My Maternal Grandfather was an interesting man with eclectic automotive tastes. Seven years ago, I wrote about his many cars in this article: Cars of My Grandfather
At that time, I mentioned a trip he made in the summer of 1935, departing Kiester, Minnesota to visit an international exposition in San Diego, California. Joining him on the journey was my Grandmother Zoe, her brother Don Kinkade, and Grandma’s new sister in law, Marjorie. The trip took 3 1/2 weeks, and covered around 4,700 miles.
The thought of crossing the country by car in the depths of the Depression fascinates me, but since the trip occurred 26 years before my birth (and two years before Mom arrived on the scene), I have no memory of the event. However, Grandpa Herman did keep a journal, which my Mother recently gave me.
I’ve created four posts sharing the details of this adventure, where you’ll see Grandpa Herman’s words in standard text. In addition, I’ve added maps for each day of the trip, period photos, and my own comments in italicized text. Enjoy! D/S
1935 Godfrey-Kinkade Expedition By Herman Godfrey
(A report on a vacation trip taken by Zoe and Herman Godfrey and Don and Marjorie Kinkade.)
After considerable trouble getting started we left home with the Black Hills as our first destination on July 24th, about 2:30 PM and had supper just over the line in South Dakota. The crops looked fine all along the road. From appearances, South Dakota has the best small grain crop in several years.
We arrived in Chamberlain about 9 o’clock and decided to drive on for awhile, and of course hit only small towns, so we finally decided to go on to Rapid City. We hit some very rough detours and did not arrive in Rapid City till four o’clock Thursday morning.
Donald and Marjorie went to a hotel and Zoe and I drove out on an old abandoned road and slept in the car. We planned to sleep until late but the sun came in the windows so hot at 6 o’clock that we slept but little after that and drove back to town about seven. We brought some groceries, then went to the hotel for the other kids. They were already up, the heat having driven them out too.
Don and Marjorie were newlyweds, so I’m guessing the hotel stay was a special treat for the new couple. For the duration of the trip, both couples camped or stayed with friends along the way.
We had a lunch in Rapid City and started for the southern part of the hills.
It was a beautiful drive thru the hills since they had changed the road since we were there before. They have a good many tunnels on the new road several under and over bridges when you cross one bridge under another then switch back and go over the top bridge.
Based on Grandpa’s description of the “under and over” bridges, I did a bit of research and discovered the Black Hills area has several, first completed in 1932. Engineers called them “Spiral Bridges,” while the locals called them “Pigtail Bridges.” D/S
I took the wrong road at the State Game Lodge and we lost quite a bit of time south of the hills. We finally wound up in Austin where we had dinner.
As a side note, I find no record of an Austin, South Dakota. Either Grandpa recalled the wrong name, or the town has dried up and blown away. D/S
The CWA and CCC have built dams and formed several new lakes in the southern hills. We drove by them in the afternoon and to the top of Mt. Coolidge. From Mt. Coolidge we drove into the game lodge and over the Needles drove to Sylvan lake and the foot of Harney Peak.
We had planned on climbing Harney Peak, but it was getting late so we gave it up. We had planned supper high on the hills, west of Sylvan lake and went on thru the center of the hills to Hill City. It was dark before we arrived at Hill City, but we couldn’t find a decent place to camp in town so we drove off the road beside a creek. I snagged a stump with the radiator grill and pulled the grill loose when I backed off.
Throughout his description of the Black Hills, Grandpa makes no mention of Mount Rushmore. It was under construction at the time (and had been since 1927), but the work did not wrap up until 1941, so it was not on the destination list during their trip. D/S
I assured everyone that we’d be in the shade in the morning, so the sun wouldn’t bother us. But the sun came up in the north in the morning so we rolled out about seven again. After this I’ll know enough to get my directions from the stars.
Friday we drove thru the center of the hills to see where the world’s largest gold mine is located. Then made the mistake of driving thru Spearfish Canyon. The road was terribly rough and shook our trailer practically to pieces.
Grandpa makes several references to his trailer throughout this report, but makes little mention of his car. While none of his kids were born yet, my Uncle is pretty sure Grandpa had an older Plymouth in 1935, which he traded in two years later for a new ’37 Desoto. While I can’t find any photographic records of the Plymouth, I do have this family image from sometime in 1938 showing the family Desoto in the background. D/S
After our Canyon trip we started for Camp Crook, S.D., where my sister and her husband, Rev. Torbert live. So all Friday afternoon we were in the land of sage brush, buttes, jack rabbits and antelope. The latter were the only interesting things in this part of our trip. It had been cool and nice in the hills but here it was hotter than hot.
We broke a spindle arm on our trailer about the middle of the afternoon and about 30 miles from any town. We bent the arm a little and found that we could travel about 15 or 20 miles an hour with the wheel only coming loose occasionally and finally got to Buffalo where we had the arm welded and had supper. We drove on to Camp Crook after supper and spent the night.
