My parents believed that it was essential for us to take an automobile trip each summer. They wanted to make sure my sister and I experienced America. Our main destination was never a man-made attraction, such as Disneyland. It was always natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon, the coast of Maine, or the wheat fields of Kansas. There were exceptions, but they had to be educational or a national treasure such as Mount Rushmore, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, or Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
In the summer of 1971, we planned what competitors in tractor pulling call a full pull – going all the way –our destination was the West Coast. The farthest you can drive is in the continental United States. A sea to shining sea-run. What was especially great about our family trips was the preparation that led up to the departure. I would go to the library months before and locate the address of the tourist information center for each state that we planned on driving through and ask for information.
Never once was the handwritten letter of a child ignored. Books, maps, and literature would come in droves. I can still remember the excitement of going to our Steel City brand rural mailbox and opening the door and finding envelopes from far away states.
These memories could never be duplicated in today’s click and Google world.
The other aspect of the trip was shadowing my father as he worked on the family sedan, making it ready for the excursion. We were going to take a newly acquired well used 1967 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight LS (425 four-barrel Rocket V-8 with single exhaust) for our full pull.
As was typical, we checked the brakes, repacked the front wheel bearings, tuned the engine, and did anything else we could to eliminate any possibility of a breakdown. We wanted to have miles roll under the Oldsmobile’s tires and not on the back of a tow truck. This meant the trip was not a two-week experience but an endeavor that was rich fodder for future memories that I cling to today. The wanderlust of the open road was instilled in my soul that summer in 1971, and it still burns brightly today. As I grew, I would travel our country with one of my friends.
Full pull trips were made in 1978, 1980, and 1984 with many other lesser jaunts to the Mid-West, Great Plains, and Deep South in between. The 1980 trip was with my buddy Glenn Nadel in his 1971 Buick Skylark with a 350 and two-throat Rochester. In 1984, Gene Werst and I ran to the “Shaky Side” as truckers call it, in my first new car, a 1984 Buick Skyhawk Limited coupe. Being nine years old, the Skylark required a collaboration of efforts between Glenn and me to make it roadworthy.
The GM J-car being freshly minted only necessitated a wax job and oil change before the front bumper was covered in insect remains. But the planning and dreaming before the first mile traveled were still all there.
In 1993, my wife and I made a partial pull to Wyoming in my 1991 Lincoln Mark VII LSC. Her first long road trip. Then in 2004 and 2005, we made full pulls to the Pacific Ocean in my Ford Escort.
On every trip out West, the state of Nebraska tugged at my heartstrings. I always wanted to explore it more than you could be driving on I-80. In 2005, Charlotte and I jumped off the interstate at the Missouri River. We took secondary roads across Nebraska to the Wyoming line. I fell in love. We would usually take the interstate to the farthest point and then run back roads on the way home. My dream was to go out West on secondary roads, shunning the interstate as if they were a plague. On September 14, 2008, that dream came true. Since Charlotte is an elementary school teacher, a trip in the ninth month of the year was not possible for her, but she put her blessings on my sojourn. I would be running solo in my little Ford with 393,000 miles.
I took I-80 from our farm in New Jersey to Youngstown, Ohio, and from there, I picked up two lanes to Scottsbluff, Nebraska. I then used the Hampton Inn as a jumping-off point and explored in all directions.
My first hotel stop was in Keokuk, Iowa, on the banks of the Mississippi River. Across from the hotel was a factory. Since I am extremely interested in how things are made, I could not refrain from wandering over and peering in the window. The plant produced weatherstripping for the Detroit 3. I saw a sign that announced the line was making the door seals for the Chevy Cobalt built in the sadly just recently closed, Lordstown, Ohio plant. I never witnessed a weather strip being made before. A worker asked what I was doing in rural Iowa? He suggested I visit Nauvoo, Illinois, on the other side of the river. The following day, I did just that. Nauvoo is a beautiful and special place where a Mormon Temple was built in the 1800s on the group’s journey from New York State to Utah.
I did not know that until I parked on Main Street and ran into Kevin and Lynette Bird from Idaho Falls. We began to talk and then exchanged business cards, which prompted me to do something I never did before – lock my only set of keys in my car! Luckily for me, Mr. Lloyd Starr, who, despite his 80-plus years, is the most finessed car lock-out man I had ever seen. He quickly and without damage opened the door. I continued west. The little Ford never missed a beat, the Bird Family became cherished friends, and I have memories that will last a lifetime.