When working on a tractor there is always a need to use a tool. Usually a simple plier or screwdriver or piece of baling wire can patch a problem enough to keep from having to run to the shop.
As I got older it came time for Dad to keep me entertained, even when he was working with one of the two tractors we rented out. And it was evident that, with the clutching and braking and wrestling the unpowered steering wheel of a Ford N series tractor, there was no holding me on his lap.
And that is why one of my first memories is perching my scrawny butt on a narrow tool box on a big fender that kept my little ass from scraping on the big left rear tire of dad’s tractor.
There was an ever-present odor of grease and oil and gasoline and hot engine up there. To this day I think of those aromas as the smell of my dad.
The tool box was the highest I had ever ridden, atop that big tire looking out at the moving world with just air around me. It was nothing like being shut up in a car. The road or ground was right there moving beneath us. And when Dad was plowing or mowing or leveling or disking, the action was churning just under my feet. It was endlessly fascinating to see what Dad was doing to the dirt or the grass. And more than once I terrorized myself thinking how that plow or mower or leveler or those disks would maul my bones into the scenery should I fall off that bit of a tool box as the tractor bounced and tugged and struggled at its tasks.
Which I suppose is why I absolutely always had to have my arm as far as I could reach around my dad’s sweaty chest. No being cool and hanging on to the top edge of the fender, my body arched back and my hair blowing in the summer wind like a carefree movie star sitting atop the back seat of a convertible.
Not that I minded hanging on, even as I got older. It was never a solid ride up there and I was glad for the hand hold. And I’m sure my arm around him made my dad confident he’d know to stop the tractor before any mauling in case my hinny suddenly slip off that bit of a fender perch.
When Dad got his first Ford tractor he spent one afternoon driving it out to my mother’s grandparent’s farm south of Ustic, Idaho. My mother’s aunt Ellen had been raising her three children on that land since her husband died some thirteen years earlier at the age of forty.
Ellen led a hard life, scraping together enough egg and milk money to feed her growing kids. Her daughter Dona tells me Ellen made their clothes out of feed sacks, the unworn edges of sheets, and what good scraps could be salvaged from ragged adult clothes. Her mother was so good at combining the different patterns that Dona considered her dresses to be the prettiest in the school.
The farm had a large garden to grow the food the family would eat through the coming year. Every spring the garden needed to be turned over, raked level and prepared for planting. Dona’s older brother and sister pushed a wheeled hand plow through the dirt to break it up and the whole family got busy raking and leveling the ground for planting. It was days of back-breaking work.
And that was why my dad drove his new tractor mounted with a plow way way out in the country. The rest of us arrived in our Frazier Manhattan automobile pulling a trailer with a disking implement on it.
Dad sat on his tractor pulling the plow through the garden. It dug deep, breaking up the soil and turning it over so the remains of last year’s crop were turned under to compost into the land. Then he sat on the tractor dragging the disc, a series of circular blades that broke up the clumps of dirt left by the plow and leveled the deep ruts the plow had left behind. The job was easily done in an hour.
Years later Dona told me she and her sister and brother had watched that man they did not know sitting on his tractor. “We knew he was showing off. BUT WE WERE SURE GLAD TO HAVE ALL THAT DIRT TURNED OVER!!!!!!”
(A note: My mother’s grandparents on her dad’s side were Eric and Johanna Dahlberg. Their daughter Ellen married Earle Officer in 1925. Their daughter Dona married James Saad in 1956.)
Mountain Home Air Force Base was built in the early 1940s to train World War II bomber pilots. It was located forty miles east of Boise, Idaho—far enough inland from the Oregon coast to provide protection from light bombers launched from aircraft carriers yet within range for our heavy aircraft to reach islands in the Pacific, where they could refuel. After the war large formations of transport planes left Mountain Home to supply the food and materials to rebuild the decimated lands where the war had been fought.
One of those formations of planes is one of my earliest memories. Perhaps I was three. It was a warm afternoon and my two sisters and I were on the lawn being watched over by our mother. We were sitting in the grass when a distant rumble grew to a deep, droning roar and the clear sky became thick with planes, all flying a fixed distance from one another, their four mighty engines powering propellers that pulled them forward. Behind each hard working engine dark trails of smoke blended together to turn the sky gray. It took some ten minutes for them all to pass.
Years later Mother told me that when we had been sitting on the grass that day she had been convinced she was dying of tuberculosis.
Barely thirty years old. An infant daughter. A three-year-old son. A five-year-old daughter. Feeling the cool grass of a new home. Breathing the spring air and playing with her children. Every possible future being cut short.
The winter before my parents had managed to get hold of a used Model A Ford. In those days ammonia was used as an antifreeze. Ammonia lowers the boiling point of water which is exactly not what a summer radiator needs, so regular maintenance meant flushing the antifreeze and replacing it with water. My dad was diligent about mechanical maintenance and performed his first flushing of the Model A’s radiator once there was no danger of an overnight freeze.
