Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Long Road Home

 In the late summer of 1963 Jessie and I returned from Detroit where I had been employed in the Chevrolet Engineering Center.  Working there was fun—living in Roseville, a suburb north of Detroit, was not.  So I was returning to attend graduate school in Stillwater,

 We first went east to visit Niagara Falls for a delayed honeymoon (we had gotten married in June).  We crossed the Bluewater Bridge at Port Huron and entered Canada at Sarnia.  The approach to that bridge is worthy of a blog all of its own because of the very steeply climbing, sharply turning path that was followed—all that could be seen was the next 100 feet of road and sky—not even the waters of Lake Huron in front of us were visible.  I suspect that has been remedied by now since two interstates converge at Port Huron.

 As we cruised along the Queen Elizabeth Way just before arriving in Niagara Falls we were startled to see a ship looming as it ”crossed the road”.  It was a lake freighter using the Welland Canal to transit from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.  As we neared the Canadian side of Niagara Falls we actually passed under the canal through a tunnel with a lake freighter above us.

 After a short stay in Niagara Falls we embarked on a hurried trip home in my trusty 1954 Chevrolet so I could make a planned meeting in Stillwater to discuss part-time employment while we both attended school.  This was before the days of a fully developed interstate system so travel was really an exercise in following a patchwork of highways.  However, In Pittsburg there were a number of limited access urban highways and, when I missed a turn for US19, I had to travel almost twenty miles before I could get back to where I started—and I almost missed the exit again.  Lest you think I was just negligent, remember the hilly terrain on which Pittsburg is built.  We finally arrived in Morgantown, West Virginia late at night.

 In order to ensure that we saved enough money to get re-started in school we had converted every other one of my paychecks into $100 bills.  As we crossed Illinois via US50 on a Sunday afternoon after leaving Morgantown we ran out of smaller cash.  I stopped for gas at a rural station (It reminded me a lot of Mr. Rockman’s in Heavener), noted that my odometer had just crossed the 100,000 mile mark, and bought about ten or twelve gallons.  The cost was less than four dollars and all I had to pay for it with was a $100 bill. The station owner had to go inside and get change from his personal savings.  (I wonder if that would happen today or if he would be afraid I was passing a counterfeit bill??) 

 Late that evening we arrived in St. Louis where I had planned to stop for the night as soon as we got on US66 west of the city.  I was getting a little tired so I asked Jessie to “not go to sleep” to help me follow the US50 bypass around St. Louis.  It was routed along many city streets and made a number of 90-deg turns at intersections—not at all like today’s roads.  No sooner had I uttered the word “sleep” than Jessie fell soundly asleep.  So I navigated the bypass with no help and, being young and brash, became just irritated enough to tell Jessie when she awoke (just as we hit US66) that I wasn’t going to stop for the night after all.  So we drove on down US66 and cut off in southeast Missouri to reach Fort Smith via US71.  In Fort Smith I missed the turn onto US271 and crossed the Arkansas on Garrison Avenue—I had been driving for 26 hours straight at this point.

 As we neared Heavener things got dryer and dryer until it looked like everything was dead—a typical Oklahoma dry summer—but it was home!!!  We got home in  Heavener about 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning after departing Morgantown at 7:00 in the morning the previous day.

 All in all, a long trip but it was a trip home and that made it worthwhile.


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