Friday, September 6, 2013

Our 1948 Odyssey

By Ken Neal

             I can’t remember when Dad bought our 1948 Chevrolet, but I remember that it had about 9,000 miles on it when we took a 5,400-mile junket in June of 1948.
            We had taken at least two trips to the West in our old 1939 Chevy and Dad was eager to take his new car on a trip. He got only two weeks’ vacation in those days, having hired in at American Airlines a scant 3 years before.
            I am embarrassed to admit how many new cars I have had, so I can only imagine how thrilled dad was to have his first new car. Even today, I drive new cars. So do my three children. Must be something in the DNA.
            Dad seemed old to me when I was 12, but now, at the age of 78, I realize that he was but a very young man of 33.
            A lot of planning went into that trip. Continental Oil Co. provided travel planning and Dad had a forerunner of the credit card. We were, as he often said, “in business!”
Actually, there was no credit card involved. Credit was established and the customer could sign for fuel and other supplies at Continental filling stations. I think there was a reciprocal agreement with Shell Oil Co.
            I presume the originals were mailed to company headquarters and statements were sent out to the customer.
            Dad was the chief planner but I was a consultant. Poor mom probably sat back and let her boys dream and plan.
            The travel packet arrived. I remember it to this day. It was a bound legal size packet, complete with maps of every stage of the trip. Accompanying the maps (on which the route was marked in purple) were bits of history and monuments and other landmarks.
We set out at about 4 a.m., bound for Denver, the first stop on our tour.
            Dad was Chevy Chase of the Stone Age. His plan was to see as much country as possible, even if from a Chevy whizzing along at 75 miles an hour.
            We made Denver in one day. Interstates were thing of the future, so as I remember, it was 750 miles from Tulsa to Denver. Most highways were two lanes, so it was a constant battle to avoid getting stuck behind slow-moving trucks.
            From Denver, we headed for Yellowstone National Park, where we all had heard of Old Faithful.
            We marveled at the desolation of Wyoming. I recall that our map showed a couple of routes across Wyoming, but I forget which one we chose. We stayed at Jackson Hole the second night. I remember we stayed in a brand new log cabin, heated by an oil-burning stove. We needed it. It was cold.
            On our earlier trips, Dad had insisted on holding the ’39 Chevy to 50 miles an hour. I know now that the old Chevy had probably 80,000 miles on it and Dad was bit worried about a breakdown. A confession: We really didn’t know exactly how many miles it had on it because during the war, everybody, including my dad, ran the speedometers back.
            But now we had a new Chevy that ran like a sewing machine. So we drove 75 where we could on two-lane roads. There were no seat belts, no padded dash, no breakaway steering column and brakes that were greatly inferior to today’s autos.
            Highways were much more dangerous then than now, but of course there were far fewer cars on the road.
            An observation on road safety: About 10 years later when I was a reporter for the Tulsa World, we did a nightly story and wrap up on traffic deaths. If I remember correctly, traffic deaths on Oklahoma roads topped 600 annually.
            We breezed through Yellowstone, watching Old Faithful erupt and marveling at the boiling water and mud. In a recent visit to Yellowstone with my son, I realized I had seen but a small part of Yellowstone on my 1948 visit. It was uppermost in my dad’s mind to “make time” on the road.
            We headed west from Yellowstone through Montana. I remember Butte, Montana was a barren mining town. From there we crossed the upper part of Idaho and reached Spokane, Washington. I don’t remember where we stayed. We were in Lewis and Clark country, but we didn’t know it.
            I remember a lot of wheat around Spokane. It surprised me that it resembled Enid, Oklahoma.

            From Spokane we must have angled southwest because I remember the Columbia River, especially The Dalles, Oregon. I thought it a very strange name.  Tulsa didn’t seem odd to me, of course.
            My mother’s grandfather, Frank Ingalls, had four wives. His son, my grandfather, Ray Ingalls, was his first son by Wife No. 1, Eva Chamberlain.
            Frank’s 4th wife was a woman much younger than he. In fact, she was about his son’s age. Frank started his last and biggest family with this woman. He had seven children by her, all of them younger than my mother. He moved this brood to Oregon the 1920s. Mom had corresponded with this branch of the Ingalls family through the years and was anxious to see her “step grandmother” and her uncles and aunts, all younger than she.
            We knew that Grandma Ingalls still lived on the family farm in the Portland area. I think it was near Eugene, Oregon. At any rate, we found her and she was a lovely little lady of about 60.
            Although mom had kept contact with her family, she had seen none of the family since they were children.
            The farm was beautiful. It had fields of oats and a section big and beautiful timber.
Grandma Ingalls raised chickens, grew a garden and had two huge Cherry trees in the back yard. We Okies wondered at having such trees. The Cherries were ripe but Grandma had canned so many cherries that she left them to the birds and her chickens, which got sick from eating cherries.
            We sat in the car to listen to the heavyweight championship fight. Joe Louis, the champion, had successfully defended his title since beating James J. Braddock in 1937. He was fighting Jersey Joe Walcott.
            It was June 22, 1948. Louis had beaten Walcott the year before in a match that most thought Walcott had won.
            We looked for a repeat performance by Walcott. But alas, he was dumped unceremoniously on his rump in the 11th round and couldn’t get up.
            This was Louis’ last great fight. The old champ was past his prime but had trained hard to prove himself to the world and Walcott.
            Frank Ingalls had died in the early 1940s. His children were all hail and hearty and happy to see mom. One of them, Gladys, later was a regular visitor to Sand Springs.
            Ironically, this Grandma Ingalls was named Ethel, same as my Grandma Ingalls, Frank’s daughter-in-law.
            From Eugene, Oregon, we headed for the coast. Dad had heard of the famous 101 highway, which hugged the west coast, virtually all the way south to Los Angeles.
            I remember seeing the Golden Gate, if you could call it that. Once again, we were trying to make time and didn’t stop. We headed south along the coast to Los Angeles and I guess we took time out to see Dad’s brother, Jim, and sister, Addie, but I don’t remember it.   
            Southward, ho! To San Diego, then to Tijuana, Mexico. I don’t remember stops but we must have stayed somewhere in southern California when we headed east out of Tijuana.
            We came back via the “southern route” as Okies called it. I remember Tucson, Arizona, and Carlsbad and Hobbs, New Mexico. We got back U.S. 66 to travel back to Tulsa. I remember the long ride from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, longer, it seemed, because we were so near home.
            Thus ended the trip. My dad didn’t brag much about the places we saw on the trip, but I remember the careful statistics he kept on the car.
            For 5,400 miles, it didn’t use a quart of oil, a big deal in those days. It averaged 20 miles per gallon, despite some 75-mile-an-hour days.
            After Dad beat the Ford in the big race with that Chevy, he sold it to a guy at American Airlines who thought it was some kind of super Chevy and so we were on the way to our next new Car.
            A Post Script: We had put Brownie, the dog, in DeShane’s kennel for the first time. He had accompanied us on earlier jaunts. I was anxious to get him and when Dad and I showed up at his pen, he didn’t seem to know us.
            After a bit, he realized his folks had come to get him and then we couldn’t contain him. That was one happy dog! Mrs. DeShane said he had mourned so, they had trouble getting him to eat and had to take him out of his pen to get him to defecate.
            Nobody enjoyed those trips more than Brownie. I think he was just pissed because we left him home.

No comments:

Post a Comment