Upon leaving Jacksonville and starting our tour toward southern Florida we knew it would be impossible not to make comparisons with California, which we had grown to love so much. Perhaps no valid comparisons or contrasts could be made—as with the oranges and apples. We would have to see.
First stop on the Florida East Coast Highway, as we headed toward Miami, was St. Augustine, oldest city in the United States. Here was the Fountain of Youth, reported to have been first discovered by Ponce de Leon, but which an old-timer said was dug thirty years ago to represent the mythical spring. The boasts and superlatives and legends we found on this first important Florida stop of ours began at once to remind us of California. People from both states were proud and eager to brag about their land.
We passed the famous East Coast golf course where President Harding swung the clubs. At Ormond, across the Indian River, John D. Rockefeller’s beautiful, yet modest, home stood out.
In the jungle of trees and tropical growth in the hummocks south of New Smyrna Beach the famous East Coast mosquito bid us welcome. A deserted cabin offered a sleeping place, but even here the pests nearly drove us mad. Despite the soothing warmth of the night we were forced to pull blankets over our heads.
Next morning we met a boy who had what he said was a small alligator. Excitedly we took a picture of it. That proved to be the final photo of our trip. Our next ride was with a man in a truck loaded with farm supplies, which we helped him unload at his destination. Rather clumsily he lost control of the truck and ran over both our packs, smashing cooking utensils, our aluminum pail, and our camera. The dishes we replaced but never found another camera small enough to suit our available space and needs.
An early ride next morning wound through graceful slow curves of tropical forest, skirting the Indian River, ending at Hollywood. Here we really thought we were in California, even to the name of the place. Then we caught a ride with a woman and her two sons who had recently come from Panama to study the method of raising Florida oranges. These were just the people we’d been looking for. Since our arrival in the state we had met no one who could tell us about Florida’s unusual crops. These people were well informed. As we pumped them with questions, their answers provided us with a short course in semitropical agriculture. Pineapples, bananas, coconuts, Florida oranges and lemons. Bamboo and palmetto palms During a short twenty mile ride, punctuated with several stops to examine the subjects of our “agricultural course,” we learned a lot. During this ride we began to realize that Florida was far more tropical than anything the Golden State had to offer. Of course a quick look at a map reveals that Florida’s most northerly point is south of California’s southern boundary. That ride ended at the edge of Miami.
Boarding a streetcar, our plan was to run out to Miami Beach for a late-night swim in the Atlantic Ocean. The conductor was friendly and introduced us to Faust, the night inspector, when he checked up on the car. Faust immediately took command. At the car barns we were introduced to the manager who told us we could take our choice of the cars for a bed. Faust was not ready for us to sleep, however, so put us on a car which took us to Miami Beach for a swim in the ocean and around the island free of charge. The rides across Biscayne Bay, by moonlight, were like you read about in stories.
At midnight, upon our return to the car barns, Faust put us on another car for a twenty mile tour around Miami city. He next took us through a new company ice plant where the refrigeration of artificially made ice was explained One of the huge, half-frozen blocks was hoisted up so we could see how the freezing was progressing.
After tapping more soft drinks in the refrigerators and stuffing our pockets with imported Bermuda oranges we were ready for bed. At least I was, for it was after 3:00 A.M. but Win and Faust wanted to go fishing on Biscayne Bay. I turned in and they fished till five o’clock without success.
Faust went off shift at five and he took us to his home. The three of us cooked up a hearty meal and slept until well after noon. Having once taught high school botany, Faust knew about Florida’s tropical growth. A friend of his who had been a lecturer for the Smithsonian Institute owned a large estate and here we found a veritable jungle, gorgeous in its natural tropical plant life.
It didn’t take long to find how a jungle is made. One root was traced for forty feet before we found its end, while the mangrove trees constituted a hopeless tangle themselves. The two men explained the growth of rubber trees, palmettos, limes (with which we filled our packs to make limeade), bamboo canes, coconuts. Florida was becoming almost like a university for us.
The journey north from Miami was a succession of contrasts. A well-to-do merchant carried us to Ft. Lauderdale, bought us a two dollar supper and provided a place to bathe and sleep in his home. A crowded ride with two Negroes on an old motorcycle started our next day. The vehicle had a side car but even then some crowding was necessary. This was the first ride, for our entire trip, on a motorcycle. Two men—E.J. Ricou, the mayor of Stuart and his friend, the president of the Seminole Bank—carried us through the pineapple country. The mayor stopped at his farm to show off his fruit.
