Car Canping #6: 1952 & ’53

My dad worked full time for Idaho Power Company. He and Mom also operated a rental business out of our home. Or should I say they made a home in the machine shop of the rental business? Half the building was home and half shop. 

The business rented a selection of trailers and two Ford tractors including a variety of implements to fit the tractors.

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Dad observed that if he didn’t have trailers he’d have to drive a pickup truck so he could haul things. Our camping gear being an example. 

It was the 1950s and light weight camping supplies were not an option. We’d be in the Idaho back country for a week and went well supplied for five people and a dog or two. Many of those trips we took off with pack horses to spend time in the wilderness and sometimes we’d just spend the time in a Forest Service campground. But even when we were in the wilderness we’d have a base camp that stayed behind, fully set up. 

The first photos I have of our camps is from 1952, when my Dad bought a good camera and light meter. We’d wait for him to set all the adjustments and later look at the slides on the screen he unrolled like an upside down window shade. I remember the smell of that screen as it was pulled from its metal canister. 

The next few Car Camping blogs will show how we roughed it through those hot days and cold nights in the outback. 

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Buck Brook #23 – Gassed

Once a week at Buck Brook Farm we gathered together and committed GI. Don’t ask me what the term “GI” had to do with scrubbing the kitchen, but gather and scrub we did.

On one such gathering several students and I were assigned to the walk-in cooler and it came time to mop the concrete floor. 

I’ve always been dedicated to doing a good job while using as little time and effort as possible. I had also learned ammonia is great for cutting grease and bleach can’t be beat for sanitizing surfaces. Bleach also has the advantage of turning things white, a selling point when getting concrete to look clean. So, several good of glugs of both ammonia and bleach went splashing into the mop water.

I was rewarded with a medium boil immediately activating the mix and a noticeable mist rising from the bucket. 

Just then the the kitchen manager happened to need some help at the stove so I left my station and went to lend a hand. I was so proud of my cleaning concoction that I immediately told the manager about it, flourishing the story with how active the mop bucket was with the bubbles and mists.

And my reward for solving the war on grim and germ? — A kitchen manager dropping parts of the stove as she went screaming toward the walk-in. “Get out! Get out now,” she repeated as she ripped open the door and grabbed the mop bucket and scurried to the kitchen door. She dashed to the middle of the school’s driveway and threw the solution on the ground, all the while yelling, “stay away — stay away.”

Who would think my two favorite cleaning products would combine to produce chlorine gas? And that chlorine gas quickly damages lungs and can soon lead to death? 

Perhaps I should have paid more attention in eighth grade chemistry. 

In case you, dear reader, were distracted during those tender years, here’s a web site with helpful hints on what common products to avoid mixing. 

Personally the whole experience has me reluctant to mix chemicals the pharmaceutical industry tells me to toss down my gullet.

Car Camping #5: Low Rider

As soon as we got our new 1952 Cadillac with it’s powerful V-8 engine we were headed out on a camping trip to Atlanta, Idaho. With the trunk of the car stuffed and pulling a trailer loaded with canvas tent and tarps, cotton mattresses, wood-and-canvas army cots, canned food, cooking supplies and clothes we hit the rocky dirt road heading up the Boise river. 

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The operative word being “hit.” 

All was well until we were driving around Arrowrock Reservoir. We were some some thirty-five miles away from home and ten miles an a rocky dirt road. Dad noticed the gas gage going down much faster than he expected — and we started to smell gasoline. A quick stop on the narrow road and a check under the car revealed a steady little leak from the gas line, no doubt from the rock we had scrapped over. 

We drove another mile or so to find a place to turn the car and trailer around and headed back to Boise. Dad drove as fast as he dared, not wanting to rip another gash on the very rough road back to the highway. The road to Arrowrock Dam  had not been paved at the time. 

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Once we were on Highway 21 we made a dash to the Caddy dealer. The shop figured we had a teacup of usable gas in the tank when we arrived.

Now that I’m writing about it I wonder how worried my folks were about the gasoline spewing under a car with hot exhaust pipes. Glad I didn’t think of it at the time. 

At the time most cars had leaf springs in the rear, not coils like in the front. The next day Dad had two extra leaves installed on each side, giving our fine Cadillac the suspension of a truck. We never had to turn back from a trip to the mountains again. 

And that is how our luxury Cadillac always had its ass in the air, nose pointed down, as we toodled around town and drove the highways. Only when we were roughing it in the Idaho mountains did our Cadillac appear the way it was designed. 

Buck Brook #22 – Spilt Milk

I am ashamed of two times during my year at Buck Brook Farm. 

One was when I was driving the pickup on the back roads of the Catsill Mountains. There were three students in the bed of the truck and they were insisting on standing up, looking over the cab of the truck with the wind on their faces. Were they enjoying their inner motorcycle Wild Ones? Their inner tail-wagging, tongue-flapping happy Black Labs? 

I had said they need to sit down and I got pissed. I stomped on the brakes (not at a speed that could toss them out, just make them feel how dangerous it is) and I came storming out of the cab in a hissy fit worthy of the Church Lady catching her teens playing doctor. It was just stupid. The kids did sit down but I still see the look of “what a jackass you are on” their faces.

The second ridiculous fit was one afternoon when it was my turn to do the cooking. 

Students were generally banned from the kitchen unless they were doing chores and none of us were to eat from the kitchen other than at meals. How else could we know the kitchen would have supplies when it came time to feed everyone? 

