1952: Maine. And California. And Iowa.

Do you have an Imaginary Rand-McNally Road Atlas for the United States available? I’ll give you a minute to get one.

Got it? Ok. Open it to Imaginary Page 56 where the interstate, state and secondary roads in the state of Indiana are laid out in detail for the happy traveler. Now…right in the middle of the page, draw a 3-inch by 3-inch square, including about 100 square miles of Indiana. Draw the square on a portion of the state where there are no easily recognized names of large cities (it’s a puzzle). Since this is an Imaginary Atlas, go ahead and do it in ink so it’s real easy to see. Now get an imaginary scissor and cut out these 9 square inches.

Now take your 3″ X 3″ inch piece of paper and give it to someone who enjoys travel, reading and maps. Give them a few minutes to study it and see if they can tell you where in these United States this section of countryside is located, which they will determine by understanding the numbering system of state and federal highways: even numbers north to south (low in the north, high in the south); and odd numbers west to east (low in the west, high in the east).

A small puzzle like this appeared in each issue of the Saturday Evening Post and was always part of our evening activities, sort of hanging over Dad’s chair, watching him (almost always) able to identify where in the United States that map patch was from.

Somehow, in 1952 it would seem the family drove on almost all the roads everywhere….the song “I’ve been everywhere, man, I’ve been everywhere….” was possibly a record of our family’s three road trips that summer: to Maine, California and Iowa.


In June, our parents along with one older sister and one older brother drove to Portland, Maine from Montana for the national annual convention of the Danish Lutheran Church. One day between lunch and the afternoon session, Dad watched sidewalk artist Charles Wright finish a large watercolor of the church they were meeting in. After it dried, he bought it for $5.00. It’s now framed and hanging on our dining room wall.

After that convention was over and before heading 1500 miles home, they visited New York City (the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building~~brother and sister went to the top of both); Natural Bridge, Virginia (5 X 7 framed photo hung on our living room wall until the farm was sold); Gettysburg Battlefield and Mt. Vernon. En route back to Montana through Canada, they ate the Queen’s chokecherries and took pictures of flowers in the ditches along the highway.


In July, we loaded up again, this time bound for Los Angeles for my oldest sister’s wedding. As usual, we packed our lunch. The word “lunch” in rural areas such as ours would be defined as “all the food and drink necessary to keep you alive and happy for as long a period of time as you are going to not be near your kitchen.” So “lunch” might mean enough food for 3 days. So we pack our lunch and hit the almost-2,000 mile long two-lane highway. At 20 cents a gallon for gasoline, paying for a 20 gallon fill with a $5 bill still gets us enough change to buy five loaves of bread.

The memories from that trip include the fun of recognizing a Montana license plate from Roosevelt County, somewhere in Utah. Nobody was driving over 55 mph and there wasn’t much traffic, so such things were noticed. Montana licenses had a prefix in the number that identified the county of origin. Thus if the license number is 17-287 that indicates the car is from Roosevelt County (17) and the license was the 287th one issued that year/cycle.

We hunker down in the city park in St. George, Utah in the late afternoon and wait until about 10:00 pm when the temperature drops down to around 85 or 90. Only then do we make the night time run across the desert to Barstow. We also (as expected) blew a hose or two going through the desert. We had a canvas water bag hanging on the front of the car to minimize, or at least delay, overheating of the radiator.


I have the black and white photos of myself, my other older sister (and the maid of honor who had ridden with us from Montana) visiting the Pacific Ocean. We Visited The Ocean. We did not lay on the beach or swim in the water. We Visited The Ocean. We are all very well-dressed for the beach: gathered cotton skirts in beautiful summer prints and pure white blouses with short sleeves, blouses carefully poked in to the waists of our skirts so we “look decent.” I was only 8 and just looked like a miniature of the older girls. So there we are, all dressed up (for an afternoon at a Ladies Aid meeting) standing in the surf up to our knees, holding our shoes in one hand trying to keep them from getting wet.

After the wedding on July 3, we leave Los Angeles northbound, because our homebound route will take us through Yosemite National Park. The narrow roads through the park in 1952 were considered “two lane” which sometimes meant only that two average size 4-door cars could successfully meet and pass by one another without significant damage if one of the cars stopped waaaay off on the shoulder so the other one could slowly inch by.

That was exactly the situation we found ourselves in as we drove across Tioga Pass that day with a completely unobstructed view of the magnificent valley more than a thousand feet below because there were no guardrails of any kind on the very narrow road. We were on the outside “lane” of the road which meant that our vehicle was the one to come to a complete stop when we met that other one, thus minimizing the chance that our car would fall off. We sat frozen in the car, watching the other vehicle creep by between us and the mountain.   Mom wouldn’t let us get out (because we might fall off the cliff….which would somehow be worse that all of us being pushed off as we sat in the car?)

If I hadn’t been able to find confirmation in Mom’s handwriting, I would not have dared claim that in October of that same year, 1952, we loaded up the car for a third time and drove to tall corn country in Iowa for an older brother’s wedding. We didn’t look for excuses to take long trips: with family weddings all over the country, we didn’t have to. Oh, we enjoyed those trips.

This amount of travel was certainly not the norm: 1952 was apparently our year to roam. Motels were just getting over being called roadhouses; just becoming “decent” as a place for “good folks” to stay. Since there was no such thing as a chain restaurant, once our lunch from home was gone, we always feasted on the specialty of the county, no matter what county we were in.


When our father died in the spring of 1962, Mom found hand-scribbled notes he had made during the summer of 1961 when he was working on plans for a trip to the Grand Canyon. He wanted to hike Bright Angel Trail.

He did. On March 31, 1962.

It just wasn’t the one in Arizona.


This entry was posted in Larsen Family, Mailboxes and Old Barns Essays, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

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