The Grand Tour, July – August 1956, Part 3

D. E. Larsen, DVM

We left Delaware and crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Robert had to stop early because he had a headache from driving the mountain roads. That is saying something for someone from the Oregon coast in the 1950s. We stopped at Mundy’s Motel, just out of Elkton, Virginia. We had two adjoining cabins for twelve dollars.

Fireflies were all over the lawns each night we stayed in Virginia. Phillip and I chased them with a jar, and we filled the jar in no time. An interesting bug that I had never heard of before.

We had breakfast in Harrisonburg for three dollars for the six of us and lunch at Radford for eighty cents each. I don’t remember too many restaurants, but when we ate breakfast out, I always had my fill of pancakes.

Grandma noted seeing all the “real southern homes.” That says something, as their house was a pretty good Oregon home.

I think we skirted into West Virginia just to say that we had been there. Because the days were getting hot, Aunt Lila took Phillip and me into a shoe store and bought each pair of sandals.

I had never had two pairs of good shoes to wear at a time in my life before this point. And the only thing I ever had that was close to a pair of sandals was when we cut down an old pair of barn boots. Cutting the toes out, leaving just a rubber strap across our foot, and cutting the top of the boot off at the ankle. Leather sandals were a luxury that I had never dreamed of before.

After West Virginia, we drove through Pound, Virginia. We had a lot of families in Myrtle Point who were from Pound. It was not much of a town. It seemed to be built on a hillside, and I remember a fog which I wonder now if it was coal dust.

We crossed into Kentucky through the Pound Gap. Daniel Boone called the gap, Sounding Gap. We spent the night in Whitesburg, Kentucky. We had a cool morning following an electric storm but the heat returned in the afternoon.

From Whitesburg, we drove down the eastern edge of Kentucky, crossed Tennessee, and just the corner of Georgia, stopping in Trussville, Alabama, just outside Birmingham.

We had an air-conditioned cabin with two beds for eight dollars. Phillip and I slept on the floor, as usual. But this was my first experience with an air-conditioned house.

The plan was to get up early, so we could miss the heat. I distinctly remember Robert closing the suitcase and handing it to me.

“Take this to the car,” Robert said. “Then come back, and I will have another one ready for you.”
I stepped out the door at 5:00 A.M. It was like stepping into an oven. It was nearly eighty degrees at five in the morning. What was it going to be like by noon?

We had a quick breakfast at a nearby restaurant. Robert tried some grits and was not impressed, and he had almost had me tempted to try some, but I stuck with pancakes.

We stopped at a country store for gas when heading for Columbus, Mississippi. When we went to the restroom, the owner was working on the toilet in the men’s room.

“You guys can use the lady’s room as soon as your women folk are done,” the man said.

“What about that one?” Robert asked, pointing to the restroom in the back labeled “Colored Men and Women.”

“That one is colored,” the man said.

“I don’t care about that,” Robert said. “Is it clean?”

“Oh, yes,” the man said. “It’s clean, but it’s colored.”

“We will use that one,” Robert said as he turned and headed for the restroom in the back.

This restroom was in what looked like a lean-to, added to the back of the store. It had a concrete floor that was poorly finished. A long urinal made of tin hung along the back wall with a slope so the small child could use the far end. There were five commodes along the other wall. No stalls or partitions, just open commodes.

We used the urinal and headed back to the car. Lila and Grandma were already back in the car. The man finished filling the gas tank and took our money, but he had nothing to say to us.

“I guess we must have bruised his feelings a bit,” Robert said as he pulled out onto the highway.

We drove through Columbus, Mississippi, and discussed trying to find the Shooks, my sister’s new in-laws, but Robert wanted to get as close to Texas as he could. We drove on through Mississippi and Arkansas, stopping in Texarkana. We had a nice room with two beds, six blocks from Texas. The room was nine dollars.

Our first stop in Texas was at a ranch in Quinlan. Robert wanted to look at their English shepherd dogs. An old man sitting on the porch of the old ranch house in a rocking chair didn’t offer to move when Robert and I got out of the car to talk with him. My memory says it was 106°, but Grandma’s notes say it was 102° on the store’s porch in Quinlan.

“We haven’t had rain in over six months,” the old man said. “John is over by the barn. He can show you some of the dogs. If you are from Oregon, you might want to watch out for those rattlesnakes. They are just about everywhere in this heat.”

Robert looked at the barn. It was probably over a quarter of a mile away.

“I think I’ll pass for now,” Robert said. “That’s way too far to walk in this heat.”

We got back to Quinlan and just got settled into our motel room when the rain came pounding down.

“That old guy will be happy that we brought him some Oregon rain,” Robert said.

The following morning, when we went through Dallas at 10:45 A.M., it was 94°. We stayed in Abilene. The motel had two beds and a sleeper sofa, so Phillip and I didn’t have to sleep on the floor. It also had a swimming pool. We hit the pool first thing and then again just before bedtime.

Driving across Texas was pretty boring. From Abilene, we went to El Paso. The only thing of interest was a tornado thirty or forty miles north of us. I was amazed when Robert said the distance, and there was no way one could see thirty miles in western Oregon.

At El Paso, we stopped at looked at the bridge to Mexico. Still, nobody was interested in going across the bridge. We stayed that night in Las Cruces. It was hot when we stopped and didn’t cool off much at night. The good thing was it rained most of the night.

Our last night in motels was in Wickenburg, Arizona. Grandma’s notes say they could only sleep with a sheet, but there was a swimming pool. We had breakfast at Quartzsite and then drove up to visit Hoover Dam. Since we were headed to South Gate to stay with Lois and Elton, Hoover Dam was a major detour. We arrived at South Gate at one in the morning, and Robert had trouble finding the address, but we finally arrived.

The rest of the trip was all with family and was a relaxing twelve days.

Elton took us for a ride in his airplane. I was amazed at the number of houses with swimming pools in their backyards. We even flew over Disneyland. I think it had just opened the year before.

We had a whirlwind visit, hitting all the hot spots, Marineland, Disneyland, Knots Berry Farm, and a large Arboretum. I am unsure how many days we were there, and Grandma’s notes mostly come to a close when we are back with family.

At Disneyland, I wanted to drive on their little race car track, but I was an inch too short. Robert told the attendant that I drove tractors and trucks all over the farm I wouldn’t have any trouble with those little cars. The guy let me drive.

We went to San Francisco from Lois’ place to visit another aunt. Audrey and Bev lived on the north side of San Francisco. Visiting with cousins Jim, Phyllis, and Beverly was a welcome break. We took a long ferry ride on San Francisco bay.

Then it was on to Fortuna to visit another family. Aunt Mary and her husband Des with Lorrene, Harold, and Ardyce. I think I was just about traveled out by then. We drove through the redwoods, but I don’t remember much else.

We departed Mary’s on August 14 with a speedometer reading of 70,946. We drove across the mountains to visit Uncle Vern’s widow in Shasta City, which would have added about 460 miles to the trip.

Total mileage was a little over 9,100 miles in thirty-seven days. A grand tour indeed.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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