On Saturday 21 August 1965 the journey by car began. Peter, Julian and I set off from the Plaza Hotel, Milwaukee in the 1957 Buick and drove the 70 miles to Madison.
We spent that day based at Nigel’s godfathers home. Prof Austin Ranney. We went shopping and each bought a pillow, a blanket and a rectangular piece of foam 6ft by 3ft and about half an inch thick! I’m not sure whose bright idea it was, but we thought that if we were to sleep in a camp site, without a tent, this kit would be ideal as long as it didn’t rain. If it rained we could get back into the Buick!
We were entertained and fed well by the Ranneys and we slept on the floor with our new kit.
Next day we were on our way, aiming west. We had decided that we would drive in rotation, for no more than 2 hours for each driver. We drove for 500 miles that day, but had difficulty in finding a campsite. What we did find, and we regularly used them thereafter, was a roadside park. A lay-by off the main highway, with picnic benches. They were useful, because if it rained we could sleep under them.
We were aiming for the Badlands and Mount Rushmore. We went through or round, La Crosse, Minneapolis/St Paul and Sioux Falls before arriving at the Badlands National Park.
And then we arrived at Mount Rushmore which needs no explanation.
We had travelled from the state of Wisconsin through Minnesota, then South Dakota and into Wyoming. Yellowstone Park was the first major target. The Park is largely in the north west corner of Wyoming but it extends into Montana and Idaho.
The scenery on the way to Yellowstone was stunning – miles and miles of prairie interspersed with small towns. We drove over the Bighorn Mountains at 9,000 feet, through Cody (named after Buffalo Bill Cody), and then some glaciated valleys before arriving at Yellowstone. We managed to rent a cabin for the night.
We spent the next day exploring the Park, the lakes, the canyons and the geysers. Old Faithful is the star of the volcanic areas.
There was plenty of wildlife in Yellowstone. We remained in the car whenever bears approached us.
It was time to move south. The next target was Salt Lake City. We drove through the Teton National Park where the superb Jackson and Jenny Lakes sat amongst the mountain ranges. We then had a long trek down the west side of Idaho, through Alpine and over two 6,000 ft high passes and then into Idaho.
Shortly before we reached Montpelier we found a superb camp site with fire places where we lit a fire and cooked our evening meal. We then pitched down around the fire but we all woke a couple of hours later covered in dew. By 5.30am we were on our way again.
We kept driving south through small townships into Utah and then the larger towns of Logan and Brigham. At lunchtime on 26 August 1965 we arrived at Salt Lake City.
It was hilarious. It was hot. We were hot. We found somewhere to park by the lake and changed into our swimming trunks. People were staring at us as we rushed into the water. We thought it was our long hair (because American men at that time all had crew cuts). We dived in only to find that the lake was indeed salty. Painful to the eyes, nose and lips.
Once we had sorted ourselves out and stopped splashing we found we could enjoy the sensation of being able to raise our legs and arms without sinking. It would have been easy for us to lie on our back and read a newspaper.
After showering and lunch we started the trek through the Salt Lake Desert. We then had a four hour drive through prairie and mountains and more desert before arriving at Elko and then Carlin where we stayed the night.
Next day we circled Reno and aimed for Sacramento.
We were in California!
We decided on a roadside rest area just south of Sacramento for our night stop but it turned out to be a poor choice. Cars were coming and going all night with the young lovers of Sacramento spending time there in their cars.
Next day we ventured into San Francisco via San Rafael and the Golden Gate.
We explored the city and found ourselves in the wrong place at one stage. A man lying in the gutter had clearly been stabbed in the chest. Much blood. But we found our way to Chinatown and we rode a cable car and behaved as tourists should.
We then set off down Highway #1 which runs down the Californian coast. We were aiming for a town named Salinas. We wanted to arrive there the next day. At one point we saw, from a cliff top, a beach with massive waves crashing on to the sand. We decided to stop and we played cricket and football on the beach and we risked swimming. The waves knocked us down and threw us about but it was great fun.
On my voyage to New York on Queen Mary I had met Corky who was a tearaway young Californian from Salinas. I forget his surname. He always seemed to find the prettiest (and the wealthiest) girls on the ship. He said that if we managed to get ourselves to California we should visit him and his family in Salinas.
That evening Peter and I left the beach and went in search of food and a telephone box so that we could speak to Corky and see if a visit the next morning was suitable. Yes that would be great he said.
Peter and I returned to the beach to find that Julian and Nigel had collected piles of wood from the beach and had a great fire going in a little cove sheltered by a huge rock. We ate by the fire and slept by it and during the night if we woke we put more wood on to keep it going.
Next morning we drove to Salinas, arriving there at about 10.00. I rang Corky to get directions to his parents home. Terrible news. Corky had had an accident that night, had driven over a 200 foot cliff and was in hospital. There had been 2 others in the car, one unhurt and the other in hospital as well. The family insisted that we had breakfast with them which we did.
After breakfast, a friend of Corky drove us to Carmel and then to the hospital. Corky was in poor shape with chest injuries, a swollen face and a broken arm. We stayed for about half an hour and were then taken to the home of an uncle (a hard nosed former FBI cop) where we had lunch with 10 of the family. Two large meals in one day! They looked after us really well.
Next stop was Big Sur where there was a large campsite and music and a dance floor but no girls of the right age, so we all went to bed.
The aim next day was to get to LA and drive through it and then on down to Newport Beach. Nigel’s godfather from Wisconsin, Austin Ranney, had a beach house on Newport Beach where we were promised a floor and a couch to rest at night.
All we had was a telephone number. We found a public telephone box, which was being used by a number of girls. On learning that we were English, they invited us to their house on 50th Street. Before we did that we found Austin Ranneys house, showered and changed and went to 50th Street to find 11 girls and 2 chaperones (mothers). We spent much of the next few days on the beach with the girls!
We then heard that a friend of Austin Ranney was happy to have us to stay for the next few days. The family had a beautiful house in the Newport Beach area. I failed to make a note of his name but we knew that he was Vice Chancellor of the University of California – Irvine. I have googled him and found that he was Jack Peltason. The Irvine campus had only just been set up when we were there, but Jack became the first VC and in 1984 he became the Chancellor and then President of the whole of the University of California between 1992 and 1995.
Why this eminent academic would agree to house four long haired young Englishmen I know not. He had 3 children and on the first night the eldest, Nancy and a girlfriend took us all to Balboa Island – a popular rendezvous for youngsters. They were all a little young for us!
The next day we had the car serviced, to ensure that it was ready for the 3000 miles trip across the US. Nancy showed us round the new Irvine campus before she and her father flew to Illinois where she was about to start her first year at University.
The lure of the 11 girls at 50th Street took us back there for the rest of the day, but we said goodbye to them and to the Peltasons and set off for Las Vegas. We had had wonderful hospitality in Newport Beach and a memorable week.
I will now write the story of the journey going east, much of it along Route 66.