Autobiography of One Old Ford


John N. Lewis


Part One

1. North to Alaska
2. University of Alaska, Fairbanks
3. Mississippi State
4. Home for Christmas--by Canoe
5. Adventures In North Mississippi
6. Getting Involved
7. Back to Alaska--and Back
8. Thanksgiving Bride
9. Married Student Days

Part Two

10. California Honeymoon
11. Icelandic Interlude
12. Return to England
13. Continental Holiday
14. Farewell to England
15. California Here I Come--Again
16. Michigan Meander

Part Three

17. Home at Last
18. Journeys Missed by Being Second
19. Texas Tour

Part Four

20. Wyoming Via North Carolina
21. Return of the Vagabonds
22. From King Tut to Kansas City

2. University of Alaska, Fairbanks

My arrival at what was to become my home was not a chance event--far from it. Months before, in England, John had planned for this day and had completed all the enrollment and room reservation process that could be accomplished by mail. But the seed of which this day was the fruition was planted many years before. Not even he, much less I, can pinpoint the exact moment when the Alaska bug bit, but it was certainly in the mid 1930's. John was such a voracious reader all his life that his fourth-grade teacher and principal in Belzoni, Mississippi, Miss Pitts, recognized his need for more challenging material. She went to the high school library and brought back a tome, Arctic Adventure, by Peter Freuken, to occupy the skinny fourth grader for a while. It did. There is no telling how many times she had to recheck the book before he finished reading it, but finish it he did. The pull of the Arctic was strong and permanent, and through the influence of Robert Service and Jack London, Alaska became symbolic of the Arctic.

All through high school, although John had many other interests, the fascination for the North never died. Once, during a study period, he sat at a table in the library studying Alaska and talking quietly to a classmate. She was the youngest member of the graduating class of 1946 and John was the next youngest. She said, "John Nash, you know you are never going to go to Alaska."

His studied reply was, "Natalie, when I get there I'll send you a post card."

After making that promise, he would have gone if he had had no other reason. Well, it took five years to get there and eighteen years before he saw Natalie again (at a class reunion seventeen years after graduation). Almost her first words were, "John Nash, I still have that post card you sent me from Alaska."

We checked in at College on Saturday afternoon. John got a room in the end of Vets Dorm and was able to park me just outside his window. We got rid of some of the dust and got me half unloaded that afternoon. Don Heath stayed with us Saturday night and Sunday night. Monday morning we carried him down to the station and saw him off on the Alaska Railroad for Anchorage. We felt quite alone.

Buying me, new clothes, paying for the trip up from the states, and getting started in college had just about depleted John's total funds. Nevertheless, he had me winterized on September 26, and none too soon at that, but I was getting more rest now than I wanted because of the fifty-cent-per-gallon gasoline. On the twenty-ninth we did make a little trip up the Steese Highway to Goldstream to visit a young man from Maine who worked in the gold fields.

The tremendous changes in climate from two years in England to an extra hot summer in Louisiana to the interior of Alaska had triggered John's old swamp malady, malaria. He felt worse and weaker each day until he no longer was able to attend classes by October 5. On the sixth, the campus nurse, Mrs. Fish, took him to Fairbanks to a doctor. The doctor happened to be from Minden, Louisiana, and was able to diagnose malaria immediately. Anyone familiar with the disease can recognize the smell. The following day John was moved into Hess Hall (the only girl's dorm on campus) so he could receive better care. He did, but I didn't. I was deserted.

There are several ways of getting acquainted with a group of college girls, but being a patient in their dormitory must be one of the best. The girls were regular visitors to John's room to tell him what was going on on campus, play records, read to him, or just talk. He wasn't missing me at all. He was still confined in Hess Hall when the winter snow came. Some snow had fallen on September 25, but the night of October 8, it came down in earnest and continued all the next day followed by more snow on the tenth. It was seven months before we were to see the ground again.

Sunday, October 15, John got out of the girl's dorm, went to church, and spent the evening listening to the radio--as usual. He has had that little metal Motorola longer than he has had me. While he was in radar school in Boca Raton, Florida, a classmate bought that little AC-DC job in Fort Lauderdale. John decided he had to have that particular radio. He straddled his reluctant buddy, held him flat of his back and tickled his nose with four crisp ten-dollar bills until the lad gave up and sold the radio. The University of Alaska had its own power plant, and the veterans' dorm was on DC. This was ideal for static-free reception, and many enjoyable hours were spent in Alaska listening to the radio. Of course, I have a good 8-tube Zenith in my dash and he has spent hundreds of hours listening to that, too.

