Travel

September 16, 1957 – Emma Gatewood Walks on the “Wild” Side

Emma Gatewood on the Appalachian Trail. Photo: Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Emma Gatewood on the Appalachian Trail.

Before there was Cheryl Strayed, there was Emma Gatewood.

On September 16, 1957, Ohio native Emma Gatewood, aged 69, arrived at the 5,270-foot peak of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the 2,050-mile-long Appalachian Trail. Back on April 27, “Grandma” Gatewood had started out from Mount Oglethorpe, Georgia – at the trail’s southern end – equipped with a handsewn denim bag of hiking supplies and a determination to repeat her record-setting trek of 1955. Two years earlier, over the course of five months, Emma had become the first woman to solo thru-hike (travel from start to finish without interruption) the scenic Appalachian Trail.

Grandma Gatewood and Cheryl Strayed – recent thru-hiker of the western-states Pacific Coast Trail and author of the best-selling memoir Wild – had something in common. They were both on a quest. Both took somewhat radical risks to complete their journeys. Both found something on the trail that changed their lives.

Emma Gatewood was born Emma Rowena Caldwell on a farm in Gallia County, Ohio, one of 15 siblings. She did her share of chores, including hoeing, planting, worming tobacco, milking, washing, and cooking. When persuasive P.C. Gatewood insisted on marriage, she consented and went on to birth her own farming family of 11 children. P.C. was not the husband young Emma had hoped for. They had a stormy relationship, witnessed by the children, in which P.C. physically abused Emma.

Sometime in the early 1950s, her family grown and gone, Emma read an article in National Geographic about Earl V. Shaffer, the first man to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Emma found this an irresistible challenge. She, a woman, could do that, too! And – in spite of her bad knees, bunions, false teeth, and feeling blind without her glasses – she did.

An abortive but instructive attempt in 1954 was followed by her successful traverse in the summer of 1955. Emma enjoyed meeting residents along the way from Georgia to Maine, often hiking out for food, temporary shelter, and the finer things like a shower and bug spray. She traveled light, carrying no more than 15 pounds of trail basics stuffed in a bag thrown over her shoulder. Emma tried to avoid predators like bears and rattlesnakes, and pesky critters like mice, black flies, mosquitos, and reporters. She was constitutionally no-nonsense and tended to believe that people could do a whole lot more than they thought. “The hardest part of hiking the Appalachian Trail,” like so many other challenges in life, she told her son Nelson, “was simply making up your mind to do it.” If Emma had worn a button, it might have read, “No Pantywaists!”

Acclaim came Emma’s way during and after her 1955 adventure. She appeared on NBC’s “Today” with Dave Garroway, “The Art Linkletter Show,” and Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life.” Reporters for countless newspapers and magazines dogged her steps and lauded her achievements. What led her to the 1957 repeat? The quiet trail, nature, the sense of a spiritual connection beckoned. “The petty entanglements of life are brushed aside like cobwebs,” Emma wrote in her trail journal. Plus, no woman had ever done it twice!

Cheryl Strayed went “wild” on the PCT in an attempt to recover from her mother’s death. Stuck in protracted grief, she found herself unable to move on in life. She was young, had many years ahead of her, and needed to find a new normal. Emma Gatewood walked into AT history as a woman of age and maturity, after her immediate responsibilities to her family were over. The limitations of an abusive husband and small children to raise, and the cultural expectations imposed on women of her generation may have sat too heavily and fit too closely on her small but sturdy frame. When she could set them aside, she did, and set out to discover in the most basic sense what she was capable of.

How capable was she? After her AT thru-hikes in 1955 and 1957, Emma walked 2000 miles of the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Portland, Oregon (my birthplace!) in 95 days during the Trail’s centennial year celebration in 1959. She attempted a third AT passage in 1960, but heavy-weather damage to the trail diverted her course through other trails in Pennsylvania, New York  Massachusetts, Vermont, and Canada. She climbed several peaks in the Adirondack Range, and successfully completed a third traverse of the AT in 1964. She was personally instrumental in creating several sections of Ohio’s treasured Buckeye Trail.

