Out West With Jack and Chuck

This story is included because it gives some hints of how things were in an earlier age. The purpose of the trip, we all agreed, was to go out west and climb mountains. Three were on the list -- Longs Peak, one of the Tetons, and Mount Rainier. The week before, the three of us had practiced on the sheer cliffs of the Delaware Water Gap.

Entries are recorded here precisely as copied from the Log kept each evening during the trip. The paragraph following contains my current memory of that day ***.

June 29 – Left Twintigspel at 9:45, a.m. Slow going to Turnpike. Uneventful to Columbus. Chatted and horsed around with girls on bus through middle of Columbus. Stayed there at B & B Motel. Went to bar and played bowling machine. Total – 536 miles.

*** -- The eastern end of the Pennsylvania Turnpike was near Valley Forge, very slow going thereto via Doylestown, US 202, and every stop light in Pennsylvania. The busload of girls we encountered as we crossed Columbus on Broad Street, US 40, were from some sort of church group. Jack extended himself all the way out his window passing notes back and forth. I kept the car within a foot of the side of the bus.

June 30 – Left motel at 6:30. Gassed up and proceeded to Springfield, where we got old road to Farmland. Dad is terrible. Stayed a half hour and on to Indianapolis, St. Louis, and now in Kansas City at very nice motel. Total – 674 miles.

*** -- In Farmland I left Jack and Chuck at Hammer’s drug store while I drove out to the woods, where Dad (my grandfather who was 88) and Uncle Buddy were working his sawmill. I’d last seen them only the summer before on my way home from Cuba. Almost all the rest of the day was on US 40, with a loop bypass around St. Louis that Jack and I had taken on the truck trip three years before.

July 1 – Left Kansas City at 9 and did not really get started until after breakfast at 10. The drive across Kansas was uneventful except for the temperature, which was about 105 all day. We are now in Limon, Colorado, and Jack has a headache. Chuck and I went into town and went to the nicest bar I’ve seen around here. Total: 511 miles.

*** – We stopped for lunch in a very small town along US 40. It could well have been Chapman, Kansas. We parked on the main street. As we walked along, we saw a very elegant lady of the Midwest and asked, “Where is a good place for lunch?”

“I recommend this restaurant right here. Of course, I’m partial since I own it.”

“Say no more.”

We took a booth. There were a few other diners. The waitress appeared, a pretty girl wearing a flowered dress that might have been purchased at the local dry goods store. In looks, pleasantness, and shyness, she was as indicative of the town, the county, and the state as the owner. We joshed with her, as we were apt to do, and ordered. When she returned in a few minutes with our lunches, she had put on lipstick.

July 2 – Made Colorado Springs by 9:30. Went right out to the Broadmoor but could not get rooms. Got gas. Went to post office for general delivery check. Then we drove out to Manitou Springs. Pikes Peak was ascended. The Pontiac had little difficulty, but it did over heat. Jack got a headache. Got some lunch at 4:15, then drove back out U.S. 24 looking for Jack’s lost exposure meter. We found it. We then checked into a motel and Jack went to bed with a terrific headache. Chuck and I went out to the Garden of the Gods where we did some rock climbing. We then returned to motel where we cleaned up for dinner at the Broadmoor, which was very nice. We then climbed up Seven Falls, returned to the Broadmoor where we talked on the terrace. We then went down into the tavern where we had a drink. I feel great. Total: 75 miles.

*** - The Pikes Peak ascent had both ups and downs. The Pontiac was a 1953 Catalina, my graduation present (with trade-in of my 1951 Catalina). The hard-top convertible was all the rage those days, but its engine was not. It was a straight-eight-cylinder L-head with a mere 122 horsepower. Every time we stopped to cool it (six or seven) I had to resume the climb in low, which meant in “DR”, because any other position tried to start up in second and couldn’t. I knew Jack would also be a problem. Both Chuck and I, who had both been above 14,000 feet before, warned him not to make any sudden movement at the summit. Don’t even spring out of the car. But he did and suffered. Fine dinner in the Broadmoor’s huge dining room. The waitress handing us the check asked for our room number. Just here for dinner. “How’d you swing that.” Next was Seven Falls, a tourist cascade on Cheyenne Mountain a mile or so from the hotel. Of course, we couldn’t just ascend the walkway alongside the cascade, lighted in seven colors. We had to scoot up rocks in the falling water itself. Afterward, we sat on the Broadmoor’s palatial, sedate, and romantic terrace till midnight and finally descended to the tavern in the cellar for a nightcap – while Jack was agonizing in the motel.

