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Seeing the Western USA
Written July 1959

Background:  When I was growing up, my parents and I spent a week or two each summer on a long automobile trip.  We'd drive from Ohio to places like Florida or Louisiana or Nova Scotia.  In 1963, we made it to the top of Pikes Peak.

But our most ambitious journey came the year I was twelve years old:  three weeks, 7782 miles, all the way to Los Angeles and Seattle and back.

Our longest single day was 646 miles in 11 hours through Oklahoma and New Mexico.  Our car was a 1959 Oldsmobile Super 88 four-door hardtop, red and white, with newfangled options like air conditioning and seat belts.

  Back then, there were no Interstate highways.  Much of our first week was spent driving west on fabled Route 66.

  A $20 motel room was considered expensive.

  And one tourist attraction was Forest Lawn Cemetery, graveyard of famous people, with its stained-glass reproduction of da Vinci's "The Last Supper."

I sat in the sunny back seat.  This recent photo of another '59 Olds reminds me of how much space and visibility I had back there with the slender pillars and wraparound rear glass.

I read the motel listings in the AAA Tour Guide, took most of the snapshots, and kept notes.

Here's my diary, with data in blue and comments in red.

 

Saturday, July 4, 1959

Starting time 4:41 A.M. EST
Mileage 1679

Areas of ground fog.  Hoskins Pike to Ohio Route 4 to US Route 40 (junction 40 at 5:35).  Route 40 through Indianapolis, Indiana (8:15, resting about 2½ hours prior), Terre Haute (9:55), Effingham, Illinois (11:07), St. Louis, Missouri (1:13-2:16 with gas stop and food stop).  Junction US 66 to Rolla, Missouri.  In Room 24 of Martin Motel by 4:30.

Western Indiana and Illinois fairly dry, grass brown.  Terre Haute-St. Louis route over remarkably good two-lane highway in light to moderate traffic, despite holiday and importance of route.  US 66 south of St. Louis had road construction over much of route.  Rolla Chamber of Commerce placed signs on the main route to get you to come off the highway to eat and sleep.  Firecrackers helped keep us awake tonight.

 

Sunday, July 5

Starting time 3:48 A.M. CST

Rained in night, still distant lightning.  US 66 from Rolla south to Springfield (5:30).  Eat and gas.  US 60 to Oklahoma border (sleeping), Vinita (8:42), Bartlesville (9:40), Pawhuska (10:15), past Ponca City to junction 177.  US 177 to Blackwell (11:30).  Found room at Sooner Motel still occupied, drove around and ate, came back and were in Room #1 by 1:00.  Cleaned up, went out to visit Aunt Ethel.  Later went to Bill and Ethel's.  Went back to apartment, Roland and Mildred came over, went out to eat.  Came over to motel for a while with Roland, Mildred, and Ethel, and then drove around, ending up at Roland's farm.  Stayed there a while, then came back to the motel by ourselves and went to bed about 10:15.

 
MY MOTHER (IN BLACK DRESS) WITH HER AUNT ETHEL (LEFT)
AND HER COUSINS MILDRED AND ROLAND STIMPERT

Ozarks quite hilly, but hills almost disappear at Oklahoma border.  Oklahoma rolling plain, changing to flat plain going west.  There's one section where, everywhere you look, there's an oil well.  Grass, pastures rather brown.  Room #1 in motel has two walls of curtains, television, radio, room phone, and other luxuries, and it had already been paid for by our relatives.  Blackwell pleasant town, relatives there very friendly.

 

Monday, July 6

Starting time 6:02 A.M. CST
Mileage 2654

Daylight today when we started.  State Route 11 west to junction US 64, 64 to Alva (7:45 with eat), Buffalo (8:37), Forgan (9:24), Turpin (9:50, 91°), Hooker (10:07), Guymon (10:27), Boise City (11:26), Clayton, New Mexico (11:05 MST).  US 56 west to Springer (12:31).  US 85 south and west to Las Vegas (1:40), Santa Fe (2:50), Albuquerque.  In room 3 of El Don Motel 4:10.  Cleaned up, went out to eat in Old Town, looked around in shops and bought moccasins for me, and came back.  Watched TV, went to bed 9:00.

Oklahoma began to look more like the West, with sagebrush growing in the fields of brown grass in Panhandle.  Farther west, things get drier, with near-dry rivers common, until hills and mountains appear covered with scrub trees, polka-dot fashion in the sand.  Old Town is a small place, built around the plaza, but interesting.

