July 3, 1969: Lincoln Lives!

In my head: “Wait, I’m pretty sure that dude is dead. He definitely has some issues with mobility and speech. Poor Abraham Lincoln. Let’s go ride the train.”

Seriously, this show freaked me out. We boys had been immersed in American history in our few years in Virginia, so I was one confused little 4-year-old.

I don’t remember much more of that day at Disneyland. I was too small to ride the Matterhorn (something I finally checked off my list 25 years later). I have the feeling my first day at Disney was a strictly A-Ticket affair.

FUN FACT: E-Tickets Matter!

Those old Disney ticket books could be worth big coin! Even if you just have a few individual tickets from way back when, Guest Relations at the parks can calculate what they’re worth and pay you on the spot. If you have complete books in good condition, Ebay can calculate what they’re worth, and the sum total might be worth college tuition to a decent, in-state school.

Had a time getting Mike’s allergy shot but finally managed. Picked up Jim and got to Disneyland about 12:30. Had pancakes etc and visited everything. Stayed until 9 o’clock fireworks. Big crowd.

Marge Binder, July 3, 1969

Disney and Life

This was my first Disney park experience. I wouldn’t return to Disneyland until 2001.

In the meantime, I was introduced to Walt Disney World just a few months after it opened in 1971. As I do the math, that was a scant two years after my Lincoln freak-out. No matter, WDW became a big part of my youth; Mom and Dad arranged for the Family to spend every other Christmas there for years. More fond memories of roadtrips and camping and so much more. (Blog-worthy, yes, but not nearly as epic as this journey we’re on.)

When I worked at WDW in the 80s, in a number of capacities, I thought of my Mom whenever I dealt with families in distress. They’d planned, they were protecting family, they just wanted to enjoy the experience, but sometimes things don’t pan out as they’d hoped. If I had the ability to make things right (which I most often did in Guest Relations), I would, because I know what it would mean to Mom.

That empathy made me really good in those WDW jobs, and I think it affects my approach to work and people to this day.

June 30, 1969: Part 1

“25 miles north of Azusa…”

…A place which will live in infamy.

Had trouble pulling stakes & had to leave several. Drove down that terrible road. Doug threw up his crackers and kool-aid when we got to Azuza. Visited Uncle Russ & Aunt Marge. Had lunch. Phoned campgrounds. Set up at Lomita trailer park. Visited the Pacific.

That “terrible road.”

This is the road Mom references. Looking at it, I’m feeling the kool-aid and crackers gurgling up even now!

Seriously, what could go wrong when you load a four-year-old up with crackers and Kool-Aid, stuff him in the back seat and then traverse this serpentine nightmare?

As I recall (which might have been a dream), I erupted forth with a smooth pink sloosh into the front passenger seat, right down Tim’s back.

Ever since, Mom considered this episode a highlight and a low point of the trip and my childhood. To this day, Mom refers to this moment by its exact geography: “25 miles north of Azusa.”

June 30, 1969: Part 2

“Visited the Pacific.”

This terse observation belies what must have been an “arrival” for Mom. I hope she took a moment to reflect on this achievement: In two weeks she had safely transported her three boys across the country and delivered them to an ocean they’d never seen before. She battled the elements and endured the sometimes-cross nature of boys, and there were still plenty of surprises and challenges ahead.

I’d like to think, as she looked out at the Pacific that evening, she was thrilled to be back in Southern California, a place she revered since her short time there as a teenager. To this day I think Mom identifies as a Californian; a lot of us do.

The champale probably tasted especially good that night.

June 29, 1969: Food & Drink

Baked cornbread, visited the store, rested. Took the little guys to Crystal Lake to swim and try to catch minnows and polywogs—several hundred people there. Later Tim came too but couldn’t go out in a boat for fish—under 18. Everyone left. Threw stones and toasted marshmallows.

Marge Binder

Back in the day, there weren’t interstate exits teeming with fast food drive-thrus for road trippers to inhale as they blew by. It was mostly gas stations and mom’n’pop shops in small towns miles off the highway. Mom makes a few references in her diary to stops at A&Ws (a fast-food chain pioneer and still a family favorite, if you can find one), as well local finds like Perry’s back in Grove, OK.

For the most part, Mom had to shop almost daily (again, in local stores) and then serve up to three meals a day, plus snacks and treats like the cornbread and toasted marshmallows she describes here.

When in camp, there were campfire meals like breakfast and burgers, as well as things cooked on the “balky” Coleman stove. For lunch on the road, the staple was American cheese on white bread with mustard. What could be more American in the 60s?

Mom kept things organized with the Chuck Box that Dad built. It housed all of the utensils, condiments and some non-perishables. She also kept a cooler stocked with cheese and less-perishable goods. For meats, Mom would buy and cook it on the same day.

That’s the chuck box interior, taken on an earlier trip.

In short: No one starved.

Dad’s hat in the foreground, proof that he was an able (if not alway eager) outdoorsman.

…and Drink.

As for Drink, the only references in Mom’s diary are to the Kool-Aid I threw up onto Tim’s back (spoiler alert: We celebrate the 50th of that tomorrow!) and some champale she describes on two instances late in the trip.

She recently confided that she enjoyed a little champale every night of the trip. And deservedly so. Cheers!

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.

June 26, 1969: Nobody Likes the Grand Canyon

“Windy and dirty.”

In my 54 years I have never met anyone who actually liked the Grand Canyon. It’s a place you have to visit, of course. You stand on the edge, make some jokes about falling in, take some pictures and head back to the car. (These days you might also attempt a selfie, an activity that has been thinning the Gen-Y herd quite aggressively here in 2019). Then you drive for hours back to whatever highway you’d been on and put the whole dusty encounter behind you.

As a courtesy, past visitors don’t bad-mouth it to others who are thinking of visiting. Let them undertake the same aforementioned actions and draw the same lame conclusion for themselves. Shhh.

Got a very early start with no packing to do. The kids slept again later but I drove 350 miles. Stopped at Flagstaff for groceries, a picnic and Mike’s shot. Set up in a KOA at Williams and drove 60 (+60) miles to see the Grand Canyon. Windy and dirty.

Marge Binder, June 26, 1969

Here’s your chance to own a campground!

There weren’t many KOAs (Kampgrounds of America) back in the day, and Mom was keen to camp there whenever budgets afforded and a hot shower beckoned. Guess what: Today, you can own your very own KOA. Go on, sounds awesome! I’ll stop by. On my way to a Hyatt or a Marriott.

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.