The Golden State
“What’s the matter with you?” Win grunted at me. What do you mean by hitting me?” We were both sitting upright in the darkness under the trees.
“I didn’t hit you,” I answered, “but why did you shake me?”
“I didn’t touch you,” Win said, “You’ve had a nightmare.” And in disgust he turned over and went back to sleep.
Next morning we had forgotten the incident of the night until the first farmer who came along to pick us up asked, “Heard if anyone was killed last night?”
“What do you mean, killed?”
“Why, the earthquake,” he replied. We understood then what had caused our nightmares. All wires were down so no one knew the effects of the shake. Old timers said it had been the most severe ever felt in that section. Brick chimneys were demolished, plate glass windows broken, dishes scattered about in houses.
At Scotia the bluffs had been shaken down over the railroad and what we feared soon came to pass. The highway itself ended in a mass of rock which obliterated all traces of the road for 300 yards. Huge boulders were still occasionally careening down.
“Do you think it’s safe to make it across on foot?” I inquired of Win.
“No other choice,” came his blunt reply. “Didn’t you hear what that workman said? It’s a 700 mile detour for cars, by way of Oregon. Let’s go. “
Cautiously, and a bit apprehensively on my part, we picked our precarious way across the mass on foot to the other side, dodging occasional tumbling rocks on the way. With gangs working at each end it would take a week or more to open the road, so a workman told us. That much time was not available on our schedule. And a 700-mile detour was not to our liking. Once across the forbidding barrier, we set out on foot down the coast.
The return through the redwoods was a muddy one, yet occasional local lifts pushed us along. One promising ride ended at another landslide. This one was of slippery clay mud, rather than rocks, and only a few yards across. “No boulders to dodge,” was my comment. “This crossing should be easy. “
It was anything but. The mud came to our knees. I slipped; Win slithered. Then for half an hour, before continuing south, we sat with our feet in a stream trying to soak the sticky clay from our clothes.
A storm near Willits forced us into a galvanized culvert at the side of the road but no sooner was our makeshift bed prepared than the lights of a car brought us out. A woman stopped to pick us up, an unusual circumstance in any country. She was only the third woman on our trip to have done so. She was a school teacher on her way to visit friends and said she knew those friends would welcome us also. They did. Not only for overnight but also for breakfast next morning.
The next night, another new experience was in store for us. As our letter home read, “Little did we dream, upon looking for a place to bunk, of the dreadful calamity about to happen. At 10:00 P.M. we were happy and free. At 10:30 we were behind prison bars, shuddering and crying. But don’t be frightened, Mother. That shuddering and crying was caused by the coldness of our shower, and we were behind the bars only because a kindhearted chief of police had asked us if we wouldn’t prefer sleeping in a nice clean bed rather than on the damp, cold ground. We demurred at first but finally went along and found excellent accommodations. ” Our first night in jail was a success and resulted in a fine night’s sleep. We can heartily recommend the Santa Rosa jail.
The next night’s sleep, though completely different, was equally exciting. From our cozy “outdoor bedroom” on a grassy hill just outside of Sausalito we couldn’t get to sleep for an hour because of the stirring scene below and before us—San Francisco Bay, ferry boats, and distant city lights. It rained on us a little that night. But next morning one of those ferries landed us at the end of Market Street in the great city by the Golden Gate. Our arrival was ten days later than planned, thanks to R.E Skinner, but that journey up the Redwood Highway to Arcata was a big event in our lives.
San Francisco, greatest city of the West. As its large modern buildings rose before our eyes, Win and I stopped a moment to recall that our father had visited this city in 1905, before the big earthquake and fire. He had seen the old city; we were seeing the one that had risen out of the ashes to take its place. Stopping at a fire station to ask directions to points of interest, we were immediately engulfed in still another unique experience. This Golden State was serving them to us on nearly a one-a-day basis.
“Where are you boys from?” the firemen asked, and our answer brought a flood of interesting questions.
