Family Tent Camping Catastrophe
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: