CHAPTER 33

Texas Tales and Louisiana Lessons

Our first sizeable ride in the Lone Star State was with a wheat farmer, Alvin Jones. Our first question was: "Do you think we can count on a day or two of clear weather?"
Mr. Jones answered with a slow drawl, speeded up just a bit by the urgency of his message. "Well, boys, all I've got to say is this: the man who tries to prophecy the weather in Texas is either a newcomer or a darn fool." Jones asked us if we'd heard the joke about the Texan driving a team of mules. "His off mule died of sunstroke but before he could skin it, the other mule froze to death." True to fashion, before reaching Ft. Worth the bright, lovely day had turned into a cloudburst.
This was one of Texas' best agricultural sections. Wheat was cut and oats were already threshed. Fine fields of corn were beginning to ear and acres of cotton, green and weedless, stretched for miles back from the road.
A viaduct in Dallas was our hotel for the night. Tramping along the city streets in the rain next morning an old gentleman beckoned us to the sidewalk and began questioning us about our trip. He invited us to breakfast to meet his son who also liked to hike. We'd already eaten but he insisted on a cup of coffee.
Again, I list with embarrassment what we ate, after stating we had already had breakfast. Three eggs each, two quarts of milk, twelve slices of bacon and half a loaf of bread. Mr. Dorsey and his son, Henry, Jr., talked of travel during the meal and became so interested they invited us over to their offices to write diary while waiting for the rain to cease.
We were transported to the Dorsey Building, home of one of the largest printing, engraving, and office furnishings houses in Texas. In Mr. Dorsey's private office, stationery, pencils, envelopes and stamps were put out.
At noon the rain finally stopped. After another meal, the Dorsey's gave us a lift on our way, with promises from all to continue CHAPTER 33

Texas Tales and Louisiana Lessons

Our first sizeable ride in the Lone Star State was with a wheat farmer, Alvin Jones. Our first question was: "Do you think we can count on a day or two of clear weather?"
Mr. Jones answered with a slow drawl, speeded up just a bit by the urgency of his message. "Well, boys, all I've got to say is this: the man who tries to prophecy the weather in Texas is either a newcomer or a darn fool." Jones asked us if we'd heard the joke about the Texan driving a team of mules. "His off mule died of sunstroke but before he could skin it, the other mule froze to death." True to fashion, before reaching Ft. Worth the bright, lovely day had turned into a cloudburst.
This was one of Texas' best agricultural sections. Wheat was cut and oats were already threshed. Fine fields of corn were beginning to ear and acres of cotton, green and weedless, stretched for miles back from the road.
A viaduct in Dallas was our hotel for the night. Tramping along the city streets in the rain next morning an old gentleman beckoned us to the sidewalk and began questioning us about our trip. He invited us to breakfast to meet his son who also liked to hike. We'd already eaten but he insisted on a cup of coffee.
Again, I list with embarrassment what we ate, after stating we had already had breakfast. Three eggs each, two quarts of milk, twelve slices of bacon and half a loaf of bread. Mr. Dorsey and his son, Henry, Jr., talked of travel during the meal and became so interested they invited us over to their offices to write diary while waiting for the rain to cease.
We were transported to the Dorsey Building, home of one of the largest printing, engraving, and office furnishings houses in Texas. In Mr. Dorsey's private office, stationery, pencils, envelopes and stamps were put out.
At noon the rain finally stopped. After another meal, the Dorsey's gave us a lift on our way, with promises from all to continue CHAPTER 33

