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

18. Journeys Missed by Being Second

After serving for so long, I fell victim of changing styles and was relegated to sit idly in the yard while the Galaxie and the Ranchero ran in and out. Rita had put 14,143 miles on the Galaxie in the last nine months of 1965 and another 17,167 miles in 1966. Well, she didn't put quite all of those miles on it. John deserted me for some family trips also. I had been plenty peeved in July, 1964, when he carried the family and Rita's mother to Colorado in her rambler Classic. That was a fine little car, but I could have handled the climb onto Mesa Verde just as well, and had I been along we certainly would have gone up Pike's Peak while the family was staying in Colorado Springs.

On July 30, 1966, the Galaxie left on the annual vacation trip, this time to the Great Smoky Mountains. It was air conditioned, had power steering (which I never needed), and was a very fine-handling automobile. In one week it took the family up the Natchez Trace, three times across the Tennessee River, to Nashville, back to Chattanooga, across the Smokies to North Carolina, down through South Carolina and Georgia to Florida, and back home again. The return from the east coast was a leisurely trip across northern Florida, then along the Gulf coast through Panama City and Mobile. That week, while they traveled 2,823 miles, I sat in the drive getting dusty.

With the children in school and John farming, the vacation trips had to be planned for the summer. The highlights of each year were the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners that Rita prepared and the trips each summer to show the kids America. Rita and John were both near their mothers, and the children had the advantage of two loving grandmothers to help guide them in their formative years. They also had a river in their front yard, where they all learned to swim, and John's Grumman canoe was tied at the dock so they could paddle, fish, or water fight whenever they wished. One afternoon John came home from work to find Alison paddling downriver with six girls in the canoe.

The 1968 vacation trip started out in the wrong direction. Wade, one of Jimmy's boys had been visiting at Tendal. John carried him to Jackson, Mississippi, to put him on an airplane to Albany, Georgia. After seeing Wade safely on his way, he turned north to Memphis and spent the night with Ken and Loretta in their new home in Germantown, Tennessee. The next day John carried his family to Arkansas, and they spent the rest of the week rambling among the lakes and hills of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri.

One of John's cousins lived in Tulsa. While Rita prepared one of her picnic lunches in Pea Ridge National Military Park, he studied the map and decided they might just as well slip on over into Oklahoma and visit Patsy, Chuck, and their children, Chip and Suzy. On the way they stopped at Claremore to visit the memorial to one of the most loved Americans of all time: Will Rogers. That night their hosts treated John and Rita to a stage production at Tulsa's new civic center while the five children entertained themselves at home. The next day the adults visited while the children swam; but after lunch some progress had to be made on the trip home. At Muskogee they paid a visit to the Indian Museum of the Five Civilized Tribes. It was too late in the afternoon when they reached Fort Smith to go through "Hanging" Judge Parker's old courthouse, but not too late for the kids to go swimming when they stopped for the night at Clarksville. The children may not remember much history or geography, but they are real authorities on swimming pools at motels across the country.

Breakfast Saturday morning was on top of Mt. Nebo, one of the isolated hills that rise abruptly from the Arkansas River flood plain. Lunch was in Petit Jean State Park. In this unlikely place was one of the world's outstanding automobile collections displayed in a beautiful, modern museum set among the shortleaf pines, miles from anywhere. This was, of course, the collection of Winthrop Rockefeller, then governor of Arkansas, whose farm and home were nearby. While there, John drove to the top of Petit Jean Mountain to see the headquarters of Winrock Farms before setting out on the last leg of the journey home. (The coincidence of two brothers being governor simultaneously was strange enough; but ironically, one (Nelson) was the highest paid governor in the United States while the other (Winthrop) was the lowest paid.)

The Galaxie was filled with gasoline in Little Rock, and John expected that to carry them to Delhi. The small detour by the old Arkansas Territorial Statehouse was enough to make it fall short by a half pint. The gauge was showing low when he crossed into Louisiana, but the flat country cruises so easily that there seemed a chance to make it. Highway 80 passes through Delhi two blocks from the high school. It is lined with service stations. The Galaxie made it past the high school, but not to the highway, before running out of gas. I know the helpless feeling myself. Anyway, a lot of sightseeing was crammed into just 1,606 miles that touched six states.

When September came again, the old college fever returned. On registration night, John fired me up and went back to Monroe to see what might be offered for night classes. Advanced degrees were not offered in his field; but the college had achieved university status since John's graduation, and an M.B.A. tacks on to a B.A., not a B.S. John was faced with having to earn the equivalent of another undergraduate degree before he could qualify for the graduate work. The dean was sympathetic to the dilemma, however, and agreed to let him mix graduate and undergraduate work as the schedules would permit. But he was still facing fifty-seven semester hours of night courses, thirty of them at the graduate level. It was a formidable task in view of the fact that he was employed by a company that didn't even appreciate the first degree.

