In 1936 Marj had been the bookkeeper in the Equity for three and a half years and Louise Evavold was clerking there. Louise's older sister Elsie was a nurse and she and Lydia Goplin, another nurse from Red Wing, had gone to Hollywood and gotten jobs in the Hollywood Hospital. Marj and Louise got "California fever" and Marj had the new Plymouth, so they started laying plans. They tried to find enough other girls to ride along and help pay for the trip. Howard Melby and I wanted to go, too, but they wouldn't consider us at all. [33.191-2]
By the time Howard and I got back from our week at the State Fair, Marj and Louise had changed their tune; they hadn't been able to find enough unemployed girls who had any money to contribute to their expedition to California. Howard and I were welcome to go along. [33.193-1]
Marj and Louise, Howard and I, "Goldie" LaValleur (who was going along to stay with an aunt in Anaheim and go into a hospital for nurse's training), and Hazel Goplin from Red Wing made six. Hazel was a young registered nurse, sister of the R.N. who went out with Elsie Evavold. [33.193-2]
Howard and I got references for prospective employers from the banker, L.J. Hauge, and each deposited $125 for an emergency fund to come home on again if we didn't find our fortunes in California. We planned to share expenses on the trip, except for Goldie, whose folks gave Marj a flat sum of $75 for her ride and expenses. [33.193-3]
I guess I had the most loose money in the bunch, so I ordered a one-wheel trailer from Sears, Roebuck and Howard and I built a nice plywood top on it in George Huggett's blacksmith shop. We got a lot of advice from everybody while we were building the trailer. [33.193-4]
We had to have quite a bit of room as we didn't know if any of us were coming back or not. We were going to seek our fortunes and even talked about going to Alaska. We took all the clothes we owned, winter and summer, even our ice skates.
Someone said we should take extra gas with us, because they really held you up some places out west. So we filled a 15-gallon barrel with gas and put it in the front of the trailer. That, plus all of our suitcases, came to about 950 pounds, we figured. [33.193-5]
In the trunk we had a Coleman camp stove, cooking equipment, and cases of canned goods, etc. from the Equity. (I think Marj got it wholesale.) [33.193-6]
We had everyone's blessing, which surprised us. I guess they thought there was safety in numbers and that Marj would rule the expedition with an iron hand. We hung a sign on the trailer, California or bust, and left Ashby toward noon on the 5th of October, 1936.
We drove through the night until we got to the Black Hills, about 4 a.m. Some of it had been on some really rough detours, and we had eaten supper along the road by a little creek near Pierre, South Dakota, about dusk. We just sat in the car and slept until daylight. Then we toured Deadwood, nearby towns, and the Black Hills. That night we rented our first cabin, a five-room cottage at Rapid City. [33.193-7]
Most of the time we rented two cabins, a housekeeping cabin for the girls and a sleeping cabin for Howard and me. We all ate at the girls' cabin. Everything was strictly aboveboard all the way. Everyone had assigned jobs when we stopped for the night and the girls planned menus ahead, different every day. It was an efficient bunch that really worked together. I think we ate better than we ever had, and cheap, too. [33.194-1]
October was "post-season" and the cabin rates had been cut drastically. The Depression was barely starting to ease a little, but none of us knew a single person along the whole trip that we could stop and stay with. Marj and Louise and I did all the driving. Every time we stopped for gas or any reason, a different one got behind the wheel. We held the speed between 40 and 45 miles an hour the whole way. That was about average road speed then. [33.194-2]
The next night, after more sightseeing, we rented cabins at Hot Springs, and I think the next night was at Rawlins, Wyoming. Howard and I walked downtown there in the evening to see the night life and the first thing we saw was the sheriff dragging a drunk, screaming Indian woman out of the bar. We didn't go much farther. Things on that street looked too rough for us.