When ammonia quit escaping the radiator, Mother’s lungs cleared up.
I can only imagine the relief and joy my mother felt, knowing her life with her children and husband was hers to enjoy. I know for sure that tears well up when I think she may not have been around to be my Mom.
I was fourteen in 1959 when my folks rented the trailer we used for camping to someone who was heading up the Boise River. I have no idea where he was headed, perhaps Twin Springs or Atlanta. Perhaps some mining claim between the two.
All went well until he was returning the trailer to Boise, when a tire blew out. Having no spare he unhitched the trailer and left it beside the road while returning to let us know where it was.
Now let’s take a gander at the meaning of “beside the road” on the Middle Fork Boise River Road. The road is eighty miles of unpaved surface, some of it dusting over dirt and some of it jolting over solid rock. It is not too difficult to pass oncoming traffic on most of those eighty miles but all of the bridges and most of the many blind corners are one lane and one lane only. Most of the road meanders along the beautiful waters of the Middle Fork but fourteen miles of it is tucked on a narrow ledge snaking some thirty feet up a steep bank that plunges into the waters of Arrowrock Reservoir. Blind one-lane corners are plentiful on those perilous fourteen miles.
It was right at one of the narrowest of the one-lane bottlenecks that was on one of the blindest of the blind corners and at one of the highest points of the steep bank plunging into the reservoir that our delightful camping trailer had been left “beside the road.”
Dad and I showed up with a spare tire and, not finding the trailer where the customer said he had left it, Dad looked over the side of the road.
It seems having that trailer perched on the edge of that steep bank was just too tempting for some jackass who had come along. It had been pushed off the road and came to a stop half way to the reservoir.
Now, it could have been a large truck came upon that trailer and getting it out of the way was necessary. But we stuck with the jackass theory, assuming the deed was done just to watch the trailer take the spectacular journey to a watery grave. We presumed that was the motive since we always did exactly that with some large rock sitting beside a road perched high up a hillside just waiting to go for a roll.
Dad quickly came up with Plan B and we returned to Boise for supplies.
First, we needed the implement trailer. This heavy trailer with a flat bed that tilted and with a winch and steel cable on one end was used when our tractor customers needed more than one tool for their job. So a plow, a disk and a leveler might be loaded on the implement trailer, tied down with the cable that had been used to winch them on the trailer, and the customer would haul all the implements to their job in one trip.
Second, we brought along my two sisters, Mother, Aunt Eva and Grandfather for extra hands and traffic control.
Dad also loaded up some chains just in case the steel cable was not long enough to reach the trailer. Good thing, too, since by the time we got back to that fateful corner someone’s sense of fun had made them shimmy down to the trailer and push it the rest of the way into the reservoir. Now, it might have been the weight of the trailer on that steep and slippery slope that had pulled the trailer to the water. But we stuck with it being some …
With Eva around one end of that blind corner and Mom around the other, both waving traffic to a stop (it turned out there wasn’t any), Dad parked the trailer across the narrow road. Carrying a long chain looped over his shoulder he hung onto the hook on the end of the cable while Granddad let out the winch, letting Dad keep his footing down the loose slope that slid away under his weight. The extra chain came in handy for reaching and then securing the trailer before it was time for Grandpa to slip the ratchet into the gear of the winch and start cranking the cable up to the road.
Dad held on to the trailer, partly to keep the trailer from flipping but mostly, he admitted, to let the winch pull him up that steep climb.
It was all a great success. We loaded the camping trailer onto the implement trailer for the drive home, where Dad could properly check out and repair any damage as well as change the tire.
The trailer survived to carry many more of our camping trips. And everyone added another “do you remember when” to an occasional Thanksgiving chat.
As our need for more camping gear grew, the challenge of carrying it into the Idaho backcountry became more daunting. The heavy canvases, the Coleman camp stove and fuel, the cotton mattresses, the World War surplus cots, the big tent, the blankets, the canned and fresh food and our family of five had to be hauled up and down dirt roads
My dad often said if he didn’t have trailers he would have had to drive a pickup. That’s no problem these days, what with pickups being more spacious and comfortable than luxury sedans, but pickups in the 1950s were not so well appointed. A bench seat that did not slide forward or backward was good enough for wasting resources on human accommodations. Oh—but the cabs did include a heater. What more could you want?
Meanwhile, Dad did have trailers. There was a whole row of them that my parents rented out to strangers.
From Dad’s earliest photos in 1952, I see the first trailer we used for camping was one I don’t remember. I was seven at the time and not paying attention to why a trailer did not work out for camping. Perhaps it was made of steel and was too heavy to pull up mountain grades. Perhaps it got sold or it got wrecked. What I do know is that Dad would have chosen it because it had solid sides to keep our camping supplies from falling out on the rough roads.
