Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Early Days of American Roadtrips: Part 1

My kids come from a long line of young travelers. I've always been amazed that my husband visited six continents during his childhood starting in the early 1970s when he was 5-years-old. But now that I'm a mother, I'm even more impressed that my in-laws were able to haul their four boys along on these international adventures, all without a single handheld electronic gaming device. I still need to find out my mother-in-law's secret to splitting the family across 3 hotel rooms on different floors (with the parents staying together in one room no less), in countries where they don't speak the language, and still being able to get everyone ready in the morning. I picture her doing this while looking as elegant and well-coiffed as Grace Kelly, not the frazzled, crazy-haired mom that I become while traveling.

My dear mother-in-law, Rose Marie, started her traveling days as a child, too. It seems that the wanderlust gene runs strong in the family. She's the only person I know who's been to all 50 of the United States, and she checked most of them off the list as a youngster.

1949 - Rose Marie and her sister, Norma, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, far from their home in Houston, Texas

In this day and age, you read blog posts giving tips on how to prepare for your own roadtrip. Bring a GPS; have enough chargers for your Nintendo DS, iPads, cell phones, and laptops; and trawl Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other blogs for recommendations of where to visit, stay and eat. Remember to purposely set aside family time in the car when everyone isn't isolated within their own electronic device cocoon.

But what about the early days of the Great American Roadtrip? What was that like? Rose Marie shares her story with us of heading out on the open road when she was the young one along for the ride. Here's the first part of her tale. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Traveling with my Father

From the ages of 12 to 22 years covering 1946 to 1956, I traveled each summer from our home in Houston, Texas with my parents and sister visiting 46 of the 48 states, 9 provinces of Canada and 14 states of Mexico. We traveled by car for two to three weeks during my father’s vacation. Several trips included our paternal grandmother or two of Mother’s sisters. Each trip was an adventure of discovery, education and pleasure that gave me a perpetual love of travel.

Altogether, we were a compatible group of travelers. Mother and Daddy were always kind to each other; Norma and I were very comfortable occupying the same space; our other companions were either witty, little Grandma or our charming and entertaining Aunt Agatha and quiet Aunt Louise.

Early trips were made in their 1938 Chevrolet
(Can anyone help us identify this location?)

Preparation for each trip started with Daddy making weekly visits to our neighborhood Carnegie Branch Library where he would check out three books: one relating to our next trip, one a book of poems, and another one of a current interest. When his destinations were chosen, he would write to Conoco Oil Company for a Touraide booklet which would have pages of maps with road conditions, recommendations for the best route to take and information about cities and sites along the way. These booklets were essential to our trips and Daddy was grateful for them.

Next concern was his car. Our first three trips were made in a 1938 black Chevrolet. It was old but had been well maintained. The old car, of course, didn’t have air conditioning, heater or a radio. The windows were rolled up and down by the passengers. On traveling afternoons when our interest in driving might be dwindling, Daddy would sing songs from the 1920’s to entertain us. Another substitute for the radio was storytelling. Daddy, Grandma Josie and Aunt Agatha were the best at it.

Subsequent trips were made in a 1950 Chevrolet sedan, two-toned with a blue-gray top and cream colored lower half. There was a radio but air conditioning was not available yet.

1954 - Rose Marie and the two-toned 1950 Chevrolet in front of the Chicago skyline

The roads we traveled varied a great deal and lodgings did also. Daddy managed the big city highways, as well as, the meandering country roads. He enjoyed all the turnpikes and toll roads, mainly in the East but also the Overseas Highway in Florida and the beautiful highway that followed the Pacific coast. He also enjoyed driving in the mountains; we would squeal on the hairpin turns but Daddy kept steadily taking all the curves. Basically, he just loved to drive and would sing, “Pack up all my cares and woes; here I go singing low– bye, bye, blackbird…” We were very confident riders.

Daddy would calculate all expenses including gasoline, meals, lodging and incidentals. He economized on meals using the kitchen in the car trunk which consisted of a black cardboard suitcase with plates, cups, utensils and pans; a small green ice chest and a very small Sterno stove. Our breakfast, usually cereal and milk, was eaten in our rooms. Lunch or supper would be at a cafeteria or restaurant in a city and the other meal would be sandwiches at a roadside park or even on a beach.

Although our destinations were planned from the beginning, reservations were never made. We stayed in small tourist courts, motels, hotels, lodges, National Park cabins, etc. All were carefully chosen by Daddy and approved by Mother before we would spend the night.

Grandma Josie [great-great-grandma to the Malaysian Meanders kids] and Rose Marie at a typical tourist court

Mother prepared our clothes for the trips. Daddy’s outer wardrobe was ironed cotton, short sleeved sport shirts, gray slacks, black shoes and socks, a suit, and his summer straw hat. Mother had cotton or voile dresses, black pumps, stockings, a purse and her straw church hat. Norma and I had dresses, skirts, blouses, blue jeans, loafers and socks, sandals and hats or scarves. (After 12 years of age, Daddy approved of our wearing shorts only at home, our bayhouse or at the beach in Galveston.) Sweaters or jackets were included for everyone since most places were cooler than Houston in the summer. I brought books to read and one year, a lace capelet that I had made and was adorning with beads and sequins.

Daddy [great-grandpa to the Malaysian Meanders kids] and Grandma Josie in Langtry, Texas
[Editor's Note: Check out their traveling attire. Fancy! ]

Altogether, I made eleven trips with my family before marrying. All were wonderful. Some are more memorable than others. I was so excited about the first one;  I was twelve years old and had never been out of Texas. We were going to Detroit, Michigan to visit Mother’s sister, Erna, and her German-born husband, Ludger, an automotive design engineer at General Motors.

