Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tinkertoy's Travels, Part 1




When I was a kid, growing up is segregated Mississippi, our family didn’t know anything about vacations. When we went somewhere it was to visit folks with names like Aunt Tip or Uncle Bud and all that was done in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. The most exciting thing I can remember about going to visit was the great food, especially the sour butter cakes. The greatest sight I ever saw while traveling by car was the bridge on RT-82 west of Greenville, Ms. that crossed the Mississippi River. We were always headed to or from Lake Village to visit my dad’s sister, aunt Rose, and that bridge for me was the highlight because it was the biggest and highest I had ever seen. Its about 2 miles long and goes up over the river about 100 feet high

Back then it was no use thinking about going anywhere else because at that time Negroes/Black people couldn’t go inside hotels and restaurants anyway. We couldn’t even uses the bathrooms and beaches. If we could have flown it would have probably been on the wing, like Fred Flintstone, or behind the bathrooms. We always packed a lunch when we traveled by car because there was nowhere to stop and eat It was always fried chicken, maybe ham sandwiches, and boiled eggs, with maybe a piece of cake or some cookies and a $.5 cents bag of potato chips.

When I was about 7 or 8 years old I did take the train from Mississippi to Washington, DC. I did this at least three times that I remember. My parents had moved to DC when I was about 5 or 6 and I stayed in Mississippi with my grandparents. That trip was a tedious affairs because the local train came through town (West Point) about noon and the connection was in Corinth, Ms, about 4 hours away, but not until about midnight. So there was a really long wait in Corinth for the connection. Then the trip to DC was overnight and all of the next day until about 8:00 PM. One time I made the trip by myself at about age 8 and had a ball watching the steam coal locomotive on curves. After those train trips to DC, my parents drove me back to Mississippi on a two lane road that had a speed limit of 55 MPH during the day and 45 MPH at night. It took about 20 hours and dad did it non-stop. We couldn’t stop and get a room. We just could get gas and some Nabs. So my early travels covered Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and DC.

I went to a one room private Presbyterian elementary school on the campus of Mary Holmes Junior College there in West Point. It had grades K through 8 with just one teacher for about 20 kids. I remember one day going into the big coat room next to our class room and seeing a map of the US rolled out on the wall. That was the first time that I became aware of where I lived in the country and how much other country there was in the US. I was amazed. But still my circle of travel was around West Point with an occasional trip to southern Mississippi to Liberty and McComb and maybe Lake Village Arkansas. And later there were the train trips from Mississippi to DC and back to Mississippi by car.


My first real vacation didn’t come until 1970 when the wife and I went to Nassau, Bahamas. By then I had graduated from college and had been working for about 9 years. I decided to go to the Bahamas because one of my coworkers had gone and came back talking about how great it was. He even told me which hotel to stay at, the NASSAU BEACH HOTEL.

in the water on cable beach at the Nassau Beach Hotel
This hotel is on Cable Beach outside town and I had never seen any beach or water so clean and clear. It was a great 4 day trip and I learned a lot about traveling. The most important thing I learned was to be sure to have more than enough money with you for the trip. On this trip we almost didn’t have enough money left to get back home because I didn’t expect to have to pay exit taxes at the airport in the Bahamas. And in Nassau every person holding a door or touching a bag wanted a tip. Back then I didn’t have any credit cards. In fact, credit cards were just coming into use. When our plane got back to Miami I had $3.00 in my pocket and had to call dad for a pickup from the airport.


That trip made me realize that vacationing is where its at. My in-laws at that time lived in California and my wife suggested that we go visit. So, somewhere I got the idea that it would be fun to drive, since we could all go in the car for one price. So I decided to save money to buy a new car (needed one anyway) and then save money to spend. I worked a lot of overtime at that time and things worked out. I asked my boss in the fall if I could take off for SIX (6) WEEKS the next summer so we could drive across country. He said OK and put it on the leave calendar.

I got the new car in December 1972 and in June 1973 we took off driving.

our car loaded; a lunch stop at a neat carry out

Well actually it was me doing all but a few minutes of the driving. We stopped in Frankfort, Ky to visit my mom’s sister, and stay the night, then drove on down I-65 (stopped at a cavern somewhere along there) and then on out I-40. The next night we stopped in Arkansas, then in New Mexico. Then we stopped at the PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK, drove down to the METEOR CRATER, and then stayed at the GRAND CANYON for a night.

kiddie and wife at the Grand Canyon, June 1973
The next day we drove on to LAS VEGAS and met the in-laws there and stayed a night. The next morning we drove on to LA, . We stayed in LA for three (3) weeks and in that time I saw every performing seal and dolphin in the state. We went to DISNEYLAND (the one and only at that time; the original),
Michael and Tammi with Micky


My father-in-law had a Triumph TR-6 stashed in his garage and one day he let me take it out on the freeway. This was before the 55 mile per hour speed limits so you could go 70-75 on the freeways. That was a day to remember because that’s when I decided that I just maybe would like to have one for myself. Before that I was thinking of getting a second car but I was thinking Chevy Monte Carlo.

