Other than some backyard tent camping and a couple of seasons at summer camp, my camping experience did not start until I entered the US Air Force and was afforded the opportunity to enjoy part of July and August at Lackland AFB, San Antonio, TX, in 1954. There we learned that it was just as important to set up our tents in line as it was to be in the chow line on time. Other important camping lessons included that it was better to pick a spot for your sleeping bag that did not put you on top of a bunch of rocks.
Shortly after that training I found my self at Cheyenne, WY, with more free time and buddies than money. We discovered that we could actually have a great time traveling, hiking, an occasionally meeting some girls if we pooled our money, shared a ride and camped along the way.
There were four of us and our first “Tin Can” camper was a 1930 Model A Ford, rag top roadster with a rumble seat. This meant that two would get to ride in the comfort of the car and two would enjoy the thrill of riding outside in the rumble seat. The two in the rumble seat had the best view and were have a close encounter with the elements and were able to provide instant weather condition reports. We started our travels in October but in Wyoming and northern Colorado that was a little late for the camping season. Since the synonyms, young and dumb, seemed to be our nicknames we really pushed the limits and I can remember wrapping up in those all wool GI blankets and huddling way down in the rumble seat. Camping was very informal back then and it was never a problem to find an open spot to pull off the road, gather some firewood, prepare a meal and get some sleep. Not carrying a tent meant that the sleeping was often done under the car to shelter from the snowfall (remember those synonyms I mentioned earlier?).
Most often, our trips were two days and once in awhile we stayed a third day. We tried to forage for our food from the land whenever possible. A couple of the guys were pretty good fishermen and the rainbow trout were plentiful in the clear mountain streams. One guy was often able to hunt down a rabbit and add it to a stew pot dinner. It was a banner day when he brought back a deer. We shared that with some others who were camping near us and before long we had a long evening of good companionship around a campfire. A few times we came upon a farmer selling stuff off of his truck alongside the road and, if it was late in the day, we would get him to give us a deal on food items that would not survive till the next day. Failing all else, we would break out some of the military field rations we carried with us. Trust me, that was our last option.
My talent was driving and keeping the vehicle running. The mechanical part was fun and while the driving kept me from fully enjoying the majesty of the mountain scenery, it did keep me out of the rumble seat and close to the old manifold heater. It was always a real thrill to go down hill with those old rod operated brakes. Most of the time at least two of four wheel brakes would work.
Bathing was as primitive as the rest of our camping. During the middle of the summer a lazy pool of water was a treat to find and then there were some warm springs in southern Wyoming that had not yet been commercialized. All too often it was a splash rinse in a nearby cold, very cold, mountain stream.
During the early part of the next spring we upgraded our ride to a 1935 Ford 4dr sedan. It had the “suicide” rear doors and a set of aoogah horns. Somewhere along the line it had picked up a yellow and black two-tone paint job. But, all four of us got to ride inside and the windshield would open up at the bottom for that air-conditioning feeling. The V8 engine was a joy and it even got us up Pikes Peak and only overheated one time on the way!
Most of the things we did are no longer possible. So many areas are fenced and controlled or you are not permitted to use them beyond stopping to take a picture. Simple and free pleasures are very rare now and without a large vacation budget it is nearly impossible to spend a few days enjoying our great country – to me that is kinda sad. Since then, I have been camping and traveling in more comfortable vehicles and trailers, but those early memories will never fade.
Submitted by Donald Dayton of Trinity, TX as a part of the RV Centennial Celebration “Share Your Favorite RV Memory” contest.
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