Perhaps we would not have undertaken the venture at all if it had not been for an answer John had heard "Dear Abby" give as he listened to her radio program on the way to Monroe one morning in 1961. The party writing to "Dear Abby" said she had moved to a college town and could go to school part time. Her problem was that she was thirty years old and, at the rate she could attend classes, it would take eight years to graduate, and by that time she would be thirty-eight years old. What should she do? Abby's answer was a succinct question: "How old will you be in eight years if you do not go to college?"

Seeing that the Master's degree was going to run about 500 miles per hour of credit, John decided he had better do a little work on me so I would be ready for a long haul. He pulled my motor, honed the cylinders slightly, replaced the rings, and since it was so easy to do at the time, replaced my clutch. This overhaul cost him the munificent sum of thirty-seven dollars. We had a set routine. John went to work early each day in his Ranchero. He had to leave the field in the late afternoon, zip by home, change clothes, grab his books, and leave home at 5:45. Classes started fifty miles away at 6:45. Only once were we late in four years, and then only fifteen minutes due to a burst, top water hose. We arrived back at Tendal just in time for the 10:30 news. Rita would have supper ready so John could eat while watching the late news and the Tonight Show. It took until midnight to unwind and get ready for a few hours sleep. One of the penalties for such a schedule was seeing very little of the children during their waking hours, except on the weekends.

In October, the Galaxie turned over 100,000 miles, and by year's end had picked up another 3,000. John had decided exactly what car he wanted for Rita. He went back to the salesman from whom he had purchased the Galaxie and gave him the specifications of its desired replacement. On the ninth of January, he traded the 1963 in on a 1968 Fairlane-500 with a 302 cubic inch V-8 with power steering, automatic transmission, air conditioner, and only 15,050 miles of prior use.

Each year John was supervising the clearing of more new ground at the rate of a thousand or more acres a year. In 1969, he was putting 1,200 new acres into production. His crew was small, but they had worked together long enough to be a close-knit team, and he was proud of their productivity and loyalty. The work had progressed well enough by July 3, that he went home that evening and told Rita to pack her bag to leave on vacation the following morning. Early in the morning, July 4, the family headed west in the Fairlane. (Rita had already put 10,000 miles on it in six months.) The highways were deserted. Texas Avenue in Shreveport looked as if the city had been evacuated. In early afternoon, the kids were being shown through the Eisenhower Birthplace at Denison, Texas. Afterwards, John carried them across Red River to the Oklahoma shore of Lake Texhoma and let them go for a swim. By late afternoon they were in Platt National Park, the nation's smallest, at Sulphur, Oklahoma, and before night they were settled in a nice motel at Duncan, 525 miles from home.

There was a small, permanent, amusement park in Duncan (a stop on the old Chisholm Trail). The children enjoyed the rides under the last rays of the late-setting, summer sun. Just after dark there was an elaborate fireworks display north of town that was visible through the motel window. All things considered, it was a good Independence Day for the Lewises.

Leaving Duncan on the fifth, it was a short trip through Pumpkin Center to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge north-west of Lawton. Here in a natural, native prairie the kids were able to see the prairie dogs, longhorns, and the mighty bison roaming almost as free as they were when the settlers first crossed the plains. Traveling due west through Altus, they could see enough derelict remnants of the dust bowl to gain some appreciation of that great American tragedy. John wanted his children to feel the vastness of the Texas Panhandle and picture the difficulties and deprivations of the pioneers of such towns as Loco, Estelline, Turkey, Quitaque, Happy, and Ralph. When the children saw that the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River had less water than their front yard, they didn't think the Panhandle had much to recommend it even to the present inhabitants.

The irrigated high plains from Tulia to Amarillo looked more like farming areas of the midwest except for the scarcity of trees; but what really captured the family's fancy was the excellent West Texas State University Panhandle Plains Historical Museum at Canyon, Texas. This museum ranks high in preserving the culture of our western heritage. After a side trip into nearby Palo Duro Canyon State Park, they happened onto a fast-food outlet in Amarillo that has become a beacon for the family where ever they travel. As they entered the city in midafternoon, John asked Rita what type of food she favored at the moment. (He didn't crave icy steak this trip.) With little hesitation she said, "Mexican."

Two blocks down the street was the first Taco Bell they had ever seen. John recognized the motif of the California-based chain from an advertisement he had seen in The Wall Street Journal, and the whole family became instant fans of Taco Bell. (Eventually one was erected in Vicksburg, Mississippi, across the street from aunt Lula and Martha's old home; and the family would drive over occasionally to enjoy the fine food.)