Saturday forenoon we spent in hunting up a Model T Ford rear end to put under the trailer instead of the front end which wasn’t doing so well.
Based on this description of the trailer and the parts used to repair it, I assume the trailer was home built affair based on a Model T frame. D/S
Shortly after noon we left, headed for the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. The Devil’s Tower is really something out of the ordinary; from the base to the top is over eight hundred feet and the sides are very steep in most cases being almost perpendicular. The grain of the rock is vertical. There is a fine pine woods park at the base where we had our supper.
We drove rather late that night and spent the night in Sheridan, Wyoming. We had a hard time finding a camping place at night and finally camped on a rural school grounds. The heat, mosquitoes and grasshoppers drove us out early.
We went over the Big Horn Mts. To Yellowstone instead of thru Buffalo Gap. I don’t understand why more don’t go over them; for it’s a magnificent drive. On the east side the road climbs by a series of switchbacks clear to the top on the outside of the mountains so that you can always see out and watch the plains stretch out farther and farther from you. The tops of the mountains are comparatively flat and when we went thru just beautiful with flowers of red, purple and yellow. After the heat of Sheridan it didn’t seem possible that we’d have to close windows to keep warm but such was the case.
Perhaps some people do not venture over the Big Horn Mts. because of the narrow steep road on the west side; many of the corners are very short and blind. Coming down we heard women screaming and when we got down to them found they had run their car over the edge. It had not gone clear off but badly enough so that it would require a wrecker to get it back so we could be of no assistance. Back on the plains it was scorching hot.
We stopped at Cody long enough to see Buffalo Bill’s monument, then drove up Shoshone Canyon to the dam. We got out above the dam and looked it over. Since none of us had ever seen a large dam it was quite a grand sight. The canyon itself with its tremendous sheer high sides was quite a sight.
The Shoshone Canyon Dam was completed in 1910, so it was old news when they came through in 1935. The river remains the Shoshone, but the dam and reservoir were renamed “Buffalo Bill” in 1946 on the occasion of Mr. Cody’s 100th birthday. D/S
We arrived in Yellowstone shorty before dark, cooked our supper by the side of Yellowstone lake and the Fishing Bridge. We were all tired and went to bed immediately after supper.
In the morning we put up the tent for a bathroom and spent part of the forenoon getting some of the travel stain off from us. Then we drove along the west side of Yellowstone lake and had dinner at Lewis Lake. We drove on to the south entrance as we thought some of going into the Teton Mountains but found out we couldn’t get up into them so we started back. We thought all the time that we could get to Old Faithful Geyser from Thumb but when we got back to Thumb we found it was a one way road from the other way so we had to go back to Fishing Bridge and north to the Falls.
The Falls were beautiful and a lot of water was going over them. We went up to Artist’s Point where we had a wonderful view of the lower falls and the Canyon. We camped that night at the Canyon.
The bears had been around some at Fishing Bridge but did no damage. We obtained some pictures of them close to the Continental Divide when we went to the south entrance. But one old bear was after our food supply the night at the Canyon. We had put our provisions under the car to prevent the bears from getting them. Donald and Marjorie slept in the car and Donald chased the bear away several times. Zoe got frightened and screamed once and I thought the bear had struck her head in the trailer but she hadn’t. The old bear finally decided that she couldn’t get at the groceries under the car so she went and got her two cubs and darned if they didn’t drag our meat out and she took it away from them and ate it. Satisfied at last they didn’t bother us the remainder of the night.
This is the first mention of bears, but Grandpa’s report is sprinkled with further interactions with Yogi and Boo Boo. He reports these encounters in a humorous vein, but it is clear Grandma was NOT amused by these events. D/S
Tuesday morning we headed south on another trail to Old Faithful and other geysers. We hit Old Faithful lucky, only had to wait about 15 minutes to see the eruption. We secured a picture of Old Faithful and headed back. In the afternoon we visited Mammoth Hot Springs and saw some new spring which had just broken out. Then we headed out of the park, stopping Gardiner, Montana, to see if we had any mail, but we didn’t.
North of Gardiner we saw the Devil’s Slide, a mammoth steep slide running clear to the top of the mountains. Donald thought it would be a great place to stage a motorcycle hill climbing contest. We camped that night between Livingstone and Bozeman in a small cleft in the mountains beside a spring. We were right beside the Northern Pacific track on quite an upgrade. They pulled their trains up with two very large locomotives and a large pusher.
A note on meals: Grandpa mentions lunch, dinner, and supper throughout this report, and these words have different meanings in different cultures, times, and regions. In southern Minnesota, dinner refers to the noontime meal, and supper refers to the meal at the end of the day. When Grandpa mentions “lunch” he’s referring to a pick up meal along the road, which could be eaten anytime. In most cases, lunch would be a substitute for a noon or evening meal, but occasionally folks would squeeze a dinner, lunch, and supper into the same day.
Post 2- Yellowstone to San Francisco
Post 4- Los Angeles to Home