 

Tuesday, July 7

Starting time 5:45 A.M. MST
Mileage 3300

US 66 west to Grants (7:15, 80°, eat), Continental Divide (8:32), Gallup (9:00), Arizona border, Petrified Forest National Monument.  Saw Painted Desert, Rainbow Forest.  Five minutes after leaving, rain came in the desert — hard, but less than 10 minutes long.  Took US 260 to Holbrook.  Gas, oil change, lube, eat.  Rain again.  US 66 to Winslow (1:45), Flagstaff (2:45).  US 89 north to Gray Mountain, find motel (Gray Mountain Motel), head for Grand Canyon.  Looked it over 4:55-6:20, started back.  Ate, rested, went to bed 9:55.

Western New Mexico semi-desert, but still used for grazing.  US 89 north of Flagstaff has pine trees along the roadside, but land changes back to semi-desert farther north.  Got to Grand Canyon just as most of the buildings closed, but didn't affect our enjoyment of Canyon.

MY FATHER AND I
STUDY THE PAINTED DESERT

THE GRAND CANYON
FROM THE SOUTH RIM

 

 

Wednesday, July 8

Starting time 6:00 A.M. MST
Mileage 3827

US 89 south to Flagstaff (6:45), Williams (eat 7:40), Ashfork (8:10).  US 66 west to Kingman (10:05).  US 93 and 466 north to Hoover Dam; northwest to Las Vegas, Nevada.  Ate, looked around, took 466 southwest, leaving Vegas 1:45.  US 455 southwest to Baker, California (3:22), Yermo (108° at 4:15) and Barstow.  Got motel (Desert Inn Motel), cleaned up, ate, looked around, came back to room, watched TV, went to bed about 10:05.

Semi-desert to desert again.  Bare mountains on the way to Hoover Dam.  Las Vegas in middle of desert; nice town outside of the gambling places and night clubs.  Saw signs advertising half-acre lots for sale in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  Barstow quite built up for tourists.

 

LATE AFTERNOON IN BARSTOW

 

Thursday, July 9

Starting time 9:21 A.M. PDT
Mileage 4314

US 66/91 southwest to San Bernardino (10:45).  US 91 southwest to Riverside (11:05), Anaheim.  Found motel (Lamplighter), in room 1:00.  Went to Knott's Berry Farm, stayed a while, came back, rested, went back to Knott's to eat (6:00) and walk around, stayed a while, came back to motel 9:25, watched TV, went to bed 9:45.

In Riverside-Anaheim area, many groves of oranges in all stages of development.  Knott's Berry Farm interesting place, more comfortable in evening than during day.

A STAGED "HOLDUP"
 AT KNOTT'S BERRY FARM,
 WHICH WE PREFERRED
 TO DISNEYLAND

 

Friday, July 10

Got up about 9:05, dressed, went over to Disneyland, ate small breakfast, started looking around.  Went to Main Street, Tomorrowland, new amusement area, Frontierland (eat), edge of Adventureland, back to Frontierland, back to Main Street, and Exit.  Back to motel, rest about four hours, to Knott's to eat and look around till 10:00, then back to motel, clean up, go to bed 11:30.

Tomorrowland best-liked, maybe because it wasn't so hot then (it was the hottest July day since 1907 in L.A.).  Heat got miserable around 1:00.  Submarine ride very crowded, so didn't go.  Did go on Trip to the Moon, Monorail, SF&D train ride, sailing ship Columbia, among others.

I didn't write down the temperature that day, but now I can find it on the Internet: 103°, according to www.losangelesalmanac.com.  That's still the record high for July 10.

I recall TV stations using helicopters to report on brush fires in the area.  The first such news helicopter had been introduced by KTLA only 14 months before.

 

Saturday, July 11

Starting time 6:41 A.M. PDT
Mileage 4501

US 91 west to junction California 19, 19 north to junction Colorado Boulevard, Colorado west to Pasadena (7:54), Glendale (eat).  To Forest Lawn, saw 10:00 "Crucifixion" and 11:00 "Last Supper."  Left, went to Farmer's Market (arrived 1:02), looked around, ate, looked around some more, left, picked up US 99 north through Burbank and San Fernando to Bakersfield, found motel (Sands Caravan Inn), cleaned up, ate, came back, watched TV and played games, went to bed 11:05.