One day, along about there, we didn't find a cabin until after dark and as we were going along in the dusk a black horse walked out on the road. Marj was driving and she put on the brakes -- hard! We just missed having a horse in the car with us. The roads in the Black Hills weren't "improved" much yet and in one place the road was so narrow and the turn so sharp, we had to back up once to keep the trailer from swinging off the road. [33.194-3]
They were just carving the presidents' faces at Mount Rushmore and men were hanging in baskets running air hammers on the faces and the rock chunks were dropping off.
We had heard about the water running uphill in the mountains (an optical illusion) and we didn't believe it, but sure enough, we saw it shortly before we got to Salt Lake City. We had a cabin at Salt Lake City and went to the Mormon Tabernacle to hear a pin drop at noon the next day.
Sometime after noon that day we were going through sagebrush country and it was hot when the tire blew on the one-wheel trailer. We didn't have a spare for it, so we unloaded the trailer and unhooked it and took off the wheel. We left the girls in the road ditch with the stuff and went to a nearby filling station and got a "boot" in the tire. [33.194-4]
After a few more miles the tire blew again and caught fire, so we backed the trailer out into the sagebrush and unhooked it. [33.195-1]
Howard remembered that there was a fellow in Cedar City whom he had written to a couple of times in connection with a trappers' association connected to Fur, Fish & Game magazine. We were only a few miles from Cedar City, so we left the trailer and all our belongings and we all went to Cedar City and hunted up Bob Oaks. He had a friend who lent us a two-wheel trailer and we went back and hauled ours in on that. [33.195-2]
We rented a couple of motel cabins and had a garage man check around, but there were no small tires like that to be found. He called Goodyear in Los Angeles to have them send one out right away by bus. [33.195-3]
We left the trailer by the motel and took a sightseeing trip to Zion National Park the next day. The day after that we took a trip to the Grand Canyon. That was an all-day trip. Down there we paid 44 cents a gallon for gas, because our cheap gas was up in the trailer.
The next day the tire still hadn't come. Calls to Los Angeles didn't get any positive answer. The girls washed and ironed and dressed up, for a change. By then Bob Oaks had found out that the park board had a trailer like ours and if we would pay the dealer in advance for the new tire, they would give us the tire off their trailer and take the new one when it came.
The next morning the tire still hadn't come, so I gave the dealer $17.50 and got the tire from the park trailer put on our trailer and took off for Las Vegas. [33.195-4]
I had always wondered where I could find an Indian princess like the one in the Pilgrim story (Pocahontas). It always sounded romantic and I had seen pictures, paintings, etc. and also the one on the Land-O-Lakes butter carton, so as soon as we got out of Minnesota I started looking for one. When we were stuck in Cedar City we took in some of the night life, and I asked every good-looking, dark-haired girl I saw if she was part Indian. They thought it was a good joke, but they didn't seem to mind. The people there were the friendliest and most helpful people I had ever seen and you could talk to anyone like you had always known them. [33.195-5]
When we got down into the hot part of Nevada, we finally did see a whole bunch of Indian women -- fat, greasy-looking ones, sitting under pole and grass frameworks, weaving baskets. Disillusion #1. Right then I quit looking for Indian princesses. [33.195- 6]
Disillusion #2. I thought I would wait until I got to California and look for a Japanese beauty like I'd seen in the National Geographic instead. But the only Japanese girls I ever saw in California were a few real plain ones working in the vegetables in the markets. Where the beauties kept themselves, I never found out. [33.196-1]
We went to see Boulder Dam and then back to Las Vegas for the evening. It wasn't very exciting then (not like now) and our gang wasn't the type to appreciate what there was, so we took off from there about 11 p.m. [33.196-2]
We had heard that you should cross the desert at night, on account of the heat, so we did. We drove all night and hadn't made any lunch so we ate at noon in a cafe in San Bernardino and nearly melted from the heat in that valley. We had a girl in a fruit stand take a picture of our bedraggled-looking bunch while we were still together, and then we dropped Goldie in Anaheim. [33.196-3]