We made many good friends in Alaska in 1950 and '51. There were not so many cars on campus; but there were three new Fords, and all of us the same color. After the snow accumulated to the point that it had to be shoveled each time we left the campus, the owners parked us side by side so they could share the shoveling chores. Classmates were always asking if we had been bought at a special sale. Actually the other two cars were from Illinois, and one of them was only a two door.

On October 31, the temperature was minus ten degrees and snow was falling. By November the second it was twenty-two below zero. By the thirteenth there was two feet of snow. We were always willing to go as long as the temperature stayed above forty below zero, but the thermometer fell to that level on November 24. The college was short on electrical capacity and students were not allowed to use auxiliary heat for their automobiles as the faculty and residents could. They used all sorts of head-bolt, dip-stick, and other types of heaters to keep their vehicles operable, but students had to use ingenuity. John took the hold-down off my battery, left a one-half-inch open-end wrench permanently on a small metal shelf under the hood near my battery, and each time we came in during cold weather he simply removed my battery, carried it to his room and put it under his bed. When he needed me to go someplace, he dropped the warm battery in place, tightened the cables, and shot a squirt of ether in the carburetor, and we fired up. Of course, with congealed oil, my motor squealed like a banshee for a few minutes, and my shocks felt like blocks, but we made many trips in the area of Fairbanks and northward during the winter.

I'll never forget my first Thanksgiving. One of John's friends was an ex-Marine pilot from St. Paul, Don Eyink. He had a small airplane with wheels only, no skis. About all it did during the winter was sit and wait for us to come brush each new fall of snow off its wings. Well, Don wanted to go to Cleary Summit, a ski slope up the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks, and he asked John to take him there. We were very short of fuel at this time because it was in the part of the month that was always left over after the money was gone. John asked Don how far it was, and Don told him it was just a little way north of Fox. Well, we knew where Fox was, and I had enough gas to go there and get back to College. The only trouble was, Fox turned out to be only half way, and it was up the mountains all the way. We made it to the ski slope, however, with chains on my rear wheels, and stayed until past noon. We wanted to make it back to the chow hall for Turkey dinner as both the boys had meal tickets and very little prospect for any other food for the day.

On the way down the mountain, the only noise was from my chains clattering on the glazed-over road which had thawed slightly after being graded, but had frozen back to treacherous hardness. All of a sudden, as we topped a rise at about fifty miles per hour, the rear end decided to come down the mountain first. John fought the wheel and stamped the accelerator for power to control the skid, but nothing happened. I would up in a snow bank on the left of the road with snow exactly even with the glass in the left-hand doors.

Traffic was almost non-existent, but fortunately a truck soon arrived going up the mountain. The driver was courteous as are most Alaskans, and soon had me snatched out into the road again with only minor damage to my rear frame member. The boys thanked him kindly, opened the hood and dug the snow (and, by then, ice) away from my radiator and motor, and hopped in. My motor cranked the first try (as usual), and we went perhaps a hundred yards before losing power for keeps. Only then did the truth dawn on the humans: I was completely out of gas. By this time the day was almost completely out of light, too. The sun makes only a brief appearance each day at sixty-five degrees north latitude. As Don and John sat there feeling stupid, they could hear my body creak and groan from the rapid cooling. Finally, Don decided to walk for help--but where? He had gone only a short distance when another stroke of good luck occurred.

Dr. Earl Beistline, one of the University of Alaska professors, had been up north for the day and was returning to College. He agreed to push me to a gas station. By this time it was totally dark. I had to have my headlights on so the driver behind us could see the road, but each mile in the wind with no generator saw them get steadily dimmer. Not only that, but the oil in the steering worm was getting so stiff that John could hardly turn the wheel; and the interior was not too comfortable for the passengers, either. When we finally made it to a service station, the thermometer on the station wall read thirty-five degrees below zero. With a little gas and a shot of alcohol in the tank, we hurried to the mess hall just as the serving line was being torn down. The serving girls, being the friendly fellow students that they were, did the right thing, however, and the two cold boys were the last persons served turkey dinner at the University of Alaska on Thanksgiving Day of 1950. Do you suppose John's being born December 31, 1929 was in any way prophetic?

