Family Tent Camping Catastrophe

Camping Trek

In the early 1950's, travel across our local mountain pass was still slow and more like a trek than a Sunday drive. But my parents would face that trip at least once a summer and sometimes twice in order to get in a good camping trip. My mother thought it was good for us to be outside and relished the camping times with her brood.

These trips quite often lasted several weeks and sometimes as long as 6 weeks.

Don't Eat That

We went camping every summer as far back as I can remember. And these camping trips were epic and done on a shoe string budget. I remember my mom preparing for these outings ahead of time by making bread. She was one of those bakers that could not screw up a batch of bread or rolls no matter how she tried. As a matter of fact, I don't remember her measuring a darn thing. She would just pour, scoop, and eye the stuff. We were enlisted to help, but for the life of me I don't know what I was doing. My mom would start out with a cauldron of milk and she would put it on the stove and turn the fire on. She would tell one of us to watch it for her. She would say, “Don't you let that boil.” But I could never figure out why you would put it on the stove if you didn't want it to boil. She added lard and some other stuff that I probably would drop over dead if I ate it now.

Fry Bread

Mom would put out such a huge batch of bread you would not believe it. There was enough to make at least 10 loaves of bread, and two or three full restaurant trays of rolls. These were the huge rolls that look like softballs and were the most beautiful sight when they were taken out of the oven and she would run a glob of butter over them quickly to give them a glistening soft but crusty outside. The hot-out-of-the-oven rolls were the best. For camping she would make the whole batch into fried bread. She heated a huge skillet until the lard was smokey and then she would place the bread in the oil and fry it on one side and then flip it to fry on the other side. This my friends was packed in sacks that were tied closed and placed in the root cellar. These would last quite awhile. When we were camping, we could grab some fried bread and head out on one of the trails and even stay over night once in awhile.


Camping for us was a major production. We would gather our bedrolls and extra clothes and we would head out. My grandparents went with us and my grandfather drove his car. We would ride in the trunk of his 1950 Chevrolet with the lid propped open. What a treat, this was the best place ever to ride in the car. Along the way up Snoqualmie Pass, we would have to stop every few miles to let the car cool off and to find water to place in the radiator. My grandfather carried a bag with him that hung off the car and was filled with water, we had to replenish the bag-o-water whenever we could. Dad and mom were traveling in tandem and I suppose we looked like we were refugees of the dust bowl.

This baby had a very comfortable trunk!
This baby had a very comfortable trunk!

Trunk Riding in the Summertime

The fact that old Highway 10, later named I-90, was a winding and steep grade made the trip considerable. Whenever we stopped to let the car cool off enough to add water, this became another adventure. This was usually about a ½ hour and that was plenty of time for a bunch of scalawags such as ourselves to find out if the local scene afforded any sort of trouble. We were always on the look out for something that would be daring, exciting, fear producing, or just dangerous. Running around the car and talking to other kids who were waiting for their own cars to cool off became pretty good sport.

Can you think of anything better? Riding in an open trunk with the warm summer air spilling over you on a trip through the mountains. It was grand. And, finally we made it over the summit and started the long journey down the mountain and into the river area. There we stopped to pick up some supplies. Soon we headed up the mountain again headed for the old coal mining towns nestled in the foothills of the eastern slopes. Sometimes there would be time and money enough to stop for ice cream and the hot weather lent itself to a good ice cream cone. By this time it was late in the day and the sun was beginning to fall behind the Cascades' majesty. We were not going to make it by dark.

We were not too far from our destination but the headlights on the old car were needed for at least the last 5 miles. Are we there yet?

All Day Trip Ends with No Lights

As we went over a bump in the road, the lights went out in my dad's car. It was dark and there were a passel of kids. There was nothing to do. We could not go on. We were literally there. What to do? Since that time I have come to appreciate fenders on a car. These new sleek things don't have any of the conveniences of the old cars, they do not have running boards and they do not have fenders.

My dad got out of the car and started rummaging around. He soon brought out the lantern. My grandmother, who was a little feisty, was positioned carefully lying on her stomach on the fender and she was given the lantern. We would have to make our way with the light of the lantern. Slowly, but with great hilarity, we moved forward lighting our way as we went with a little old lady on the fender.

My dad remarked that it was a good thing that the brakes were bad so he couldn't slam them on and lose our grandmother. I always wondered what we must have looked like back then coming into a campground like that. I think that there were a couple of good Samaritans who dropped by to see if we needed help getting our grandmother off of the car. My dad just declined saying that she was comfortable where she was.

Attack of the canvass tent.
Attack of the canvass tent.

