess. The scare of losing Les the night before made us think deeply about what we were doing.

In the afternoon Sandy took a nap and Lesley sat at the table drawing pictures. Roland and I sat on the couch to talk.

”How do you feel about going on to San Francisco?” he said.

“I’m really feeling homesick.”

“Me too.

“I guess there are great opportunities here in California” he said.

“But it’s going to cost a lot more to live, buy land and start a business.”

Roland said, “The thing is, where do we want to be when all is said and done? Where do we want the children to grow up?

“Why would we take them so far away from their grandparents,” I added.

We spent all afternoon and part of the evening talking and thinking about this great move. We both missed New England and our families. By morning the next day we had decided. We would return to New England. We spent the day checking out the trailer and car, packing up, filling the water tank again, while letting the children play and rest.

Tomorrow we would head south in the morning, back down the Grapevine grade and the Ridge Route, back through Los Angeles, back to Florence and Harry’s ranch in Escondido, where we would tell  the family of our new plans.

Sounds easy. We had no idea what was ahead.

The Grapevine Grade

We had never heard of the Grapevine Grade. We blithley set off from Escondido, heading straight through all the towns surrounding Los Angeles. Near San Fernando we picked up Route 5 heading north. By the time we reached the town of Castaic the road began to climb. Signs on the side of the road warned of a 5% grade for the next five miles.  Roland stepped on the gas as the station wagon settled into pulling the load behind it. The road was curvy with steep drops on either side. As we climbed the engine labored and then abruptly stopped altogether. Roland put on both brakes and turned to me,

“Jump out and put the blocks under the trailer wheels in case the brakes don’t hold on this steep grade.”

I grabbed the wooden blocks we kept beside the front seat, dashed out of the car and placed them behind the trailer wheels. We were near the side of the road. Roland got out and checked under the hood.

“I think it’s another vapor lock.”

He walked back to the trailer and opened the door. Just inside we had left a large (probably 50 gallon) tank of water. He bailed out a pan full and poured it over the fuel pump. After a few minutes the motor started again. I removed the blocks and climbed back into the car and we proceeded along the windy, steep road.

“I’m thirsty, I want a drink of water,” said Lesley.

“I have fruit juice,” I offered from the thermos. She drank a little.

We had only traveled about three or four miles before the motor quit again. Right away  I jumped out with the blocks for the trailer wheels and Roland fetched more water from the trailer and poured it over the fuel pump. Every time Lesley saw the water go by she wanted water.

“Les, we need the water for the motor. Have a little more juice,”  I coaxed.

On we went, stopping every few miles to restart the struggling motor. After about five miles the highway became a little wider. We noticed a sign that said the altitude was 3000 feet.

Still struggling and stalling every few miles the station wagon soldiered on another 23 miles past Frazier Mountain to the highest point at an altitude of 4,183 feet. Continuing north past Fort Tejon (established in 1854)  we started downhill on a 6% grade; twisting, winding, swerving and clutching the seats while Roland bravely dealt with our trailer brakes and car brakes, always in the correct order, trailer brakes first, then car brakes. Finally the road leveled out. We reached Wheeler Ridge and followed the signs to Bakersfield.

It was with great relief that we found a trailer park in Bakersfield and settled down for the night. Roland hooked us up to electricity, water and sewage. I prepared supper. We fed the children and put them to bed. Finally falling exhausted into bed ourselves.

We had only just fallen into a deep sleep when I heard Les crying in a choking,  gasping way.

I leaped out of bed and rushed to their bedroom. Sandy was sound asleep but Lesley was standing beside her bed crying and choking. I picked her up and held her. She was making horrible rasping sounds as she tried to breathe. Suddenly she stopped breathing altogether. By now Roland was beside me. I threw Lesley into his arms screaming  “Do Something!”  He threw her back to me and rushed out of the trailer. Soon he was back saying he had called the hospital. They were sending a doctor to us. By now Lesley drew a breath now and then with a whistling, rasping sound; not even enough breath to cry.

She was scared and so were we. All we could do was hope the doctor came quickly. We didn’t know what else to do. By the time he finally knocked on the trailer door Les was a little better, breathing now, and had fallen asleep in her bed.

The doctor woke her up and examined her. “A case of croup,”  he said. “The air is dry plus the altitude. If she has another spell take her into the hot shower and let her breathe the steam.”

