A Patchwork of Memories
THOMAS P. HARRIS
Marietta, Ohio was my birthplace; born to Earl C. Harris and Eunice L. Mankin Harris on March 11, 1904.
In my youth our family had more than their share of hometowns, Marietta, Ohio; Altadena, California; Kilgore, Nebraska and Santa Cruz, California.
In California I attended my freshman year at University of California at Davis. The family moved to Wyoming and I joined them at the semesters end.
I began my career as a chemist for Oil Refinery, in Casper, Wyoming moving on to Crude Oil Purchasing Co., Midwest, Wyoming and the Natural Gasoline Plant in Covington, Oklahoma.
My life time career began in Tulsa with Mid Continent Petroleum as an engineer in the Production Department. Later in our merger with Sun Oil I was to become Superintendent of Secondary Recovery and Chief Water Flood Engineer. I know the history of some of the Oklahoma oil fields as well as any historian of drilling; having drilled many a gusher. I retired April 1, 1969. In 1983 my personal records of the oil field history and findings were donated to the University of Wyoming Archives on Oil History, on their request.
My wife, Priscilla Rassbach Harris and I were married in Wyoming January 1, 1927. We have two children, <names deleted>, three grand children and two great grandsons.
CROSS COUNTRY TO CALIFORNIA IN 1920
By Thomas P Harris
<Story includes a map and a photo of an old car with 4 people beside it>
Our family of four had been living in the small sandhills town of Kilgore, Cherry County, Nebraska, where Dad was Vice President and my Uncle James C. Snyder, President of the Kilgore State Bank; when Dad, decided over the vigorous objections of my Uncle and Aunt to move to Santa Cruz, California, in search of a more abundant and prosperous life. Dad was then 41, there was my step mother Edith, my younger brother Bob 14, and myself 16.
For several days in preparation f or our move to California, we packed and re-packed the 1918 Buick, 6 cylinder touring car. The car was equipped with side curtains, tire tools, hand pump, tire chains, cold patch materials and a local blacksmith had fashioned an angle iron bracket behind the spare tire. This bracket was used to carry a small trunk in which Edith could pack her things together with the bedding and miscellaneous items. Cars were then equipped with substantial running boards, so brackets were obtained and here we stored a 5 gallon gasoline can, tent, rope, army cots, shovel, suitcases and water bags. We also carried an extra tire, compass, and a 32 rimfire Marlin rifle. In retrospect it now seems we were trying to take everything we owned, although most of the family possessions had previously been sent on ahead via railroad freight.
Uncle James and Aunt Mattie saw us off early one morning. After good-bye had been said for about the seventh time, we started east over the familiar road to Valentine. The weather turned rainy during the day, as we came to the sand-hill country it was welcome, but as we approached the Elkhorn river valley, we slid downhill and barely made it uphill, arriving in later afternoon at O'Neill, with a coat of mud covering both the car and its occupants. Dad decided that we would not try to camp out that night because of the weather and we stayed in a small hotel. Bob and I were unhappy about this turn of events, as we had looked forward to hearing the rain patter on the canvas tent. Edith, however, was not anxious to start camping and was well pleased to stay in the hotel.
The roads improved east of O'Neill and the next day we made 75 miles to Pierce before noon. We stayed overnight in Pierce visiting with family. The following day we traveled 270 miles to stay with family in McPherson. This proved to be our greatest distance traveled in one day on the trip. Here we removed the trunk from the rear of the car, shipping it to California by railroad freight, because the trunk's weight on the rear end of the car was thought by Dad to be the possible cause of a broken spring.
Our first day out we made Hays, Kansas. Near the site of the old fort we found a country schoolhouse, convenient to the road and complete with a water well. Moving in, we cooked the evening meal on a pot bellied heating stove, common to country schoolhouses of that day. We set up the folding cots and having only a coal-oil lantern for light soon retired.
I suppose the talk during the day of Indian country caused my imagination to run riot. I propped the old 32 rifle against the wall near my cot as we turned out the light. Sometime during the night a noise awakened all of us and in my haste to get hold of the rifle, I knocked it to the floor and the lever action fell out. The intruder turned out to be a cat! After the cat left, I finally repaired the gun and we again turned out the lantern and went back to sleep. My family kidded me for some years about my ability to protect one and all in an emergency!
We had never traveled this far by car before, but had crossed this area by train in 1913. We felt that we were going West into country of which we knew little except that the roads would be poor and anything might happened.
The next day we drove without incident to Goodland, Kansas, and at this point the roads were beginning to fade out into trails. The weather was warm and dry and we camped on a creek bank west of town. There was a good hole of water here and after dark we jumped in and enjoyed a good bath and swim.
During the next couple of days we made Ft. Morgan and Ft. Collins, Colorado, where we camped at the fairgrounds. Having had considerable tire trouble the past two days, Dad decided to spend the next day repairing the tires. So the next morning we jacked up the car, one wheel at a time, and pulled cactus spines from the tires, pulled down those that had slow leaks, cold patched the holes and did considerable huffing and puffing pumping them back up.
We took the trail north to Laramie, Wyoming, as we had been told that we could pick up the lately opened Lincoln Highway. Here the road followed the railroad and ridge tops for a distance of about 70 miles. During the day we stopped to cook lunch at a mountain stream. Bob and I failed to catch any of the wily trout reportedly found in these streams.
