Philosophies, Speeches, Thoughts, Ideas

by Ole A. Olmanson

A California Trip

(Chester drove the car to California. But I sold it because I did not dare to drive it back.)

It was in the year that Chester was just back as a sailor boy from World War II. He went to Chicago to get his dicharge. It was getting close to Christmas. He wanted Ma and myself along on a trip to California.

On the morning of December 15, 1945, we three started out with my old Chevrolet. Although we had put in a new battery, we had to make a stop in St. Peter to have a quick recharge. As we went along the old car started to take more and more oil. As Christmas was close at hand there was no time for delay to have it attended to. So we just poured quarts of oil one after the other in hopes that the car would hold out till we got to our destination.

One day after we got to a rather high elevation the wind got very strong and we were going against it. It seemed that all that we could get out of our car was about 12 miles an hour and we thought this would be the last of our car. But then we just passed a plane that was above us going in the same direction and we felt relieved. We learned the next day that the plane was hunting for a wreckage between the mountains.

This part of the country was in the line between Wyoming and Nebraska in the neighborhood of Cheyenne. It was the most desolate place we ever passed through, not a living thing or house in sight. At last we got to a shack with a sign, “Lunches”. We also noticed a gasoline pump alongside the shack.We got out of the car, grabbed the corner of the shack to keep from blowing away. Getting inside we found an old woman. She welcomed us as if we were her long lost brother. We had a real good hamburger steak and coffee, a real good dinner. While the wind was howling outside we took our time to eat and visit. The lady was very talkative. She had come from Iowa and settled here with her husband and two daughters. Now the husband was over in a distant city working, and both daughters were married and gone. She was making it out all alone in this wilderness, making lunches and selling gasoline to tourists who passed by.

I asked her how and why she chose to stay here in this wilderness away from civilization? She replied, “You tell me! I wouldn’t trade this place for the whole state of Iowa.” This I believe proves the old saying, “East or West, home is best.”

As Christmas was drawing closer every day, we did not have time to take in any sites in the cities that we passed by, but had to be satisfied to view the country as the Lord had laid it out. I was surprised to see all this waste and worthless land that we passed through and all the mountains, rocks and ravines. I was thankful that the Lord had not dumped all this down upon Minnesota.

Going through the desert our radiator on our car sprung a leak and started to steam. We stopped in order to plan as to what to do next. We decided to go a littler farther to see what would happen. Almost immediately we saw a sign on a trail. The only sign we saw in the whole desert, it read, “1/2 mile to Proctor”.

Chester was the one that always ran the errands, but this time he said, “You Pa, go and inspect this time.” I walked up the side road and came to the base of a steep mountain. The mountain was dry as powder. I could not help think of Moses and wished that I could take a stick of wood like he did and pound on that mountain wall and water would rush out. I needed it badly, but the time of miracles was over. I went farther on the other side of the mountain and there was a railroad track, and a water tank. But the tank was all covered by ice. At a short distance over, there was a culvert across the trail and there was water trickling through, coming from the overflow of the watertank. The railroad company very likely kept this tank overflowing to prevent it from freezing solid. We got some pans and scooped up enough water to fill our radiator, and some to spare and then were on our way.

We did not encounter any more trouble until we got to the summit at the high elevation where so many of the early gold diggers perished in a snow storm. When we got there, it was snowing. The snow was just rolling down. The snow plows could not keep up with the heavy fall. We started up the incline on low without chains. Getting up about six miles on the winding road, our low gear wore out and we had to turn around and go back to the bottom again. We bought a set of chains and started up again on the second gear and we made it to the top. We were told that the snowfall was six feet in less than one half hour. After we got through, the traffic was stopped for the rest of the day. When we started down the incline it rained, but soon we were at our destination–Oakland, California.

After a couple days we thought it would be fun to drive out and see the nut and berry country. About 15 miles out of San Francisco the transmission in our car played out and the car caught fire. A half dozen Negroes came along in a big semi truck. They had a big fire extinguisher and tried to help us. But the extinguisher had gone dry. The next moment a Greyhound bus came along. They stopped to help us. “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” was another saying that came to my mind. They had good equipment and got the fire out. Although they had a full load of people, they stayed with us over 20 minutes to see that we were safe.

The negroes then hooked onto our car and were going to pull it to the next town, but the wheels would not turn. So Chester took a ride with them to get a wrecker. That town did not have repair parts and so Chester phoned up a garage in San Francisco to come and get our car. He finally got there by the time the wrecker came.

After we got the car repaired we started looking for rooms. We looked many days. Wherever we came some one had been there just ahead of us. At last we got in where there were five families on the second floor. They were sailor boys with their wives. There was a community kitchen. That worked out fine, because in the morning all the rest were asleep and at noon they were not around. But in the evening they were all there with a bunch of others. They were all in the kitchen, drinking lemonade, playing cards and talking. Our room happened to be next to the kitchen. Their “meetings” generally broke up at two or three in the morning. They were however very nice to us and treated us like we were their Grandpa and Grandma.

The minute we got a room I left my car in front with a card in the back window, “Car for Sale”. I was now a second hand car salesman and went up in our room and sat down in comfort. I really felt at home. I had sat there about ten minutes when one of the ladies came in and asked me if it was my car that was parked outside. She said there was a man there that wanted to buy it. I rushed down. The man was a dark skinned man from Arkansas. He asked the price. On account of the war the government had fixed the prices. Mine was about $350. At auctions in those days people drew lots as to who would get the cars at the price set.