“You’re planning to hit every state?” They repeated our explanation and more questions followed.
“Now about places to see,” interrupted the lieutenant. “John, go get those maps.” Half a dozen men supplied all the information needed for several days of sight-seeing—the Cliff House, Golden Gate Park, the City Hall, Market Street, museums, the waterfront and wharves. “Why don’t you leave those packs here? Pick them up tonight,” added the lieutenant. Readily we agreed. The packs were heavy, made even more so by still being damp from the last night’s shower.
After a day of sight-seeing we decided to order some real Mexican food. Win ordered chili and almost went up in smoke after he sampled the not very chilly dish. Then we dropped around to the fire hall for our packs. Talk about friendship! Those men had unrolled our bundles and had our blankets hanging over a gas stove, as dry as one could wish. Although we had already eaten they insisted we come down to have a little lunch with them. Their meal was very tasty after our first trial with a hot Mexican dish. They fixed us a fine soft place to sleep, as well.
Their friendship had no limit; they told us to make Engine Company No. 6 our headquarters while in town. We were shown where to shave, take a bath, and they gave us a big towel to take with us. Our talk session went on and on. They gave us names of other firemen in other cities to call on. Everything they had was ours, and we learned more about a fire department than we ever thought of knowing.
They showed us how everything worked, how the alarms came in and were registered, how they leaped from bed into their boots and slid to the ground floor.
There were two crews, the day shift, putting in ten hours, and the night shift, putting in fourteen. The night shift sleeps, leaving one man on guard. The day crew, going off duty, introduced us to the night men. That introduction was so lavish and laudable that the night shift was even more solicitous of our needs than the others. The men were afraid we’d be cold and I woke up some time in the night to find one of them tucking an extra blanket around us. That’s the kind of fellows they were.
For two days we made that fire station our center of operations. The men let us slide down the emergency pole through a hole from the second story. Yes, we could even have gone with them to a fire. But no alarm came while we were at the station.
A score of rides brought us down the California valleys to Fresno where still another highlight of our California odyssey occurred. We caught a ride in a Hudson with a California bond agent. He was interested in our story and insisted on smuggling us into his hotel room in Selma, whether his landlord objected or not.
This feat was accomplished in safety, and after a good bath our host’s identity was revealed. We became acquainted with Major Kenneth Marr. He had been commander in charge of the ace of aces Hat and Ring Squadron in France (World War I). He showed us dozens of newspaper and magazine clippings concerning him, which told that he had ten German planes to his credit, as well as having been the first man to set the American flag on German soil. Rickenbacker and many other American aces had served under him. After the war Major Marr had directed stunt flights, and also directed Hollywood movies. It was nearly morning before we laid down on the floor to sleep.
A late breakfast, a few recommendations from our friend to Los Angeles newspapermen, and also one to the governor of West Virginia, and it was time to “take off’ (to use a phrase from our newly-learned aeronautical vocabulary) in search of still more California adventures.
Slow travel carried us to Bakersfield by dark. Even though we were in California desert country, water froze solid beside us during our roadside night’s sleep. A brisk walk in the morning started our circulation and we were off for Los Angeles, first over forty miles of desert country, through which the road cut straight as an arrow, then over the famous Ridge Route, and finally down into the sunny valleys of the coast. Crossing the ridge there were over 1,200 curves (so we were told; we were too dizzy to count them all), thirty-seven of which joined without a straight piece between, giving one the rocking sensation of a boat, as the car took the perfectly banked swings in rapid succession. We were told also that many people become seasick on this stretch.
We rode through Universal City and famous Hollywood and were dropped off at the old Mexican plaza of Los Angeles, the “fastest growing city in the U.S.A.”
We were eager to start exploring the city. But first, a trip to the post office. At once our plans changed. Instead of devouring the sights of Los Angeles, we spent the rest of the day devouring the contents of twenty-seven letters which a smiling General Delivery clerk counted out for us.