From Amarillo John drifted northwest to Cal Farley's Boys Ranch at Tascosa on the north bank of the Canadian River. He wanted to visit the place himself; but, also, he wanted the children to realize that not all kids had the advantage of having parents. Upon seeing the fine, modern homes and excellent facilities provided at the Boys Ranch, the kids wondered whether the privileged youngsters were the ones out of the ranch or in it.

The sun would have been low in the sky had it not been obscured by dark clouds as the Fairlane rolled through Dalhart. Out on U.S. 87 in Dallam County, the sky turned an emerald green before loosing a torrential thunderstorm. The darkness and rain blotted out the center-pivot irrigation rigs that dotted the flat plains. Emerging from the storm into the glowing twilight gave the eerie sensation of seeing the dawn break in the west over Perico, Texas.

John had secretly planned to spend the night at the old railroad hotel in Texline where he had enjoyed breakfast in 1950; but the hotel had followed the fortunes of the railroads into decline and abandonment. The boarded-up relic was a sad commentary on the passing of an era. The town of Clayton, New Mexico, was only nine miles away, so it was the logical place to seek lodging. Almost every town in the western half of the United States has an annual rodeo, and half of these must fall around the Forth of July. Clayton was one of them. A rodeo is not just a one night stand, but a week long event. All the motels were full.

When John was single and drifting around the country with very little money, he found the hotels to be the bargain accommodations. So in the absence of alternatives, he parked in front of the old cow town hotel in the heart of Clayton. The clerk was in the bar that adjoined the lobby, but answered the desk bell and showed the travelers to an adequate, upstairs room. As John led Rita through the lobby and up the wide, carpeted stairs, her apprehension mounted. When she saw that the door in the end of the upstairs hall was at the head of an outside staircase, it soared. Actually, the traces of the hotel's former splendor had just faded, not entirely vanished. It was a good place to stay, and John and the kids were delighted, but all night long Rita expected a desperado to climb the back stairs and commit mayhem, at the very least. The all-night hooping and hollering and hot rodding of the modern cowboys did nothing to dispel her uneasiness.

On a bright, cool, Sunday morning, the sixth of July, the vacationers crossed the Santa Fe Trail just west of Clayton, passed the extinct volcanic cone, Capulin Mountain, and stopped in Raton just long enough to buy film before making a picnic breakfast in Raton Pass on the Colorado-New Mexico line. The campsite was on a mountain side overlooking the boundary fence stretching due west until it disappeared into the distance. After breakfast, John drove into Trinidad where the family attended Sunday School, as was their custom on Sunday morning.

Above Walsenburg he cut off the main highway to the west into San Isabel National Forest where supplies were purchased at lovely Lake Isabel for a picnic lunch. The weather in the mountains still had the raw coolness of spring, but a sheltered camp site was located beside a clear mountain stream where Rita could prepare Sunday dinner while the children scampered along the creek working off some of the pent up energy with which the young are so blest.

That afternoon after crossing the world's highest suspension bridge, across the Royal Gorge of the Arkansas River, the family rode the incline to the bottom of the gorge. The narrow bottom of this canyon is filled by the raging river and the tracks of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. As they walked out on the expanded metal observation platform above the tracks, John said, "Wouldn't this be a heck of a time for a train to come by?"

At that very instant the sound of a train whistle was heard above the roar of the river. As John flipped his camera into position, the twin diesels rounded the curve into view. He just had time to snap a picture before the engines rushed beneath the platform. A totally unexpected experience was in store for everyone directly above the tracks. Skirts went up in ladies' faces, and pants legs ballooned like tree trunks as the hot exhaust blasted upward from the giant stacks on top of the engines. Rita grabbed onto the nearest man--who was a total stranger--and John held Alison for fear she would be blown off the platform. Afterwards, everyone had a good laugh, but for a few moments there was a thoroughly frightened bunch of tourists clinging to the handrails.

The immediate destination was Buffalo Lodge on the the western city limits of Colorado Springs and practically in the beautiful Garden of the Gods. It was at this family, resort motel in 1964 that Alison (then almost six years old) nearly gave her daddy heart failure. On that occasion, as fast as they could don their swim suits after checking in, the kids made for the pool. Alison plunged, feet first, into water over her head. When John realized what had happened, her head was bobbing beneath the surface of the clear water. Reaching in frantically, he pulled her out by her hair. Luckily the incident didn't give Alison a fear of water, but she gave her parents a fright to last them for a while. Now, five years later, the kids did the same thing upon reaching the lodge, but by this time they were all good swimmers.