The man said he would take the car provided he could get financed. He would be back in one hour. In less than 15 minutes he was back. He had along with him a light skinned man, dignified, nicely dressed, gentleman. He tried out the car and said that he would take it. The differential in my car had then started to growl and so he wanted to find out if he could get repairs and he would be back in one hour.

In another quarter of an hour the first man was back again accompanied by a little middle-aged Jew in a greasy, low pair of sagging pants. The Jew said, “Can I try it.” He drove it around the block. “We have to drive slow,” he said, “so it don’t fall to pieces.” “I’ll take it,” he said.

He told me now that we had to go to the police department and check out. In bringing a car into California to sell, you have to pay a tax of $50 unless you can prove that you have stayed there the required time and can give a good reason for selling it. Also proving ownership through the bill of sale. It was Saturday afternoon and when we got there we saw about 100 cars standing there ready for transfer and inspection. “See,” he said, “no use trying today. We shall go back early Monday morning, I will give you $50 down and you give me a receipt.” We then went to the nearest Bank of America. When we got inside he said to me, “Here is where I do my business.” After walking up boldly to a cashier’s window, coming back he said, “I took it all in fives as that is easier to count.” I neglected to notice whether he got those fives from the window or if he slipped them out from his hip pocket. He counted out the fifty to me, wrote out a receipt noting the price to be paid for the car and down payment. I signed the receipt.

I have always been told, “Never sign a paper for a stranger.” But who started this deal? It was me. By putting that card, “Car for Sale”, on my auto I made myself subject to the mercy of any outlaw in the neighborhood or the whole city. The Jew told me that he had lived in Oakland 12 years. But as far as I was concerned he might just have dropped off the bus. Next day was Sunday and I went to church. The minister delivered a good sermon, but I missed some of it as the devil was always trying to put that Jew in my ears.

Monday morning early, the Jew came along, and we went to the police department. I could prove that I had stayed long enough in the state to avoid the $50 tax. My reason for selling the car was that Chester was not going back and I could not undertake to drive that long distance back. That was accepted. When we came to the transfer department they demanded a bill of sale. There I was stuck. But then the Jew said, “Write to the party you bought it from, enclose a dollar and you will have it by next mail.”

We went over to that same Bank of America. The Jew pulled out that little receipt that I had signed. It was long minutes that time he was scrutinizing it. I wished then that I had a copy with both our signatures on it. There was the amount paid down and the amount due, all correct. He paid me the money, but I did not ride back with him. I did not trust him. Afterwards I visited with him in his garage many times. I learned that he was a Christian Jew. Every Sunday he preached in a church in Oakland. He always listened to the Lutheran Hour. He was planning to retire from his business and devote his time to go out and preach Jesus Christ and His Redemption.

The moral of this is, You can not judge a horse by the harness, or a man by his clothes. You can not tell a man by looking him in the face. You have to get behind him and see where he is looking.

Home again my wife and I went by train. There nothing happened worth writing about or speaking about. At night we had a lower birth. The upper birth was occupied by a refined gentleman. He was of a higher class than we and therefore did not associate with us. On that account we had a double seat in the daytime. That extra seat came in handy during those long days as we reversed it.

A very nice girl was traveling from San Francisco to New York. She spent all her spare time with us in that spare seat. It helped pass time on that long journey. She would call me Grandpa and Ma she would call Grandma. She was very intelligent and entertaining. Her name was Judith. She was four years old. This was during World War II. Trains would pass us on the side with wounded soldiers. It was a pity to see their condition as they were lying on stretchers. Little Judith would be by the window, smile and wave to these poor boys. Even through their agony they would return a faint smile.

Judith’s father, a soldier, was dying in a hospital in San Francisco and her mother was taking care of him. Little Judith was on her way to her grandparents in New York accompanied by an uncle and aunt as far as Minneapolis.

One afternoon the old conductor came along. He patted Judith on her head and said, “Hello, Mary.” The girl said, “My name is not Mary. My name is Judith. And what is your name?” He said his name was John. I told him that this little girl calls me Grandpa. He said, “I wish that she would call me Grandpa.” And he sat down with us and told us a sorrowful story. He pulled out of his pocket a picture of a pretty girl and showed it to us. He said, “This is my daughter. I bought her a pony. One day she fell off the pony and the pony kicked her in the head. She died.” Next was a picture of an elegant soldier boy. He died in action. Now he said, “Mother sits there at home all alone and lonesome. I have two more years before I can retire, I do not know if I can hold out. Everything is lost. I wish someone would call me Grandpa. Sometimes I have charge of the trains that haul those dying soldiers. I can not take it.”

There was a Jewish family with a seven year old boy that occupied a stateroom in our coach. The gentleman was a high ranking officer in the army. By his gold braid and decorations he must have been a rear admiral or something. They did not associate with the rest. They had a difficult job to keep the boy inside. The last day that we were on the train, they must have gotten tired of their self imposed confinement and mister got out and played cards with the others. His wife mingled with the other women. The little boy got loose on his own. He picked up with Judith. They were coloring pictures, talking, playing games all day long. Little Judith from that moment never paid any more attention to me. Once I passed by them she said, “This is my boyfriend.” I never could figure out how people could change that quick, or is it natural. This was the second Jew that crossed our path on the trip.

At last we were at home. “East or West, Home is Best!”

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