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 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.