The trip across half of the U.S. occurred in 1956 in a 1953 Chevrolet sedan when few cars were equipped with air conditioning. The five passengers were all tall. My mother and aunt were both 5’11” women. My sister, who had just completed her freshman year at the University of Kansas, was almost 6’ tall. My cousin Steve, 6’5” tall, had just completed his freshman year at St. Louis University on a basketball scholarship. I had graduated in June from KU before the early August trip and was 5’9”. We all had long legs.
I was the reason for the trip. Shortly before graduation, I had visited with a representative from the Portland, Ore., school district who had come to KU to recruit teachers. Surprising everyone and myself, I signed a contract to teach that coming school year in a Portland public elementary school. The salary, $3,700 for the school year, was higher than even the Johnson County schools and it sounded like a great adventure. When I called my parents to tell them, they said, “You’re going to teach WHERE?” At the time I signed I didn’t know if anyone else from KU had signed a contract. I soon found out that a student from Ashland, with whom I had had some classes, had also signed a contract. She and I decided we would live together in Portland.
Since I didn’t own a car, my mother and aunt volunteered to drive me to Portland in my parents’ five-passenger Chevy. My sister and cousin wanted to accompany us. I required a trunk and other luggage to transport my clothing and belongings; the other three each had a suitcase for their necessary clothing and items.
On Aug. 1, we loaded everything into the trunk of the car and a luggage carrier on top of the car and started off on U.S. Highway 36, traveling across Missouri, Kansas and Colorado to the Rocky Mountains, up to and across Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Oregon to Portland. Since the Interstate highway system was just beginning to be built, most of the trip was on 2-lane highways at speeds seldom exceeding 55 mph.
Crossing the plains in the heat of August and accommodating the long legs of three people in the cramped quarters of the back seat was a challenge. Most of the time, unless it was raining, the back windows were down with the legs and feet of the person on each side of the back seat stuck out of a window. The driver and front seat passenger were able to stay a little more comfortable with more leg room and with wing windows to bring in the air. (Why did auto makers take out wing windows in vehicles?? I continue to be mad about this. With wing windows we would be able to drive until late in the spring without turning on the air conditioning.)
The trip included sightseeing along the way and the need to break up the time in the car. There were at least five overnight stays: Mid-Kansas, Colorado (and wading in a couple of mountain streams), the Grand Teton Mts. (swimming in ice cold Jenny Lake) and staying in the newly opened Jackson Lake Lodge with its amazing several stories high windows looking out on the Tetons, Missoula, Mont., somewhere between there and Portland. We have always referred to this experience as “The Trip of the Feet Out the Window.”
When we arrived in Portland we met Donna and her parents. We were introduced to two other new teachers from Drake University in Iowa. In looking for a place we could all live together, we learned that a professor at Portland State U. was going on sabbatical for a year. He and his wife wanted to rent their two bedroom furnished house for the year and we four female teachers were acceptable to them. There will be more to come about the year in a later column.
Sue Ice is no longer able to get her legs and feet up to stretch them out of a car window. What happened during the aging process?