More Really Great News, being the sequel to The Really Great News, is, or at least should be, devoted to the concept that God is still very much active today in our lives, performing miracles visible to us today. The first corollary to this premise is that therefore those described in the Bible must surely have happened just as written, and the second corollary is that therefore every word of the Bible must be true.
This being the case, it is just as easy to find further proof of these facts by looking back on our past experiences as it is by watching out for current ones happening around us.
That said, I would like to devote this chapter to some of the ways in which the Lord has protected me in the past, when I was too young to appreciate the danger from which I was being protected or to realize that this protection was no mere stroke of luck or result of chance.
As a prelude to the incident, which I will describe at the end of this chapter, let me mention that I was born in Portland, Oregon on October 25, 1919.
The significance of the location is that it is roughly 350 miles due north from Bayside, (Humboldt County) California. When I was a boy Bayside was a tiny wide spot in the narrow road, consisting of a church, a one-room school house, a Grange Meeting Hall, and a small General Store that also housed what passed for the Post Office—the Postmaster obviously being the owner of the store. Bayside is significant because it is where my mother was raised and where nearly all of her relatives lived when I was growing up.
The significance of the date is that I think very few people will know anything about the primitive travel conditions prevalent there in the first quarter of the 20th century—conditions that make for some very interesting stories.
I refer to main roads, not to the logging roads, of which there were many. These logging roads were of two kinds: “plank” and “corduroy”. Both were made of wood and were only one lane wide. Both roads started with 2” x 8” planks of rough-cut wood, each about 2 ft. longer than the width of the ruts made by a logging truck. The planks were laid on top of dirt or mud at right angles to the direction of travel with the flat side up. For the corduroy roads, this was all there was. Their name came from the fact that driving over them felt like driving over concrete that had been molded into the pattern of corduroy cloth…they were very, very bumpy, and top speeds on them were only about 3 or 4 MPH.
However, the plank roads were much nicer. They were simply corduroy roads over which were laid 4 planks going in the direction of travel…two on either side to coincide with where the truck tires would run. Speeds of up to about 10 or 15 MPH could be obtained on such smooth surfaces. Often when we would go out for a ride on a Sunday afternoon we would end up on a logging road that ran through a beautiful forest of Douglas Fir trees.
However, back to the main roads: My recollections of my early boyhood were that (1) my father bought a new car every year (trading in the old one) and that (2) we used it to drive to Bayside from Portland every year for a one- or two-week vacation to visit my mother’s folks there. I am sure that these particular recollections are not absolutely accurate, and that there must have been some years when Dad missed buying or switching cars and/or going to California, but the point is that there were several such years, and each time was different.
For example, the first trip took three days, although today it probably takes no more than about five or six hours. We would have to stay overnight in hotels, the details of which I don’t remember. However, I do remember the procedure for selecting a place for lunch. It involved driving slowly through whatever town we were in, watching from the car, and stopping at the first hotel that displayed a linen table cloth on the dining room tables, which were always in the hotel’s front window. (And the hotels were always on Main Street, which was always the road that we had been traveling.)
I also remember that when we started out in the morning and from time to time throughout the day we would pull up to a gas pump (which wasn’t always at what we would now call a gas station) and Dad would ask whoever seemed available about the condition of the road up ahead. We had nothing like the American Automobile Association, and, in fact, didn’t always have even a map of the roads. Directions were verbal and colored by the opinion of whoever was giving them.
The main road was seldom paved—more often just gravel that had been scraped to what had been a smooth surface at one time. It often required driving down to the bank of a little creek or stream and “fording” it (by driving through the water) and up the other side of the bank. Dad was always careful not to get into water that was too deep, lest it wet the battery, which in the early cars hung underneath the removable wooden floorboards at the feet of the front-seat passenger.
However, roads that were good in the morning didn’t always remain that way throughout the day. I clearly remember one time when we were traveling on what today would have been the equivalent of US-101, and as we came up a rather steep little hill and out onto a flat area we suddenly found that the ruts that we had been following disappeared in the tall grass of the meadow into which we had just arrived. Dad solved the problem by driving over to a stopped car where some picnickers were eating lunch and asking directions: They waved us on to a spot on the other side of the meadow where the trees did indeed seem to part enough to allow a car to go between.
In the several years following this experience we began to encounter road construction crews for a high percentage of the trip, and these usually made the travel even more exciting. I can clearly remember one time when we were going along a narrow road being built along the side of a rather steep cliff at the bottom of which was a small river. At a point where only one lane was passable some truck had dumped a load of gravel that was intended to be spread out on the road (probably the next day or whenever they could find an available road scraper and a road roller with a steam engine). However, there was no way around this huge pile of gravel, so Dad backed up, took a run, proceeded to try to go up and over the pile. This was a great idea, except that when the front wheels went over the top and down the other side the center of the car hung up on the top of this pile, with all four wheels in the air. Since I don’t remember any help coming, I think mother and I must have gotten out of the car and pushed it or rocked it back and forth until Dad could get traction on the rear wheels…all the while watching the edge of the cliff to make sure that we didn’t slip off.
In those days I can remember my mother telling her friends how I could read road signs and about how I read one with great disgust because it was like all of the others that we had been seeing; it read simply “DANGER”.
Driving through California’s early Redwood Highway was interesting. Long stretches of the dirt road that wound around through the trees were only one lane wide. On both sides were obstructions like trees, very dense underbrush, or cliffs overlooking a river. Every half mile or so there would be a “turnout”-—a spot wide enough for two cars to pass side by side.