So after three weeks in LA and $800 spending money later we drove up to SAN FRANCISCO, via the PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY. We toured some stuff in SF and then drove on up to the REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK in northern California. We spent the night in GRANTS PASS, OREGON, and then drove back down I-5 to SACRAMENTO, CA to visit my mom’s brother. He showed us around the NAPA VALLEY WINE COUNTRY and we saw SUTTERS MILL and SUTTERS FORT, from the old gold rush days. After a couple days with him and my cousins we headed back East on I-80. When we got to RENO, NV, we pulled off and drove through town. And back then it really was a small town. We continued on east, saw the SALT FLATS, near Salt Lake City, went to the MORMON TEMPLE/VISITOR’S CENTER and then spent the night before heading on east. If you ever go in the Mormon temple, DO NOT sign the guest book!!! The rest of the trip on I-80 and then I-70 didn’t have any tour stops but we did stay in a Holiday Inn across the street from the BRICKYARD where the Indianapolis 500 is run. We got home safe and sound after being gone for five weeks.

Now there was a part of the trip that I cut off because of time and money. The plan was to turn North at Salt Lake City and go to the Grand Tetons and see Yellowstone National Park, and then Mount Rushmore.. That change of plans led to a bunch more trips for me in the years to come. A year later, 1974, I drove the family to Niagara Falls for a few days. That was the extent of family travels except for local trips to King’s Dominion and Busch Gardens amusement parks.



I did finally buy that TRIUMPH TR-6 SPORTS car in 1974. Then I proceeded to drive it all over the country and also entered it in a few car shows

My TR about 15 years later; kept it 25 years
. Two years later, 1976, I decided I had waited long enough to see Yellowstone and took off solo in the TR-6. I stopped on the way at the WISCONSIN DELLS, WALL DRUG, THE BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK, and MOUNT RUSHMORE. I entered YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
One of several waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park

through the east gate just west of the famed Cody, Wyoming. I spend the night in THE GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK.

entrance to the Grand Teton National PArk

The next day I drove on to SALT LAKE CITY and then on down to LAS VEGAS. The 10 hours I had spent in Vegas the first time was just not enough to really see and enjoy the place. What stood out about the place back then was you could really tell that the gambling was run by the Mob. Pin stripped suits, bow ties and vests were everywhere. There were no women or minorities dealing, working as pit bosses, or making change.

After a couple night in Vegas I headed back up I-15 to I-70 and then east. I stopped in GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO for the night and then the next night in DENVER. At the time I didn’t realize that I had missed seeing 4 National Parks that were along the way; Zion, Bryce, Canyonland and Arches. I drove on back east on I-70 and stopped at the JEFFERSON NATIONAL EXPANSION ARCH in St Louis. Then back home. That was my second trip across country and I had discovered that I enjoyed both the driving and visiting the National Parks

After a couple years with the TR I joined a car club called the DC Triumph Unlimited and we did a lot of pretty much local running around ( http://www.facebook.com/notes.php?id=1543067433&notes_tab=app_2347471856#!/note.php?note_id=178119443768 )

In 1977 I decided that I wanted to see what West Point looked like, and visit with my cousins there. I had not been there for about 15 years and was just curious. From there I drove to New Orleans for MARDI GRAS. That was an experience; watching parades on Fat Tuesday all day long.

In 1978 I fulfilled another thrill I wanted. My trip took me to NEW ORLEANS again, then to HOUSTON, TX and a VIP tour of the JOHNSON SPACE CENTER (arranged that through a work contact), then to the ALAMO in San Antonio. A couple days later I arrived at the Grand Canyon to fulfill the reason for the trip, the MULE RIDE DOWN TO THE BOTTOM OF THE GRAND CANYON

sitting on my mule Buttons
One of the trails near the bottom of the Grand Canyon

with a stay overnight at the bottom

the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon; had a dining hall, wash rooms and cabins

and mule ride back up the next day. THAT was the most exciting thing I have ever done in all of my travels. My mule, Buttons was his name, scared the hell out of me on the way back up when he lagged behind on the trail, lost sight of the other mules and when he realized he was behind he took off at a full gallop on a five foot wide ledge to catch up. (it was at least a couple hundred feet to the bottom over the side)

my mule skinner certificate

From the Grand Canyon I went Las Vegas again, then on to California and went to SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK

An entrance sign for Sequoia National Park in California
close up of a sequoia tree; this one burned at the bottom but still growing

and YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK. After visiting SAN FRANCISCO and the NAPA WINE COUNTRY again I headed East. My plan was to go to Dinosaur National Park in Colorado but some car trouble (a faulty alternator) cut the trip short.

In 1980 I made one more cross country trip in the TR-6 along with two of my car club members and their friends; six of us all together.

This was the three cars after we spent the first night in West Virginia

This time we drove West on I-70 to ST LOUIS, MO (stopped at the ARCH again), through Kansas City, to COLORADO SPRINGS, CO. We stayed the night there and the next day we drove up PIKE’S PEAK, 14,000 feet.

Top of Pike's Peak

Then we drove to THE ROYAL GORGE in Canon City, Co. and then on MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK . We spent the night in DURANGO, CO and the next day drove to the GRAND CANYON (my third visit). After a couple nights at the Canyon we drove to LAS VEGAS. The group actually split up leaving the Grand Canyon and I drove a different route from the others which took me through ZION NATIONAL PARK. We all stayed in Las Vegas a couple nights and then drove on to Los Angeles. Now at this point the group trip pretty much fell apart. After we did a little touring in LA and TIJUANA, MEXICO, one club member decided to stay in LA longer and another decided he wanted to drive a different route to San Francisco. I drove the Pacific Coast Highway again. Then two of us met in San Francisco for a night and then drove east to Reno for the night. The next morning we headed on to Salt Lake City. Then I headed north to YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK again and the other guy headed back home since he didn’t have any more vacation time. So I had one more YELLOWSTONE, GRAND TETON, MT RUSHMORE tour before heading home. 

***************be sure to continue reading parts 2 and 3*****

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