That was a question posed by Paul on the CB radio as we drove our stock '55 and '56 Chevys back to Orange County, California, from a Chevy show in Santa Maria, California, in March 2004. It didn't take me long to respond, "You son of a gun, you're thinking of driving these cars back home?"
Home to me is Hayden, Indiana, where I left the farm for college in 1960; home for Paul is Pepperell, Massachusetts. We had both moved our families to California in the 1960s-he to Downey, and me to Anaheim. We had driven and flown back to our hometowns through the years, first following Route 66, then later the interstates, but never in vintage Chevys. After some thought, we agreed to drive back home. We began making plans to visit friends and family along the way. In the meantime, Paul traded his '55 Chevy for an original '57 Chevy convertible, had it repainted, installed a new top, and made it road-worthy.
As we told friends about our planned 40-day, 10,000-mile journey, we found that folks had one of two reactions; either, "You're crazy!" or "Man, I wish I could go with you!" Friends and Chevy car clubs started becoming sponsors, donating things such as gas cards, coffee cards, hotel rooms, Indy 500 race tickets, cash, attraction tickets, or a bed for a night in their homes along our route.
Being raised on a farm near Hayden, Indiana, with the front property line on Hwy. 50, I always had the desire to travel the full 3,000-plus miles of the highway from coast to coast. Paul and I then decided we'd drive U.S. Route 50 all the way from California to Ocean City, Maryland. Now, my dream has come true.
"How do you find enough time to take a 40-day road trip?" you might ask. As one travel writer put it, "First, you quit your job." Not being adventurous enough to do this, I simply waited through 40 years of public school teaching, and retired. When I knew my retirement date, I decided to "see the U.S.A. in my Chevrolet!"
Horatio Nelson Jackson and his mechanic completed the first transcontinental car trip in 1903-before there were any roads, which was about 100 years before Paul and I attempted it. Horatio's car-dubbed "The Vermont"-is now in the Smithsonian. His story is currently being told in a display called "America on the Move." Author John Steinbeck, from Salinas, California, also took a trip around the U.S. with his dog Charley, in a GMC pickup with a Wolverine Camper in 1960. He wrote Travels With Charley after his trip. It became a bestseller that initially sold more volumes than any of Steinbeck's other books, and won the 1963 Paperback of the Year award, according to the Steinbeck Center Web site. These men gave me the inspiration to someday donate my '56 Chevy to my hometown's own museum, the Hayden Historical Museum.
Well, I did not travel with a dog, like Steinbeck in his GMC pickup in 1960, nor in one car with a mechanic, like Horatio Nelson Jackson in his Vermont in 1903. But I did drive coast-to-coast and border-to-border with a mechanic/friend, Paul Clifford, in his own car. Our original plan was to leave the U.S./Mexico Border in California, drive up the West Coast following Hwy. 101 to Morro Bay, then drive inland to Sacramento. From Sacramento, we would follow Hwy. 50-"the Loneliest Road in America"- eastward for 3,073 miles to the Atlantic Coast at Ocean City Maryland, stopping at my birthplace on Hwy. 50 in Hayden, Indiana, and Paul's birthplace in Massachusetts. From there, we would cross the U.S./Canada Border at Niagara Falls, New York. A highlight would be to attend the Indianapolis 500 Race on May 30. Heading back West, we would see the sights in Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, and return to California via Route 66, "the Mother Road," which would mean we will have driven through 25 states in all-about 10,500 miles...we thought! Our Hwy. 50 route would be easy to follow. Once we were in Sacramento, California, all we had to look for were road signs that said, "50 East" for over 3,000 miles. But side streets and such weren't as easy as the straight shot on 50.
Fortunately, we had no essential parts fall off our cars! Car trouble was expected, but did not come true except that Paul's '57 V-8 did not like the 3 H's-heat, humidity, and height. Removing the filter from the fuel line remedied that problem in Washington, D.C. My '56 six-cylinder only lost a hubcap, a chrome tailpipe end, and she suffered a cracked driver's window in the Arizona heat while returning home. We also did not expect to meet so many great folks along the way. I even added a section to my Web site for their pictures, which I called "Folks Along Fifty."
Our planned 10,500-mile trip turned into a 12,000-mile journey in my six-cylinder '56 Two-ten Delray and Paul's V-8 '57 Bel Air convertible. We traveled eastbound on transcontinental U.S. Highway 50 for 3,073 miles from California to Ocean City, Maryland, in 10 days. We visited friends, family, schools, and restaurants in Hayden, Indiana, and towns around Pepperell, Massachusetts.
Upon closer inspection of my photographs, our adventure might more correctly be called "The U.S.A. Through my Chevrolet's Bug-covered Windshield!" I've canned the other possible title, "Drive-by shootings in 25 states!"