Two large golden pineapples, which he picked and sliced, were consumed on the spot by the three of us. Our next stop was at his packinghouse where the fruit was sorted, graded, and boxed. There we consumed four more pineapples, the juice oozing from our mouths at every bite. Florida won points here; pineapples didn’t grow in California.
Mosquitoes were bad that night; in fact, there was no place in Florida we could escape them. Next morning we lamented this fact to the first man we met. “You two are mighty lucky to have nothing worse to talk about,” was his reply. “Just three days ago I killed a six-foot alligator right where you slept last night.”
On these two counts, California definitely came out ahead. It didn’t have alligators, and its mosquitoes were fewer and less vicious than the Florida variety.
Not wanting to return to northern Florida the way we had come, we cut over to Orlando, then down through Haines City and on across to Tampa, in order to get an impression of Florida’s west coast, on the Gulf.
A serious mishap occurred during the morning. Our address book, containing the names of nearly a thousand friends, was missing and we were not even sure where it had been lost. In the last car in which we had ridden, I had pulled out some gear and might have dropped it there. The driver had mentioned that his father was the Chamber of Commerce secretary in Sarasota. Hunting up a post office, we wrote him and asked that he communicate with his son concerning our book. Sure enough, when we reached home two months later, our address book was there.
This address book loss caused us to think back to other such episodes. A few other things on our trip had been lost but they were more than compensated for by the items thought to be lost, which were recovered. Clear back in North Dakota I had thoughtlessly left my bedroll beside a water faucet at a pumping station, not missing it until ten miles down the road. By telephone I was able to get the station workman.
“You’re right. It’s here. No one’s taken it. It’s just where you left it.”
“Good,” was my excited response. “We’ll head back that way and pick it up. “
“Just a second,” came the voice over the phone. Then: “No need for you to come back for it at all. A man here is just coming your way. Stay where you are. He’ll bring your bedroll right to you. ” And so he did.
I had been the culprit in still another “lost and found” episode on our journey. This time it was a writing tablet and several important letters which I’d carelessly left in a car which carried us into Spokane. That ride had ended at a midtown hotel where the two young men—our hosts—dropped us as they went in to register.
At Spokane’s outskirts we discovered the loss. Back to the hotel. Up to the men’s room. Then down to their parked car where the tablet and letters were found. But then: “Wait a minute, it’s supper time. We’re just ready to eat. Come have supper with us. We’d like to hear more about your journey.”
After leaving Tampa, our hope had been to head back north along the Gulf coast but not much travel went that way, so it was back through Orlando toward Jacksonville.
A long truck ride to Orlando pounded any remaining good humor out of our systems. Our heads ached and whirled. It seemed a Friday of hard going, for that night we lost our army blanket and only remaining poncho from the running board of a car. Florida was hard on our gear. This made the third major loss since entering the state.
A ride north out of Orlando was with a man who lived in Mt.
Dora. “How high a mountain is that?” Win wanted to know.
“I didn’t realize Florida had many mountains,” I added.
It developed that Mt. Dora was a town. “Probably about 100 feet above sea level,” the man thought.
That put California definitely on the plus side. She boasts the highest peak in all the 48 states-14,495 foot Mt. Whitney. We found that most of Florida was from sea level to 100 feet. The highest spot in the entire state, Iron Mountain, was only 325 feet above sea level.
Our next ride terminated suddenly at a watermelon field where the driver asked if we wanted to work for an hour. That was an offer which couldn’t be refused. In carrying melons from the field to the truck, just enough were dropped to keep us full. Our employer gave us a dollar and carried us to the next town.
A man in a new Star car stopped and asked directions to Sanford. We offered to show him, and although suspicious of our eagerness, he took us in. His name was Cleotellis and he ran a line of restaurants. Thinking that hungry men are apt to be dangerous, he provided sandwiches, fruit, and soft drinks. Finding we were going all the way to Jacksonville he signed up for our company the entire distance. The ride was a trying one for us, however, for Cleotellis had learned to drive only five days before. Win subsequently wrote in our diary: “I don’t mind riding with a reckless driver but a beginner gets my goat.” Finally Cleotellis was gently argued into turning the wheel over to Win, who drove the last forty miles to Jacksonville.
At 4:00 A.M. in Jacksonville we hiked to the outskirts of town to catch a couple of hours of sleep before morning travel began.
On a toll bridge next day, a ride carried us across the St. Marys River into Georgia. A man had given us a couple of Florida oranges. While eating them we tried to compare them with the California variety. Or with Michigan apples. We had put the adage to the test. Oranges—of any variety—and apples cannot be compared.