On December 29, at 10,100 miles, I got my first Alaskan license plate. We drew a full house: 29292. Saturday, the thirtieth, we went to Fairbanks for the movie, "White Tower". Sunday, John's twenty-first birthday, was the beginning of the dog racing season. We were right down on the Chena River bed to see them off. By this time of year the rivers in the north have disappeared, and the frozen, snow-covered beds become good travel ways. Only where there is thermal activity is there any open water. The deep rivers still flow, but beneath a thick bridge of ice, and that is covered by an insulating blanket of snow. The river beds near the cities become the dog race tracks.

During the summer months there was only one crossing on the Chena in Fairbanks; but during the winter and well into spring, the streets that hit the river just continued on down the bank and up the other side. Traffic flow was expedited by having so many natural river crossings. Many of these impromptu streets were graded by the road maintenance crews and were just as fine as any other roadways. The extreme cold forms ice so thick and hard that there is no danger of its breaking through during the dead of winter. John's diary for January 24, 1951, records that it was the thirteenth day that the thermometer had not risen above fifty below zero. The nightly lows were nearer sixty below. During this spell of intense cold I was of no use to him whatsoever. An internal combustion engine cannot be started in that type of weather without some means of auxiliary heat. By Sunday, January 28, he had gotten me cranked because I remember taking a whole carload of people to Fairbanks to church. The passengers represented five denominations.

I could almost depend on going to town on Sunday for church except for the times when it was colder than forty below zero; and on those days John walked to a little, log, Presbyterian church down the hill in College Flats. Some of those walks in just a suit at fifty below zero were the causes of a frostbitten nose and ears on several occasions. There was a very long, steep set of steps (outdoor stairs, really) from the campus on College Hill down to the flats below. The dense, cold air naturally settled to the lower areas. It was sort of weird to feel the temperature change, perhaps ten degrees or more, in the course of one staircase, and without any movement of the air at all. In fact, one of the noticeable phenomena of the Arctic winter is the absolute stillness of the air. There is practically no air movement at fifty below. There can't be. As soon as there is the slightest suggestion of wind, the heat of molecular movement causes the temperature to rise rapidly. A breeze on a cold winter day might produce a heat wave of twenty-five degrees below zero. This stillness coupled with the lack of humidity accounts for the relative comfort of properly dressed people even at sixty degrees below zero. The water vapor in the air is frozen into minute, suspended crystals, which are beautiful in the sunlight, but which also cause the dreaded ice fog: a condition not so beautiful to the bush pilots.

During the dark, cold winter I seldom got very far from campus. There were not many places to go, but the price of gasoline was reason enough. Money was tight. I was not costing much more than just gasoline and starting fluid, however, except for a new battery on April 6. The battery only cost $13 but the freight up from the states was another $7. John sold my original battery for $10 though, so I didn't feel too badly about that.

As the spring thaw began, I got to get out more and more. One beautiful Sunday in the late spring we had taken a young lady out in the country to make sketches of the budding pussy willow and other scenes which would be painted later. During the winter we had crossed the river many times on the ice, but now the snow had melted so much that water was flowing over the ice as well as under it. The water was deep enough by this time that many drivers had already opted for the bridge-only crossing, but not us--yet. We eased out on the river rather cautiously with the water soon reaching my hub caps. Suddenly the front wheel dropped into a depression in the hidden ice and, due to the slow speed, my engine stopped. By this time water was coming in the floor and my exhaust was under water. The engine caught on the first try, however, and the water gurgled out the tailpipe as we backed slightly, pulled around the invisible hole, and since we were more than half way across anyway, made a dash for the south shore. That was the last crossing for the season for me--and probably everyone else. The date was April 15, 1951.

The ice break up in the spring is the most heralded event in Alaska. Nenana is the site of the major ice classic, although there are smaller local events. A pole is set in the solid river ice with a trip wire run to a clock on the shore. Chances are sold by which the participants select the day, hour, and minute which they expect the ice to go out. The bulk of the money goes to support the Alaska orphan homes, but a sizeable kitty is divided among the winners of the pool.

