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The More Things Change. . . .

Recently, I finished reading Willa Cather’s novel (yes, as shocking as it is, I read a novel!) O Pioneers! It reveals a little about how settlers on the prairie endured floods, droughts, and good times and bad, coaxing a living from the soil of the heartland of America. Those hearty pioneers were following in the footsteps of the scouts and explorers, dreamers and visionaries who, with hardly a trail to follow, had gone before them in the previous century.

The children of those early settlers either established farms (often quite large ones), towns, and cities or pressed further west to do the same things there. In their wake came other settlers, builders and entrepreneurs, who further developed the land and turned its vast resources to the good of others, even while advancing their own interests.

In the summer of 1959, my family (Daddy, Mother, my brother Dale, and I) teamed with the Crumley family (Howard, Ellen, Patsy, and Betty) to undertake a trek that, in retrospect, still seems inconceivable to me. In a 1957 Chevy station wagon and pulling a home-made, one-wheeled trailer (shown here) that held our food and cooking supplies, we fulfilled a dream of seeing the West firsthand. We were living what the advertising jingle of the time implored us to do: “See the USA / In your Chevrolet.”

That was before the Eisenhower interstate highways. Before air conditioning in cars. Before GPS. Before much of the vast expanse of the West had been developed the way it now is. There wasn’t much to go on. Not much more than a dream and individual ingenuity.

We four kids slept in the car on the folded-down seats of the Chevy. One pair of adults slept on a special platform our fathers had built atop the car roof. The other pair of adults slept on a roadside picnic table (if available) or on cots on the ground. We found a motel on weekends so we could get baths. (Can you imagine traveling that way today? One bath a week? In the middle of the summer? Eight people crammed into one car? And no air conditioning?) And both fathers took loads of photos with 35 mm Kodak cameras, the film of which they later had developed into slides that forever cemented the adventure in our memories.

Fast forward sixty years. Last month (it already seems ages ago, yet like yesterday), my wife and I, with our youngest daughter and her husband, reenacted a small portion of that earlier adventure of my youth. But so much was different this time.

A nice, air-conditioned, GPS-equipped Ford Expedition. Heated seats with lumbar support.

Basically smooth, straight, clearly marked interstate highways most of the way. Even many of the back roads were tolerable at worst.

Comfortable motels, reservations already made, every night. Filling, nutritious breakfasts at every one of them. Plenty of prepackaged foods to provide light lunches every noon, or whenever we got “the munchies.” And nice restaurants conveniently located for more complete suppers every night.

And we took a lot of photos on Nikon digital cameras and even cell phones. I alone took more than 1,700 pics, and that without having to change rolls of film even once or worrying about how much it was costing or would cost to develop!

As we luxuriated all along our journey, I couldn’t help contrasting our adventure with the long-ago experiences of the early pioneers and even our families’ journey just sixty years ago. How much has changed!

Yet, despite the good things that made our trip enjoyable and comfortable, it’s a different world today. We would never dream of sleeping in the open along the roadside today. It’s just not safe. We couldn’t tolerate sleeping on a car roof or not bathing daily or doing without air conditioning or countless other “necessities.” The pioneers plowed and coaxed bountiful harvests from their hundreds and even thousands of acres of farmland. I returned after twelve days to mow the weeds and Bermuda grass of my half-acre spread.

Those differences notwithstanding, we witnessed the same beauty and grandeur that the early pioneers and my parents and the Crumleys saw. The Grand Canyon. The Painted Desert. Petrified Forest. Bryce, Zion, and Arches. Pike’s Peak.

And we had, no doubt, the same reaction to such geographic wonders as they did.

Oh, my! Words and pictures don’t begin to do it justice!”

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