Adjacent to the motel grounds was a riding stable. Alison always loved horses, if possible, even more than other animals, so the first morning in Colorado springs the family went for an early trail ride through the unusual, red sandstone formations of the Garden of the Gods. They returned in time for a good pancake breakfast before driving to the summit of Pike's Peak. This toll road, although heavily traveled and well maintained, is not for the faint hearted driver. Summer had finally arrived in Colorado Springs, but on the mountaintop the temperature was down to freezing, and a brisk wind made it seem much colder. Of course, the sweaters were below in the motel. The views from the peak of the plains and mountains were magnificent and well worth a little temporary discomfort.

As John began the long descent from the famous mountain, Don and Alison yelled, "Wait for Todd!" The eight-year-old was trudging down to the first level of road below the peak with as large a chunk of red granite as he could manage. He had garnered the top of the rubble pile which comprises the tip of Pike's Peak. It is unlikely that souvenir hunters will materially diminish that 14,110 foot sentinel of the Rockies.

A very prominent sign warns the motorists as they leave the summit, "DO NOT PASS." No sooner had the Fairlane reached the first semblance of a straight spot in the narrow, gravel road than a young nincompoop in a small car roared around on the left and cut back in as he rushed down the steep grade. Hoping to teach the children a little safety lesson, John told them to take note of the car because he felt sure they would see it again before they reached the base of the mountain. There was a small ditch on the right to catch the runoff from the steep face of the mountain. The grader, in cleaning this ditch, had put a neat roll of gravel along the edge of the road. The reckless driver did not go far before he became high-centered on this rock pile with his right wheels dangling helplessly over the roadside ditch. (The left side of the road was bounded by only fresh air for several thousand feet down.) He didn't need John's toot on the horn as he passed to remind him of his foolishness. His wife, with her finger pointed in his face, was doing a thorough job of that.

One side trip began west of Colorado Springs through Wilkerson Pass, across the South Platte River, to Buena vista. Descending Trout Creek Pass, the Collegiate Peaks (Mt.s Princeton, Yale, and Harvard), all taller than Pike's Peak, were visible for miles. Turning north past the base of Mt. Elbert (14,431 ft.), John came to the old mining town of Leadville. After visiting Healy House, Dexter Cabin, and old mines of this once rip-roaring camp, the family stopped for another picnic lunch before climbing Fremont Pass. The vacation nearly ended on this grade. A pickup truck carrying a top-heavy camper and pulling a medium sized trailer had gained so much speed coming down the pass that it was very nearly out of control. The driver was fighting to stay on the road and reduce speed, but the tendency of the trailer to jackknife limited the amount of braking he could do. John saw his predicament and gave him all the road he could spare; but that very nearly wasn't enough. The vehicles almost traded mirrors as they met and passed.

Late afternoon found the Fairlane above 10,000 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park. There was still snow above timberline and several feet deep on the Continental Divide. In spite of many sightseeing stops in the park, there was enough daylight left of the long summer evening in which to locate a cozy log cabin by the Big Thompson River, after reaching Estes Park. When John checked in, the owner of the cabins told him that all guests were invited to the festivities at the recreation hall that night. After supper he, Rita, and the kids strolled down by the river to see what was going on. Square dance clubs from all over the country were gathered there with the world's champion square dance caller, and that night was one of the most enjoyable the family ever spent.

The ninth of July found the tourists at Central City poking around the old gold mines and the restored opulence of this former ghost town. Leaving there, they traveled one of John's favorite stretches of road anywhere: U.S. 6, west of Golden. (This canyon drive with its tunnels was one of the memorable spots on a trip he had driven in April, 1948, from Riverside, California, to New York City.) Emerging from this beautiful gorge, John carried the kids up Lookout Mountain to Buffalo Bill's grave and museum. From this reminder of the colorful past, they went directly to the capital for a guided tour and from there to Denver's ultra-modern shopping center, Cinderella City. For their last night in Colorado, they returned to the familiar Buffalo Lodge in Colorado Springs.

With only one week of vacation, it was time to start back towards home. The route to Pueblo and east along the Arkansas River was a familiar one. Everyone had their mouth set for some delicious Rocky Ford cantaloupes because they remembered how good they had been before. What a disappointment to find that a late frost had wiped out the year's melon crop. Even Kitty's Kitchen in Dodge City had changed hands; but John waited until the buffet restaurant opened for the evening, and his family were the first customers. They could not help being a little amused at (even though they sympathized with) another traveling mother who stuck her head in the door to see if the place was open for business. When the hostess asked if she would like to come in and try the fine smorgasbord, the lady quickly replied, "Oh, my children don't eat it."