In 1951 my radio was tuned to the broadcast of the breakup which was covered by a mobile unit from the Fairbanks radio station. As the afternoon wore on the crowds and the excitement mounted. When 5 p.m. passed and the pole still remained fixed in the river, the tension became electric. Floes were moving and grinding down the main channel of the Tanana, but still the ice with the pole hung on. Finally, at 5:30, the radio announcer realized that he had a time slot coming up soon that would give him a chance of winning part of the pool. At 5:34 p.m. on April 30, 1951, the ice went out. The radio announcer held a winning ticket. Excitement became bedlam. Someone else had to take over the microphone. His exuberance can be excused, however, in view of the fact that nearly $200,000 was in the pool to be divided among the relatively few winners.

With the arrival of spring, and the end of the school year approaching, my activities picked up. There were picnics on the mountains; and with so few cars on campus, I was called into service for errands for many of John's friends. Two of his closest friends were graduating and their parents came up from the states for graduation. These people had to be met at the PAA terminal on Ladd Field and carried to College; and students moving off campus to summer quarters or jobs needed transportation. By mid-May there was light all night long, so clock time became less meaningful. Many nights we came back to the campus at one or two o'clock in the morning to find couples still sitting outside Hess Hall. May 21 was graduation day. The speaker was California's governor, Earl Warren.

On May 22 we were off again at 5:30 in the morning. Don Eyink's parents had come from St. Paul, Minnesota, for his graduation and, naturally, wanted to see more of Alaska than just the college. With Joy Nelson along as a companion, we took the Eyinks to Circle Hot Springs. This was a rather rustic resort which, like several in the Arctic, had grown up as a result of hot water surfacing and being put to good use. The hotel not only got its heat and hot water for the rooms from the spring, but also sported a large, heated, indoor swimming pool. Hot water was even piped beneath a sizeable garden and used to thaw the ground and produce luscious, fresh vegetables for the dining room by the time the tourist season started.

The Steese Highway northeast of Fairbanks follows the Chatanika River to its source at Twelve-Mile Summit, crosses Eagle Pass, then winds on to the Yukon River at Circle. The gravel highway is closed throughout the late winter and spring. After the snow has melted down at the lower levels, the passes are plowed, the washouts repaired, and the road opened to the summer traffic. This occurs about the time of the spring caribou migration. The forest caribou feed and drop their calves as they move from east to west across northern Alaska, crossing the Steese Highway above timberline in the vicinity of Eagle Summit. We were one of the very earliest vehicles up the Steese in 1951, passing through the stragglers of the caribou migration. As there was practically no traffic on the road, willow ptarmigan and slow-moving porcupine were also plentiful.

Our trip seemed to be doomed at one point where the runoff had swept down a saddle between two hills and knocked out about twenty yards of road and left a four-foot drop off with swiftly running cold water obstructing traffic: one vehicle--me. Our party would have taken the abortion of their trip in good spirit, but there is something in John's nature that does not allow turning back. He believes that destinations are to be reached. In this case the solution seemed obvious: cross the stream with the means at hand. The means available were plenty of large, water-worn rocks.

We backed down the road far enough to be able to descend from the road fill to the stream bed then, carefully picking our way through the boulders, made our way to the rushing current. All hands pitched in to build two elevated ramps for the wheels to tread during the crossing. Trying to keep a set of tires on top of submerged rocks, invisible in grey water, is not for the faint hearted. The first attempt at crossing was almost successful except that the bank was too steep on the far side. With the exhaust submerged and the tires spinning on the smooth wet rocks, we had to retreat back across our treacherous ramp and prepare for another attempt.

All the passengers, with their pants rolled high, fell back to work piling more rocks to decrease the angle of approach to the north bank of the stream. This time John stationed all four fellow travelers at the trouble spot with instructions for helping me up the bank. As we approached, each one grabbed a door handle and lent what assistance was possible for barefooted people standing in icy cold water, and we struggled up the rocky bank. Once out of the water, our passengers came aboard and we continued on to Circle Hot Springs. From the hotel, John called the maintenance camp of the Alaska Road Commission, telling them the location of the washout and requesting repair before the return journey that night.

One purpose of the trip to Circle Hot Springs was to investigate the possibility of a summer job there. Tourists had begun to fly to Fairbanks, but the area was not prepared to accommodate them. There were no car rentals and only one hotel in town for the transients--the Nordale. There was an old wooden relic down on First Street, the Pioneer, but it was filled with more-or-less permanent residents. Motels were completely unheard of. The University did a thriving business renting rooms to motorists after the students had been run out for the summer. The owner of Circle Hot Springs had a Cadillac limousine that made about two trips a week down to Fairbanks to pick up tourists from the Nordale and transport them up to the resort. The driver was a sort of tour guide who tried to take some of the monotony out of a long and, usually, dusty ride. The limousine made only a one-way trip during a day, so a room at the Nordale was provided for the driver on his nights in town. John liked driving and had a bent toward tour guiding anyway, so it seemed like an ideal way to pass the summer, especially with the lodgings provided.

