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.

Triptiks!

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 27, 1969: Barstow!

A rare interjection in this blog from 2020: Maw passed away last night, peacefully and at home. My brother Mike was there with other family. And because she kept driving us west 51 years ago, despite so many obstacles and hardships, I’m going to keep re-publishing these posts every day to honor her memory. A grand coincidence is that 51 years ago today, Mom did finally arrive in California, her Promised Land.

Got a good start thanks to the time changes. Drove through the desert all day. Reached Barstow about 4 and got a fancy ($4) tra-tel with pool, shade and showers, also rocks. Has been blowing hard ever since we reached Oklahoma.

Marge Binder, June 27, 1969

Mom calls the camp “fancy” and indicates she dropped 4-large for this TraTel. For me, at four years old, it must have been my first encounter with a portmanteau. Thank you Barstow for so much love!

I passed through Barstow every few months on working roundtrips from Santa Monica to Las Vegas back in the aughts. It was not a place where I ever stopped. I preferred Baker, with its almost rustic main drag and sky-high thermometer.

In revisiting Barstow for this 1969 travelogue, I have to admire that it was an original crossroads of the interstate system — Interstates 15 and 40, nee Rte 66 — as well as the gateway to the Mojave Desert and a number of military installations. Next time I pass through, I’ll let myself wax nostalgic for the place that treated Mom and her boys nice, if even for a night. But I probably won’t stop.