After supper John drove south to a fine motel near the grave of Jesse Chisholm, at Seiling, Oklahoma. The owner-operators of this wayside inn furnished such niceties in the rooms as automatic water boiling carafes with instant coffee and cocoa. This was the Southerners' introduction to Carnation's Instant Hot Cocoa. (It had not appeared in the markets at home; but due to Rita's requests, it was available soon after her return.) After a good night's rest, they made straight for the capital at Oklahoma City. As opportunity presents itself, John takes the children on tours of the capitals of the states. They had enjoyed the guided tour of the mile-high capital in Denver, and now did the same at Oklahoma City. The noon stop was at McAlester; and early Friday night my folks were home again after an eight-day swing covering 3,178 miles.

That was about three thousand miles more than I moved all summer. But when school started in September, my time came again. Nevertheless, the Fairlane relieved me on 22,498 miles during that year. I missed the trips, but at my age it was kind of nice to share the work with the other vehicles. John's company Ranchero always accumulated about 20,000 miles per year, all of which he drove himself. Company policy was to trade vehicles every third year. John was so fond of the 1967 Ranchero, and it was so like new, that when 1970 came he held out for an exception to the policy and retained the little truck another year. At 83,000 miles, it was still a good vehicle when he traded it in on a 1971 model with air conditioning.

During the school years of 1969, '70, and '71, I was making the 100-mile trip to Monroe four nights a week, but doing very little else. The Fairlane did all the family running, and the Ranchero John's daily work routine. July, 1970, when it was family vacation time again, I sat at Tendal in the hot sun while the family went to Florida in the Fairlane. They left home on the third quite early in the morning. By noon they were in Montgomery, Alabama. As he usually does when near one of his old stations, John took Rita and the kids on a tour of Maxwell Air Force Base, where he was stationed in July, 1947.

Alpha and Eugene Kepler had returned to Maxwell and retired in Montgomery after their tour of duty in England. John phoned their home from the base, and Alpha said Eugene was at the base exchange picking up supplies for the weekend. Hurrying to the exchange, John found him in the check out line. Eugene invited his old friend and the family home for lunch. Don and Todd rode with Eugene in his Volkswagen as they led the others to a brief visit to Alabama's (and the Confederate States of America's) old capital, and then to the Kepler's home for lunch and a good visit. The kids lost no time in trying out the Kepler's back yard swimming pool. To them that pool was the official start of vacation.

As reluctant as he was to leave good company, Florida was the destination, so John had to drag the others out to the car in the early afternoon and head south. Later that afternoon, he picked up a visitor's pass at the gate at Fort Rucker and took a brief, nostalgic tour of that Army post where we had worked during the hot summer of 1959. The post was observing open house and had a variety of equipment on public display; but my folks had the Florida fever by now and did not tarry long. Darkness, hastened by gathering clouds, came while they were still in southern Georgia. The welcome to Florida was so unusual that it etched an otherwise lonely stretch of U.S. 27 on the memory of the children. As the headlights picked up the large sign bidding "Welcome to the Sunshine State", it was almost obliterated by a cloudburst. The car passed from dry pavement to a flood precisely on the Florida-Georgia line. The famous liquid sunshine did not dampen the spirits of the visitors, however. When Don saw the strings of huge bass displayed at the motel in Tallahassee that night, he was ready to stay right there for his entire vacation.

Owen and Celia Moore and their four children had moved to Lake City, Florida, from Louisiana a few years earlier, and this trip was the first opportunity the two families had had to visit since their migration. On the morning of the Fourth of July, after a stop at Suwanee River State Park, the Lewises found their way to the home of these dear friends. The two families joined for a day's outing and picnic at Blue Springs, one of the many spots in Florida where rivers begin from holes in the limestone subsoil gushing forth millions of gallons of cold, clear water daily. The active youngsters braved the icy water and swam while the adults settled for walking along the raised boardwalk that bordered the meandering stream to its confluence with a larger river. That night, back in Lake City, Celia whipped up a delicious meal to go with the thick steaks Owen grilled; and after a fine dinner, the young folks and the parents separated to catch up on their visiting before retiring.

After breakfast on the fifth, the Lewis family bade the Moores farewell and traveled on south. At Gainesville they took the time to swing through the campus of the University of Florida, then moved eastward to pass through the piney woods by the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Down U.S. 301 near Citra, a refreshment stop marked the entrance to the famous, central Florida citrus belt. The small juice stand was set right in the orange grove. A fascinating, Rube Goldberg-style machine split the ripe oranges in half, then squeezed the halves separately, but simultaneously, into a single glass. All the attendant had to do was place the glass into position and push the button. The oranges fed automatically from a bulk hopper overhead. For those not interested in the method of extraction, they could still enjoy the delicious, fresh juice.