Finding a place to stay was a real problem for students between school sessions because the college tossed them out. This was undoubtedly a handy source of revenue for the University, but it was some inconvenience to homeless students. Not the least attraction of Circle Hot Springs was the fact that Louella and some other girls from the University staffed the dining hall, and it seemed to John that if he were going to be stranded in the wilderness miles from town, this was the sort of company to have. If the meal the girls served him the day of our visit was any indication, he certainly would have been well fed, at any rate. As things turned out, the job interview was unsatisfactory, and we made the return trip to Fairbanks that night. Joy had had a nice swim in the heated pool, however, and there were other interesting sights on the trip (although perhaps none more lovely) that made the day memorable for all.

That was my first night to be driven right through midnight without even having my lights turned on. It was also the night of my first blown tire. Oh, how many have there been since? We were coming down a slight grade on a curving, gravel road when there was a real explosion. John braked to a gradual stop and there was so little noticeable effect in the steering that he had to walk around me to locate the wheel with the blow out. It was the right front. In a few minutes we were rolling again. We returned to civilization about three a.m., but since John had to be up at 5:30 each morning, he drove on into Fairbanks to breakfast before going to College to go to bed. The sun was already three hours high.

John spent May 23 job hunting. This called for a haircut, which took $2.00 of our swiftly-diminishing funds. Of the several jobs available, one as a draftsman on a power plant construction project for the city of Fairbanks seemed to offer the most long-term benefits in the way of transferable experience. The years have proved this to have been a most fortunate choice. That night we returned to College for a lecture and slide show by Bradford Washburn, then Director of Boston Museum of Science. His guest for the evening was one of the old sourdoughs that had planted a spruce pole on the summit of Mt. McKinley in 1915. There was a tremendous contrast in the ascent of those early pioneers who spontaneously decided to go climb North America's tallest mountain and the carefully planned and filmed climb of the Washburn party. To Washburn's credit, however, he let the miner tell his story in his own way to a rapt audience and in no way cast discredit on the authenticity of the climb which has been clouded in controversy with the passing of the years. No one who was in the audience that night is likely to doubt the first-hand recounting of that great adventure. Washburn's group could find no traces of the pole, naturally; but some of the old bush pilots had reported being able to spot it in the early days of Alaskan aviation.

Our first day of John's new job got off to a shaky start. The music professor of the University of Alaska, Lorraine Donoghue, was "going outside" for the summer. She was leaving on Pan Am from Ladd Field on May 24, and John had told her he would get her to the airport. Approaching Fairbanks from College, the road makes a sharp curve as it crosses the tracks of the Alaska Railroad. This is where I had blowout number two: on the way to the airport and with very little time to spare. Since the wheel with the blown tire from two nights before was in the vulcanizing shop, this posed a little predicament. Miss Donoghue was understandably perturbed. So was John, but he could not afford to let her know. He jacked me up and removed the wheel with the flat. Almost immediately another '50 Ford appeared. John flagged the total stranger to a halt and with gall only activated by desperation asked for his spare wheel and tire. As he was putting the perplexed stranger's wheel on me, he promised that we would leave it at the tire shop the next day when we picked up our vulcanized spare. Thus rescued, we sped to the terminal as the last passengers were boarding the plane for Seattle. As the flustered lady cleared the ticket counter, John took care of the luggage, and we finally made it to work at two p.m. We never knew the name of the helpful stranger--only that he was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force; but we do know that Miss Donoghue arrived safely because she mailed John a nice, hand-painted tie from the Bon Marché in Seattle.

My routine during the summer of 1951 was rather boring. John was working twelve hours almost every day, six days a week. On Saturdays he usually quit after eight hours so he could go to the folk dance club for just about the only recreation which he took time to enjoy. Having finished the school year almost flat broke added a sense of urgency to saving money for starting school again in the fall. On Sunday, May 27, we finally moved from Vet's Dorm on campus to a tent on a homestead belonging to Joe Lawlor, a veteran friend from Iowa. I had to travel some primitive roads between the homestead and town, and by now my tires were in such shape that I needed a flat fixed almost as often as I needed gasoline. The worst trouble, however, was those vulcanizings. They had thrown my wheels so out of balance that sometimes I thought they would shake off right in the middle of the road. Luckily there was a good alignment man in Fairbanks, and he was able to balance the vulcanizes well enough to keep me serviceable. New tires cost so much in Alaska that almost anything that could prolong their purchase until we could get back outside was worth trying. On June 6, John put all new shock absorbers on me, and that made me feel like a new car again.

