Although recollections of these people are starting to fade, I hope to catch a few of the memories for which to share.
Moms Parents From Oklamulgee, Oklahoma
Moms folks had moved west before I was born so I only have memories of then in California and then only in racy, California where they live on Grant Line Road just outside of town. The lived in a small house next to a farmer who had about ten acres. Their little house had the customary garden and a big garage as grandpa was a mechanic.
Where is Tracy one asks? In 1878 construction of a new rail line was started from Oakland around the shores of San Francisco Bay, through Martinez to connect to the Central Pacific at a point three miles to the east of Ellis. The line had been built to make possible greater efficiency by avoiding hills and to eliminate the expense of helper engines. The result of the new rail line was the founding of Tracy on September 8, 1878. It is generally agreed by pioneer residents that an official of the railroad by the name of Lathrop J. Tracy was given the distinction of having the town named for him. Tracy continued to grow as a railroad center. A new line through Los Banos was the fastest and least expensive to Los Angeles. In March of 1894 railroad headquarters at Lathrop were moved to Tracy. All of the railroad equipment including engines and buildings were moved. Thus, Tracy's beginning is in fact the story of a railroad. Tracy was incorporated in 1910 and it grew rapidly after the first irrigation district was established in 1915. Although railroad operations began to decline in the 1950s, Tracy continued to prosper as an agricultural area. Today, the City seal reflects this history of railroads and agriculture.
Highway 99 Was America's Second Highway To Us
My Mom and Dad used to drive Highway 99 many times a year going from Los Angeles to Tracy, California to visit my grandparents. In the summer it was flat out hot! And in the winter it was cold!
You kids won't understand this but in my day, cars did not have air conditioning . Every once in a while you would see a car with a big device on the side which took in air, passed it across a wet elements and produced moist air.
Early automobile air conditioners were lacking
It is too bad but Highway US 99 was completely decommissioned by 1968 with the completion of I-5. It was being phased out beginning July 1, 1964 as I-5 started bypassing all the small towns.
It used to be fun to go from town to town and many years ago I could name every town we went through starting at Bakersfield. Dad didn't think it was that much fun. Drive like the devil between stops! The old 1953 Pontiac went like the wind between towns.
I remember the trains that ran along the old highway. On good days, you could see the trains coming for miles as their headlights were always on and they looked like a star on the horizon.
There is a State Route 99 (SR-99) follows almost the exact course of US 99 with the exception of several towns that the current freeway has bypassed.
In many places old 99 was a two-lane road
The best part of the trip was summer time when the oranges and lemons were ready. The "Big Orange" stands were dotted along the highway for hundreds of miles. We would pull in, order up a large lemonade or orange drink and off we went. The juices were juiced in front of you while you waited and the oranges were COLD so no one needed ice! Thee were the most delicious drinks one could imagine especially when the outside temperature was 102 or more.
But selling oranges at roadside stands in California is a long-standing tradition. In the 1950s, well before Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald's, the concrete oranges came to symbolize where customers could buy just-picked citrus and order fresh-squeezed juice and a hamburger, too.
Over one trip we would stop every 20-30 minutes to get a "Big Orange" and park under their shade trees or awnings and let the car cool down. The stands were large (look at the cars compared to the stand below). They could be seen from the highway (not freeway but highway) for a great distance.
There used to be hundreds of these concrete oranges along Highway 99 because two burger outfits Mammoth Orange and the smaller Giant Orange both used them in their building's logo to attract customers. These original fast-food joints were shaped like citrus and painted a bright, hit-the-brakes orange.
When the new, wider, and realigned Highway 99 was built, the giant oranges, which once were located all up and down California's Central Valley, slowly disappeared. With improved highways comes limited access; drivers can't enter or exit except at designated on- and off-ramps.
The classic, original architecture that was designed to convince travelers to spontaneously turn off the highway into their parking lots has since made way for 100-foot tall signs along the freeway announcing yet another off-ramp full of McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Jack in the Box, and Taco Bell restaurants.
"I See It!!!!"
The trips were long and were punctuated by screams of "I see it!!"
To this day I will remember counting the number to train cars attached to engines going to and from Tracy California. Whoever saw a train first would yell out loud "I SEE IT". Mom always had the best eyesight but on occasion Dad and I would get to yell.
In those days we saw the old steam locomotives as well as the new diesels. The steam locomotives were easier to spot from miles away because of the smoke pouring out of the top.