The Louisiana tourists arrived in Ocala in time for church, and they joined a considerable number of the congregation in a rush to Morrisons Cafeteria for lunch immediately afterwards. On a previous trip, John had spent the night in Ocala and had carried his family on a cruise in the glass-bottomed boats (made by Delcraft in Delhi, Louisiana), so he did not want to use a half day of this trip on the same attraction. But Silver Springs is so beautiful that it demanded a short visit, at least. One of the many beds of flowers in bloom, even in July, was a patch of marigolds dedicated to the late Senator Everett Dirksen, who had championed this lowly flower as his favorite.

The afternoon trip to Orlando was to size up the city as a possible site for relocation, but the area was between booms at the time, so John drifted on down through Kissimmee (Florida's cow town) to Lake Wales. He wanted to be in Mountain Lake Sanctuary when the carillon of the Singing Tower sounded evening vespers. This beautiful, marble tower sits on the highest spot in Florida, mirrored in a reflection pool surrounded by live oaks and flowers. John had hitchhiked to this spot in 1946 and thought the beauty and serenity worth revisiting. It was.

Early in the afternoon, the family checked into the Sheraton Inn smack in the gate of Cypress Gardens. The children raced for the Olympic-sized pool where they swam while their parents drove off to explore the area and pick up fruits and milk to replenish the food hamper. Next morning after breakfast, a short walk across the lawn put the family into beautiful Cypress Gardens in plenty of time to wander through the gardens by foot and boat before the first of the famous shows began. This colorful, spectacular, ski show was a thrill to watch. None of the tourists jamming the stands for this exhibition of talent went away disappointed.

The Lewises hurried over to Lakeland to Florida Southern College to see the campus designed by none other than the dean of American architects, Frank Lloyd Wright. From there it was a short run on I-4 to the newly opened Busch Gardens at Tampa, where a variety of attractions await the tourist; but in this particular July afternoon the sun was almost too hot to enjoy anything that was not in the shade. Crossing old Tampa Bay to Clearwater, John turned north to the old sponge exchange and port of Tarpon Springs to see this little spot of Greek America. By the time he had driven back through St. Petersburg to the bay, darkness had fallen, so he stopped for the night at the Sheraton Motor Inn overlooking Tampa Bay.

The first sight to greet the travelers next morning was the high, arching span of the Sunshine Skyway that carries U.S. 19 in its curving flight over the entrance to the bay. Under construction at the time was a twin to this fifteen-mile bridge, so that soon each would carry only one-way traffic. In Sarasota, a pancake house caught the eye of the whole family almost at once. Everybody wanted pancakes. Don and his daddy should have known better by this time. Still, the good luck at Colorado Springs had raised their hopes. There was no luck this time. One lonely little waitress was trying to serve an entire restaurant. At least breakfast set a new record that morning--for the longest time to get served. Todd's pancake came with jelly bean eyes, nose, and mouth. Perhaps that artistry is what took half a morning.

At Fort Myers the whole family thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated a tour of the home and museum of one of John's all-time heroes, Thomas Alva Edison. So many of the mementos of the life and inventions of this genius are there that it seems incredible that it is only one of several museums filled with the works of the great man. Not the least of the attractions at Fort Meyers site is the giant banyan tree which Harry Firestone brought, as a small plant, to his friend, Edison, from India.

A few miles west of Fort Myers was the true destination of the trip, as far as Rita was concerned: Sanibel Island. The curving strip of sand guarding the western end of the Okeechobee Waterway is considered the American Mecca for sea shell collectors. The Beachview Resort Motel, on the Gulf side of the island, had all the aspects of a tropical paradise that the children could hope for. The graceful coco palms shaded the screen porch of the cabana; the beach was a solid row of clean, colorful shell; the blue Gulf water was clean and warm; and for diving, there was a small, fresh water pool. The whole family swam by day and combed the beach by moonlight. One of their choice vacation spots, no matter how many other places they might visit, will always be Sanibel Island.

Passing up the Everglades Parkway (Alligator Alley) for the old Tamiami Trail, the Louisianians poked through the Everglades, taking the twenty-five mile loop south at Monroe Station through some of the loneliest road in Florida. On this narrow strip through the giant, borderless river of the glades, the Fairlane surprised a family of raccoons fishing from the edge of the road. The old mother 'coon jumped into the water, but her four youngsters shinnied up a small tree, to the great delight of Alison, who thought the only logical thing to do was take them for pets. That is why kids have parents, to veto such impulses.