Even with the twelve-hour work days, the long Alaskan days with practically no darkness left time for a few suppers and dates with the girls John had met at the university. One of those sourdough dance dates turned into a slapstick comedy.

In the course of several casual conversations with a nice-looking blond from California, John had made a date for the sourdough dance for the night of Saturday, June 9. Carol lived with her parents in the penthouse above the bus station in the heart of downtown Fairbanks. John had made the date for eight p.m. He worked ten hours, bought a new sport coat, and showed up at the Carol's door exactly on time. He had not yet learned that women keep time by some mysterious fashion that they do not reveal to men. There was no answer to his knock; the door was locked; and there was no note to be found. At a total loss for something to do we rode around town aimlessly for a while, but eventually parked on the side street, and John went back up to see if the young lady was in. Apparently she was not; but now there was a large bouquet of flowers outside her door. But still no one to be seen or heard. By now the situation looked like a lost cause so John walked down the hall to the elevator to leave, but curiosity caused him to go back and take a peek at the card attached to the flowers. The message was harmless and noncommittal, but the signature was "John". For a fellow already tired from a seventy-hour week, being stood up and puzzled is a lousy way to end a day, and John was really puzzled now. We drove out to College to see if we could find a friendly face. The few people still around were paired off by this time, and it seemed that there was just nothing left to do but go on out to the homestead and retire to the tent. The repugnance of this alternative drove us back to Fairbanks once more; and in search of some plausible explanation, John again took the elevator up to the penthouse. All was definitely not quiet this time. The apartment was a hub-bub of activity. John wavered between knocking on the door or tipping back down the corridor, but two hours had already been invested in the situation and the only explanation was behind that door. At his knock, John was immediately whisked inside the apartment, hastily introduced to the bewildered parents (and a tall, recently-arrived stranger named John), then almost jerked out the door as Carol and he made a late but swift departure for the dance. The parents and the other John were left, holding the flowers, to work out their own explanation. On the way to the dance, John and Carol were able to sort out the mix up and finally arrive about ten o'clock ready to enjoy the fun.

It seems that Carol's parents had gone out for dinner expecting their daughter to be gone upon their return. When John arrived the first time, Carol had been in the shower in the rear of the apartment where she could not hear the knock on the door--which she had locked as her parents left. When Carol finally got ready to go out, she thought she had been stood up and was at a loss to understand her situation. When Carol's parents returned they found a dejected daughter with flowers in lieu of an escort for the evening. Soon one John arrived at the apartment totally unexpected, and before they could complete his introduction was followed by another. Perhaps the first John and the parents had a pleasant visit. When we returned to the apartment with the young lady after midnight, all was quiet again.

Northern Alaska is always light in mid summer. On the morning of June 16, a cow moose and her twin calves were in our trail as we left the tent to go to work. On the nineteenth, the road contained many bear tracks. Foxes were frequent visitors around the homestead. June 21, the longest day of the year, we went to Pedro Dome to see the midnight sun set and rise again at three minutes before one o'clock in the morning. The glow was visible through midnight, but the mountain range to the north obscured the actual orb for almost two hours. We arrived back at the tent at 2:30 a.m. On June 28, I had to crank up at 5:30 a.m. and go to Ladd Field to meet Lorraine Donoghue returning from Seattle. Beginning June 30, John's position was expanded to junior engineer. The work didn't change much, but the pay was a little better, and he got to do some field surveying which broke the monotony of full-time drafting.

Through friends in the church John had located a spot where 120 acres of land were available for homesteading. On July 5, he took off from work long enough to go to the Federal Building in Fairbanks and filed his claim. Although little and late, I think he felt some of the thrill of the true pioneers who helped tame a vast continent in a grand experience and political experiment unique in the history of the world.