Emma died in 1973, but her memory lives on as an inspiration to all that, in the words of (fellow Mount Katahdin-climber) Henry David Thoreau, “If one advances confidently in the direction of [her] dreams, and endeavors to live the life which [she] has imagined, [she] will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Fox Searchlight Pictures brought Cheryl Strayed’s Wild to the big screen, starring Reese Witherspoon, om 2014. Trail Magic: The Emma Gatewood Story, a documentary of Emma Gatewood’s life created by FilmAffects and WGTE/PBS Toledo, was released in 2015 and nominated for an Emmy in 2017. Bette Lou Higgins and Kelly Boyer Sagert of Eden Valley Enterprises were instrumental in bringing Grandma Gatewood her moment in digital-celluloid history.

Image Credit: Appalachian Trail Conservancy

August 30, 1957 – The Labor Day Weekend Begins

1957 Corvette Travel Trailer with Fun Accessories.

On August 30, 1957, the Friday before Labor Day weekend, Americans young and old, big and small, got ready to celebrate the last official weekend of summer.  Whether it was to the beach or the pool, the mountains or the desert, the grandparents’ or the Grand Canyon, everyone worked together to pack the station wagon, the trailer, or the ice chest with everything needed to enjoy these final lazy days in the sun before school started and the routine of life kicked in.

Depending on where you were going, you might have packed fishing rods, tennis rackets, horseshoes, inner tubes, a ball and mit, or a new-fangled Frisbee.  Into the Plaid Kooler might have gone Oscar Meyer wieners, jello salad, three-bean salad, watermelon, grape Nehi, and iced tea.  The cupboards in trailers, the baskets and hampers, could have bulged with Del Monte catsup, French’s mustard, buns, Ritz crackers, Mix Trix (or Chex Mix), marshmallow bars, and butterscotch brownies.

Dads packed their portable grills and asbestos mits to do justice to the thick steaks and ribs buried in ice (don’t forget the Lawry’s Seasoned Salt!).  For breakfast, kids were already busy laying dibs on their favorite mini-boxes of Kellogg’s Variety Pack cereals.  Mom and Dad looked forward to eggs, bacon, and Chase & Sanborn coffee – lots of it – or Bisquick pancakes with Log Cabin syrup.

Don’t forget the aluminum folding chairs, kerosene lantern, and bug spray.  Tuck in beach towels and baby oil.  Grab the dog, lock the door, and hit the road!  Summer’s almost over and there’s no time to waste.

Image Credit: Tin Can Tourists

On The Road – 1957 Flxible Starliner

1957 Flxible Starliner: Photo Source Hemmings

1957 Flxible Starliner

I think I’m in love. Road trip!

The beauty on wheels above is a 1957 Flxible Starliner, gloriously restored on the outside and fully updated on the inside for modern-day glamping.

The Flxible Company cornered the market on excitement from its very beginning. Chartered in 1914 at the Flexible Sidecar Company, the Loudonville, Ohio assembly line began turning out motorcycle-sidecar combinations for civilian and military use in World War I. Flexible jettisoned the “e” in 1919 in order to copyright their brand. Bigger changes were necessary in the early 1920s when Henry Ford began cranking out inexpensive Roadsters, undercutting the motorcycle-sidecar market. Flxible adapted by flexing into custom bus, hearse, and ambulance manufacturing. Touring companies’ investments in Flxible buses paid off when they were able to comfortably carry sightseeing parties in style over long distances. One quality-built coach racked up over 275,000 miles from 1925 to 1928.

Flxible developed the Clipper, a 29-passenger bus, in the late 1930s. Cities, airports, National Parks, resorts, and movie studios maintained fleets of dependable, economical Clippers. During World War II, Flxible retooled their factories to make tank, fighter plane, and ship parts for the war effort. Touring coach production returned in 1946 with the introduction of a redesigned Clipper, displaying a trademarked front “smiley face”. In 1950, the Flxible fleet expanded with the addition of Visicoach – a Clipper-based model with extra head- and engine-room.

