June 28, 1969: Navigating 1969

Got the wheels balanced. The Guys had a swim before we left at noon. Also cooked a big breakfast in spite of a balky stove. Stopped at Sears in San Bernardino. Drove way up in the mountains to Crystal Lake, a federal campground.

Marge Binder, June 28, 1969

In preparing for this blog, I purchased a number of maps, atlases and guide books from 1969. It’s astounding to see what people are selling on Ebay. And it’s equally astounding what people are buying there. What a country!

Maps. (before apps, Google, GPS, etc)

Back then, every gas brand had its own maps for sale, usually limited to that state or region. Book stores might have a broader range of full US maps and atlases.

As I reviewed these maps, I found it interesting (and a little frustrating) that each brand of map was slightly different in scale and symbols. Assembling “one” map of the trip from this disparate collection yielded a few incongruities that I hope you’ll forgive. For instance, on July 21 we will cross from California into Oregon; the California map is a AAA brand, while the Oregon map is Standard Oil’s Western US map. Hoo boy, you can just imagine my conundrum!

Part of the library I amassed for this project. Even with these books and the vast internet, some locations and businesses are lost to the ages.

Guide Books

There were guidebooks too. AAA published regional guides that listed restaurants and lodging, town by town (but not on a map). These were often less than a smattering of what was actually available. And because it was heavily advertiser-supported, it seems suspect to me. Plus, the AAA guides didn’t cover campgrounds, so these books weren’t very helpful in this project. Btw, there were no apps like Yelp or Trip Advisor, as if I needed to remind you.


AAA also created Triptiks. These were customized, hand-marked and -assembled pamphlets of maps bound together in order of the trip. One page would get you from point A to B, the next from B to C, and so on. The pages had an odd configuration such that the route always went from top to bottom or vice versa, no matter the direction you were actually heading. Mom didn’t use a Triptik on this trip because I think she wanted to be open to diversions. She did call on them plenty of times for later trips.

Mom’s bible was Woodall’s 1969 Trailering Parks and Campgrounds ($7.95 on ebay, plus shipping). At over 1200 pages, this no-nonsense guide included seemingly every strip of land big enough for a tent to stake claim anywhere in the USA.

While Mom preferred the cheaper state parks for most nights, she would research a “deluxe” facility every third night, for comfort and hygiene.

To book these campgrounds, Maw would use pay phones along the way, a day or so in advance.

Believe it or not, that was an innovative approach back then — long distance calling! — if we are to believe this ad from Ma Bell in one of the guide books.

At least the lady is letting the man do the talking(!). Hello 1969.

“How to read a road map”

“It’s very simple.”

I could imagine seeing this headline on any print map in 2019. 50 years ago, though, such a skill would seem to me to be basic, like reading an analog clock or writing cursive or surviving gluten.

The Best Navigation Advice I Ever Received

“As long as you have a tongue in your head, you will never be lost.”

Marge Binder, throughout my childhood

I recall Mom adding adding something about a dime or a quarter in her advice — things required to make a phone call back in the day — but I’ll keep it pithy here.

June 25, 1969: Life on the Road

I’ve long held the belief that, if you want to really know someone, travel with them. Even more so: go on a roadtrip together. Such events led to more than one breakup back in the day.

Of course, as a car- and tent-confined Family, we Binders had to coexist. Here are a few of the rules and procedures we followed, along with a few ideas from the good people at AAA.

Quiet Hour

For every hour a child stayed completely quiet, the parents would bestow 25 cents. We could use it for anything, usually candy and arcade games at the next stop. Thing is: You had to be quiet for a full hour, not 55 minutes. So as the clock ticked down to the magic moment, the boys would begin trying to sabotage each others’ progress, making faces, tickling, general intimidation. But, like I said, they were Family, so we couldn’t leave them at the next rest stop and move on.

The Pee Jar

Yes, it is what it sounds like it is. I imagine it worked because we were three boys sans modesty. It was always there, on the floor of the backseat, and when nature called we would get low and take care of business. There was an incident explained in Mom’s July 28 recollection where something bad happened to the pee jar. Boys! Amirite?

Art & Diversions

I don’t recall for certain, but I’m pretty sure Mom loaded us up with pens and paper. All three of us were budding artists (but none of us followed our bliss), so I can imagine some competitive doodling and sketching along the way. Tim was the illustrator — faces, animals, fish. Mike visualized sci-fi scenarios and architecture. I worked in long form, mixing scrawl with sketch. Like so much of this trip, the evidence is lost to the ages.

I seem to remember some “I Spy” and license plate bingo. Mom recently described some other games that I don’t recall, but they do sound plausible! Something about points for seeing cows: white cows were low scoring, black/brown better, and spotted cows were prime point sources.

Mom recently recalled that Tim would read aloud from John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley (in Search of America) and the last of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. We also listened to the radio in the car, whatever AM stations we could find for as long as we could keep their signal.

Travel Tips 1969 vs 2019

Here’s what AAA suggested families do for traveling with kids back in 1969, before video games, tablets and seat-back video screens. And phones, internets, etc. etc.

In my entire childhood, I never heard of any of these activities.

I was surprised recently when I came across this story from Travel Channel; the diversions they suggest for roadtripping with kids includes quite a few non-tech activities. Bravo!

Had breakfast at the Cattleman’s Cafe. Had a “tail” picnic for lunch (that’s Doug-ese for “tailgate.” Camped at Bluewater State Park in New Mexico but it was miserable cold and windy so we slept in the car.

Marge Binder, June 25, 1969

Note Mom’s amusement (nay, astonishment!) at me coining terms like “tail” instead of tailgate. What a little marketer.

I’m seeing a pattern here: Every place we stopped seemed to have abundant fishing opportunities.

Here’s some more about Bluewater State Park.

June 18, 1969: “See the USA…”

I’ve always been fascinated by the interstate highway system — the scale of the vision, the resolve to get it done, the fact that it did get done. I actually have a favorite interstate: the beautiful and elegantly contoured I-280 from San Jose to San Francisco. Fun fact: It wasn’t near complete in 1969.

Another fun fact: 15 miles of my commute on the lovely I-680 in the east bay is now under panic-inducing construction, providing a magical reminder that the system will never truly be done. My tax dollars at work. Indeed! But I digress.

As you probably know, President Eisenhower gets credit for thinking big and delivering in the 50s (though the concept arose in the 30s). By then, the automobile was ubiquitous, and the timely combination with wider, smoother, longer roads made Americans truly mobile. Here’s a new book out about the history (and future) of motoring across this great big land of ours.

And of course, all of this was romanticized by our friends at Chevy. Cue Dinah Shore!

See the USA in your Chevrolet
America is asking you to call
Drive your Chevrolet through the USA
America’s the greatest land of all
On a highway, or a road along the levee
Performance is sweeter
Nothing can beat her
Life is completer in a Chevy
So make a date today to see the USA

And this next spot from 1972 was practically inspired by Marge Binder’s Epic Adventure but with more…er, Native Americans.

Most of the interstate network was completed by the time of our trip, but there were still big stretches through the midwest and northwest that were connected by older highways and blacktop, including the famed Route 66. And, of course, the interstates weren’t yet teeming with services like fast food malls, motels and major travel centers.

Here’s a great site for satisfying your inner highway geek, including addressing a few myths about the program.

Started about 10 again. Had breakfast “out” but then a tailgate picnic for lunch. Went through a lot of rain in Indiana. Stopped at Bauer’s Bonanza in Smithboro, IL about 5 and swam & fished and cooked out. Cleared and was lovely evening. Called Jim and Momma.

Marge Binder, June 18, 1969