Recently, while going through a few boxes of accumulated
“stuff,” I came across a trip diary that I had written in the spring of 1980. Jerry and I and a five year old Jason pulled a borrowed travel trailer from Commerce, Georgia to Juarez, Mexico and California and back on a journey that took us twenty-four days and totaled 5,909 miles. We drove and camped and drove and camped some more. Some days we battled torrential rains, some days blistering heat and then, we encountered snow and ice, not necessarily in that order. Within those few days we managed to endure all four seasons, not to mention broken camper parts, worn out hoses and plenty of gas stations in the middle of nowhere. As much as I complained in the diary I know I wouldn’t have changed a thing about the trip. It was an adventure.
Our excuse for this journey was that we could make stops along the way and do some interviews for publication. My thinking was that we could make enough money to pay for the entire trip and then some. I was young and naive and Jerry, excessively gullible to my charms. We started the trip with the brakes not working too well and sunny skies and our first night in a campground worrying if we were going to disappear in a Mississippi mudslide as we were parked on the side of a hill and endured rains that just kept coming.
We did interviews with some custom knife people who graciously entertained us and introduced us to their family members. Jason especially enjoyed visiting a certain knife maker who had a three month old puppy. Along the zig-zag route our trip took we had a really good time visiting with Dan Delavan of Plaza Cutlery in Costa Mesa, California and with John Bianchi at his holster factory and Western museum in Temecula, California. Housed in his museum were everything from stagecoaches and wax figures to Bill Cody’s saddle and rifle to John Wayne memorabilia; one of which was Wayne’s rifle which Jason got to hold. We were able to visit with some author friends, getting to actually meet them face to face after years of phone calls to each other.
The highlight of our trip for Jason was stopping for a day to visit Disneyland. What made the entire trip over the top for Jerry was visiting Tombstone, Arizona. Being an Earp fan for most of his life, standing where Wyatt and his brothers and Doc stood facing the Clanton gang in that vacant lot on Fremont Street, otherwise known as the O K Corral, was a dream come true. It did take a little bit of the awe out of him when he saw the gigantic neon sign showing us the way to Boot Hill, though. An unexpected pleasure there was a chance meeting with one of the outdoor writing greats, Don Shumar, who at that time owned a local gunshop located inside a saloon. We had a wonderful time with him as he regaled us with historical facts of both Tombstone and of the Earps.
Two of the stops we made during out trip influenced the first book in the Survivalist series which we were just getting underway. We found a great pizza place and a not so great RV park in Benson, Arizona and named the courageous flight attendant who helps our hero, Sandy Benson. Obviously the Benson part came from the town and we gave her the first name of Sandy after the landscape surrounding it.
In TOTAL WAR, John Rourke and his new companion Paul Rubenstein trek from the location of their crashed airplane to Albuquerque, New Mexico where they encounter a priest trying to help some of the wounded and dying residents seeking shelter inside an old mission church. We actually visited this church during our travels and spent some time talking to a priest who was understandably proud of his historic house of worship. San Felipe de Neri church was built in 1793 after the original church building, erected in 1719, collapsed. If you’re in the area, it’s in the Old Town Plaza area and worth taking a look at.
We came home with a lot less money generated than we wanted to but got to visit parts of the country where neither of us had ever been. We met lots of great people, learned how to repair frozen water and sewer lines, and had plenty of time to just talk to each other with no phone or doorbell to interrupt us. Those were some great days!
Here it is thirty-five years later and I realize we are encountering the same fluctuating weather without leaving home. I recently made the mistake of telling a friend of mine that daffodils were starting to break through the ground in my front yard and that usually signaled an ice storm. Yep! We’ve gone from warm weather to record breaking cold, ice storms and snow and high winds in less time than it took us to drive across America. Bring on the dust storms and tumbleweeds! Spring will be here soon enough.