Skirting Miami for a day and heading on south, a super fruit stand was soon encountered which Rita could not resist. She loaded up on fresh fruit while John took pictures of the young mango grove, loaded with its first crop, across the road. At Florida City he turned towards Everglades National Park to enter the park again, this time through the main visitors center. At Mahogany Hammock, a long boardwalk carried the visitors to one of the few stands of native mahogany in the United States. As if to accommodate the intruders to his domain, a large alligator nosed up to one of the walks, much to the delight of the photographers in the crowd. Before leaving the park, the family made use of one of the picnic areas for another lunch under the pines, and for this one they had fresh mangos for desert.

When they returned to U.S. 1, Rita expected to turn north again, but John swung south toward the Keys. Twenty-four years earlier he had made the trip on the overseas highway, and just didn't see how he could say he had showed the kids Florida without them seeing Key West and the scenic drive by which the motorist arrives. The series of bridges linking the Keys were originally build by Flagler for his Florida East Coast Railroad that reached Key West in 1912; but a hurricane in 1935 destroyed much of the track, so the pilings were used to support a wider roadbed for the southern extension of U.S. 1. About half the trip from the mainland to Key West is over water, and the individual Keys have such varied character that there are new sights to vie for the tourist's interest every mile of the way.

Key West Island is so crowded with the city of Key West and several naval installations that it has limited appeal to one accustomed to wide open spaces, but John decided to spend the night there anyway. He left the kids at the motel to swim while he took Rita to dine in a seafood restaurant overlooking the water. The atmosphere in the motel area where they spent the night was such that John refused the first rooms he was shown and demanded a room that he felt was a little more secure. Years in the service and overseas had made him plenty cautious about where he slept. The next morning when he arose early to pack to leave, his suspicions proved well founded. An unwary midwestern tourist in another room had also gotten up early; but all his credit cards and money were gone, and he found his empty wallet lying in the shallow water off the end of the pier. To add to his frustration of being robbed while he slept, he could not even interest the motel manager nor the police in his plight. He was a long way from home to be broke. The Lewises were not reluctant to leave key West. The only way to go from there was toward home. The only stop on the Keys going north was at Islamorada for some Key lime pie.

Coral Gables had been home to John for a brief time in 1947, so he cut through the University of Miami campus to show his family the old landmark that was once the fabulous Biltmore Hotel, and later a U.S. Air Force hospital, where he underwent surgery and a most enjoyable convalescence. The grand structure had been converted to a V.A. hospital and looked much the worse for wear by 1970; but John could recall the many movies he had seen there (particularly Song of the South); the radio show, Doctor I.Q.; the visit by comedian Danny Kaye; and the visit of Sophie Tucker when she presented the patients with autographed copies of her book, Some of These Days. The children could not understand why it took so long for their daddy to look at an old hotel that had no visible sign of Activity. As he drove silently through the fashionable residential areas of Coral Gables towards Miami Beach, he hoped that they might never fully comprehend--but chances are good that they will someday.

A trip across Biscayne Bay via Rickenbacker Causeway landed the tourists at Seaquarium, an enjoyable combination of marine zoo, amusement park, and trained animal show. It was necessary to recross the bay to Miami and cross again to reach Miami Beach. This fabulous strip of ocean front hotels and condominiums cannot be believed without being seen. In spite of the rush hour traffic, John cruised the full length of this 20th century marvel of cosmopolitan megapolis and was glad to know it ended somewhere up the coast. Before he reached the end, however, he had cause to wonder. Fort Lauderdale had grown from the sleepy county seat he had known in 1946 until it had met Miami Beach as they simply engulfed the little towns in between.

One of the surprises John had planned for the family at Fort Lauderdale was a tour of the Cunard liner, Queen Elizabeth. although they got to see this majestic lady, there were twenty minutes too late to go aboard. A few miles up the coast was John's old home of 1946-47, Boca Raton. The lonely beach to which he had walked so many times to swim in the blue Atlantic was totally obscured by high-rise Holiday Inns, Howard Johnsons, and other familiar names. At Delray Beach, John sought out one of the older, operator owned motels on old U.S. 1, where the tired sightseers bedded down for the night.

In spite of Tom Wolfe's warning that "You can't go home again," there is a strong tendency to try. On July 10, John returned to Boca Raton. It was there in a collection of tar paper shacks that thousands of young G.I.'s spent miserable months in radar school. This was where John got his valuable training that enabled him to have a good career in electronics. It was also where he had to pull K.P. from 2 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. only to be awakened at 2 a.m. the next morning to do the same thing again. Driving around the site of the old base, he found very few buildings left by which to get his bearings. The hurricane of 1947 had removed many of the tar paper shacks, and the sand knolls had been covered with family dwellings. The old "H" shaped, concrete block, GCA school was still there, but it had been converted to a group of apartments. Where the flight line had been stood the gleaming new buildings of Florida Atlantic University.