Texas Tales and Louisiana Lessons

Our first sizeable ride in the Lone Star State was with a wheat farmer, Alvin Jones. Our first question was: "Do you think we can count on a day or two of clear weather?"
Mr. Jones answered with a slow drawl, speeded up just a bit by the urgency of his message. "Well, boys, all I've got to say is this: the man who tries to prophecy the weather in Texas is either a newcomer or a darn fool." Jones asked us if we'd heard the joke about the Texan driving a team of mules. "His off mule died of sunstroke but before he could skin it, the other mule froze to death." True to fashion, before reaching Ft. Worth the bright, lovely day had turned into a cloudburst.
This was one of Texas' best agricultural sections. Wheat was cut and oats were already threshed. Fine fields of corn were beginning to ear and acres of cotton, green and weedless, stretched for miles back from the road.
A viaduct in Dallas was our hotel for the night. Tramping along the city streets in the rain next morning an old gentleman beckoned us to the sidewalk and began questioning us about our trip. He invited us to breakfast to meet his son who also liked to hike. We'd already eaten but he insisted on a cup of coffee.
Again, I list with embarrassment what we ate, after stating we had already had breakfast. Three eggs each, two quarts of milk, twelve slices of bacon and half a loaf of bread. Mr. Dorsey and his son, Henry, Jr., talked of travel during the meal and became so interested they invited us over to their offices to write diary while waiting for the rain to cease.
We were transported to the Dorsey Building, home of one of the largest printing, engraving, and office furnishings houses in Texas. In Mr. Dorsey's private office, stationery, pencils, envelopes and stamps were put out.
At noon the rain finally stopped. After another meal, the Dorsey's gave us a lift on our way, with promises from all to continue the friendship by mail. That spirit of friendship kept poking its finger our way, for the young man who carried us to Italy, Texas, left us to the mercies of his mother who had just baked a cake she insisted would go to waste, unless we did something about it.
It was difficult to select a spot for the night, for the Dorseys had put us wise to a Texas pest we hadn't heard of—the chigger. What we thought were mosquito bites were really the painful swellings caused by a little red bug, nearly invisible, which bores into the flesh. This bug likes to live in grass, so this night the side of the road itself was our bed.
For protection from a possible Texas cloudburst we excavated and built dams around the site. Safeguarded against water and chiggers, two elements in a Texas camper's life, we dozed off, trusting that rattlesnakes would respect our tired condition, for we had stretched no hair rope around camp, to keep snakes from approaching, as we had been warned to do.
Our ride to San Antonio was with a young Mexican-American, Sam Ortez, who had just taken a load of Mexicans to Ft. Worth where they would be transported north to the beet fields of Michigan. He had good Mexican and English schooling, knew Detroit better than we did and, before we parted, taught us to swear quite fluently in Spanish.
San Antonio, largest city in the state, became a storehouse of history and art for us, as we spent parts of two days exploring it. We especially enjoyed walking along the beautiful little river which wound through the city. "Remember the Alamo" was our theme song upon leaving the city to head eastward.

The experiences during the next several hundred miles were like a series of beautiful vignettes. Our road out of San Antonio had begun to peter out. Soon it was just a sand trail; we were lost and it was night. Using a compass to determine directions, we cut off across the hills to find a light. One came into view. Approaching closer we found it was the window of a small farmhouse.
"It's after 9:30 P.M. ," I said to Win. "Do you suppose we should knock?"
Our decision to do so was a blessing not only for us but for Mr.
and Mrs. Kleinschmidt, the middle-aged couple with whom we
were soon talking. They told us how to get back on our road again.
"But you better wait till morning. Come in. Please come in."
The Kleinschmidts were just plain lonely. Of course there was something to eat. Afterwards, around the table, we showed them pictures of our trip and related episodes of our travels. "It's not often we get a chance to talk with people who have traveled all over America," Mrs. Kleinschmidt said, and added, "I don't suppose we will ever leave here." She was an attractive woman. There seemed to be a trace of wistfulness in her eyes. They extended an invitation to spend the night on their porch and stay for breakfast next morning.

At four o'clock one afternoon we caught a ride with John Bowler who carried us two hundred miles, to Houston, at two o'clock the next morning. While traveling with him he paid all of our expenses including three meals and refreshments. In return we evened things up by taking care of his ferry fees over several rivers. The result was that we each thought the other generous, whereas neither he nor we had spent more than we would have alone.

A side trip took us to Galveston, on the Gulf of Mexico, to see the seawall and beach. As five and six-year-old kids, Win and I had gathered shells on that beach, when our father had brought us all down to Texas by train.
Leaving the city, a fellow, apparently afraid to pick us up, passed us, had a puncture, and had to have our help fixing it. Naturally we rode with him. At our parting of the ways, an hour later, he said, "You've given me the most interesting hour of my life."

While standing on one of the scores of ferries which made southern travel possible, we noted a Louisiana car with plenty of room in back. "Do you need some company?" Win asked. Mr. Price did.
It was with him, after another ferry ride, that a scene so tropically beautiful unfolded, it was hard to believe it was in the United States. Over the quiet black water of a little river, long streamers of gray Spanish moss draped, while colorful birds flashed in and out of stately trees. Here and there on the far shore, visible through the foliage, were longhorn steers which would have made an Easterner gasp and a yardstick worthless.
At Orange we caught another ferry for three miles through swamp channels to the firm ground which marked the shores of Louisiana, our 28th state. All our travels of hundreds of miles from Oklahoma through central and eastern Texas had not added a single new state to our list; we had already counted Texas, far back at El Paso.