While I was pulling large pans of chicken and sauces and rice around our commercial range one of the older students came in and headed to the walk-in cooler after having grabbed a drinking glass. As he opened the door I asked what he was up to and he said he wanted some milk. I told him he could wait until dinner. He rather shrugged that off, opened the door and started pulling the lid off the big metal can that held our cow’s milk. 

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As he reached for the ladle that hung next to the milk can I looked at a fellow staff member and commented that since he wants milk we should make sure he gets plenty. The other staff member got a twinkle in his eye and we picked up the milk can and poured the entire contents over the student’s head. And told him to clean it up.

Ya think we had one unhappy teenager on our hands?

He ran to the barn and started pulling on the cord that rang the fire engine’s brass bell, loud and clear for all to hear. That was the only time during my year at Buck Brook that a Community Meeting was called. Everyone came running to the library to settle a mutual crisis.

The student gave his case of my overreacting and I should clean up the mess. I stood my ground on being in charge of the kitchen. Students and staff voted and the student was not happy about walking back to the kitchen to clean up spilt milk.

When he finished and was walking back to the library I headed to the kitchen to finish dinner. We exchanged a smile in the hallway. I liked that guy and hoped my smile did not come off as a triumphant smirk. I also thought I could have just let him have a freaking glass of milk.

Several days later some of us were chatting and he said he had amazed himself as we passed in the hall that day. “All my life I’ve felt consumed with hate and anger when things like that don’t go my way. But I wasn’t upset with you at all. Not one bit. I think that’s cool.”

I have always been too impatient to be a good educator. But I guess my impatient jackassery did some good that day.

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Car Camping #4: The Cadillac #4, Engine Switch

The reason for buying the 1952 Cadillac was the car’s big V-8 engine. 

Our family had grown to five and our camping supplies were early 1950 technologies. Heavy canvas tents. Coleman stoves. Canned food and iron skillets. Supplies that once fit in the trunk now required a densely packed trailer. 

Cadillac V-8 engines were big, powerful and reliable. Just what we needed to get over the high summits of Idaho’s rugged Forest Service roads. Roads that still remain surfaced with the dirt and rocks the landscape provides. 

The greatest disappointment of the Caddie turned out to be that big engine.

After a few trips to the shop Dad mentioned how he was surprised at how unreliable the engine was. Sure, it was more reliable than the Model A Ford he had kept running for his folks through the 1930s and 40s. But it sure needed more fussing over than he had expected from a Caddie V-8.

The shop fessed up that the Cadillac motor factory had burned down shortly before our car was manufactured so General Motors had installed Buick motors. They had equal motor-mounts so were handy to toss in but they did not have the horsepower the car was designed for. 

Dad never agan bought a  GM product. 

(But I think the switch was his fondness for Mercurys — the first car he bought on his own.)

Buck Brook #21 – Rusted

This story from my time at Buck Brook Farm in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York is for the amusement of my friends of the Western states. You folk from the east and midwest will fine it an excuse to ask, “What? Doesn’t everyone use their floormat to keep their feet off the highway?”

Actually, the answer is no. No, we do not.

I was twenty-two before I landed on winter roads in New York State. My driving skills had been honed in the traffic and on the mountain roads of Idaho. And in Idaho we used sand to give traction on our winter roads. Not salt.

Sure, sometimes a rock got through the sand sifters and rock chips were a part of windshields and paint jobs. But the undercarriage of our car lasted longer than the engine. 

Imagine my discomfort when I got in one of the small sedans of a Buck Brook staff member and felt lumps under the rubber-and-carpet floor mat beneith my feet.

It turns out the lumps were the frame of the car. Between the beams of the frame there was nothing but the highway zipping by at fifty miles an hour and only inches from my precious tootsies!

The car’s owner laughed it off with a shrug, sped up, and replied, “Oh, sure. This car is over seven years old and I never bothered washing off the salt.”

What? One has to wash the bottom of a car?!

They are funny folks, those Easterners.

Car Camping #3: The Cadillac #3, Parking 

We got our new Cadillac in 1952. In 1952 grocery stores were just starting to include parking lots and advertise for an area larger than the near neighborhood. Shopping for anything else meant going downtown where the department stores were located. 

In 1952, downtown Boise had bustling business buildings, cafes, specialty shops and six large department stores. And crowded two-way traffic. 

Downtown Boise also featured that most challenging aspect of city adventures: parallel parking. Mom had no idea how she would ever be able to park that huge, heavy vehicle in tiny downtown spots with traffic backing up behind her.

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There was a reason cars had huge steering wheels back then – it gave the driver more leverage when turning the tires. Another way the driver was given more leverage when turning the tires was making it so it took a lot of turning the  steering wheel to move the tires back and forth.

At driving speeds the tires turned rather easily since the they were moving into the change of direction. When the tires were standing still the only thing that worked to turn the tires was brute force. 

Well, folks, the tires on a car are standing still when you are cranking the wheel to parallel park.  No wonder Mom was worried about parking that heavy Cadillac in downtown traffic. Yet on her first try that vehicle slipped into a spot easier than any other car she had ever driven! 

Today we take powered steering for granted, but my Mom never did! 

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PS – While researching this story Wikipedia told me the first power steering for cars was put together by a man named Fitts in 1876. Chrysler sold the first off-the-line passenger car with power steering called Hydraguide in the 1951 Chrysler Imperial. Apparently General Motors was not going to be lost in the dust and had power steering ready for the 1952 Cadillac, the first GM car to feature it. Both these systems were based on work introduced in 1926 by Francis W. Davis. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_steering