Living in a tent in the wilderness need not be a life of loneliness and deprivation, and it certainly wasn't for John. Joe Lawlor had a small, one-room house on his homestead. He and John shared the cooking and eating as well as the chores, and late at night they pitched in together to do the farm work. Joe had seven milk goats which furnished fresh milk to go with whatever meals the boys cooked. Joe milked in the morning, and John at night. Breakfasts tended to be the usual hot cakes or eggs with bacon or ham; but the night meals and Sunday dinners were quite varied. July 11, they had baked salmon which John had brought home from an Indian who had just taken it off his fishwheel. For supper Friday the thirteenth, John cooked fried and baked fish, fried goat, pressure-cooked goat with ham and sweet potatoes, and ginger cake for desert. Occasionally the boys picked wild blueberries at night in the low, swampy areas and made blueberry pies or cobblers. Some Sundays they made homemade rolls and fried chicken. Once in a while they were invited out to eat with friends, and sometimes had friends out to the homestead to dine with them. All fruits and most vegetables came up from the states and were quite high priced. Peaches were twenty-five cents each, but were mighty welcome about one a.m. after 14 hours of work.

As much as we liked Alaska and enjoyed the university, John felt that he should study in a college with more to offer in the agricultural field. Consequently, on July 30, he had his records transferred to Mississippi State. We were preparing for the trek outside now, and working to save as much money as possible by the time we had to leave in the fall. John put a new spruce tongue in a two-wheel trailer that a friend had given him and equipped it with straps for mounting his axes and gasoline drums. On August 31, after work, friends came to help him pack and bid us "Good bye".

We rolled out of Fairbanks Saturday, September 1, 1951, and had destroyed two tires before midnight. Two passengers had joined us for the trip outside, and about ten o'clock that night we picked up Don Heath at a shack somewhere south of Big Delta. All the boys were anxious to get home to go to different schools, so they drove me day and night. I got my rest, and plenty of it, while they fixed flats on my old, worn-out tires. Monday night I got a busted gas tank. John got me to Summit and had the tank off before daylight. He slept until the mechanic came to work. They boys ate a cafe breakfast while my tank was being soldered (for $4.00), then put it back on, filled it from the drums on the trailer, and we began the descent south. We had not gone very far down the mountain when we met a northbound motorist in distress. The driver had attempted to tow a big Spartan Manor mobile home up the pass with a Hydromatic equipped automobile. He had allowed his speed to drop so that the torque converter could not pull the grade. Attempting to back down for another start, he had jack knifed the trailer into the mountainside and could not move in either direction. His distraught wife was standing in the road wringing her hands in despair.

John stopped to survey the situation. The stranded gentleman asked the boys to help him unhook from his trailer so he could go for help. Instead, John unhooked from his own trailer, got out a line, and told his companions to tie on the other vehicle while he turned me around in the road. When we were securely lashed together, he told the driver to get in and give me whatever help his Olds 98 could deliver. Protesting all the time that the effort was hopeless, he complied; and we towed both car and trailer to the summit. John was not doubtful of my power through our 4.11:1 read end, but expected every minute to hear another of my old tires blow out as we scratched gravel up the slope.

We rolled through Dawson Creek on Tuesday. That afternoon we met a new Mercury stopped in the road on a flat tire. John almost didn't stop because the well-dressed driver was sitting at the wheel with no apparent concern or effort regarding his situation. However, the unwritten code of the road in the far north is to stop and offer aid to stranded fellow travelers. When asked if he had a spare tier, the Mercury owner said he had one, but it was also flat. The one on the ground was his second flat of the afternoon. John put two of his passengers to jacking up the car and removing the wheel. In the meantime, he dismounted the spare and patched that tube. While that wheel was being installed on the car, he broke down the second tire and repaired it also, placing it back in the trunk for a spare. With four guys taking turns on the pump, the entire job was done in a few minutes. The Canadian had not expected such a flurry of activity, and tried to pay the boys for their work. We pulled away with him standing in the dusty road with his money in his hand. His two flats were nothing compared to the steady rate I was experiencing.

September 5, John drove to Edmonton where my odometer passed 17,000 miles; then while John napped in the back seat, Don Heath drove on south through Calgary. On Thursday, September 6, we made it into Great Falls, Montana--after twenty-two flats and blowouts in five days. It was a terrific relief to be out of the everlasting dust for a change. I was left at Sears Roebuck for a complete set of new tires while the boys made a run on the cafeteria. They needed two trays each to carry all the food to the table; but the good people in Great Falls had seen hungry travelers just in from the Alaska Highway before, and were quite tolerant of slack table manners. After their mid-afternoon meal the boys strolled about Great Falls stretching their legs and taking in the sights of the grown up cow town. John bought a new Stetson Open Road to replace the old brown hat he had traded away. By five p.m. I was cleaned up and all ready to go. I had four new tires and tubes that cost $107.55, and 18,270 miles on my odometer.

