GOING WEST (Part 1 of 3 parts)
Author’s note: I promised you a trip through seven states during the 1930’s so hang on and follow me—cause we’re on our way.
It was in l932 that Shorty (that’s Robert McGrew, my half brother (he was the one who tried to get me to drink out of a horse trough) and I decided to "go west" in search of work. We bought a l922 Dodge touring car (touring car as I am using it means it has no windows—it is open—and you had to put up rain curtains in bad weather). Instead of rain curtains we planned to use a big wagon sheet which we would put over the top and fastened it down on the sides in case of bad weather. We put slatted boards over the back seat which could be pulled forward over the front seat, thereby making a bed inside the car. Then we built a "Chuck Box" (like the ones used on a chuck wagon). We set it on the left fender, and bolted it to the body frame.
We stocked it full of food and headed west to seek our fortune (this happened right in the beginning of the "big depression") and looking back I can see that with that rig we were driving we would have fitted right into that gang of dust bowlers in the picture, "The Grapes of Wrath." We hadn’t even gotten to Big Springs before we had our first trouble. We tried to cross a low water crossing that was on a rise, the water drowned the motor and before we got that car out the water got into the crank case. We did not know that until the next day in Big Springs we found that our clutch would not work, we couldn’t shift gears.
Well, we thought our trip was over because we did not have the money to get the car repaired. In an effort to get the car to run Shorty pulled the gear shift into the low position and stepped on the starter. Well, the starter on those old Dodges was so powerful that the car started and kept going while he ground the gear shift from low to second and then into first gear. We decided then that we would continue on our trip as long as that old Dodge would run.
I got my first experience with mountains in Arizona. We saw them for two days before we got to them and when we did reach them I couldn’t understand why Shorty would not throw that car out of gear and coast when we were going down hill. He would say that we were going up hill and would prove it by taking his foot off the gas pedal and the car would come to a stop. I couldn’t believe it. It was when we were going around curves and you could look down for thousands of feet that I discovered I was afraid of heights, and have been ever since.
Every place we went people would tell us "no work here, keep going further west." It was the same story in California where we thought we might find work through some of Shorty’s contacts, but no such luck. But at least here they let us eat all of the peaches we wanted, as long as we picked them up off the ground. We ate peaches until it made us sick to look at one. But we were about broke and our chuck box was getting empty, so peaches were better than nothing.
When we reached Sacramento and still couldn’t find work we decided to go to Nevada. That was a big mistake because we were to find out that there was little else to find in that state other than sand. On our way into Nevada we had to go over a 12,000 foot mountain and it was on this mountain road we found the first hill that our old Dodge could not make in high gear. After the car came to a stop I got out and put a rock behind a rear wheel. Shorty put that sucker into low gear and stepped on the starter. Well sir, that car took off and I don’t believe there was a mountain in California it couldn’t climb in low gear.
The scenery was so beautiful up there in the mountains that we decided to pull off the highway and spend the night. The spot we selected as a camp-site was a narrow ravine between two hills. Across this ravine, and supported by scaffolding, was a flume used as a portion of the aqueduct which carried water from the snow peaks to the Sacramento valley below, and near this flume was an ideal spot for our camp.
Our over-night camp turned into a four day vacation during which , as a result of Shorty’s cooking in that old dutch oven, we consumed a major portion of the contents of our chuck box. It was during this stay that we discussed the possibility of using some of that water from the flume to take a shower.
We had in our supply kit a long piece of water hose, initially intended to be used as a means of extracting gasoline from road construction equipment we might find along the highway at night. However, I will say here that each of us having been reared by the same Mama who looked upon stealing as an unjustifiable sin, we could not bring ourselves to use that hose for it’s intended purpose.
Thus the thought occurred to us to use the hose to siphon water out of that flume, stand under it, and take a shower. This we did, and once only. God in the heavens, here it is 61 years later and I still remember how cold that water was—and although we had not had a bath for weeks we calculated that one cold one was enough to last until warmer water was available.
Leaving our vacation spot we traveled on to Carson City where we were told "No work here but we might find work in Ely." So like a couple of idiots we strike out for Ely and gad what a trip. The main highway to Ely back in 1932 was a one way track, as I remember it, through a desert of sand. Luckly we did not meet another car, had we done so one car would have had to pull off the road to let the other pass.
Our first night out of Carson City was spent in Austin, Nevada. As I remember it the town was located on the side of a steep hill and we camped on a vacant lot in the middle of town with some other travelers. While we were cooking our supper we heard kids playing and yelling all over town, but when the town clock struck nine the silence became deafening and we figured that nine o’clock was the curfew hour.
To be continued next week...