There was a light weight trailer that transported our Arians tiller when folks rented it. Dad also used this trailer in parades around town. He’d hitch up one of our two Ford tractors, decorate the trailer and the tiller (making sure the point got across that we rented all this) and join the festivities. One of my earliest memories is being on that trailer with my two sisters, throwing saltwater taffy to scurrying kids along parade routes through downtown Boise.
About the time Dad ordered the big tent from Pioneer Tent and Awning he converted that light weight trailer into a most useful camp carrier. He enclosed the sides with plywood to keep our stuff in and he left the back completely open for loading said stuff. He fashioned a plywood panel that slid into steel u-channels at the rear of the trailer, thus enclosing the entire kit and caboodle.
A bonus with this light weight, spacious trailer was it had a long tongue running from the trailer to the hitch on our car. That long tongue made it easy to back the trailer into any position we wanted.
This trailer ended up being the last trailer in the family. When my dad passed and Mother auctioned off the rental supplies, I kept that trailer just because it was so handy. But I never used it. After several years of sitting in my garage I sold it to a friend who used it to move to Portland. I hope it is still in service and is still being enjoyed as much as ever.
Our next Car Camping story will reveal an incident when that delightful trailer was not treated with the respect it deserved. It was not well treated at all.
As we can see in this 1953 photograph from Baumgartner’s Campground on the South Fork of the Boise River, my folks were most resourceful at draping our canvas tarps over lodgepole pine frames to provide shade and keep out rain and frost. In the early 1950s we also had the small stand-alone tent you can see in the far left of this photo.
Tent was seldom used, only providing shelter on rainy nights. Otherwise sleeping under the stars and the whispering trees was what mountain campgrounds were for. Or so I assumed at six years of age. It well could have been our family of five had already outgrown being in the tent except to crowd together to escape inclement weather.
In my last Car Camping episode I told of my dad taking me along when he visited Pioneer Tent and Awning in downtown Boise. I spent my time amazed at the cash carriers zipping around the ceiling. My dad was spending his time giving measurements and specifics for a very large tent to be made from heavy canvas. That is what Pioneer Tent and Awning did at the time — they made things from canvas and leather.
Dad’s tent was designed to accommodate our five army-surplus cots and have room to walk around as well as space to store supplies we did not want to get wet. He also specified that the tent was to have vertical walls rising some four feet above the ground rather than be sloped all the way to the earth. There was no floor.
Dad made the rafter and three poles to support the tent as well as the ropes and spikes to keep the tent anchored and in shape.
The genius of those walls along the sides of the tent became apparent the first time it warmed up on a campground afternoon. Dad pushed up the walls and held them in place with sticks he had fashioned just long enough to do the job. While Mother read to us we enjoyed a delightful breeze while lolling in the shade under the hot canvas.
It was in that tent my sisters and I learned not to touch canvas when it is being rained on. Just the least brush on the wet canvas would cause drips, drips, drips that did not cease until the canvas had throughly dried. We had to adjust the location of our cots a few times but we caught on!
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.
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.
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.
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 Damhad not been paved at the time.
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.
For several days Dad delighted in reading the manual for our new 1952 Cadillac and discovering all the new features of this luxury “automobile” — versus all the “puddle jumpers” out there.
The first night the Caddy was home we kids were rousted out of our warm beds and led to the cold garage where he sat us in the front seat and pushed in the radio’s tuning knob. A motor’s rather loud whir had us discover the radio antenna rising out of the right side front fender. Pulling the knob out caused the same whir to make the antenna disappear back into the fender!
Dad’s excuse for buying the Cadillac was for its big V-8 engine, but an equally important feature was the heater. The heater blew out from under the front seat. The Manhattan had a heater unit hanging down under the dash on the front passenger’s side. All three of we kids would crowd on the front bench seat after a day sledding in the snow, usually crowding Mom ontothe back seat. Having the heat come out from under the front seat meant both the front and back of the car had warm air blowing on our feet, so Mom no longer had to sacrifice so we kids could warm up.
Come to think of it, it was probably also a safety feature since Dad no longer had to drive on icy roads while being squashed against his door by three squirming kids.
As soon as World War II was over the manufacturing might of the United States turned its attention to consumer items — items that were sorely needed thanks to limited or no production during the war.
My folks were early customers of the new production lines. In 1948 they gave their Ford Model A to my aunt and uncle on the family farm and bought a brand new 1947-48 Frazer Manhattan.
I was three at the time so the Manhattan was the first car I remember being ours. It had very cool push-button latches on the inside of the doors. Fortunately they were so stiff my very curious little fingers I weren’t able to open the doors with while the car was moving. But I sure tried!
Alas, the Manhattan was outdone by our growing family’s need to go camping in the mountains and canyons of Idaho. By 1952 it was too small for the five of us and all our gear. When Dad hitched on a trailer to carry our heavy, primitive camping supplies the Manhattan barely made it out of town. We often stopped to refill the radiator from a stream using the “dipper” (a sauce pan) we always carried under the back window.
There was a line of cars known to have big motors – which was Dad’s excuse to buy a 1952 Cadillac.