Ever since we left home, I had especially looked forward to seeing the ocean and the beach and the "bathing beauties" like the pictures we had seen. When we finally got to the ocean it was foggy and rainy and windy and cold and not a single bathing beauty anywhere. Disillusion #3. The biggest letdown of my whole life! [33.196-4]
The five of us went on and found the nurses' apartment in Hollywood about dusk and Elsie and Lydia welcomed the three girls in with open arms and told them they had arranged rooms for them. They more or less ignored us boys, but Else finally said she had seen a Room for Rent sign on a front lawn down on Vermont Avenue. Howard and I went down there and rented a sleeping room in a house with a nice family, formerly from Michigan, for $4.50 a week. We stayed there until we went home in the spring. [33.196-5]
We poured the gas from Minnesota into the tank in California. The price was 17.5 cents in the pumps there, the same as it was when we bought it in Minnesota. [33.200-3]
I was still horse crazy and planned to hunt for work with horses in riding academies or racetracks, or somewhere, but Elsie suggested that we should go and see a fortuneteller or reader where she had been and get an idea of what was in store for us out there, before we did anything else. So the five of us all went there that night (or the next night). [33.196-6]
The fortuneteller was about 30 years old and told fortunes one at a time, sitting across from us at the round oak table in her mother's kitchen, while the rest of us waited our turns in the living room. I was one of the last ones and the others were coming out of the kitchen with the most flabbergasted looks on their faces, because of all she told them and knew about them.
She was nice and plain and quiet-looking. She started right in telling me about a girl I was going to meet soon: "tall, well-built (proportioned, I think she meant), good-looking, good morals," -- everything, I guess. She said I would recognize her right away.
She said more things that I have forgotten, but she said she could see me working with animals and I said, "Horses."
"No, small animals," she said.
I shook my head, but she insisted. (She must have been right. Twila and I stayed up all night in the lambing barn on our 25th wedding anniversary!) [33.197-1]
After I met Twila we thought it would be fun to see what she told her. She started by asking if she would like to work in a store or laundry. She asked if she would consider living in a depot and Twila said no. She talked about a trailer house but didn't exactly say Twila would live in one, but that someone else would. She said she would see lots of changes and would have to do a lot of adjusting.
She asked Twila what were some of the things she would like to do and Twila said she would like to travel.
"Would you like to travel in a plane?" she asked.
"I guess so," Twila said, "but I would rather travel in a car."
"Well, you will travel some," she said, "and some of it will be in a car, and some in a train, and some in a plane."
(She was right on all counts. Twila didn't live in a depot, but we seriously considered buying the Ashby Depot and moving it and remodeling it into a house. We haven't lived in a trailer, but Jerri, Kathy, Beaver, and Mitzi all have, at one time or another. She has worked in a store and laundry. She claims she has seen lots of changes and has done a lot of adjusting. And she has traveled quite a bit by car, train, and plane.) [33.197-2]
Hazel soon got on as an R.N. in the Hollywood Hospital. Louise soon got on there, too, making beds, etc. Marj hunted a while and finally got a job as a bookkeeper in a small sweater knitting factory. [33.197-3]
Howard and I toured the employment offices and the riding stables and racetrack and visited Lawrence Hauge at the big Bank of Southern California. We went wherever anyone suggested there might be a job.
We went to the cheap employment offices in the Skid Row district several times. We didn't dress very fancy when we went down there and blended in with the rest. We visited with a lot of interesting characters there and were more fascinated with that district than with the better and plusher areas. [33.198-1]
The restaurants were awfully plain and cheap, but clean. They evidently didn't think anybody would trust them for cleanliness, so most of the cooking and baking was done in an open kitchen you could see from the tables. Making doughnuts, etc. was done up on front where you could watch it from the sidewalk. We would buy 50 chocolate doughnuts for 50 cents to take to our room. A whole dinner cost about 25 cents, coffee 2 cents and with cream 3 cents. I took Twila down there later in the winter, but she wasn't at all impressed. [33.198-2]
There were men standing around all over looking for work, but the jobs were few, probably a few jobs for hard rock miners way out in the mountains, etc.