The whole strip of Florida's east coast along Florida A1A might just as well be Miami beach for all the difference the traveler can see until he comes to Palm Beach, where he is greeted by a quiet elegance that has remained sedately the same through all the post-war building craze that has swept the lower coast. Worth Avenue continues to be lined with prestigious shops, some of which open and close with the season, where a dress marked one-half price might still cost $200 or more. In spite of the toll taken by the hurricanes, there are still enough coco and royal palms lining the boulevards and estates to retain the atmosphere of a true tropical paradise. Palm Beach's reputation in this respect has not been hurt by the attestation of scores of the wealthiest people in the world who, having no limitation whatsoever, have chosen this small city as their permanent home.

Fortunately for the visitor, the most elegant of the mansions, Whitehall, has been opened to the public as the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum in memoriam to this visionary who made, not only Palm Beach, but the whole east coast of Florida accessible via his Florida East Coast Railroad. The "Taj Mahal of North America" was constructed in only eight months. It cost $2,500,000 plus another $1,500,000 in furnishings--in 1900. John's children could appreciate the grandeur and beauty of this magnificent edifice, and he could show them some of the finest old-world art treasures without the expense of a trip to Europe. At every opportunity John takes his family through homes that, because of their history, size, fame, or beauty, are open to the public, and he thinks it no discredit to any other to say that Whitehall may be the grandest in America. On the grounds of the home, by beautiful Lake Worth, the kids were able to tour Mr. Flagler's private railroad car, The Rambles. This 1886 home on wheels carried the magnate into Key West on the first train to reach there in 1912.

Leaving Palm Beach, there was a slight urgency to cover some miles, for the week was nearly gone, and Tendal was a long way off. Nevertheless, John could not resist another of Florida's attractive fruit stands offering all the orange juice one could drink for just ten cents. Shortly after leaving the fruit stand, he encountered one of the torrential downpours which are so common in tropical thunderstorms. The sky was so black and the rain so heavy that driving was difficult even with the headlights on. Some motorists simply pulled off to the side of U.S. 1 until the storm passed--which did not take very long.

At Melbourne, John took the short causeway across Indian River to the slender strip of outer bank, Merritt Island. Patrick Air Force Base now occupied the site of the old Banana River Naval Air Station, where John used to visit Kenneth Floyd when he was a Marine guard at that quiet, beautiful post. Of course the space program changed all that serene isolation. Cape Canaveral, immediately above Cocoa Beach, burst at the seams with the race for space that flooded the Cocoa area with engineers, scientists, and technicians from the late fifties through the late sixties. By 1970, however, the bubble had burst, and the cape was left with another cycle of abandoned real estate. Todd was a member of the space age generation that grew up with Walter Cronkite narrating our trips to the moon, and he, particularly, was thrilled with the visit to the NASA Spacecraft and John F. Kennedy Space Center. To John it brought a nagging wistfulness because he had elected to forego a part in the great space effort in favor of picking up chunks of wood from the newground of the Mississippi River floodplain. Oh well, people have to eat, even on the moon, and the astronauts haven't found any food yet except that grown on the planet Earth.

Before dark John had located a reasonable motel in Daytona Beach, with easy access to the smooth, white beach. No one was in swimming, so this oddity caused him to inquire of a policeman the reason for this famous beach being deserted. He explained that a bather had been killed by lightning the previous week, and since then it had been easier to keep people out of the water when there was danger of thunderstorms. That'll do it alright.

Sitting in the motel that night, John told Don to get the maps out and plan a way to get home in one day. At seven the next morning they took a farewell ride along the beach so Alison could collect a jug of the fine sand to carry home with her and headed for Louisiana. Since Marineland of Florida and the old city of St. Augustine had been visited in 1966, John skipped these attractions, picked up I-95 north, switched to I-10 in Jacksonville to reach I-75 at Welborn, and didn't stop at all until they reached the Georgia Welcome Station at Lake Park. As soon as he could coax the girls aboard, he hit the interstate again to U.S. 82. at Tifton. The first fuel stop was at Ty Ty, Georgia; the second in Alabama; and the last one in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Even after a stop for groceries in Tallulah, the family piled into Tendal long before dark. They had made the 765 miles from Daytona Beach, on a Saturday, between sun up and sun down. I probably could have done it, but I'll have to admit that my folks were probably more comfortable with the air conditioner in the Fairlane; and the sixteen miles per gallon that my 1968 cousin delivered for the entire 2,964 mile trip was not too bad for hauling five people at a pretty brisk clip most of the way.