The Big Trip of 1944, Part 1

This is about a vacation trip my family took just prior to my eighth birthday in 1944. We saw so many extraordinary things that made such an impression on me.

My Mom’s Dad, my Grandpa George F. Sicks, lived in Los Angeles. Mom’s 1st cousin, Ruby Mae (Peebler) Bernard lived in San Diego. Grandpa’s trip to come back to Kansas and get us and take us to L.A. had been scheduled for quite a while. The fact that Ruby was traveling at the same time may have been just a coincidence. She drove back with her baby son, Barney Jr. who was probably 6 months old. Ruby had come back to show off her baby and get her sister, Carol Jean, who lived in Wichita. Carol had three daughters, Vicki Sue, Carolyn Jo, and Carmen Jane. Vicki was the oldest but I doubt that she was more than 4 or 5. Carol, Vicki, and Carmen were going to San Diego for a visit with Ruby and then going on to Klamath Falls, Oregon to visit with our great-uncle, Virgil Peebler and his wife, Peggy. Carolyn Jo was going to stay with Peggy’s sister, Edith, and her husband, Ted. They would take Carolyn Jo to Klamath Falls to join the rest of the family.

Ruby was tall, good-looking, had red hair, and was brash. She was fun but you never knew what was going to come out of her mouth. Her husband, Barney, was in the Navy and was overseas in some war Zone. Carol was tall, good-looking, and had long blonde hair. I hadn’t thought about it before but Terri looks a lot like Carol Jean.

Grandpa and Ruby were both driving 1942 Pontiac, 4-doors, with the “torpedo” rear ends. Grandpa’s was black and Ruby’s was sky blue.

1942-Pontiac-4dr

Mom, Dad, Sylvia, and I traveled with the rest of the group, in the two cars. We swapped cars now and then to keep from getting bored. Cars didn’t have air conditioners back then so it was impossible to keep cool. Most filling stations still had outhouses rather than tiled restrooms and quite often they were 4 or 5 holers in order to take care of crowds. Quite often, you had neighbors on either side as you tried to cope with the stench and the flies in the 100 degree heat.

What must have been our second night was spent in a motel in San Simon, Arizona. This was one of Grandpa’s favorite areas and he knew the people who owned the motel. (When I spent the summer with him in 1950, Grandpa owned 160 acres about 1 ½ miles west of town). When we were loading up to leave the next morning, Grandpa put a couple of boxes with chicken wire covering the ends, in the trunk. He opened one of them and reached in and lifted out a Gila monster and scared the devil out of me. He had already told us a number of stories about Gila monsters and how they bite down on you and won’t release their grip unless you cut their heads off. Grandpa said he had caught these two and was taking them to California. He said he was giving one to the Griffith Park Zoo in Los Angeles and the other to the San Diego Zoo. He said he had provided critters of different types to both zoos in the past.
Gila Monster

Another thing I remember about San Simon is that when you leave town, driving west, you can look to the south, to the Chiricahua Mountains and see what is known as “Cochise’s Head.” When you are in the right area, and several mountain peaks are lined up correctly, you can see the profile of a man’s head as if he were lying on his back and looking up. Cochise is still there looking after his stronghold.

The next thing I remember (besides the stinking outhouses in the desert) is arrival in Yuma in the early afternoon. We were ready to eat some lunch and were looking for a place to stop. Remember, this was during the war and everything was rationed. We were looking for a café when we came to one which had the word “Butter” painted across the window in big, bright letters. Since we were all sick of eating the margarine which had become available during the war. We thought we were in for a treat. We got in, got settled, and ordered a meal. Everything was fine until we were served and Grandpa realized that the stuff in the butter dish wasn’t butter but was the hated margarine! First, he called the waitress over and explained the error to her. Well, she was sorry but margarine was all they had today. Her explanation wasn’t adequate and as Grandpa started getting up a full head of steam he demanded to speak to the owner of the place. When the owner came in from the kitchen where he presided over the grill, Grandpa tried to explain the error to him. He got the same response…”no butter today.” Grandpa was soon shouting at the top of his lungs about people that painted “Butter” on their windows to lure people into their place and then had the gall to serve them margarine. Grandpa felt that he had been tricked and cheated and he wasn’t going to stand for it. I remember a lot of noise and embarrassment but don’t remember how this was resolved. I don’t know if we went somewhere else or if the owner of the place somehow placated Grandpa.

We split up in Yuma with Ruby and Carol and the kids heading for San Diego and us heading for Los Angeles. Grandpa owned a home at 6151 Dennison Street in East Los Angeles. It was a nice neighborhood with Spanish-style houses and well kept yards full of flowers. I remember being amazed at the sight of streets lined with palm trees.

My Dad only had 2 weeks’ vacation but Mom and we kids were going to stay for 6 weeks. Grandpa set up a sight-seeing schedule that would allow Dad to see as much as could be crowded into his time period.

Dave Thomas

February 4, 1994; Revised and added pictures March 5, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

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