An Adventure in the Old Days


Rod the Mover 1963

Washington DC 1963


Recently my old friend Sid VanVugt mailed me this old photo. He took the photo in 1963 on a venture we thought would be easy money.

It brought back memories that had been hidden away for a long time. It is of an old adventure Sid and I shared. I will relate what I remember.

My brother-in-law Bob Johnson had accepted a job with the CIA in Washington DC. He got quotes from a couple of movers and the CIA agreed to pay that amount. The quotes for the move were quite high and I made the statement that I bet I could do it a lot cheaper and better with a U-Haul truck.

It seemed like an easy way to make a few bucks, load the truck, drive out there, and unload it. I talked to my old friend Sid and he agreed to join in the deal.

We loaded the truck at their house in Apple Vally, MN with my wife Donna and my sister Louise helping. That was a bigger job than I had anticipated, but Sid and I were on our way by 10 that evening. We took turns, one driving the other sleeping. By three AM we ran into heavy fog on I 94. That was some of my hardest driving. One other thing we hadn’t anticipated was the truck had a governor on that limited the speed to 54 mph. This was in my days when speed was a highly desirable event to me.

One other thing was we were towing a 1953 Plymouth sedan with a rented U-Haul clamp-on tow bar behind the truck. The old car had a lot of wear and tear on it. Often when we would start from a stop, the car would zig and zag against the tow bar. We figured out that if we held the steering wheel steady till we were rolling along, then all would be fine. One of us would open the drivers door, hold the steering wheel well running alongside, let go, shut the door, let the car go by, then run up the passenger side and climb in the truck.

This wasn’t bad till we came to the toll roads with lots of stops. We had some strange looks but mostly laughs from people.

I think it was in Ohio when we were told to pull over just after we paid our toll. A young Highway Patrolman pointed out we had no safety chain on our rented tow bar. When I said I would pull into the next town and buy one, he said he would arrest me if I moved the truck without a safety chain. He than stated that we could not leave the vehicle there even for a short time. With this he left in his patrol car with a chirp of rubber from the tires. We couldn’t drive it and we couldn’t leave it, and this was before cell phones so you couldn’t call for help.

Well me and Sid dug around and found a set of tire chains in the trunk of the car. That would qualify as a chain, Maybe. The bolts to attach it was the real problem. The only thing we could find was some 3/16 stove bolts that clamped the legs on a kitchen table. They had a big problem, the bolt heads and the nuts would slip through the chain. Digging further we found four washers that would keep the tiny bolts from falling through the chain. The one end of the chain I hooked to the truck in a way that the small bolt was well hidden. The other end, on the car was in plain view and that had me a bit worried. Calling this a safety chain was really stretching reality. Sid declined to drive saying that I was always luckier dealing with law enforcement.

I barely started out when the patrol car with siren and lights cut sharply in front of the truck. I stepped out of the truck and met the cocky young officer. His first and only statement was “all right where is the safety chain”. I didn’t say a word I just walked back and pointed. The look on his face changed to astonishment, then disgust. He did a military about face, stomped quickly to his car and peeled out. He left two long black marks on the road, then cranked the wheel sharp, jumped the median and headed in the other direction.

Bob had mapped out the route for us and most of it was on four lane roads as most of the interstate highway was complete. I do remember we did cut across Pennsylvania on a two lane road in the mountains. It was the middle of the night and Sid was driving. I will mention that we had learned to get around the governor that restricted speed if there were hills. It was simple, just push the clutch in and coast down hill. I woke up and the truck was shaking in a way I had never felt before. Sid had pushed the clutch in, the hill had been steeper and longer that he expected. The speedometer showed well over 80 from what I could see. Engaging the clutch at that speed would have over revved the engine and probably destroyed it. The brakes were hot and pushing on them was like pushing on a wall. They would not slow the truck down.

At the bottom of the hill was a small town with a 30 mph speed limit. Our road crossed another highway with a traffic light at the corner. It was red as we approached. We were lucky, there was no other traffic in sight. We roared across and up the long hill on the other side. The truck came back to normal, we both took a deep breath and waited for flashing red lights as we rolled on, but they never came.

It was maybe noon when we rolled into DC. We were following Bobs instructions but the traffic was heavy. It seemed a bit confusing and the rig we were driving made switching lanes and turning more difficult. It was at this time a Volkswagen with Minnesota license plates passed us. It was Bob, a beep of the horn and a wave and he recognized us. We breathed a sigh of relief and followed him to the apartment believing the worst was over.

The apartment buildings were huge to us. The apartment was on the second floor, I was glad it wasn’t on the third. The worst was the road only went to the parking lot. Which was three buildings away. We started carrying but progress seemed slow.

The buildings were new and we spotted where construction equipment had driven up to the front of Bobs apartment building. we both thought why not us. we didn’t know it had rained for three days before we arrived. Needless to say I got stuck bad. I had to go to the apartment managers office and explain what happened. She was not pleased. She did allow me to use the phone to call a wrecker to pull us out. By the time the tow truck arrived Bob had finished work, which was a good thing. The truck winched us out without problems except for the clearance lights on the side of the truck box that scraped off on a tree. You can see the mud on the tires in the picture.

The tow truck driver would not accept pay, he insisted I ride back to the shop with him and pay in the office. Bob and Sid were unable to keep up with him in the heavy traffic. I payed the bill and waited a bit then headed off walking in the direction of the apartments. I walked several blocks, the neighborhood was looking rougher and rougher. I was feeling uncomfortable and was noticing people staring at me. The only thing I could think of to do was to keep walking. I was so relieved when the VW pulled alongside. When I climbed in I was told that I did a foolish thing to walk in a strange neighborhood alone.

We ate supper with bob and spent the night in Bobs apartment. We started early and spent the next day carrying the many boxes and pieces of furniture up the long sidewalk than up the stairway into the apartment. Fortunately Bob arranged for the heavy antique piano to be placed in a first floor storage unit close to the truck. I don’t think We could have gotten it up the stairway.

I felt so relieved that evening when we returned the U-Haul truck. All the clerk at the business did was glance at the truck and write the mileage down and sign off the papers. The job was done.

Back at Bobs apartment we cleaned up to go out and eat. I had another problem I had forgotten to take my suitcase so I was left in the clothes I had been wearing for three days. We went to a Italian restaurant that was full of fancy dressed people. I am sure that most of them thought I was a street person being given charity. The menu was mostly in Italian or so it seemed to me. Bob ordered for me. This was the first time I had ever eaten long spaghetti and it proved somewhat of a challenge. It was very good and I was hungry so I managed.

The flight back that night was a problem too. Every plane going to St. Paul was full. Bob finally found us a flight that got us into Chicago at 3 AM, with a connection on a smaller plane to St Paul. The second flight was delayed a couple hours. I remember walking around the huge airport afraid to sit down for fear of falling asleep and missing the boarding call. I remember little of that flight except sleeping soundly and the attendant waking me to tell me we were in the Twin City’s.