Tent Captures Man and Hold Him Hostage

The scene that followed was another story altogether. The first part of it concerned putting up an umbrella tent in the dark of night. I don't know if you ever saw one of these, but the way it worked, was that there was a pole in the middle of the tent with arms that went to each corner and attached to a center ring. Putting the tent up consisted putting the arms in the corner grommets and then lifting the center ring up the post until the sides of the tent are lifted into place. Unfortunately, the whole thing is designed to be erected in the light of day, with at least the corners of the tent staked.

When you try to stand in a collapsed canvass tent, with the pole in the middle pulling the stakes out, pulling the middle ring up has the effect of pulling the canvass into somewhat of a unbalanced ball. The light of the lantern does not help the tent man, but it does wonders for the observers who are trying not to laugh. Soon it was evident that the deed had soon turned into a contest between man and tent and the tent was gaining and had foiled every civilized attempt to conquer the considerable task at hand. It seemed like no positive outcome was coming as my dad, as you might imagine, was not accustomed to losing in any way, especially an inanimate object such as a tent. You could see the look on my mother's face, the tent was committing suicide by not cooperating.

Tent Catastrophe Improves Vocabulary

It was as if this scene played out in some kind of slow motion where the center pole went down, then the man in the canvass was pushing and pulling his silhouette into all sort of unsophisticated angles and soon was rolling with the tent and all its innards back and forth in the camp and began to move downhill toward the river.

The demise of the tent and the ravaging of the man ended in no good place. We sure weren't laughing at that point. The tent unceremoniously hit the water. This my friends, is when I learned most of the best curse words I was to use for the rest of my life. I heard stuff I never heard before and they were indelibly etched in my arsenal of words reserved for the most frustrating times in my life. I call them my 'blue' dictionary.

Alpha Camper
Alpha Camper

Did the Alpha Camper Survive?

The question was, “Is my old man okay? Will he survive?” Just about that time, he emerged, victorious. He had escaped the clutches of that old tent and with one last flurry of pomp he launched that tent to its demise, the fast moving waters of the river. The tent was swiftly escorted to its final resting place somewhere downstream.

My dad seemed to recover from this battle quickly and to me he seemed a little smug about getting rid of that ridiculous tent.

Us boys had to go find it in the light of day. It was not struggling then and the river turned out to be just a creek. We brought it back up and surprisingly, it made the trip just fine and served us well through that camp-out and others to come.

This turned out to be one hell of a camping trip.

Another camping story to read by Wilderness: 

A Camping Adventure in Virginia

More by this Author

Comments 34 comments

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

What great camping memories you have, Steve. If that old tent had owned a white flag, it would have been waving it before it ended up in the river. Happy that all ended well.

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest Author

drbj Thanks once again for your comments, It is a fun memory.

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 6 years ago from TEXAS

I love the way you relate the stories, Steve. You make it seem so real! I could just feel how it was riding in the trunk of one of those earlier cars with the top opened. And fraternizing with the other kids while your folks let the radiator cool off. I remember so many car problems, from radiators overheating and boiling out to tire blowouts - and seemed always to be in very inconvenient locations. One thing about it - back then, people would stop and help a stranded fellow-motorist and no one got mugged, raped, or pillaged.

Thanks for another good story from your treasure-trove of memories! You must be around the age of my stepsons.

davake profile image

davake 6 years ago

Very well done Steve just makes you want to go camping.

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

This was a terrific story!! Thank you. I was with you all the way. I loved riding in the trunk, and I had to laugh at the dad and the collapsed tent! He won in the end, didn't he??

Allan Douglas profile image

Allan Douglas 6 years ago from Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

Wow, Steve, I sure don't have any camping memories like that. The best I can do is the time a buddy of mine set the soles of his shoes on fire trying to warm up on a cold night. Thanks for a very entertaining tale.

LillyGrillzit profile image

LillyGrillzit 6 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

Thank you for sharing this Zane Greyesk story of your early days of camping! Very enjoyable. Takes me to my favorite place...In the woods. :0)P.S. Let me not forget about the 'Fry Bread' love it.

wilderness profile image

wilderness 6 years ago from Boise, Idaho

A great story, Steve, and reminds me not only of camping with my own parents down the coastal highway into California, but some of my own camping trips later in life. Thanks for the hub!

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest Author

Thanks everyone for the great comments:

Allan, I see a real story in those burned shoes. It is what brings us to the event that makes the story, the event is just the frosting on the cake. See, now I want to know the rest of that story, it sounds like fun.

Paradise Always love to see you come by and leave the comments. That is just it, with all his flaws, dad always won. He was the most impressive man.

LillyGrillzit Oh you know I will never forget that Fry Bread, it was a camping staple and served us well through my childhood.

Wilderness Glad you enjoyed the story, camping has always got to be the makings of some fine stories.

