Travel

November 8, 1957 – Pan Am Flight 7 Disappears

Boeing 377  Stratocruiser. Image: Pan Am post card

Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. Image: Pan Am post card

On November 8, 1957, the Clipper Romance of the Skies, or Pan Am Flight 7 took off from San Francisco International Airport at its regularly scheduled time of 11:51 AM.  The Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, carrying 36 passengers and 8 crew members, was on the first leg of its westerly voyage to almost completely circumnavigate the globe, with a final destination of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  First stop for the silver transport was to be Honolulu in the Territory of Hawaii.

But Flight 7 never arrived.

Last contact with the aircraft occurred approximately half-way between the mainland and Honolulu, where a U.S. Coast Guard cutter on radar surveillance duty in the Pacific and the Pan Am pilot shared a routine radio transmission.  When it became apparent that the plane was missing, the Coast Guard dispatched a search plane and placed two cutters on alert status.  The U.S. Navy diverted its two closest vessels, submarines Cusk and Carbonaro, to also search for survivors or debris.

Ultimately, the largest peace-time search operation since the disappearance of Amelia Earhart was combing the Pacific for any sign of the Stratocruiser or its passengers and crew.  Finally, on November 14th, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Philippine Sea spotted small pieces of floating identifiable wreckage from the aircraft – and bodies.

Prototype flight data recorders, or “black boxes”, were under development in 1957, but weren’t commonly installed in civil aircraft until the 1970’s.  Pan Am Flight 7 had no such device and the definitive cause of its tragic descent into the sea has never been determined.  Bodies recovered at the scene were clothed with life jackets but had still sustained significant injuries which were horrifying to many  rescue workers involved.  Later toxicological testing also revealed carbon monoxide poisoning in some of the crash victims.

Every one of the lives lost left behind loved ones and friends.  Newspaper publisher Ken Fortenberry lost his father, second officer and navigator Bill Fortenberry.  History professor Gregg Herken lost his beloved fourth grade teacher.  Together they were haunted for years by the ghost story of Flight 7, and set out to see what they could learn.

They were intrigued by the following: the ship sent out no decipherable distress call; the wreckage debris was on a path both far off course and headed away from a Coast Guard vessel; and the presence of elevated levels of carbon monoxide found in recovered bodies could not be explained.  They went on a detective mission and wrote about what they found in the Smithsonian’s September 1, 2004 edition of Air & Space Magazine.  They conclude that we may never really know what happened, but their article makes for fascinating reading.

September 16, 1957 – Emma Gatewood Walks on the “Wild” Side

Emma Gatewood on the Appalachian Trail. Photo: Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Emma Gatewood on the Appalachian Trail. Photo: Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Before there was Cheryl Strayed, there was Emma Gatewood.

On September 16, 1957, Ohio native Emma Gatewood, aged 69, arrived at the 5,270-foot peak of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the 2,050-mile-long Appalachian Trail. Back on April 27, “Grandma” Gatewood had started out from Mount Oglethorpe, Georgia – at the trail’s southern end – equipped with a handsewn denim bag of hiking supplies and a determination to repeat her record-setting trek of 1955. Two years earlier, over the course of five months, Emma had become the first woman to solo thru-hike (travel from start to finish without interruption) the scenic Appalachian Trail.

Grandma Gatewood and Cheryl Strayed – recent thru-hiker of the western-states Pacific Coast Trail and author of the best-selling memoir Wild – had something in common. They were both on a quest. Both took somewhat radical risks to complete their journeys. Both found something on the trail that changed their lives.

Emma Gatewood was born Emma Rowena Caldwell on a farm in Gallia County, Ohio, one of 15 siblings. She did her share of chores, including hoeing, planting, worming tobacco, milking, washing, and cooking. When persuasive P.C. Gatewood insisted on marriage, she consented and went on to birth her own farming family of 11 children. P.C. was not the husband young Emma had hoped for. They had a stormy relationship, witnessed by the children, in which P.C. physically abused Emma.

Sometime in the early 1950s, her family grown and gone, Emma read an article in National Geographic about Earl V. Shaffer, the first man to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Emma found this an irresistible challenge. She, a woman, could do that, too! And – in spite of her bad knees, bunions, false teeth, and feeling blind without her glasses – she did.