Louisiana. We'd studied about the famous "Louisiana Purchase" in school, about Andrew Jackson's defeat of the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, and about other historical events. We had read about the Acadians in Longfellow's immortal poem, Evangeline. It was things such as these which whetted our appetites upon entering our 28th state. But our "College on Wheels" had other sorts of lessons in store—not history (although we did see Jackson's battleground), not poetry (although we did explore the "Evangeline" country), but just down-to-earth economics, agriculture, and "earth lore." Our first two days in Louisiana were among the most interesting of our trip, so far as opening new horizons were concerned.
That first day started at 4:30 A.M. The mosquitoes didn't allow us to sleep later than that. Our journey of discovery in the Sacramento Valley's cornucopia of crops in California had all been under the guidance of one man, during one long ride. Louisiana's "Book of Knowledge," in contrast, was opened up to us by fifteen different drivers, as we caught fifteen different rides. Each one of our hosts, it proved, was an expert in his field. To describe those two days of experiences fully would lengthen this book too much. Brief sketches must suffice.
At Sulphur, Louisiana, our host knew all about the great sulphur mines, pointing out and explaining to us the derricks, the huge wooden vats of sulphur, the enormous hardened yellow blocks of the stuff. Win filled a diary page with descriptions.
Another ride was with an expert on oil, who explained the Louisiana aspects of that industry to us. But he was equally conversant with the growing of peanuts, concerning which we had our very first lesson. Win and I knew nothing about that crop whatsoever.
We didn't know much about sweet potatoes either. Here there were lessons not only about the product, but about their history. In the 1700s the Acadians, emigrating from Nova Scotia, had taken over their cultivation from the Indians.
Rice; that was next. Crowley was one of the great rice centers of the world; at one point rice was all we could see for miles. "It requires a level country which is warm and can be irrigated easily," said our host who carried us into Crowley. "For sixty days the plant must be kept under water."
At this point our driver threw in a free lesson on levees. We'd heard the term, of course, in southern songs and such. But that was about the extent of our knowledge.
"A lot of the rivers in this state," explained our 'instructor,' "are higher than the land they flow through. That's even true of long stretches of the Mississippi."
Win's and my faces showed our incredulity.
"Yes, that's a fact. The rivers are filled with silt and it builds up along the sides. Those are made into levees, which keep the water from overflowing when the rivers are high. You can see it isn't much of a problem, most places, to flood the rice fields when it's needed. Lots of times the streams are higher than the fields." Later, in a library, Win and I read that a third of Louisiana would be flooded, every time the rivers were high, if it were not for the levees.
Next came lessons on the sugar cane from the man and woman we were riding with at the time.
And salt. In Louisiana it was mined, 99 % pure, and was one of the state's biggest exports. Another full diary page of descriptions.
There was a page, also, about the Avery bird preserve. We learned that this was just one of many refuges in Louisiana where thousands of wild birds, representing scores of species, were protected. We later learned that we were still on Teddy Roosevelt's trail. Eight years before, he had visited much of this area in connection with his interest in bird preservation in the state which was the birthplace of Audubon.
One of our last Louisiana lessons in natural resources had to do with the Spanish moss which made such beautiful festoons hanging from the trees. It was gathered—millions of pounds of it every year—to be used for stuffing mattresses. And even automobile seats. Like as not we had been sitting on some Spanish moss as we rode with those fifteen different Louisianans. Everyone of them was proud of the state and the feeling must have rubbed off on us.
It is worth mentioning, too, that of the fifteen drivers, five of them extended invitations to dine with them. Louisianans were not only knowledgeable, but gracious.
As though it were following some prearranged schedule our "College on Wheels" suddenly shifted from agricultural and economic studies to lessons in geography. This state of Louisiana was providing us with a well-rounded course.
The geography lesson started at Morgan City. Something unexpected flowed into our lives. The Mississippi River had become our close friend since that first crossing over a year before. Here it was, again, nearly finished with its long journey to the Gulf. "But that's not ol' man river," Win asserted. "It's too small."
He was right. The imposter before us was the "Mississippi Cutoff." Leaving the Father of Waters near the Arkansas line, this stream took a shorter and more rapid course to the Gulf. Later we found out that, in a really huge flood, this cutoff might possibly become the main river, taking over from its parent and leaving the real Mississippi stranded without any water.
The broad surface of this cutoff was dotted with floating islands of colorful water hyacinths. We remarked to our driving companion at how beautiful they were. "Yes, they're pretty," he answered, "but don't let that fool you. They clog up the mouths of the bayous. Costs the government millions of dollars to cut them out."