Should have seen "Last Supper" before "Crucifixion"; latter so big it dwarfs former.  North of L.A., road goes through bare mountains.

 

Sunday, July 12

Starting time 6:28 A.M. PDT

US 99 north to Fresno (sleeping), Merced (eat; on road again 10:07), Modesto (10:53), junction US 50 via 120, US 50 west to Oakland (12:20-1:00), San Francisco (1:00).  Found Francisco Civic Center Motel ($20.00!), cleaned up, set out to walk around in city.  Walked around downtown for an hour or two, got on a cable car to ride to Fisherman's Wharf and return, walked back to motel, rested, went downtown to eat, came back, watched TV, went to bed 11:15.

San Francisco colder than we expected (58° at 1:00); men wearing topcoats in July.  Cable car interesting, besides easy way to Wharf.

 

Monday, July 13

Starting time 10:45 A.M. PDT
Mileage 5011

Our car parked along the Redwood HighwayUS 101 north across Golden Gate Bridge to junction California 1, 1 through mountains to Stinson Beach, Panoramic Drive east to Mill Valley and junction 101, 101 north to Santa Rosa (1:25), through construction project that had us completely stopped for a long time, then moved us forward at three mph until we got out of construction.  Came on to Garberville, got motel (Room 10), ate at fine restaurant, came back, watched TV, went to bed 11:05.

Mother wanted to go via Route 1 up the coast, but we found out that route was mountainous and very winding and precipitous, so we cut back across the mountains to 101, which turned out to be a scenic way to go since it goes through the California redwoods (it's called the Redwood Highway).  Motel a rustic one (built of redwood) with flower gardens and a lawn; inside nice, for only ten dollars.

   

 

Tuesday, July 14

Starting time 8:02 A.M. PDT
Mileage 5261

US 101 north through redwoods to Fortuna (9:20), Eureka (eat 10:15), "Trees of Mystery" (went through, out 1:00), Crescent City (1:20).  US 199 east to Oregon border (2:33), Grants Pass (3:30, 94°), Roseburg (5:02), Eugene.  Found motel (The New Oregon Motel), got settled, went out to eat, walked around in U of O campus, came back, watched TV, went to bed 10:45.

Redwoods near Pacific Ocean changed to pine as we went northeast into Oregon.  Sawmills, first seen yesterday, became more prominent today.  Landmark is a furnace of some sort, used for burning bark and scraps and sawdust, shaped like this with smoke coming through screen at top.

 

 

Wednesday, July 15, 1959

Starting time 8:00 A.M. PST
Mileage 5652

HISTORICAL NOTE:  Elsewhere in the nation on this date, half a million members of the United Steelworkers of America went out on strike.  It would become the largest single labor walkout in U.S. history at the time, lasting 116 days.

Our family hated strikes.  In a speech nine years before, my father had lamented the economic damage caused by a 99-day Chrysler stoppage.  Now his main concern was that without steel, General Motors wouldn't be able to make cars for him to sell.

The larger issue:  with domestic steel mills shut down, manufacturers turned to foreign steelmakers and the American steel industry began to die.

US 99 north to junction US 99W, 99W north to Corvallis (8:54).  Rest for hour, up at 10:00.  Portland (10:28-12:13 with eat, gas, oil, and lube).  US 99 north to Vancouver, Washington (12:15), Olympia (2:03). 

Junction US 101 north to Shelton (2:29), junction state 21.  21 east to Bremerton (3:30-4:15), ferry across Puget Sound (takes an hour), in Seattle by 5:15, pick up US 10, 10 east through traffic jam to Mercer Island and Mercer Island TraveLodge, in motel 6:00.  Got settled, ate (75°, 7:30), came back, watched TV, went to bed 10:30.

Trees now mostly pine mixed with some deciduous trees in the valleys.

ON THE PUGET SOUND FERRY,
WITH SEATTLE IN THE DISTANCE

 

Thursday, July 16

Starting time 5:58 A.M. PST
Mileage 5973

US 10 east through mountains and construction to Ellensburg (7:58).  Junction US 97, 97 south to Yakima (eat, out 9:15).  Junction US 410, 410 east to junction Washington 8, 8 south to junction US 730, 730 east to junction US 395, 395 south to junction US 30, 30 southeast to Pendleton, Oregon (12:31), La Grande (sleeping), Baker (sleeping), Ontario.  Found motel (Frost Motel), got in room, got settled, went out to eat, came back, cleaned up, went to bed.

Yakima in fruit-growing section, so got apricots and apples.  Later, near Columbia River, saw huge wheat fields on rolling ground.  Ontario had 106° heat earlier today before our arrival, was still hot in the evening.  Motel not as modern as some and had more room than we needed, but these factors make it comfortable and "homey."

 

Friday, July 17

Starting time 5:48 A.M. MST
Mileage 6436

US 30 southeast to Boise, Idaho (eat; out 7:35), Twin Falls (10:20, 82°), Utah border (12:16), Brigham (2:18), Ogden (2:46).  US 91 south to Salt Lake.  Found motel (Salt Lake TraveLodge), got settled, went to Temple Square and looked around, came back to motel, rested, went to The Tabernacle for an organ recital at 7:30, went downtown to eat afterwards, came back to motel, watched TV and wrote letters, went to bed.

Southern Idaho near-desert, with familiar-looking sagebrush growing.  Utah even drier, except Salt Lake City, a beautiful town.  I'd supposed The Tabernacle would be sort of a steepled church, but it is actually more of a low, domed auditorium.

 

Saturday, July 18

Got up about 9:00 MST, went downtown to get rodeo tickets, walked up to Utah Capitol building, came back to motel, got in car and drove to Great Salt Lake, then to Bingham Copper Mine, and back to motel.  Rested for a couple of hours, then went across street to eat.  Saw Roy Rogers and family eating at table nearby.  Came back to motel, cleaned up to go to rodeo.  Arrived at 7, waited hour for it to start.  Stayed till 10:30, then came back to motel.  Went to bed about 11:30.

You can see a lot of Salt Lake City from the Capitol, as well as the mountains and the desert beyond.  Great Salt Lake not kept up well, very shallow water at shore, fishy odor.  (Didn't go in.)  Bingham Copper Mine huge; interesting lecture.  Rodeo not too many contestants; Rogers troupe made it interesting.

 

Sunday, July 19

Mileage 6987

Got up around 7:00, ate breakfast, went to 8:30 Mormon Tabernacle Choir radio broadcast.  Came back to motel, got in car, took off at 9:15.  US 89 north to junction US 30S, 30S east to US 189, 189 north to Evanston, Wyoming (sleeping), sparsely inhabited region of prairie (sleeping), Teton Nation Forest (awoke 2:00).  US 187 north to Jackson, found motel (6-K Motel), drove downtown to eat and look the town over, did same, came back to motel, sat around (no TV), walked back downtown, walked back, played some games, cleaned up, went to bed at 8:35.

Jackson, in among the mountains, a dusty, old western type of town.  Don't know whether it's that way for tourists, or the people are too tight to get it modernized.

 

Monday, July 20

Starting time 6:25 A.M. MST
Mileage 7303

US 187 north through Grand Teton National Forest to Yellowstone National Park (enter 7:30).  Took Grand Loop Road to Old Faithful, saw 9:30 eruption, ate, took Grand Loop through geyser basins to Norris Junction (11:30), short cut to Canyon Junction, Grand Loop south to Lake Junction (12:20).  US 14/20 east to east entrance (1:12), Cody.  In Sunset Motel by 3:00.  Drove downtown, walked around couple hours, came back, sat around outside, went to eat, came back, sat around some more, left for the Cody Nite Rodeo (started at 8), got there, stayed till it was over (9:20), came back, cleaned up, went to bed around 10:15.

WITH A PARK RANGER STANDING NEARBY,
OLD FAITHFUL ERUPTS ON SCHEDULE,
THEN SLOWLY FADES AWAY

Between east entrance and Cody is 53 miles of desolate country.  Could have gotten better room in motel by looking at it beforehand, instead were stuck with an efficiency.  Cody rodeo better than Salt Lake one; partly better cowboys, partly faster moving, partly better announcer.

 

 

Tuesday, July 21

Starting time 7:35 A.M. MST
Mileage 7560

US 14/20 east to Greybull (8:30), US 20 south to Worland (9:10-9:55 with eat).  US 16 east to Ten Sleep (gas 10:35), Buffalo (12:23), Gillette (2:10), Newcastle (enter 3:35).  In Hilltop Motel by 4:00.  Got settled, drove downtown, walked around, drove around, came back to motel, fooled around, went out to eat, came back, sat around outside for long time, went in, played some games, cleaned up, went to bed around 8:30.