Lesley never did have another attack of croup but I had many attacks of guilt thinking about all the times she asked for water on that trip and we only offered her juice, saving the water for the car engine.

This experience solidified our future plans. It was in Bakersfield that we made a final decision on where to live and bring up our family. But not until we had breakfast in the morning and knew our precious girls we’re OK.

NOTE:  The road we traveled in 1953 was called The Ridge Route until it came to Fort Tejon, where the Grapevine Grade started. In 1947 this steep and curvy road was studied by surveyors and a new freeway was planned but it wasn’t completed until 1960. Today, this newer and better highway is used by tens of thousands of big-rig trucks carrying goods from Canada to Mexico and anywhere in between.   (See “Grapevine Grade” on google).


Choosing a New Place to Live

Once Roland finished building the house his job was finished. We decided it was time to travel around California, check out job opportunities, look at the availability of land and houses, and see how we felt about each area.

First we took day trips to Ramona, where Roland’s aunt Helen lived. Then to San Diego, Escondido and La Jolla. All were lovely areas. The flowers in La Jolla were magnificent. We traveled up the coast to see old Spanish missions:

The Spanish missions in California comprise a series of 21 religious outposts; established by Catholic priests of the Franciscan order between 1769 and 1833, to expand Christianity among the Native Americans northwards into what is today the U.S. state of California. (from Wikipedia).

We also took the children to Knott’s Berry Farm.

Knotts Berry Farm

It would be two years later, July in 1955, before Disneyworld would open in California. It was the only Disney Park that was supervised by Walt Disney as it was being built.

We also looked at land around Los Angeles. We finally decided it was too expensive for us at $10,000 an acre. However,  it would be worth millions today.

After viewing all the sites and real estate within a days drive of our parked trailer we finally decided to hitch up the trailer again and head north toward San Francisco.

It took a day or two to shop and get the car and trailer ready to go, as well as the children and us ready. Early one  morning Roland hooked up the trailer to the station wagon, we climbed into the car and took off after breakfast with Florence and Harry. We headed up Route #5. First stop would be Bakersfield.

Wait ’till you hear how that went!!


We Made It

NOTE: There is a blank section in our journal here. So I’ll fill in what I remember.

We packed up the trailer and the car, said goodbye to Uncle Edwin, and took off for California. As I recall it was a very long one day drive so maybe we stayed somewhere for one night. I don’t remember. But finally we arrived at Florence’s house and met her new cowboy husband. He looked exactly like a cowboy should look, tall, skinny, sun darkened face and a big smile for us.

Scan 1

Nancy (Helen’s daughter) Florence, Cowboy Harry (holding Lesley), and Roland (holding Sandy)

Florence and Harry had their own small ranch with a few horses. Harry insisted that Roland and I try out riding their horses. We did our best. Roland on horseRoland ready to gallop off.ScanJane not far behind.

We had a great visit with Florence and Harry, whom we liked very much. We parked our trailer at their ranch. From there we took side trips around southern California, Escondido, San Diego, Ramona, and more.

Roland found a job building another small house. He was in charge of a group of Mexicans. The first day they were pouring the cement foundation. When he came home that night he said, “All I knew how to say in Spanish was agua and mas agua.” (Water and more water). He thought the job would last about one month.

Lesley loved the ranch but became quite worried when Harry showed her a huge hypodermic needle he was using to give a horse a shot. She was afraid it was for her, but was very sympathetic when she realized it was for the horse.


Time To Move On

Journal   June 1953

Roland has had all kinds of building jobs offered to him. There are good opportunities available around Phoenix. This road from Phoenix to Glendale will be opened up to Flagstaff. We talked about staying in the area but decided to push on to investigate the possibilities in California.

The children and I went shopping in Glendale this afternoon to buy a few gifts. Found a nice Indian purse as well as a few other things.

Roland and I started for the movies tonight but went to an auction instead. Then we stopped at the ice cream shop in Glendale where we each ordered a ” Zombie,” advertised as  “the biggest sundae in the world.”  Was it ever, about a half gallon of ice cream, topped with banana, nuts cherries, chocolate sauce, and more. A grand finale to our visit in Arizona.

Tomorrow we will start packing up the trailer to leave for Escondido, California.