Our next lesson centered on these bayous, specifically, so peculiar to the Gulf states. Most of them seemed to move as slowly as the people. They just "drawled" along. With little or no current they made ideal breeding places for mosquitoes, as we found out that night. Making camp early on a pile of lumber under an oak tree, we suffered as never before. One stroke of our hand could cause five or six fatalities. But it was useless to fight them. The damp, muggy warmth of the swamp air made breathing impossible if we covered our faces, and in the morning our cheeks were bloated from the swellings.
"You must have slept too close to a bayou last night," said the first driver who picked us up, as he saw the condition of our faces. "They are mosquito breeders all right."
Bayous and mosquitoes were the subject matter of conversations with the next two or three people we rode with. Our bloated faces were dead giveaways.
"This whole area is near sea level," one of our hosts explained. "The streams just poke along. Sometimes seems like they even flow backwards. The water gets stagnant. Mosquitoes love it."
We learned that one of the nicknames for Louisiana, which it shares with its neighboring state, Mississippi, is "The Bayou State."
Slow traveling and excessive perspiration under the hot sun brought up longings for a swim in the cool waters of one of these bayous. Finally a suitable place showed up. Carefully and somewhat fearfully we undressed and made our way through the hyacinths and oozy muck to the deeper water.
This was the land of alligators and water moccasins and our imaginations proved fertile. Every lily pad that moved suspiciously, every stick our groping toes encountered, every silent old stump startled us and we nervously eyed the broad dark surface of the bayou as we swam out farther. But, once started, alligators and snakes were forgotten and we swam and splashed, going to shore at intervals to drag out a piece of clothing until our outfits were thoroughly washed.
The subject of our next geography lesson was the greatest of all, the Mississippi—not the cutoff, but the Father of Waters itself.  Unfortunately our "College on Wheels" supplied us with the worst possible instructor for this all-important lesson. But even this fact had redeeming values.
Mid-afternoon and only sixteen miles for the day! A Ford stopped and a short, dark-complexioned man with black unkempt beard and ragged clothes pointed a Colt 45 revolver at us.
"Where yah goin?" he growled. We didn't wait to reply to his surly inquiry but both started to crawl into the car, Win in front, and I in back.
"Not so fast there," he said. "You'll both ride in front where I can watch you or you won't ride at all. Don't you forgit I've got a gun and know how to use it. Now where yah goin?"
We answered him as we crowded into the front seat and learned that the fellow was going a long ways in our direction. Our disreputable friend, whose occupation we could not learn, had been driving steadily for two days and nights. Half an hour later he put up his gun, turned the wheel over to Win and went to sleep, allowing me to crawl into the back seat and doze off also.
And this is when we encountered the real Mississippi, at Donaldsonville, and followed along its leveed banks for an hour, on our way to Baton Rouge. As Win drove through the night, along that mighty river, it would have been nice to express our feelings to someone, but our host was still asleep. Our thoughts were wandering far afield, back to all the times we had crossed this great river, or followed some of its branches almost to their sources. Right beside us was flowing a waterway that drains two-fifths—that's not far from a half—of the entire United States.
We thought about tiny Lake Isa which had been among the wonders of Yellowstone Park, thousands of water-miles away in the distant Rockies. The waters of half of that lake drained into the Pacific. The other half flowed into the Madison River, then the Missouri, and finally the Mississippi. We thought of the thrill we'd had, when crossing the Missouri—the largest branch of this river—in Bismarck, North Dakota. There the sign had greeted us: "Mandan, Where the West Begins." It was on the banks of this mighty river, in Wisconsin, just across the bridge from Stillwater, Minnesota, that we started in the shoestring business. At St. Louis and Memphis we'd walked across this river, at night, over enormous spans of steel. By ferry, we had crossed one of its major branches, the Ohio. From New York State to Montana, this greatest of waterways and its branches were supplying irrigation and drainage to a nation.
What a river!
In our diary, even before leaving the state, we made an important entry: "In Louisiana, we have learned more, about more things, than in any state since California."
New Orleans proved to be the exclamation point to that diary entry. Most talked about by tourists was its Vieux Carre, the Old Square. Most revealing of its origins, paradoxically, were its many cemeteries. The city had been reclaimed from swamps and the graves were above ground, row on row of caskets in oven-type tombs. Most amazing to Win and me was the mighty Mississippi which flowed through the city in a great crescent—not north and south, but mainly east and west. There were dozens of miles of wharves where all the produce of the state was being loaded for shipment—rice and rosin, salt and sulphur, sweet potatoes and petroleum products, lumber, sugar, seafoods. And probably leading them all—King Cotton.
Departing from New Orleans on the steamship Susquehanna, we were carried some twenty miles across Lake Pontchartrain. In another twenty miles of walking, interspersed with two rides, we entered the state named after the river we had grown to love so much—Mississippi. A forest of turpentine pine trees was our bedroom for the night.