July 3 – Left Colorado Springs in the morning and came to Denver where we got a nice room, for three, at the Albany. Got car worked on. Saw Shane in the afternoon. Dinner at the Navarre and saw probably the most impressive musical production of my life. It was the ballet at Red Rocks and such quick words cannot describe it. Jack leaves tomorrow. We go to Mt. Evans and Boulder.

*** -- Both theatres deserve a small mention. The one where we saw “Shane” was the one in which I saw “Night Has a Thousand Eyes” five years before with Anne. Red Rocks is famous enough without description here. The one ballet I recall by name was “Filling Station” with music by Virgil Thompson. But the mystery was the sound. The Denver Symphony was there in the pit and sounded superb. But was it amplified? I could find no sign of speakers anywhere. Maybe the huge red rock cliff which forms the theatre’s open air shell (with the lights of Denver above it far away) was doing the job on its own.

July 4 – Jack left us today. He is going to fly to Portland tonight. We are now in Lyons, Colorado, near Boulder. Today Chuck and I ate breakfast at Echo Lake Lodge, climbed Mt. Evans, and drove car over Trail Ridge to Estes Park. We investigated Longs Peak and found that it is frequently climbed. We will try it tomorrow. We have been warned by the ranger that we will be exhausted and may not make it. We assault tomorrow.

*** -- Echo Lake Lodge is, of course, at the 10,000 foot level and the paved road up Mt. Evans begins there. At the top was a stone and glass edifice called Crest House. It was destroyed by fire about 30 years ago. And, it’s not quite at the mountain top. Chuck and I climbed the remaining 150 or so vertical feet to the full mountain altitude of 14,264 feet.

July 5 – Longs Peak is ours, 14255 feet. The average time for a climb and return is 12 hours. We made it in 8 ½, but not without paying. I have never been so exhausted as I was when we came down. I still feel very tired. The climb itself is dangerous only in a few places. I may not try any other mountains. Saw “The Desert Song” tonight at a theatre in Loveland. We are staying at a motel outside of town.

*** -- This turned out to be the highlight – and far from the low light a few days later – of the trip. We took the “Keyhole” route. It was simplest – then one of three choices. The “North Face” route was, and is, for experienced mountaineers with equipment. And the “Cables” was a sort of straight up short cut. Climbers would grip consecutive cables a couple of hundred feet long over snow and ice. The cables are no longer there. I have since retraced our climb via Google Earth – up the trail, across the boulder field, through the keyhole, on up the endless chute, and the final cliff.

July 6 – Left motel at Loveland at 10:30 and drove into my 41st state, Wyoming. Arrived at Casper at 4:00 and Chuck made his contacts. In the evening he made more contacts and will take a job as reporter if he is offered it. Had five or six daiquiris and retired. Total – 236 miles.

*** -- The daiquiris, hardly a western drink, were a hold over from my second trip to Cuba just two months earlier.

July 7 – Now in a motor court near Jackson, Wyoming. In Casper this morning, we shot pool, had lunch, and went bowling in the afternoon. Chuck accepted the job as reporter and then we set out for the Tetons. Because Chuck has to be back in Casper on the 20th, we will have to cut the trip after Yellowstone. We drove from Casper to Jackson today leaving Casper at 4:00 p.m. Gas in Wyoming is $0.38. Hit the Silver Dollar Bar in Jackson tonight. Total – 283 miles.

*** -- I can’t recall which newspaper in Casper offered Chuck the job, the Journal or the Star-Tribune. The price of gas was about double what it was in New Jersey and ten cents higher than usual as we drove west. The Silver Dollar Bar was still alive 31 years later when Barbara and I spent two nights there listening to a country and western duo offer appropriate western laments.

July 8 – Drove past the magnificent Tetons today and on to Yellowstone, where we saw Bob Little and Dick Oliver. They are hot on the place with many women. Drove to West Yellowstone, Montana, and on into Idaho. Ate dinner and walked around doing nothing. I am sleeping out tonight and I have never seen so many stars.