I almost landed a job as a milkman (they called it "salesman and delivery driver") but hadn't lived there long enough to pass. I could have done this; we carried maps of the city and in no time at all we could find our way anywhere in the city without asking or backtracking. [33.198-3]
We went sightseeing around the numerous secondhand stores and pawn shops. One of them had a box in the window full of secondhand false teeth. There were old hotels with Room for Rent signs with prices of $1 or $1.50 a week. [33.198-4]
In a vacant lot a Salvation Army (or some such) woman was up on a box, preaching to quite a crowd of bums. Finally she said, "If you believe in God raise your hand and we will go in and have something to eat."
All the hands went up and one guy hollered, "I'll raise my hand to anything if you'll give me something to eat."
This had been the rich district at one time and the decrepit houses were big and old and elaborate. All of them had big porches on one or two or three levels, all full of old junk and blankets, etc. drying on the railings. The kids playing in the streets were every shade of white, yellow, black, and red, which really fascinated us "white" guys. [33.198-5]
I went to a riding stable one day and the lady there said I could work there; their man had just quit. I would have a room connected to the horse barn and do my own cooking, etc. (The only thing I had ever cooked in my life was oatmeal, a couple of times when my folks were gone.)
The room I was offered smelled just as much like a horse as the barn did, and I figured my cooking would have been even worse than nothing and would taste like the barn smelled even if I learned how to cook. Disillusion #4! I never went near another horse stable in California again. [33.199-1]
Lyle Torgrimson (Ted's son) had just come back to Fergus from a year in California and he told me before we left Minnesota to hit the restaurants because they changed help often and also you could eat there. So we started hitting restaurants.
One day I found two dishwashing jobs, for the next day. Howard took one of them, in a small restaurant that needed dishwashing, cook's helper, flunky, etc.
I took the other, afternoons till midnight, in a small drive-in called the "Pig Stand." The work area was only enclosed waist high and I almost froze to death after it got dark. I washed and wiped so many heavy malt glasses by hand that I sprained my wrist and it swelled up big and hurt something awful.
I went to a Jewish drug store and showed my wrist to the lady there. She said, "You poor boy," and sold me a bottle of Absorbine Jr. liniment. [33.199-2]
Elsie and Lydia had made some friends, mostly with the father of a girl they had cared for in the hospital. He had an orange grove and vineyard a couple of hundred miles north, near Fresno, and he kept inviting them to come up there and spend a weekend. Mostly to get transportation, I think, they told us they were sure we could get a job up there, picking oranges. We quit our undesirable restaurant jobs and went up there with them and Marj and Louise and Hazel.
Disillusion #5. The grape season was just winding up and the oranges weren't anywhere near ripe. Besides, they had experienced help that worked when the season was on.
However, we stayed overnight and the next morning his wife went to work in the packing house where they were boxing the last grape shipment of the season. She looked at us like we were his friends, not hers, but she put up with us. He spent the day with us, took us to see the grape packers work, and out to his 40 acres of grapes, where bunches of table grapes hung in foot-long bunches, too ripe to pack. He said we could help ourselves to all we wanted. We took a boxful, but you can eat only so many. [33.199-3]
He went with us up to Yosemite Park, where we played in the snow and saw the world's biggest tree, etc. Then we went back to Hollywood, unemployed again. [33.200-1]
We dropped the girls off and Howard and I went down the street to a small cafe for lunch before we went home. When we left there about 11:30 p.m. the street lights were bright and I didn't notice that I hadn't turned the headlights on. There was no traffic, and I made sort of a "slow up and go" at a stop sign.
A cop stopped us and asked a lot of questions. I imagine we looked awfully suspicious with the enclosed trailer behind, but we must have looked honest, because he let us go. [33.200-2]
Back to the unemployment offices again. It was starting to look serious: we were paying $4.50 a week between us for a room and eating the bare minimum in restaurants. (Later we moved to an upstairs room and got it for $4 per week for the rest of the winter.) [33.200-3]