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

This is an awesome experience and I enjoy the share, I remember when we were young in the Philippines we ride in a jeep (on top) and it is always fun. I like camping but miss it, Maita

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

Hi, the one thing that I wanted to say was, i want to live in America! ha ha I wish we had mountains and long drives like that, it's pretty tame over here. This story actually made me think of my dad once on holiday by the sea, he couldn't put up a deck chair for the life of him, it fell over, he got tangled in it, and by the time he was finished I had turned my back on him with embarrassment, and the whole beach was laughing hysterically! Oh, those were the days! great story, cheers nell

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest Author

prettydarkhorse Thanks for reading and leaving a comment...sounds like fun riding on a jeep. LOL

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest Author

HI Nell thanks for leaving the comment. That story about the deck chair sounds like this one...nice funny memory. You have no mountains? How do you cope?

Maryanne Maguire profile image

Maryanne Maguire 6 years ago from Santa Monica, CA

Wow, memory cells activated! Neat tales here. I remember some of my families camping fun tent-tales :)

Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 6 years ago from Canada

wow, that is possibly the best I've read about camping, this is great, keep them coming.

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest Author

Maryann Maguire I'm glad you liked the hub. It was a funny story that had to be told. Thanks for the comments.

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest Author

Rebecca E. Thanks so much for reading, I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I do have a few more. I promise I will try to get some more out.

Joe Badtoe profile image

Joe Badtoe 6 years ago from UK

Hey SteveoMc

First thank you for your kind comments re my hubs and I'm glad you found them funny. Secondly youer camping story is a great read and brings back my many traumas of camping throughout the years. I look forward to reading more of your hubs soon.



PS how do you get pics inserted half way down the hub?

Allan Douglas profile image

Allan Douglas 6 years ago from Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

OK Steve, I accept your challenge. Here is my most memorable camping trip:

(at least, it is if that link will work)

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

Hi, sorry it took so long to come back, we have mountains in scotland and big hills in the north of England but I live down the south end of England and it's well, a bit flat! lol at least we have little hills down here, and the bonus is I can by on a bicycle! lol

bayoulady profile image

bayoulady 6 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

Putz....there should be a warning above this hub"read at your own risk, you may crack your ribs laughing" !!!!!!

It was all a gas, but the part about grandma riding on the fender holding the light is just too much! I'm still chuckling!Reminds me Of National Lampoons Vacation with Chevy Chase. Suggest you submit this to to an outdoor magazine, reader's Digest or SOMETHING!

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest Author

And I was right Allan, it was a mighty fine story.....thanks.

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest Author

Nell Ah yes, perfect terrain for a bicycle, only after about 20 years of practice do you move to the mountains. Aren't the cliffs in the south? Those must seem daunting to by runner, biker, walker, crawler.

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest Author

bayoulady Me thinks you are just too easy. Or, I would have made a million dollars right now. Want to buy a subscription? Since it is my first, it may be expensive but then again a guy has to make a few guineas on the deal.

slowpokevoyager profile image

slowpokevoyager 6 years ago from Braggs, Oklahoma

loved the hub. I have a few memories of camping myself. Not with my Dad (he died when I was four) but with my brothers and Mom. And of course the Uncles. One of them would be a tear jerker, and he other would be BUST-A-Gut. Do you know what Snipe Hunting is? I never could find a big enough bag for one to fit in. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest Author

slowpokevoyager Glad you liked the hub, it seems to have the effect of bringing memories like yours to mind. Snipers like you and me rarely get the snipe call matter how many friends we enlist or how big a bag we use.

danatheteacher profile image

danatheteacher 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest

"refugees from the dust bowl" I love it!

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest Author

Dana haha, I was wondering if anyone would ever get that reference. I hope you know about Ma and Pa Kettle which actually is autobiographical.

KnowledgeSpeaks profile image

KnowledgeSpeaks 6 years ago from Oakland, CA

Love these stories! Would love to hear your thoughts on high school and teenagers. I'm sure they're in there, waiting for you to let them out.

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest Author

KnowledgeSpeaks Thanks for the comments and for reading. I do have some teen stories. I have a couple of hubs on stuff like that. Hope you find them and have fun reading.

mulberry1 profile image

mulberry1 6 years ago

These shared adventures as kids really do make for some fabulous memories. Your Dad, and the tent, survived this ordeal. Did you sleep in the car that night?

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest Author

mulberr1 Heck no, it those days we just slept under the stars. No one cared if you cut limbs off of trees and made your own little sleeping area. You would be banned for life from camping if you did this today. Glad you liked it.

dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

Enjoyed your hub. It reminded of the book about my mother I am writing and her humorous stories. Thanks for sharing!

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest Author

dallas thanks for reading, this was a fun article, glad you enjoyed it.

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