We loved watching the trains cross the country
Sometimes Dad would pull over to the side of the highway and we would get out and waive at the Engineer and the rest of the crew as they whizzed by at 80 miles an hour. In the flat lands of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas these trains had 100's of cars and were really roll along. It was not uncommon to see a train doing 70 miles per hour and we would keep up with them for long periods of time.
I do remember once that we had driven for hours and hours and Dad, of course, never stopped. Finally, Mom said "Pull over now". Yes, potty time. Mom found a small bush beside the road and in those days there was not much traffic but guess what? Within 45 seconds here came a passenger train doing about 70 and went right behind her. She was no more than 20 feet from the track. Dad thought this to be pretty funny. I thought it better to keep quiet. Mom never forgot that little incident. I wonder to this day if Dad made this stop after saying to himself very very very quietly, "I see it".
Grandpa Stopped His Old Hudson On The Bridge
My Mom's dad, Grandpa Lewis must have learned to drive on a farm because he sure as hell could not drive on the streets. He managed to drive for years but my mom and dad would not drive with him.
I remember going fishing near Stockton, California, and on the way back my grandpa seeks a small stream and decides to stop and look to see if it was going to be good for fishing! He stops OK but on the bridge. Now this is a little two lane road which was not used a lot except by 18-wheelers who took it as a short cut to highway 99.
Grandpa stops and all I remember is my dad yelling "Step on it, damn it, step on it" and about that time I hear air horns going wild and an 18 wheeler veering off the road heading through a corn field at 60 miles an hour.
The trucker did not believe my grandpa could stop on the bridge and finally had to go through a farmers field to avoid a crash!
From that point forward, grandpa was NOT allowed to drive. He finally put his 1950 Nash into the garage for ever and it was probably given to one of my uncles.
In times gone by, you always had a garden. Yes, even in Los Angeles my Mom and Dad had a garden as well as my Aunts and Uncles. This was true specially during World War II. Gradually the super market made the gardens obsolete and then in the 1950's we started living in small plots of land with no room for the magic of a garden.
Grandpa Lewis has a wonderful garden in his backyard. It was probably 40x40 and I know it contained a large grape arbor because of the many spiders we had to removed before we could walk into the garden without fear.
It was an amazing garden
I remember the lady-finger grapes the most as they were great eating in the hot Tracey summer afternoons. Grandpa raised a little bit of everything and sometimes his garden would expand into the back part of his property. Green beans were another favorite because not only did we pick them, we got to sit and drink lemonade while we snapped them for that evenings dinner.
Grandma would can during the summer so they would have veggies during the winter. They had a root cellar complete with the snakes (really, I saw a couple of them).
The Meteor That Lit Up The Entire Midnight Sky On Highway 99
We often left late at night when going to Tracy because of the high temperatures along highway 99. Remember we are talking 1950's when air conditioning was unheard of in normal cars.
My spot was the back seat where I would normally sleep the night away. On one trip I was awake for some reason, probably asking "Are we there yet?" We were going towards Los Angeles and were near the start of the grapevine when the sky all of a sudden lit up like noon. Out of the window we saw a streak of light fall to Earth and were quite concerned.
Today we would grab the radio dial and turn on the news station. In the 1950's in the middle of Highway 99, the only stations one could generally pick up were faint Mexican stations blasting distorted mariachi music or some religious nut in Texas so the radio as out.
The next day we red in the paper that a meteor entered the atmosphere and did impact in the desert about 200 miles from where we were that evening. To this day, I remember us discussing the possibility of turning off the highway to go see where it went thinking it was just a few miles away.
Dad Got A Ticket For Speeding And Ended Up Giving The Officer A Ride To The Next Town
It's now 1955 and Dad is driving the 1955 Chevy station wagon up highway 99 on our way to see Grandma and Grandpa Lewis. Dad was known to have a lead foot and sure enough while zipping through Turlock, California, he acquires a tail. A real fast 1955 Dodge Highway Patrol man and his partner.
While Dad is getting his ticket written, another speeder comes flying along and I mean flying. This person was driving so crazy that the officers partner took off after him with lights flashing and siren screaming.
The ticket is now complete and the officer is about ten miles from anywhere. Remember, no cell phones and not a lot of traffic. So Dad offers him a ride to the CHP office down the highway about 15 miles. Sure enough, the officer jumps in the car and apologizes to Dad over and over.
Dad was an honest man and said that he deserved the ticket so the officer wrote a big note on the ticket to the judge telling him what happened. A few weeks later, Dad got a letter in the mail from the courthouse stating the ticket was thrown out and they appreciated him assisting the officer in need!
Honesty does pay! While it does pay it doesn't teach. Dad continued the journey at somewhat over the speed limit arriving at Tracy California around 6 PM.