In the late 1950’s and on into the sixties, about the only way the police could catch a speeder was, in many cases, to actually chase them down. What if the car they were chasing was faster than the patrol car? Well, another one probably got away.
Many states started supplying their county mounties or Highway Patrolmen with highway pursuit cars. These were especially built to catch those elusive speeders that just refused to slow down so they could be caught. Go figure!?! All were equipped with two way radios made by Motorola.
For those unlucky cops that didn’t have the luxury of having been supplied with the faster pursuit vehicles, they still had their radios. It was said that you may out run the squad car but you can’t out run Motorola.
The officer in pursuit would radio a description of the vehicle they were chasing to the next town down the road with a police force and have them stop their prey. The ticket would be issued, the unhappy motorist would go on his merry way and the two officers would go have a much deserved donut and coffee. I just couldn’t resist that.
This little bit of background is all leading up to a road trip my dad and I took in 1957. We were on our way to Denver, Colorado to visit his friends the Stephenson’s, Jim and Josephine. I called them Uncle Jim and Aunt Jo.
Dad had just bought a 1954 Buick convertible and was anxious to try her out on the open road. We were starting from Chicago and would drive the 1,009 miles to Denver on old Highway 30. It would take us through the northern part of Illinois then through central Iowa through Cedar Rapids and drop into Nebraska just south of Sioux City, Iowa.
Now, if you’ve never been to Nebraska, bring a book. When I went across that state at the tender age of ten, all I remember is flat, grass covered nothingness lined with aging and rusting barbed wire fences. I often wondered, are these fences here to keep unwanted strangers out or the greater population of Nebraska in? I’m thinking ……………. the latter.
Dad and I were starting this little field trip in late July. It was going to be very hot going across Iowa and Nebraska and the old Buick didn’t have air conditioning. Oh goodie!! We loaded her up and filled the tank with gas, hung the canvas water bags one on the hood ornament and one on the door mirror on the drivers side. The water wasn’t so much for drinking, that is unless you had a hankerin’ for the taste of wet canvas. It was more for the radiator. Just in case it decided to boil over. We were going to put the top down but not until it got so hot inside we could no longer take it. Something else to look forward to. Sweltering.
We always started these little jaunts early in the morning. Dad liked to make hay while the sun shined. One of those old sayings I still use to this day. So, off we went. It would take us two days driving to get there. The interstates were still in the planning stages. None had actually been built yet.
The roads were good but most were of the two lane variety. Semi’s and cars danced around each other with care and you could always depend on a trucker to stop and give aid if you got a flat or had some other kind of mishap. It was still a time when people still looked out for the other guy. It’s not like today where most people just look out for numero uno and turn a blind eye to the woes of others. I miss those days, don’t you?
Anyway, dad and I are flying low down the highway. The top is down now and I’m sitting in the back seat shooting my BB gun at crows on the phone lines. I couldn’t hit anything going sixty on those rolling roads but it kept me occupied and out of dad’s hair. That was back when he had some.
Speaking of those phone lines, I always found them to be a little hypnotic. Picture yourself sitting in an open car, a convertible, staring sideways at the passing telephone poles. The wires sagging in the middle forming a hammock like picture in between each pole. Now, as your eyes move from right to left to catch the next pole in line, eventually your eyes will start to follow the sagging lines as well. Before you know it, your whole head is bobbing up and down in rhythm with each passing pole. You’re in a trance-like state at this time. What you need is a good thwack on the back of the head to shake you out of it. If my dad had been driving, you would have gotten just that. I loved my dad and miss him a lot. Thwack or no thwack.
I don’t know where exactly we stayed that first night but, we were well within the Nebraska state line. Probably half way across, if I remember correctly. I do know, the next day went pretty fast. Everything went pretty fast that next day. We were out of Nebraska and into Colorado before I even broke a sweat. You’re about to find out why.
The place we stayed was probably one of those new roadside motels that had the half tent bungalows. They were fairly common along the roadside in those days. They were cheap to build and fast to put up. With the number of people going on driving vacations they had to go up quick.