We made Rawlins the following day, the distance being about 115 miles over rough and rocky trails. We did see a Lincoln Highway sign or two, but that was about the only improvement over the trails we had been following! We tried out the 32 rifle on coyotes and hawks during several stops but failed to hit anything. Of our dry camp that night the memory that stand out was the strong odor of sagebrush, as we fell asleep.
The greater portion of the trip to Green River was over an abandoned railroad grade, from which the rails and ties had been removed so recently, that no grading had been done. The old grade paralled the new grade which was in use by the Union Pacific. Whenever we heard or saw a train coming down the track we would stop and watch it roll by, waving at the Engineer and passengers. We rattled and banged along most of the day and it seemed we would, any moment, break a spring or axle, however, none of these things occurred.
Since cars were not equipped with a gasoline guage as we know them now, when you had traveled so far, you measured the gasoline left in the tank with a stick or ruler. For safety, we filled the tank at every country store which happened to have a gasoline barrel handy. The seller would put a funnel in the gas tank of the car and if we insisted, place a chamois skin over the funnel, then pour the gasoline from a 5 gallon can, straining it through the skin. Generally, a few drops of rusty water would remain on the skin, sometimes as much as a table, spoon full would show up.
There were few road signs and no road maps in 1920. So we drove from town to town and inquired at each place as to how to reach the next. Before leaving Kilgore, I had prepared a homemade map of the western states and tried to trace in the roads from day to day during our travels. Unfortunately, upon reaching California I sent my map back to Kilgore and never recovered it.
Climbing into the Wasatch mountains through heavy pine forests, we found the road to be very poor. Descending the west side of the mountains, the road was often so steep that the car was hard to control in low gear or with liberal use of the brakes. Coming to the base of one steep incline we came upon a car which had run off the side of the road. The family was touring as we were, and Dad agreed to pull them into Salt Lake City, a distance that turned out to be 40 miles! I can still remember the other driver throwing on his brakes, snapping our necks and Dad's exasperation and remarks about wishing that guy would learn how to drive!
The next day both families loaded up in our car and toured the city while their clutch was repaired. It was by far the cleanest city we had ever seen, with it's wide paved streets and imposing Mormon Temple.
Driving around the south edge of the Great Salt Lake we headed toward Ely, Nevada, as we were advised that this route was the best way to cross the desert. Much of the day's travel was in low and second gear winding in and out of gullies. At one point the road left a ridge and descended to the bottom of a sandy, boulder strewn dry wash. As we came up the bank, the radiator of the car was boiling over. We stopped to allow it to cool, after which we filled it from the canvas water bag. Waiting for the engine to cool down, a bewhiskered prospector, leading two burros loaded with camp gear and hand tools, came by. We talked to him for some time and he advised us of the road ahead, where to find water holes, and most importantly how to look for "blow quartz" which he said, was the indication of a good place to dig for gold. Bob and I were fired up by the prospector's conversation and that night where we camped, we dug holes in the hillside until after dark looking for gold.
Arriving in Ely, the car's clutch was now slipping and both spare tires were worn out so Dad decided that we would lay over a day or two and recuperate while the car was being overhauled. Dad purchased two Norwalk tires, had the clutch relined and the valves ground. He had to give $40 each for the tires but they were his favorite make so he was not too unhappy.
Following a trail which is present day U.S. Highway #6, we crossed the Pancake Range at Black Rock Summit. After a hot dusty day, we saw a clear water creek running through a small sagebrush covered valley. This looked good after all the brown, yellow and gray colors we had seen that day. Dad drove off the trail to a clear level spot in the green grass near the side of the creek. The water looked clear and cold. So Bob and I jumped out with the old collapsible aluminum cups and dipped into the clear running water, only to find it was hot! We camped here for the night and instead of a cool refreshing drink, after dark we had a warm refreshing bath!
From "Hot Creek Camp" we drove 70 miles to the gold rush town of Tonapah. It was a busy place full of people, wagons, trucks, and many dogs. It seemed out of place here in the desert. After stocking up on groceries, Dad inquired about the roads to California and was told that the only way to go was southwest toward Los Angeles, but Dad had a stubborn streak, so we went northwest toward San Francisco. We camped not far away that night having followed a trail through hot dry, mountainous country. Somewhere along this road, we came to a dry alkaline lake, the surface white and smooth like a table top. This called for speed, so Dad opened the Buick up and we must have made 50mph for a few minutes, relieving the monotony of so many miles in low gear.
Near Lake Tahoe late one evening the weather was cold and rainy, we stayed in a hotel for the second night of our trip. The novelty of camping out having worn out, Bob and I found sitting in an easy chair in a hotel far superior to our army cots.
Enroute to Sacramento the next day, we came to a clearing on the mountainside from which we could see the blue water of the south end of Lake Tahoe. I still compare all lakes with my memory of this sight. We drove through the most spectacular scenery that day, over narrow twisting roads, often wide enough for only one car at a time. We camped that night on the bank of the Sacramento River and sampled the grapes in a nearby vineyard. The last day of our trip was through San Jose and the coast range of mountains. The ocean was a beautiful sight from high on the coast range. We had finally arrived in our new hometown, Santa Cruz. My log and map showed that we traveled about 24OO miles in 16 traveling days, averaging 150 miles per day. The journey had taken us a total 24 days with sight seeing and visiting relatives.
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