The Starliner was introduced in 1957. It featured a new and innovative suspension system including torsion bars, which savvy 1950s Mad Men named the Flxilastic suspension system. Early Starliners sported eyebrow windows on the roof and under-floor storage bays. A total of only 276 Starliners were manufactured between 1957 and 1967, when Clipper-based model production was discontinued. Many surviving vintage Starliners – similar to the better-known vintage Airstream trailers – have been revamped and converted into motor homes. An immaculately restored Starliner motorhome is currently on the market for – drum roll, please – $399,900.

Image Credit: Hemmings

Vintage 1957 – A Tale of Two A&Ws

Hot Shoppe

The year 1957 was pivotal for two very different A&W franchisees.

A&W got its start when Roy Allen and Frank Wright (“A” and “W”) partnered in a Sacramento root beer stand in 1922. Allen bought out Wright and then began franchising the brand in 1925.

Two years later, in 1927, newlyweds J. Willard and Alice Marriott partnered with Hugh Colton to open Washington, DC’s first A&W. Hot summers in the capitol created demand for the signature “frosty mug” of root beer, along with the hot food items at the aptly-named “Hot Shoppe”. One year later, Willard and Alice open two more Hot Shoppes, one of which was DC’s first drive-in. Adding to their string of firsts in 1937, the Hot Shoppes expanded into catering by delivering box lunches to travelers at nearby Hoover Airport. In 1953, Hot Shoppes stock went public and sold out in two hours of trading.

Who was this savvy couple? Their business minds came up with an entirely new venture in 1957 – motor hotels. Arlington, Virginia was the first site of many to come, bearing the family name, Marriott. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Root Beer StandTwo other couples followed in the first steps of the Marriotts by franchising an A&W in 1957. Mick and Nancy Ridenour, along with Jim and Catherine Clark – Nancy’s parents – opened Sharonville, Ohio’s A&W Root Beer Stand on the outskirts of Cincinnati. Their location on one of the main north-south routes from Michigan to Florida guaranteed them a steady string of thirsty truckers and drivers, along with local residents. Since Mick was a school teacher, the stand was a summer-only operation. Catherine’s chili recipe led the hot offerings ferried to waiting customers by the black and white-clad car hops.

In 1982, the Ridenours and Clarks let go of their franchise identification. “The Root Beer Stand” remained a summer season favorite at the original, only slightly expanded location. In 1990, the Clarks had both passed away and the Ridenours were ready for retirement. Scott and Jackie Donley purchased the stand. Today, Cincinnati Magazine’s “best place to quaff a root beer” and number 12 on the list of “Top 100 Places in Cincinnati” is run pretty much as it always has by the Donley’s daughter Abby and her husband Eric. You’ll need to stop by soon – before the summer season is over – to sample their small-batch root beer with a side of Catherine’s chili.

World-wide domination versus small-town favorite. Either way, success can taste “frosty” and sweet.

Image Credits: Marriott International; The Root Beer Shop

August 14, 1957 – Interstate Highway Sign Design Adopted

On August 14, 1957, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) adopted the familiar red and blue shield design for interstate highway markers.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, had been impressed by Germany’s well-engineered Autobahn.  He could see the value of a system of high-quality roads for the United States, as well, and through persistent efforts persuaded Congress to approve and fund the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.  The initial mileage to be constructed with federal funds was set at 41,000 miles, which was later increased.  As of 2016, the interstate system covers 48,191 miles of American countryside.

The AASHO was given the task of numbering the new network of gleaming asphalt.  They decided to use a mirror image of the numbering system created for the US highway system; low numbers would start on the West Coast (I5, etc) and then increase  moving east across the continent.  AASHO’s Executive Secretary, Alf Johnson, created a map of officially numbered routes, which was adopted in September, 1957.