Daddy had us start this first trip and every one after, very early on the first day. We were awakened at 3:30 a.m. for a 4:30 a.m. start. I took a little notepad planning to write every detail. After day one, this plan was abandoned, and I just enjoyed the ride and all the sites. We saw so many cities that I’d heard about – Little Rock, Arkansas state capitol, then St. Louis, Missouri where Mother in her 20’s had visited her cousin, Marie Busch, the widow of one of Adolphus’ sons, who lived with her children in a house on the [Anheuser-Bush] brewery property.

Next stop was Chicago, Illinois where we stayed on the outskirts of town in a small hotel, a first for me. The bathroom were down the hall on each floor. Mother took a chair and sat outside the bathrooms when Norma or I were using the facilities. Chicago itself was awesome! Lake Michigan, the Natural History Museum, Aquarium and Planetarium were all firsts for me.

Finally came Detroit and staying at Aunt Erna’s house with a basement and cherry trees growing in the yard. Uncle Ludger took us to Greenfield Village and a docent told us stories about the historic buildings. We went to see a radio show, “The Lone Ranger”; took a trip to Windsor, Canada and another one on a boat to Sandusky, Ohio. Mackinac Island was also a favorite for Norma and me.

After each trip when we were back at home, Daddy would trace our journey onto a very large map attached to the garage wall. Each trip was marked with a different color and the map was crisscrossed many times over. It brought Daddy such pleasure to remember his time with us and all that we had seen and experienced. What an education he had given us! What precious memories!

 - Rose Marie

July 2013 - Rose Marie and her sister, Norma, today

Many thanks to Rose Marie for writing this. I hope that you enjoyed it as much as my own family has. Part 2 will go into more details about subsequent trips along American roadways.

Related Post
Part 2 of The Early Days of American Roadtrips
International Air Travel in 1958

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursdays on Budget Travelers Sandbox, "Oh the Places I've Been" at The Tablescaper, "Best of the USA" at The Traveling Praters, and "Friday Daydreamin'" at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-word travel inspiration.



  1. I so much enjoyed hearing about these early travels of your mother-in-law. What wonderful places I am sure she has been to. And she looks amazing today. Good to see your family is keeping up the travelling heritage.
    Have a great weekend ahead, happy travels, and thank you for stopping by my blog today.

  2. Very cool, yes travel was so different and proper back then, unlike when I travel with my parents in a 1970s dodge dart and camped all across the USA :)

  3. Hats off to your mother-in-law! I also can't imagine what it would be like to travel with 4 kids. Yikes!

  4. What a wonderful story and your kids are going to appreciate so much that it has been recorded on your blog! Love that they have some photographs from their travels when it was far less common to record everything on film. Looking forward to part 2!

  5. Hi Michelle, what a delightful read! Such a wonderful childhood memories rich with travels. It's great to know how they planned and traveled way back when there were no GPS and internet. Everything back then seemed slow, focused, sweet and elegant. How time has changed. It's amazing how the love for travel gets imbedded in the genes, and it's a great genes to have. So your kids are lucky:) I can't wait to read part II of Rose Marie's story. You'e right, she looks great and elegant.

  6. So pretty. Your mum looks like she straight out of an old movie.

  7. I read every word of this post and loved it so much. Travelling is a wonderful thing for a family to do together and a great way to learn geography.

  8. What a great read! Your kids are so lucky to have inherited the wanderlust genes and to have these memories of their grandma to read. I loved how they traveled in style. Reading these stories really makes us appreciate what they accomplished. Kudos to your MIL for managing to travel with 4 boys back then. Yes, please share her secret when you find out. Looking forward to Part II.

  9. Gosh that was the most amazing Child hood experiences with her Family, I really liked how her Grandma's traveled with them. Rose-Marie sure visited a lot of places with Her Dad and her Mum. They sound like such loving parents, and it does go to show that travel is possible without technology!
    How good was he to plan it all out, and to work out the cost of each trip!

  10. i loved this post! The detail you provided feels like a history lesson - yet it wasn't long ago. Sounds to me you were very lucky to have the parents you had - and to hear the amount of planning that went into the trip and what your dad did to pull it all off is fantastic. My father had zero interest in traveling, my mother some so I forged ahead on my own with travel. I don't think though I created quite the amazing travel memories for my kids as your family did for yours. Also love, love the photographs.

  11. What a great read! I always enjoy seeing Rose Marie and Norma and now I feel like I've gotten a little glimpse into their past. Can't wait to read part two. I love that you are capturing this history to pass onto the kiddos. I need to do the same.

  12. What a great family relic to have! Rose Marie is a great storyteller. And it's very interesting to see her picture of Chicago back in the day. My, how things have changed!

  13. How lucky that Rose Marie was able to have all of these great trips with her family. Of course, what is doubly nice is that she can share her wonderful memories!

  14. I really enjoyed reading this post. What an amazing tale of family history that you'll be able to treasure for years to come.

    All I could think of was how much work a road trip would have been at that time. How spoiled we have become!

    I can't wait to read Part 2!

  15. Absolutely loved this - wonderfully told and fabulous black-and-white images.

  16. Found this from the Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet and WOW - what a wonderful story and I love the old photos. Seems to really capture the moments and takes us back in time. I hope one day we can have the same sort of stories with our children.

  17. I love this post and the level of detail is fantastic. I vividly remember road trips my family took when I was a kid. The photos really bring this journey to life.

  18. Fascinating!!!!! I LOVED reading this and am so happy you linked it up this week!!!


I read each and every comment. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Comment moderation is on, so your comment may not appear immediately.

Web Analytics