*** -- Chuck had climbed South Teton the previous year, when he had been a “savage” at one of Yellowstone’s lodges. (Checking recently in eastern national parks, I’ve found that the term “savage” for a college kid working at a national park over the summer, is no longer in vogue.) Bob and Dick, both savages at Yellowstone, were fraternity brothers of mine, a year behind me. Small world. Montana and Idaho were my 42nd and 43rd states. From his previous exposure to Yellowstone, Chuck knew a good, grassy place to bivouac less than a mile from Old Faithful Lodge. We had both brought camping equipment. My goose down mummy bag was the same one I had taken to Philmont in New Mexico six years before. It’s still in my closet.

July 9 – Washed up at Old Faithful Lodge after night in the open. There were a few mosquitoes at dawn. Ate breakfast and left for Lake, Fishing Bridge, and Canyon, where Chuck spoke to people. Saw Yellowstone Falls. Drove over the very nice eastern Yellowstone and all the way to Billings, Montana. Ate dinner at the Northern Hotel. Saw "Fort Ti" in 3D, had a drink, and am now in bed in a motel. Total – 219 miles.

*** -- We washed up amongst the savages. In the lounge at Lake Lodge 31 years later, I spent the evening listening to a string quartet play their entire repertory, from Bach to Ives. The 3D movie system was at its height that year. Anyone expecting me to say I saved the glasses will be disappointed.

July 10 – Left Billings late and drove on US 12 to Aberdeen, South Dakota, where I am now in a very nice motel. Went bowling tonight and did very poorly. Total – 530 miles.

*** -- Remember little of the drive but do remember the bowling. First, I never broke a hundred in four games. Also, we had a recalcitrant pin boy. He kept shouting, “What frame is it?” This was our last night without big problems.

July 11 – I had expected to be in Michigan tonight but am instead in a god forsaken hole called Phillips, Wisconsin. Here is what happened. We left Aberdeen early and drove across Minnesota without incident. But while driving near Catawba, Wisconsin, I noticed a knock in the motor. It turned out to be a broken piston. Tomorrow is Sunday, so we will be here in the Phillips Motel (which isn’t too bad, thank god) until at least Monday. If the damage is more serious, I may be here all week. Chuck will have to go on by plane on Monday if we don’t get away by then. What a life. Total – 457 miles.

*** -- I remember the knock – more of a clickety click – and pulling onto the shoulder. Once stopped, the engine would not turn at all. No memory of how or who we called, but who ever it was did suggest the car should be towed to Phillips where there was a Pontiac agency. The tow of about 15 miles was by one of the Warga brothers who owned it. He also towed us to the Skyline Motel in Phillips.

July 12 – Did well killing the time. Got up at 1:00 pm., ate lunch, came back and read the paper. Did a little work on the book and ate supper. Saw “The Stars Are Singing” and came back here.

*** -- The Skyline Motel is still there. Phillips turned out to be in fact quite a nice town, a county seat with good light-weight restaurants, a main street movie theatre, and a bus station. The work I did was the first sentence of my first book (never published). The movie was equally forgettable.

July 13 – I am in Minneapolis tonight and the trip is now whittled down to one man – me. Chuck left for New York tonight by plane and I alone remain of our mountain climbing expedition. I don’t especially like Minneapolis so I may go back to Phillips tomorrow or Wednesday. It’s funny how this trip started out so well, and is ending up so poorly. The car has a broken crank shaft. I should be on my way on Friday.

*** -- We played twenty questions on the bus, arriving Minneapolis in the afternoon. Chuck needed a couple of bucks for the trip. He got the airport limo that evening. I checked into a neighborhood hotel near the radio station we had visited three years before during the Twenty Questions circle tour. I made no contact. I was no longer on the show. Learned of the broken crank shaft that morning. By the time we got to the garage, Mr. Warga had the engine on the floor and its head removed. He slightly turned the engine with a short crow bar. “I know what it is. It’s a broken crankshaft. See, the first four pistons move and the others don’t.” A new one he ordered would not arrive before Wednesday.