More and more families were going on driving vacations than ever before. As the roads continued to improve and accommodations were springing up in more and more locations. Tourist attractions like snake farms, cowboy towns, National Parks, everything you can imagine and a lot more you would never ever have dreamed of were popping up over night. It was a wondrous time to live and travel.
Back to the tent motels. They all had wooden floors on the bottom with half walls up to about three or four feet and the rest was a tent from there up. There was a regular entry door that was completely framed in which gave the half and half tent an even stranger look. There was a community washroom that looks similar to the rest stop restroom of today except they were smaller and made of wood.
I remember staying at a lot of those roadside motels. In the southwest, the tents were made to look like tepee’s and the restaurants and offices were designed that way as well. I think there’s still one of those restaurants in business on the old main highway just of I-25 near Garden Of The Gods Avenue in Colorado Springs. At least, it was there in 1993. I know, I ate there. You can ask for directions.
Sorry, got sidetracked.
Most of these roadside motels either had a restaurant right there or there would be one – “Just down the road a piece on your left. You can’t miss it.” That’s what they all said but they would always forget to tell you, “Now don’t blink for the next ten minutes or you just might miss it.”
I guess we didn’t miss it ’cause I don’t remember going hungry.
After we had eaten whatever meal it was, probably lunch, the heat of the day was well upon us. We put the top down and dad pulled around the back of the building. When he got out of the car and took his pants off, I just looked at him. Finally he said, “Well I’m not going to cook going across this damn state if I can help it. Get in and let’s get moving.”
I had seen my old man take his pants off once before while driving but that was in Wisconsin and he had just spilled a hot cup of coffee in his lap. This was a bit different but, after all, he is my dad and he’s been known to do some strange things in his time. This just might be one of them.
Once again, we were merrily tooling down the highway with me in the back seat shooting at crows and dad blissfully driving to Colorado in his underwear. All of a sudden dad was yelling to get down, put the gun down, now. Since I was just ten and had not yet gone through any formal combat training, I may have been a little slow to respond. The “Huh? What did ya say?” didn’t help any either.
There, right behind us and making a u-turn, was a Nebraska State Trooper and he was comin’ after us. The single red bubblegum machine on top of his car was rotating and flashing red with each revolution. I heard dad say, “Well I’ll be God damned if he’s going to pull me over in my underwear.” And the chase was on.
Dad dragged me over the seat back and told me to hold on tight. “We ain’t stoppin’ till we cross the Colorado border. he said, They can’t follow us across the state line. It’s out of their jurisdiction.”
Even though dad told me not to, I kept looking back to see if the cop was catching up. If anything, he was steadily loosing ground. The old Buick was just too fast for him or, my dad’s embarrassing situation was gaving him extra incentive. Either way, we were winning.
I could see the officer holding something up to his face but I had no idea what it was. I as my dad and he said, “Oh for Christ sake. I forgot about the damn radios.”
He told me about how they could call ahead and stop speeders. I remember how unfair that seemed at the time. Dad was determined to race the radio and win come hell or high water. Another old saying I still use.
We saw a patrol car pulling up to the main road in front of us but not in time to get in front. He had to fall to the back of the line.
I remember dad saying, “We’re gettin’ close Eddie, we’re almost there.” Another patrol car had now joined the Conga line. Where he came from and when he joined our little sightseeing group, I wasn’t sure. All I knew was we were still winning and, this was the most fun I had had the whole trip.
Another few minutes and we were over the Colorado state line. We could see the Nebraska escort we had stop short of crossing that line. Dad didn’t stop right away to put his pants on. He wasn’t too sure whether one or more of those cops would just be mad enough to cross the line anyway. We continued on for a ways, obeying the speed limit this time. That was enough excitement for one day. Heck, for the rest of the year.
The rest of the trip to Denver was pretty uneventful but the story tellin’ when we got to Jim and Jo’s, well, it went on well into the night. I went to bed. It had been a long but exciting day.