But a design for a special sign to mark individual routes on this new transportation web was needed.  AASHO decided to get state highway officials involved by inviting them to submit their own proposals – a contest of sorts.  The best designs were installed on a road leading to the site of a highway officials’ meeting in Illinois.  On their way to the meeting, attendees were asked to observe the signs, both in daylight and at night.  Which ones did they like?  Which were the most visible and easiest to read?  Which ones said “Get out on the road and explore this great country!” to them?  The AASHO gathered their feedback, and the Texas shield design was declared the winner, with the addition of the word “Interstate” across the top as suggested by Missouri (the “Show-Me” and also, evidently, “Tell-Me” state).  The final design was approved on August 14, 1957.  It has since been trademarked to prevent advertising signs from capitalizing on and diverting interstate motorists’ attention from the road ahead.

Interstate Highway Numbering Plan

Interstate Highway Numbering Plan

Image Credits: AASHO; Federal Works Agency

July 11, 1957 – Texas Boy Scouts Arrive for the 1957 National Jamboree

Boy Scout Jamboree NPS

Scouts arriving at the Valley Forge State Park for the Jamboree

On July 11, 1957, the Texas and Pacific Special, with eleven passenger coaches, two baggage cars, and one baggage dormitory car, arrived at Valley Forge State Park with 576 Texan Boy Scouts and their leaders for the 1957 National Scout Jamboree.  The excited group joined Scouts from across the nation – 52,580 in all – along with 30,000 visitors.  Valley Forge was transformed into a 25,000-tent city with a theater carved out of a hillside the size of Yankee Stadium.

On the way, the “TP Special” had stopped in Washington, DC for tours of the White House, the Capitol Building, the Washington and Jefferson memorials, Arlington National Cemetery, and Mount Vernon.  While in Valley Forge, the Scouts heard from Vice President Richard Nixon, watched fireworks displays, learned the history of Valley Forge, and were treated to an aerial show by the US Air Force Thunderbirds.  One day trip took them to New York City to see the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Statue of Liberty, Radio City Music Hall, and the United Nations.  On another day they traveled to Philadelphia to see Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Carpenter Hall (where the first Continental Congress met in 1774), the home of Betsy Ross, and the World War II U-boat-fighting submarine, USS Hake.

On the final night of the Jamboree, the story of Scout founder Braden Powell was told.  The stadium lights were turned off, and over 52,000 candles illuminated the memorable scene.  The Texas Scouts boarded their train for home, first stopping at Niagara Falls, then travelling through Canada to Detroit.  The Ford Motor Company played host to the group, giving them an exciting look at a huge factory assembly line – and a shiny new car produced in just minutes.  For many boys, it was the trip of a lifetime.

Image Credit: National Park Service

Vintage 1957 – Curly Redwood Lodge

Curly Redwood Lodge LogoRedwood trees are big. Really big.

How big? Tom Wyllie, who already owned the Redwood Room in Klamath, California (and knew a thing or two about big redwoods from looking out his window) wondered if he could build an entire lodge out of one redwood tree. And not just any enormous redwood tree – an enormous curly redwood tree!

“Curly” wood trees are a genetic variation in which the wood fibers form in a wave pattern. The waves can vary in size and direction. The greater the wave size, the more the “curl” will show up as a stripe when the wood is finished. Curly wood is often used to beautiful effect in crafting furniture or musical instruments.

Wyllie and Redwood

Tom Wyllie

Tom found his tree. It was over 18 feet diameter at its base. To be transported, it needed to be cut into five separate logs and then each log needed to be quartered. It produced 57,000 board feet of lumber and then those thousands of feet of lumber produced Crescent City, California’s Curly Redwood Lodge.

The tree came down in 1952. Five years later, in 1957, the (curly redwood) doors opened to the public. Every piece of wood that went into the homey, horseshoe-shaped lodge – floor, walls, joists, paneling, posts, doors, and more –  have been lovingly maintained and preserved to this day. In the mood for hiking in a redwood forest, walking on the beach, and enjoying a retro-blast from the mid-century past? Check into the Curly Redwood Lodge.

Curly Redwood Lobby

Curly Redwood Lodge lobby

Images Credit: Curly Redwood Lodge/Facebook