During the summer, John had begun a limited correspondence with a former high school classmate. She had been at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, while John was stationed at Scott Field, Illinois. They had seen each other a few times then, and John had gone to Columbia to visit her during the beautiful, snowy Thanksgiving of 1947. Charlene was now a stewardess for Continental Airlines, stationed in Denver, Colorado. At five p.m. on September 6, John sent her a telegram from Great Falls telling her to expect him at five p.m. on September 7. Denver was only 915 miles away.

I left Great Falls at dusk pulling a trailer. The first thing we hit, even before we got out of town, was a detour. Rather than following the detour signs explicitly, John reverted to navigating by dead reckoning. This may not have been direct, but it sure carried us through some interesting country that he cannot locate exactly on the map, and it put me over some more roads like I had seen too much of in Canada. Nevertheless, after a brief stop in Cheyenne, we pull into the Denver city limits at precisely five o'clock on September 7.

Being in town is not quite the same as being on time for a date. By the time John had located a motel, beat the dust out of a suit of clothes, showered and shaved, then driven all over Denver trying to locate an address in a strange city, it was getting rather late. Charlene had almost decided that John was lost completely; but her roommate had waited to meet this pilgrim before going off with her own date. After pleasantries, they departed and left the two old friends to enjoy a wonderful home cooked meal which Charlene had prepared. John and Charlene have never seen each other again; but since he had not been to bed for a full week, she probably still recalls that night as the dullest of her entire life.

We dropped off one of our passengers at Denver and left the city about noon of September 8. Late that night Don Heath left us as we passed through Kansas and Oklahoma to Dallas, Texas, before nightfall of Sunday, September 9. Somewhere about the Kansas-Oklahoma line my odometer passed 20,000 miles. We carried our last passenger, Lloyd Elder, home to the outskirts of Dallas only to find that the boy's older brother, Carl (who had flown home from Alaska) was due in college the next day and was without wheels. As tired as he was, John turned around and carried this boy to Denton, then drove back to Dallas in hopes of getting some sleep at last. As it turned out, most of the night there was a terrific thunderstorm with torrential rain beating against the house, and very little sleep after all.

The tenth of September, we pulled out of Dallas on the final leg of our trip home. During the long winter in Alaska, John and his roommate, Dave Walsh, had been planning a botanical exploration of the entire length of the Yukon River for the summer of 1952. Part of the logistics for this scheme called for John to acquire a Grumman canoe. At all the major cities along the route south, we had stopped at boating stores where John tried to find the canoe he had decided upon. The large dealership in Denver had been out of Grummans and gave a very gloomy report of our chances of getting one at all. However, in Shreveport, Louisiana, we located just what John had been looking for; and early that afternoon he purchased what was to become almost a part of me for the coming years: a 15-foot, aluminum, Grumman canoe. I was fitted with a cartop carrier while John picked out two five-foot birch paddles, then loaded with the canoe and my last tank of gas (at 20,524 miles) we headed home in earnest.

After crossing the Red River, negotiating the strip through Bossier City, and hitting the short stretch of four-lane that passed the Minden ordnance plant, I thought we were gone for sure. But soon there was a car speeding alongside us with the horn blowing and the driver waving frantically for us to stop. Reluctantly, John pulled off the road to see what was the matter. The driver of the chase car was the canoe salesman from Shreveport. He had forgotten to include the price of the car-top carrier in his invoice and had come to collect his money. It took nearly all the cash John had left in his pocket to pay the man. The salesman said he had left his place of business less than a minute after we did and had had the canoe in sight all the way from the Red River bridge, but just couldn't seem to gain on us. He kept thinking John would look back and see him waving. Well, after ten days on the road the only two times John had been to bed were well after midnight, and home was only two hundred miles straight ahead. It is a wonder we were overtaken at all. Our pursuer said he knew if he didn't catch us before reaching the end of the four-lane highway, we would be long gone. Finally, late in the afternoon of September 10, I eased into Delhi with a canoe on top and a trailer behind, five thousand, one hundred and two miles out of Fairbanks, Alaska.