The accepted technique was to hold a hand on the horn for many seconds while driving and then take it off and listen for many seconds while continuing to drive. Then repeat the procedure, trying to detect if an oncoming car was doing the same thing. If a faint horn was heard in the distance, the problem then became “How far was it back to the last turnout?”, “How far away is that other horn?”, “Will that driver be nearer a turnout than we are?”, “Should we back up and wait?…or barge ahead and hope to reach another turn-out before we meet the oncoming car?” And, of course, the other driver was going through the same questions.
Some times both drivers waited, and then, realizing that both were waiting, both would start out and meet. Then there would be discussions as to which driver would have the easiest and shortest distance to back up. It apparently never occurred to anyone to post signs indicating how far to the next turnout…or perhaps the idea had occurred but there was no budget for signs.
One time, when they were trying to widen this highway, I was probably about 10 years old. That year my Uncle Leslie (who had come from his home in South Dakota by way of Portland) was driving my mother and me down to Bayside. As we came to a massive construction effort, we were stopped by a flagman, Walter Getchell, who turned out to be one of my mother’s school chums who had lived on a farm close to my grandfather’s. They recognized each other, so we stopped and they chatted for several minutes.
Finally, Mother asked Walter what he was doing standing here with a red flag, and he explained that for the next five or ten miles or so, the road was open only to one-way traffic, and we were the last car to be allowed through going south. As such, we were to carry a red flag and to hand it off to the flagman at the other end of this one-way stretch, so he could give it to the cars that would be waiting there to come north. Mother thought that that was a splendid way to build a road, but she said that it was now lunch time and she had packed a picnic lunch that we were hoping to eat somewhere in the Redwoods. Walter allowed as how that would be no problem—we could just go ahead and take our time and stop whenever we found an open spot and have the picnic before going on—so we took him at his word and did.
Unfortunately, when we finally finished, put the paraphernalia back in the car, and made it to the southern end of this one-way stretch, it turned out that there were a few more cars there than Walter had evidently had been counting on. I don’t remember the exact words that the flagman used, but he let us know in no uncertain terms that our behavior was not what was expected of us. The drivers of the northbound cars weren’t very happy either-—I think there must have been a line at least a block or two long waiting to go north.
One time when we were returning from California, Dad decided to try the Oregon coast road as far as Garibaldi and then turn east to Portland…instead of taking our usual route, which had been to cut northeast from the California coast through the Redwoods, then north through Grants Pass, Roseburg, Eugene, and finally up the Willamette valley. This was at a time when the road into Garibaldi was being constructed by a contractor whose contract required him to pay a stiff fine for every day that the road was closed to traffic. As a result, he never closed the road…ever. For several miles into Garibaldi there were many stretches of thick axle-deep mud through which no car could move without some kind of help. So, during the day, the contractor had a fellow with a team of horses who would come to the aid of stranded motorists and drag them through the mud. However, we arrived at this mess early in a Saturday evening, after all of the construction people and equipment had left for the day. This included the man with the team of horses. Before we knew what was happening, we were into thick sticky mud up to the axles. The only thing we could do was to sit there in the car until some kind of help arrived.
That didn’t happen until the next morning, when the horses and their tow chain finally showed up and dragged us through the mess. After we had arrived at a spot where the man said there was no more mud, we had a problem with a dead battery. It had died in the night from turning the lights on frequently to check for noises like owls and bears…(and prowlers?). I don’t remember who gave us a push to get the car started, but I do remember that when we arrived in Garibaldi we wanted to stop for something to eat. Dad parked the car immediately in front of a restaurant so he could keep an eye on it, because he had to leave the engine running to keep the battery charging. This caused all of the passers-by to stop and stare and then look in through the plate glass window at us eating.
So, now to the cliffhanger: On one these trips south we were on the stretch of highway that had come out of the redwoods and was now meandering along the Pacific Ocean somewhat north of Crescent City, winding in and out and following the coast line. By now it had gotten very dark, and I think my father must have been trying to get to Bayside that night to avoid having to stop at a hotel in Crescent City.
At any rate, we were traveling as fast as the road and our car would allow, which would have been about 15 to 35 MPH, depending on the convolutions of the highway as it followed the ocean’s edge. Remember, this was happening before the concept of guard rails had even been promulgated. As we came to a hairpin left turn, with a mountain on our left and a cliff dropping straight down into the surf on our right, the headlights of the car went out. I don’t remember how much of a moon there was that night, but even if it had been full, the sudden change from fairly bright head lights to nothing but moonlight would have been a shocker.
Dad hit the brakes and managed to get the car stopped before we went over the edge. He even managed to remember that there was a narrow shoulder right where we were. Mother was petrified, but I just assumed that my Dad could handle this situation like all of the others that we had encountered. I think he must have kept a flashlight in the car, which he used to find the fuse panel somewhere and the spare fuses, so it wasn’t too long before he had the lights on again, and we resumed our trip. I don’t remember ever hearing why they went out, but in those days the filament supports were not as substantial as what we are used to now, and I think a rough spot in the road could have provided enough jiggle to cause a filament to short out and blow a fuse.
I don’t remember that anyone thought of thanking the Lord after that incident, although I am now sure that my mother must have been doing that silently. I didn’t. But in retrospect, it is clear to me now that He had better things in store for me and was guiding my Dad all the way, just as He had done in all of the other tight spots that we managed to get into.
— Louis G. Stang, Jr.