There are two versions of how Daddy came by our first camper trailer: According to what he journaled in May 1970, it was a 15 foot Mobile Scout, purchased for $1,050 in May 1957. However, in the late 1990s, I asked Daddy about our first travel trailer. I had not read what he had journaled about it. In fact, I didn’t even know he had a journal at that time. He answered that he had received the trailer as compensation for a job. He said he was working for Hughes Steel at the time, and he bid on a job for a trailer company. When someone asked him about compensation, he said he would like to be paid with a travel trailer. I can only guess why there is a discrepancy between these two versions, but the payment for a job scenario is highly plausible.
I remember when I first saw the camper trailer. I had traveled with Mother via train to Kansas to see her mother, and when we returned home, there was a new travel trailer parked in the driveway. I don’t know if Mother knew about it ahead of time. I think we all helped Daddy paint the black lightning bolt along the sides, and later we added cartoon animals on the front, sides, and back of the trailer. The cartoon characters are visible in the gallery photos of the trailer. I am not sure who drew the original designs, but they look like something I might have contributed to, even at the young age of seven. More likely, though, it was a group effort. I can still picture Daddy, paintbrush in hand, painting the designs on the trailer.
The aluminum trailer was equipped with a fifty pound icebox which was refrigerated with blocks of ice, a three-burner butane stove with oven, and a 16 gallon water tank with a hand pump on the sink. It slept five. The windows cranked open and shut. Hot water for sponge bathing, cooking, or washing dishes was heated on the stove. There was a large storage compartment underneath the bed, smaller storage cabinets on the wall, and one very narrow closet for hanging clothes. We hung our other clothes in fish net sacks on wall hooks. Often we had no electricity hookups. Our light source was a kerosene lantern hung on a hook inside of the trailer after dark. Mother did most of the cooking outside on campfires, and each morning she made a pot of campfire coffee in an aluminum coffee pot for her and Daddy. If it was raining, she cooked inside. The trailer was not self-contained. If we were not in a park that offered park restrooms, we relieved ourselves outdoors and if necessary took a shovel to dig a hole. We always disposed of any toilet paper properly. We took sponge baths in the sink, bathed in the often frigid mountain rivers or streams, and occasionally stopped at an overnight trailer park to use the showers and laundry facilities. Our favorite vacation destination was the west or southwest United States, especially the Rocky Mountains, and on several occasions we met our friends the Bowers somewhere in the mountains. We were protected from the elements by the tin can walls, and we entertained ourselves with silly family stories and anecdotes – so much fun.
I only remember one trailer trip with my oldest sister Patsy, who was nearly grown in 1957. I’m sure she joined us on shorter trips a few times, but this one trip I remember was a long vacation to California in 1957. I was seven years old in the summer of 1957. We were motoring across the desert in what I believe was a 1957 red and white Buick. It was the middle of the summer, the car’s air conditioner was broken, and I sat between Daddy and Mother on an old wooden box in the middle of the front (bench) seat, wearing only my ruffled red panties and holding a cup of ice water. My “job” was to flick ice-cold water on everyone within reach to keep the passengers cool. At least, that’s what I thought my job was. I’m not sure that my sisters were all too pleased about it. Daddy took the photo of me below during that California trip, clearly demonstrating that taking embarrassing photos of your children is not just a digital or cell-phone age phenomenon.
We had many memorable experiences, one of which happened in 1961 at Wolf Creek Pass in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, where we camped for a few days. A large group of Native Americans began to gather and set up camp next to us. A man knocked on our trailer door in the afternoon and politely asked Mother if he could borrow a cup of sugar. She said yes, of course, and eagerly gave him what he needed. He returned a few minutes later, explained that they were having a “pow-wow” that evening, and asked us if we would like to join them. Daddy accepted, and that night we attended an authentic pow-wow. We were asked not to take photographs, and unfortunately, I don’t remember much about the ceremony, other than it was exciting and colorful, most of them were dressed in authentic Native American attire, and it was late when we got back to our trailer. Daddy and Mother greatly appreciated the invitation.
My parents had at least three camping trailers from 1957 on, until Daddy could no longer drive. Even after they gave up traveling, they parked their last trailer behind their country house in Merit, Texas, where it stayed until they moved to Bonham, Texas, in 1994. They used it for extra beds when needed. It must have been very hard for them to give up traveling, which they loved so much.
I loved these camping trips. We got up before sunrise to get ready to set out. Many nights, after a long day’s drive, Daddy just pulled over into a roadside park or even a wide space in the road he was tired enough, where we spent the night as 18-wheelers whizzed by, rocking the trailer as they passed. Among places we visited: Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, Pike’s Peak, Garden of the Gods, Royal Gorge, Jackson Hole, Mesa Verde, the Redwood forests in California, and the Dalton Gang’s Hideout in Kansas. We, fished, hiked, climbed mountains, rode horses, hunted for rocks, waded in and drank from cold mountain streams, and saw many majestic and unforgettable sights.
I vividly recall the smell of crisp clean mountain air, lush pine forests, campfires burning, the aroma of coffee brewing and bacon frying over an open campfire, the crunch of gravel roads under the tires, the smell of gasoline stations, and the delightful sounds of all types of nighttime noises (inside and outside of the trailer); and I can still feel the comfort of seeing the flying red horse and the Dallas skyline for the first time after a week or two away from home. I am so blessed to have been able to see all of these places as a child. I didn’t fully appreciate all I gained from these family trips until I grew up, when I didn’t get to do this sort of thing any more.