Traveling Years Ago

In 1967, I was a bright and shiny 2nd Lieutenant fresh out of the Cannon Cocker School of Knowledge located in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Yes, I cannot spell the word O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A without breaking out in song, even if it is just in my mind. I was visiting my parents in Wichita, KS and due to report to Fort Irwin, California. There was no Map Quest in those days so I had to get one of those many State Maps of the Central and Western United States and plot out a route. I was going to travel alone and I figured that I could do it in two days. I was fortunate to have a car that I felt really good about and that Volvo could just eat miles and got pretty good mileage also.

The first leg of the trip was down U.S. Highway 54. It is a diagonal that was heavily traveled by trucks. If you have never had the pleasure of driving down one of those truck routes, you don't know what you were missing. The road had ruts where those trucks loaded with boxed beef from the Liberal Kansas area just impressed their wheels marks in the soft asphalt. If you had a car with a narrow wheel base you could have problems staying in the ruts. The Volvo was wide enough that you could almost go to sleep and if no one was stopped ahead of you. In the rain it was a dangerous time to drive as those ruts would fill with water and you would hydroplane from the top of the ruts from one side to the other. My dad had installed an "ARA" under the dash aftermarket air conditioner in the Volvo and it would keep you cool if you were right in front of the vents.

From Wichita to Liberal the scenery of the drive didn't change. You could see for miles and miles and unless you liked to see farms and a few cows there wasn't much to make the marking of miles on the speedometer stand out. In early June as the wheat is turning to face the harvest, it is a beautiful time to watch the yellow ocean wave at you. In Late July there isn't much left but stubble and even the cows are huddled around the stock tanks because of the heat.

About Liberal the mild transition from green and flat to almost desert. Through the Panhandle of Oklahoma (Where the wind comes....Dang, there is that song again) The plants really change and the weeds turn into a nasty yucca plant that guards it meager stalks with nasty points and barbs. Up near Wichita a farmer can count his cows per acre. I'm pretty sure that down in that part of the world it is acres per cow. Somewhere in that part of the world, I saw a sign for the Historic Highway 54 Association. I had no clue that there was anything historic about that heavily traveled ad truck grooved road. For the most part, the road into Tuccumcari, NM is a lot like the road on the other end.

I think I drove all the way to Albuquequerki (That stupid town about a days drive from Wichita) Yes, I could let spell checker fix the spelling, but I am leaving it in for literary effect. I'm sure that there are some of you that leave your spell checker on so you can make fun of those of us that write phonetically, sans the exactness of a degree in English. Did I mention that I picked up that infamous Route 66? I-40 was in its infancy and large stretches of it weren't completed and in many places you were forced off the super slab and onto a slightly wide asphalt road that went through a lot of little towns. In fact, in most places all the way to California they were so afraid their towns would fade away without the tourists they would actually end the Interstate and make you go through the small towns to get gas, groceries, tourist items and those bags you hung on your bumper that held water "just in case".

I will admit that there were some things about the old highway that were pretty spectacular. You found yourself winding around canyons and following the rivers and railroads in a lot of places. About the State line in Arizona you began to see a lot of people walking. If they had their arms empty, they were headed to town and if they had bags, they were headed home. In the small towns, there would be pick-ups with their beds filled with families. I guess it was just bad manners to not pick up as many people as your truck would hold on your way to town. Because it was daytime and late in the month, I didn't see the drunks out in force like we did on our later trips. I guess about the time the Government checks go out, going to town and getting drunk was one of the main past times.

I was on a fairly tight time schedule and limited budget so I didn't stop at many of those tourist traps. They were marked by giant arrows made out of 4 inch pipe that looked like they were stuck in the ground by a race of giant Indians to mark where you just had to stop. I really wanted to stop at the Petrified Forest and get some of that rock tree but I just kept moving west.

About the time I was crossing the California border in the heat of the day, I saw a car on the side of the road with the hood up. As soon as I stopped (I saw an Air Force Base Sticker on the car) I heard the baby crying. You know that cry of a new born that has kind of wobble in the cry. Wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a not a solid sound. There was a young guy probably a little older than me standing by the motor. Yep, it looked hot and probably dry.

I immediately told him that he needed to have his wife and baby go sit in front of that little ARA air conditioner in my car until they cooled down a little. There was water in the cooler where the ice had melted and she needed to wet down that babe and cool off. Momma did and the cries stopped very quickly. That baby was asleep in a new york minute.

Having worked in a gas station I knew that if there were no major leaks in the system, we could probably add my meager amount of water and limp to the nearest water. He wouldn't be able to run his air conditioner but we could get to the nearest town. By the time I got there, the radiator was cooled down enough to open it and put all the water from that little bumper bag and the remnants of the cooler water in the radiator and move on up the road. He didn't want to leave his wife in my car until I showed him my ID card and he realized that the only person that really mattered was the baby. Off we went. Just down the road a few miles was one of those Check-in Stations that California has to keep you from bringing in produce that might somehow have fruit flies or something. it was just being built and no one was there. There were barrels of water that the brick layers were using to make mortar for the building. We filled everything with water and headed to Needles. I dropped them off at a Chevy Dealership and headed for that last stretch to Barstow. I lost a couple of hours on my trip plan but I have never passed on helping people in need, especially if there is baby involved.

I cannot express the amazement of seeing Barstow as I entered it from the west. You come over a rise on the highway and there was a jewel ahead of me. The lights were amazing and right in the middle of no and dam-where here was an oasis. It was almost 10 PM and well over 100 degrees. I found the cheapest Motel I could find and checked in. Never mind that after I paid for the room that I didn't have much more than money for a cup of coffee in my pocket. I had no clue how to get to Fort Irwin and if I was late, so what. I ran the meager air conditioner in that motel full blast slept (Edited out for Two Dogs) on the sheets. You would roll off the hot wet spot over on the cool wet spot and sleep the sleep of a weary traveler that just drove over 1300 miles in two days, solo.

The next morning, I went out of the motel and wondered what the hell someone had done to Barstow? From that jewel last night, it had the look of a town seriously in need of paint and cleaning. A lot of the main street stores were empty and because it was pretty early no one was out. I finally found the road to Fort Irwin, passed the Del Taco (and recorded that location in my mind) the Santa Fe rail yard and headed north to my first assignment.

Later Alligator. MUD


  1. Good story. I enjoy seeing the country, too. And dang, is that drive through Oklahoma not the flattest part of the world? But did you really have to throw in the nekkid MUD atop the sheets part? Get the editor of your blog to take those parts out.

  2. I really enjoyed reading the description of your drive. I've traveled out that way from Wichita along a similar route with updated roads, but never so far as California. When my SIL moved out to Los Gatos in August, that's the route I helped her map out and she had a scheduled stop in Barstow, too. Driving is so much more enjoyable to me than flying. I don't care if it does take longer. Thank God for better air conditioning in most cars these days though. We never had a car with decent working air conditioning until I was in high school. I particularly remember driving through Texas in August with my mom in a '60 something pickup truck with the windows rolled down for air. It was still suffocatingly hot.

  3. Great post traveling down memory lane. Isn't it odd those of us advancing in age can remember great detail from 40+ years ago and can't remember what the crap we did yesterday!!!

  4. What super memories about the road trip! As always, I enjoy your memories! Keep up the good posts!