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Gronvold: Teenage travels

By Staff | Aug 19, 2016

1966 was not only the year of my graduation from Rugby High School, it was also one of the most interesting years of my life, travel-wise. It began with a surprise summons to attend the 5th annual William Randolph Hearst Foundation Senate Youth Program in Washington, D.C. in early March. I’ll write about that another time. A few days later I attended the state convention of the National Honor Society in Fargo, which was also my first solo overnight trip.

Just minutes after I returned home from Fargo, Dr. Jon Eylands called to advise that my father had suffered a coronary while he and my mother were driving back from a trip to Minneapolis. Dr. Eylands flew me to Valley City where Dad was hospitalized. I think I turned 18 in Valley City, but I don’t recall exactly. I was in a sort of sleepwalking shock for several days. Fortunately, our prayers were answered and Dad recovered, although he had to slow down during his convalescence.

Dad’s brothers, Aaron and Joel, had both died from coronaries in their early fifties. Dad was 51, so we assumed that he would be with us for just a short time longer. We were waiting for the other shoe to drop. And we waited. And we waited. He finally passed…41 years later. Go figure. Mom took good care of him and he took good care of himself.

Dad’s recuperation meant that I had to cancel plans to accompany my aunt and uncle and cousin Byron on a two-month trip to Europe (including Russia). From Byron’s account, it probably was for the best. I don’t live well out of a suitcase and being on an “if this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium” excursion.

Dad offered me a chance to drive to Denver that August, a few weeks before I would begin college. He was working half days at the Gronvold Motor Company and had traded in a Chevrolet El Camino, a sport pickup that wasn’t practical for area farmers. A businessman friend in Denver offered to buy it and I was to deliver it. I asked Dad if I could take the long way to the Mile High City via Glacier and Yellowstone parks and he agreed.

One of the drawbacks of a solo drive is that you have to keep your eyes on the road. I had to concentrate and use my still-young driving skills in order not to drive off of a cliff or rear-end the vehicle in front of me. Although I can claim to have navigated Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Highway, I don’t recall much about the scenery. I did develop a slight distaste for travel trailers and motor homes, however.

In the 40s, 50s and 60s, Airstream, the ‘Cadillac of travel trailers’, as Dad termed them, was among America’s favorite ways to tour. We would see them occasionally on trips to Minot. The Airstream design was done by the man who designed Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis (you can look it up). The Airstream species summered in Glacier National Park that year. My east-to-west climbing, curving and descending drive across the park was often slowed by a stream of Airstreams. No chance to pass, no chance to gain time. The Winnebago Company had begun turning out their first model of motor home in 1966, so I didn’t see very many of them. I can attest that Winnebagos migrate to Alaska for the summer. Some of my former Last Frontier FAA coworkers used to rue that fact when their normally 20-minute easy commute became an hour-long nightmare.

The drive from Glacier to Yellowstone was highlighted by cherry stands everywhere. As I approached West Yellowstone, I was reminded of some friends who had been visiting there during the big 1959 earthquake that rendered Old Faithful somewhat unfaithful. Or, in fairness, unreliable. It erupted for me and I even felt some of its hot droplets.

Yellowstone was another river of cars and campers in 1966, some years before park rangers moved all the grizzlies up above the tree line. I recall sitting in a long line of tourist vehicles, many of whom had stopped to photograph one of the bears as it meandered amongst them. At one pause for paws while I waited for things to move on, a park ranger raced past me and stopped near a man with a home movie camera who had left his station wagon to film a mother bear and her cub. The ranger jumped out of his truck and literally tackled the guy and roughly escorted him back to the safety of his station wagon. The late Packer hall-of-famer Ray Nitschke would have been proud.

Old Reliable Bill is a 1966 graduate of RHS and has never petted a grizzly.

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