Monday, August 02, 2010

1950 – 1960 Family Vacations

Dad came back from WWII to a new wife, a new baby, and with a driving desire to earn a college degree. He earned that degree in just 3-years and started working for a power company in south Texas. Within a couple of years, he was recalled to the Air Force for Korean War service, served an additional 18-months, and settled in Ft. Worth about 1952. He and mom were raised in Dallas.

As a child of the Depression, until WWII, dad had never ventured any further than SW Arkansas where his ancestors had settled about 1836. At age 31 he was finally free of military service and wars, and had accumulated both an opportunity and money to take his first real vacation, so we drove from Ft. Worth to Mexico City…in August 1953. It’s about 1200-miles to Mexico City, it’s very hot in August, and the car was NOT air-conditioned because dad was frugal and air conditioners were expensive then. That was 57-years ago and I have never forgotten that trip. I have never been hotter in my life!

We took turns soaking a hand towel in an ice chest, then draping the wet towel over our faces and letting the hot air blow on it, the theory being...evaporation cooling. It was better than nothing, but not much better. For the driver there was no relief. Besides being HOT, I don’t recall much about the trip other than narrow rough roads, widely separated gas stations, small villages, and no road food until we got to Mexico City. I think we had some lunch meat in the ice chest.

In working on the past few entries about early DFW roads and their fairly primitive state in the early 1950s, I thought about how miserable those Mexican roads must have been. Once in Mexico City, we turned the driving over to cabs and tour guides and enjoyed our stay. With the current conditions in Mexico, I wouldn’t want to give that trip a try today.

Dad was part of that generation who wanted to see as much as they could and for some of them, it was an opportunity to brag to their neighbors…remember all those travel stickers folks used to attach to their rear windows and bumpers? Dad wasn’t in to that, but he was a full-bore, long-range vacation driver. During my childhood, I recall us taking 2 other driving vacations, one to Colorado in 1955, and another to the Northeast as far up as Quebec in 1958. That last one was something like 6,500 driving miles which provided no time to see or do anything but drive. When we got home from that 2-week vacation, we were exhausted.

Since it was an early-life obligatory holiday in-law visit, I won’t describe the trip home from Ohio to Dallas to spend Christmas 1951 with the grandparents. That one was in dad’s first car, a 1950 model with NO heater—he had bought it in south Texas just after college and didn’t want to pay the extra money for the heater...he didn't see the need for it in south Texas. He hadn't anticipated being recalled to the service and sent to Ohio. I’ve never been colder in my life than on that trip.

After I hit the teen years, I declined any further travel opportunities with dad and when I started my own family we did things differently. We found places we liked to be, got there by the best practical means, and stayed put to enjoy the places we liked.

As I studied some of the old roadways, I marveled that so many people charged out on those early roads and drove such long distances. For the WWII generation, I think it was some kind of endurance contest. About 25-years later, I think it was this same bunch of people who fueled the motor home fad, that for a time clogged the roads with big slow-moving vehicles.

In the early 1970s I drove coast to coast several times and have made other long driving trips for various reasons, but I’ve never really enjoyed them much…I get bored. Nowadays a lot of our roads are in bad repair and many of them cut through dangerous neighborhoods. Most of the Interstate highways are about 50-years old, so the neighborhoods they cut through are no longer new—you have to choose your stops with more care. Too bad…it was much better in the late 1960s as the Interstates were completed and into the 1970s when there still wasn’t much traffic on them compared to now. Take a look at the 1977 film, Smoky and the Bandit, for a pretty good illustration of 1970s road conditions on the Interstates and secondary highways. Ah, those Targa tops.


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