An abortive but instructive attempt in 1954 was followed by her successful traverse in the summer of 1955. Emma enjoyed meeting residents along the way from Georgia to Maine, often hiking out for food, temporary shelter, and the finer things like a shower and bug spray. She traveled light, carrying no more than 15 pounds of trail basics stuffed in a bag thrown over her shoulder. Emma tried to avoid predators like bears and rattlesnakes, and pesky critters like mice, black flies, mosquitos, and reporters. She was constitutionally no-nonsense and tended to believe that people could do a whole lot more than they thought. “The hardest part of hiking the Appalachian Trail,” like so many other challenges in life, she told her son Nelson, “was simply making up your mind to do it.” If Emma had worn a button, it might have read, “No Pantywaists!”

Acclaim came Emma’s way during and after her 1955 adventure. She appeared on NBC’s “Today” with Dave Garroway, “The Art Linkletter Show,” and Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life.” Reporters for countless newspapers and magazines dogged her steps and lauded her achievements. What led her to the 1957 repeat? The quiet trail, nature, the sense of a spiritual connection beckoned. “The petty entanglements of life are brushed aside like cobwebs,” Emma wrote in her trail journal. Plus, no woman had ever done it twice!

Cheryl Strayed went “wild” on the PCT in an attempt to recover from her mother’s death. Stuck in protracted grief, she found herself unable to move on in life. She was young, had many years ahead of her, and needed to find a new normal. Emma Gatewood walked into AT history as a woman of age and maturity, after her immediate responsibilities to her family were over. The limitations of an abusive husband and small children to raise, and the cultural expectations imposed on women of her generation may have sat too heavily and fit too closely on her small but sturdy frame. When she could set them aside, she did, and set out to discover in the most basic sense what she was capable of.

How capable was she? After her AT thru-hikes in 1955 and 1957, Emma walked 2000 miles of the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Portland, Oregon (my birthplace!) in 95 days during the Trail’s centennial year celebration in 1959. She attempted a third AT passage in 1960, but heavy-weather damage to the trail diverted her course through other trails in Pennsylvania, New York  Massachusetts, Vermont, and Canada. She climbed several peaks in the Adirondack Range, and successfully completed a third traverse of the AT in 1964. She was personally instrumental in creating several sections of Ohio’s treasured Buckeye Trail.

Emma died in 1973, but her memory lives on as an inspiration to all that, in the words of (fellow Mount Katahdin-climber) Henry David Thoreau, “If one advances confidently in the direction of [her] dreams, and endeavors to live the life which [she] has imagined, [she] will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Fox Searchlight Pictures is bringing Cheryl Strayed’s Wild to the big screen, starring Reese Witherspoon, on December 5th. A documentary of Emma Gatewood’s life, created by FilmAffects and WGTE/PBS Toledo, is in the works, slated for airing next spring. Fundraising to bring Emma to our small screens continues, spearheaded by Bette Lou Higgins and Kelly Boyer Sagert of Eden Valley Enterprises. Let’s make sure Grandma Gatewood has her moment in digital-celluloid history.

August 30, 1957 – The Labor Day Weekend Begins

1957 Corvette Travel Trailer with Fun Accessories. Photo source: Tin Can Tourists

On August 30, 1957, the Friday before Labor Day weekend, Americans young and old, big and small, got ready to celebrate the last official weekend of summer.  Whether it was to the beach or the pool, the mountains or the desert, the grandparents’ or the Grand Canyon, everyone worked together to pack the station wagon, the trailer, or the ice chest with everything needed to enjoy these final lazy days in the sun before school started and the routine of life kicked in.

Depending on where you were going, you might have packed fishing rods, tennis rackets, horseshoes, inner tubes, a ball and mit, or a new-fangled Frisbee.  Into the plaid cooler might have gone Oscar Meyer wieners, jello salad, three-bean salad, watermelon, grape Nehi, and iced tea.  The cupboards in trailers, the baskets and hampers, could have bulged with Del Monte catsup, French’s mustard, buns, Ritz crackers, Mix Trix (or Chex Mix), marshmallow bars, and butterscotch brownies.