Prairie again, changing to bare mountains beyond Ten Sleep.  Had chance for $14.00 room with twice as much space as needed in Buckaroo Motel, took instead $10.00 room, more our size, in non-AAA Hilltop, nice enough.

 

Wednesday, July 22

Starting time 7:00 A.M. MST
Mileage 7956

US 16 east to South Dakota border (7:15), Fairyland Zoo (out 8:20), Custer (eat, out 9:00; oil, gas, grease, out 9:40).  US 16A east to Mt. Rushmore (out 11:50), north to Horseless Carriage Museum (out 12:45), US 16 east to Rapid City (1:10), Wall (2:20), Murdo.  In motel by 4:00 (Zoart Motel).  Got settled, walked to eat, walked on uptown, walked back to motel, sat outside for couple hours, walked uptown again, came back, played some games inside, went to bed around 9:30 CST.

Road to Rushmore very crooked.  Postcard showing pigtail bridge sold to us by a chicken at Fairyland Zoo.  Inserted nickel, chicken pulled lever to register nickel and turn on "Thank You" sign, then pulled cord to pop up card and give itself feed.  Was hungry so was anxious to make a sale.  Wall Drug, store in Wall, heavily advertised.  Motel rather poorly built, could hear everyone else talking.  Didn't travel much today, but saw a lot.

Only six days later, the acting Secretary of the Interior would send an angry letter to the president of MGM, a week before the movie studio planned to release North by Northwest.

Alfred Hitchcock’s latest thriller ended with a chase across Mount Rushmore.

This climax was actually shot in Los Angeles on a studio mockup of the monument, so no sculptures were harmed.

However, Hitchcock had promised not to stage any violent scenes on the mountain or on a model of it.

Elmer Bennett wrote to Joseph Vogel, “MGM, without notifying the other party to the agreement, proceeded to fake scenes which expressly violate the studio's pact.  The phony studio shots leave the average customer with the idea that the scenes of violence were staged on the memorial itself ... doubtless [giving] the wrong impression that the [Interior] Department and Park Service cooperated in filming the scenes of violence at the end of the film.”  There was a credit thanking the National Park Service, and Bennett demanded its deletion.

 
Thursday, July 23

Starting time 7:45 A.M. CST
Mileage 8204

US 16 east to Presho (8:20), Chamberlain (8:56-9:25 with eat), Mitchell (leave 11:05 after seeing Corn Palace), Sioux Falls (12:29).  US 77 south to junction US 18, 18 east to Iowa border (1:09), Sioux City (2:27).  US 20 east to Fort Dodge.  Found motel (Towers Motel), got settled, drove downtown to eat and look town over, walked around a bit, drove back to motel, watched TV and cleaned up, went to bed 10:22.

Corn began to be more prominent as we went toward Iowa border.

 

Friday, July 24

Starting time 7:43 A.M. CST
Mileage 8664

US 20 east to Webster City (8:12), Iowa Falls (8:44), Waterloo (eat, shop; leave town 11:43 after routing mixup), Dubuque (1:24), Illinois state line (1:26), Freeport (2:45), Rockford (3:28).  US 51 south to Rochelle (4:12), Mendota.  Got motel (Kakusha Motel), got settled, drove out to eat and look the town over, came back, played some games (Mother joined in), went to bed.

Hilly after Illinois border.  Waterloo stores not good or large, routes not marked plainly.

 

Saturday, July 25

Starting time 6:23 a.m. CDT and EST
Mileage 9036

US 52 south, then east to Joliet (7:33).  US 30 east to Indiana state line (8:17),  junction US 41 (gas).  US 41 north to Indiana Toll Road via various other roads (enter turnpike 8:53).  Indiana Toll Road east (eat, out 10:25) to Ohio Turnpike (enter 11:57).  Ohio Turnpike east to Maumee-Toledo Exit #4 (12:57).  Pick up US 25, 25 south to Bowling Green (shop; leave 2:10), Findlay (bypass).  Pick up US 68, 68 south to Kenton (3:08).  State 31 south to Byhalia (3:29), state 739 east to Essex (3:40), state 37 south to Richwood (3:48), Hoskins Pike east to house (3:50).  Finishing mileage 9461.

OUR FAITHFUL OLDSMOBILE,
HOME AGAIN;
IN THE BACKGROUND,
MY FATHER CARRIES OUR
CLOTHES INTO THE HOUSE

 

 

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