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2020 - Trip Reports - Summer of 1966

Summer of 1966

by Bob Jaussaud

Last night I had a dream about a road trip I actually took during the summer of 1966. Well over 50 years have passed, but in the dream I was once again a long haired pseudo hippy boy from California traveling with my buddy through Alabama and Mississippi in an old Chevy truck. I was truly scared, as I should have been. It was a time of unrest and violence in the South. Just a year earlier, on “Bloody Sunday”, local lawmen had attacked and beaten folks in Selma, Alabama. Snipers had been targeting “outsiders” along the road we were on. Segregationist George Wallace was Governor of Alabama. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, James Meredith and Huey Newton were stoking the fires of southern white resentment.

So what the heck were we doing there? Well, my buddy Bob (yes, another Bob) and I had purchased a 1954 well-used Suburban from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for the princely sum of $100. After spray painting the inside of the beast a bright yellow and installing bunk beds, we took off to see the United States that summer, the summer of 1966.

We traveled in a clockwise direction, first heading up the West Coast more than 1100 miles through Oregon into Washington (the Seattle Space Needle was only a year old), and then turning east. And we went east, over 3000 miles through Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, St. Louis (the Arch had been completed less than a year previously), Lake Michigan, Chicago, Indiana Dunes, Detroit, Niagara Falls and Vermont to the Atlantic coast in New Hampshire. Then we pivoted south through Boston, Plymouth Rock, Cape Cod, New York (Statue of Liberty and Coney Island), Philadelphia, Gettysburg, Fort McHenry, Washington D.C., Arlington, Mt. Vernon, Myrtle Beach, and the J.F.K. Space Center. We drove over 1500 miles down the East Coast, all the way to the tip of Florida. After spending time in the Everglades our path veered westward through the Deep South of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. By now we had seen a lot of the United States, but nothing like the “Deep South.” We tried to keep a low profile, but were afraid that our California license plates were red flags that we might be radicals from Berkeley. Our old Suburban had started using more oil than gas and we prayed it would keep running and get us out of there. We just made it, too! Shortly after we left New Orleans and crossed into Texas (1500 miles from Miami),the engine blew!

We were towed into a Dallas service station. In those days many service stations did major repair work. It was obvious we couldn’t afford a big repair bill, so they allowed us to park on their lot and sleep in our truck while we did our own work. After taking the engine apart we discovered that a piston had broken and the rod had gone through the side of the cylinder. In current times that would mean a whole new engine, but in 1966 things were more basic. The service station had a boring bar, a tool that drills out the cylinder hole so that we could use a sleeve to create a new cylinder. It was hot work during a hot summer in Dallas. In fact, it was so hot that we could not set tools down in the sun as they would be too hot to handle when we tried to pick them up again. But we had motivation and worked into the night. Repairs were completed by the following afternoon and we were back on the road! Now Dallas is a good memory and I will always appreciate the kindness of the folks at that Dallas service station.

We were so relieved to be back on the road that we decided to return to Yellowstone (only another 1350 miles). Yellowstone is one my best memories of that trip in 1966. In those days there weren’t crowds everywhere. We could fish the streams and eat what we caught. There was always space available in the campgrounds. Every night there were Ranger talks, movies, dances and evenings playing cards in the Old Faithful Inn. There were pristine swimming holes known only to the “savages” (college students working there for the summer) and a few like us lucky enough to be included. There were letters at the general store post office from Sue.

Other fond memories of that summer trip of 1966 include our arrival into New York City, when a cop saw the California plates on our truck and yelled to us “You made it!” Then he took us to the local police pistol range where he said we could sleep for the night if we remembered to get out of there in the morning before the shooting started. I remember crying at the “Eternal Flame” on President Kennedy’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. I remember the heat on the east coast (no air conditioning in our truck). One day it was so hot that we stopped at a beach to cool off but the water was too warm to be refreshing and the sand was too hot to walk on. We were laying comatose in a picnic shelter when a large Italian family came and spread out their dinner on the table. The mother beckoned us to join them by waving us over saying “Well, what are you waiting for? Mangiare!” Then there was the campsite we found in an open field only to wake up in the morning and see an elephant walking by. A circus was being set up around us! True story, not a dream.

The final leg of our trip was 1050 miles south from Yellowstone through the Grand Tetons, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. After filling the trusty Suburban with gas in Las Vegas, I had exactly 10 cents left! I put it in a slot machine and won $5, enough for a good breakfast and a phone call to Sue. What a summer it had been.   ~ Bob