Dads packed their portable grills and asbestos mits to do justice to the thick steaks and ribs buried in ice (don’t forget the Lawry’s Seasoned Salt!).  For breakfast, kids were already busy laying dibs on their favorite mini-boxes of Kellogg’s Variety Pack cereals.  Mom and dad looked forward to eggs, bacon, and Chase & Sanborn coffee – lots of it – or Bisquick pancakes with Log Cabin syrup.

Don’t forget the aluminum folding chairs, kerosene lantern, and bug spray.  Tuck in beach towels and baby oil.  Grab the dog, lock the door, and hit the road!  Summer’s almost over and there’s no time to waste.

On The Road – 1957 Flxible Starliner

1957 Flxible Starliner: Photo Source Hemmings

1957 Flxible Starliner: Photo Source Hemmings

I think I’m in love. Road trip!

The beauty on wheels above is a 1957 Flxible Starliner, gloriously restored on the outside and fully updated on the inside for modern-day glamping.

The Flxible Company cornered the market on excitement from its very beginning. Chartered in 1914 at the Flexible Sidecar Company, the Loudonville, Ohio assembly line began turning out motorcycle-sidecar combinations for civilian and military use in World War I. Flexible jettisoned the “e” in 1919 in order to copyright their brand. Bigger changes were necessary in the early 1920s when Henry Ford began cranking out inexpensive Roadsters, undercutting the motorcycle-sidecar market. Flxible adapted by flexing into custom bus, hearse, and ambulance manufacturing. Touring companies’ investments in Flxible buses paid off when they were able to comfortably carry sightseeing parties in style over long distances. One quality-built coach racked up over 275,000 miles from 1925 to 1928.

Flxible developed the Clipper, a 29-passenger bus, in the late 1930s. Cities, airports, National Parks, resorts, and movie studios maintained fleets of dependable, economical Clippers. During World War II, Flxible retooled their factories to make tank, fighter plane, and ship parts for the war effort. Touring coach production returned in 1946 with the introduction of a redesigned Clipper, displaying a trademarked front “smiley face”. In 1950, the Flxible fleet expanded with the addition of Visicoach – a Clipper-based model with extra head- and engine-room.

The Starliner was introduced in 1957. It featured a new and innovative suspension system including torsion bars, which savvy 1950s Mad Men named the Flxilastic suspension system. Early Starliners sported eyebrow windows on the roof and under floor storage bays. A total of only 276 Starliners were manufactured between 1957 and 1967, when Clipper-based model production was discontinued. Many surviving vintage Starliners – similar to the better-known vintage Airstream trailers – have been revamped and converted into motor homes. The immaculately restored Starliner motorhome above is currently on the market for – drum roll, please – $235,000.

August 14, 1957 – Interstate Highway Sign Design Adopted

On August 14, 1957, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) adopted the familiar red and blue shield design for interstate highway markers.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, had been impressed by Germany’s well-engineered Autobahn.  He could see the value of a system of high-quality roads for the United States, as well, and through persistent efforts persuaded Congress to approve and fund the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.  The initial mileage to be constructed with federal funds was set at 41,000 miles, which was later increased.  Currently, the interstate system covers 46, 876 miles of American countryside.

The AASHO was given the task of numbering the new network of gleaming asphalt.  They decided to use a mirror image of the numbering system created for the US highway system; low numbers would start on the West Coast (I5, etc) and then increase  moving east across the continent.  AASHO’s Executive Secretary, Alf Johnson, created a map of officially numbered routes, which was adopted in September, 1957.

But a design for a special sign to mark individual routes on this new transportation web was needed.  AASHO decided to get state highway officials involved by inviting them to submit their own proposals – a contest of sorts.  The best designs were installed on a road leading to the site of a highway officials’ meeting in Illinois.  On their way to the meeting, attendees were asked to observe the signs, both in daylight and at night.  Which ones did they like?  Which were the most visible and easiest to read?  Which ones said “Get out on the road and explore this great country!” to them?  The AASHO gathered their feedback, and the Texas shield design was declared the winner, with the addition of the word “Interstate” across the top as suggested by Missouri (the “Show-Me” and also, evidently, “Tell-Me” state).  The final design was approved on August 14, 1957.  It has since been trademarked to prevent advertising signs from capitalizing on and diverting interstate motorists’ attention from the road ahead.

Interstate Highway Numbering Plan

Interstate Highway Numbering Plan