July 14 – Got up at eleven, ate lunch downtown at Walgreens. Then I saw “Trader Horn” and “Sequoia”, both 1934. “Sequoia” was good. Then I had a beer and then I saw “Sangaree”. Arlene Dahl is very nice. I then came back to hotel after dinner in an Italian place. This evening I walked into a neighborhood and saw “Jamaica Run”, also with Arlene Dahl. She was even nicer in this one. Am back at hotel after a hamburger at the Toddle House. Ah, the Toddle House. What memories it recalls.

*** -- In those days, downtown movie palaces were open all day. The year before, spent a whole day between planes at the movies on 36th Street in Miami (High Noon and others). The Toddle House, at Main and Morgan in Durham, was a favorite after hours spot. Long gone now.

July 15 – A most uneventful day. Boarded bus at at 8:00 and arrived at Phillips at three. The crankshaft had just arrived. And I watched them work on car. In evening I saw television in a local bar. I am not at Skyline. I am at another cabin called Wayside.

*** -- Wednesday. The old crankshaft was in two pieces, broken right through its thickest part. Mr. Warga, the mechanic, did note that it was cast, not forged. Mr. Warga’s brother was apparently the business side of the agency. Sent telegram home, seeking funds. Wayside was an old fashioned tourist cabin type, closer to the garage than the more modern Skyline Motel.

July 16 – I am still at Wayside. The car is almost finished and I’ll be off tomorrow. I am learning a lot about cars. Had a few beers before I turned in. I spent all day at the garage.

*** -- Among the beers that night were a couple of “shorties.” Never saw these 7-ounce bottles anywhere before or since.

July 17 – I am now at St. Ignace, Michigan. I left at noon from Phillips and made excellent time. The car runs like it did when it was new. I’m worried about mileage though. I’ll check it tomorrow. There have always been two things I wanted to do. One was to see the upper peninsula and the other is to travel on US 2. I did both today. I’m going to make Youngstown, Ohio, tomorrow. Total – 332 miles.

*** -- The total bill for the repair and replacement of the crankshaft was $157. Mr. Warga, the business brother, accepted the check after a couple of hesitations. I’d have waited hours for funds from home via Western Union. “Anybody who’s got a car like this has surely got that much money in the bank.” Later, Titus Motors in Princeton, where Dad bought the car, talked GM into paying the bill. The car was at 14,000 miles just over the 12,000-mile warranty, and there was good will involved with a show business family. When I checked, the mileage was 20 mpg, well above the 16 to 17 I’d been averaging.

July 18 & 19 – But I went all the way home from St. Ignace. I hit Youngstown late and saw no motels. Got home at 8:00 a.m. Sunday. Total – 957 miles.

*** -- My early start that Saturday morning was slowed by the ferry across the Straits of Mackinac (the bridge was begun a year later), so the drive was about 24 hours straight, averaging about 40 mph. Memories are few. The Hydra-Matic plant on Plymouth Road which had just burned up. My repeat of the Toledo to Cleveland trip of 12/1944 on Ohio Route 2 when we first moved east. My stop near Port Clinton for lunch. Running straight through downtown Youngstown looking for a motel that wasn’t there. Then feeling resigned to the fact I would be driving all night, since the western end of the Pennsylvania Turnpike was not far ahead. On rails for home. Pulled off for a nap once. About half way across picked up WNBC’s “Music Till Dawn,” an all-night program of classical music. I listened in all the way to Valley Forge.

So, what was different from a similar trip a half century later? Some minor changes to note -- motels had radios and only a few had small television sets. Pin boys are distant memories. A car today would be a little better, but not much. The Catalina was three months old, with smooth leather, power steering, four-speed Hydramatic, and a good ride. But it did get lower mileage, lacked real power, and had no air conditioning. A major difference, of course, was the roads, which works both ways. On a freeway today you’re faster, maybe safer, but essentially driving in a tunnel. You don’t see small towns and big cities, or get new experiences at all, because the roads are all the same. The food of travel these days is another major difference. In those days, with either thanks or regret, a roadside diner or a main street greasy spoon was always an adventure. That is, of course, the main question. Do travelers these days even look for adventure along the way? As we drove the roads long ago, one of us would often say, “Look at that.” Today, you might hear instead, “How many miles to go?”

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