Around the County

Sunday driving revisited

Posted 5/7/20

More and more, a lot of us are escaping COVID-19 by reviving some of the old family pleasures we once enjoyed almost exclusively on Sundays — back in the pre-TV, pre-Sunday afternoon football …

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Around the County

Sunday driving revisited

Posted

More and more, a lot of us are escaping COVID-19 by reviving some of the old family pleasures we once enjoyed almost exclusively on Sundays — back in the pre-TV, pre-Sunday afternoon football days. Puzzles, games, books ... they’ve become everyday pastimes, as have family drives.

Sunday drives, as we called them, differed in some particulars from the ones we’re taking now. Now, a drive gets us all out of the house. When they were called Sunday drives, they got Mom out of the house. Dad would take the wheel, Mom would ask if everyone had used the bathroom and, once she had a universal affirmative, off we’d go.

According to my father, we were “enjoying the great outdoors.”

That said, a lot of our drives fell under the heading of curiosity. Sunday driving provided an excuse to see how “things were coming along.” And we weren’t alone. The number of dust trails rising from the gravel roads crisscrossing the county bore witness to that fact.

It was easy to see changes, too. Everything people owned that didn’t fit inside a house or shed was on display across much of the county with the land mostly denuded of sagebrush and nary a shrub or tree in sight. If someone had the money to put new siding on their barracks or install new windows or put up grain storage, we knew it.

Ever wonder why Earl Durand didn’t even try to hide from pursuit within the Basin? I’m not saying that Sunday driving had anything to do with it ... but the ethic of Sunday driving was a powerful part of the culture. Now, an Earl Durand might hole up any number of places but then he did the necessary and headed for the mountains.

We did, too, but only when weather permitted, because mountain driving provided enough challenges without adding poor driving conditions.

The roads, for example. “Marvels of engineering,” my father liked to say of their grades, banking angles (or lack thereof), curves, narrow width, and vergeless edges. Daddy had worked for the Bureau of Public Roads while in college and claimed to know every inch of them, too. Thus, he would say, “Roads clear,” put his foot down on the gas pedal, and around a slower car he’d go with us hanging on tight, mute with fear. The trick, he would say, was to watch ahead where you can see the outer sides of curves and any oncoming cars, judge distances and estimate the time you had to pass.

But there were places that kept even my father trailing behind sluggish traffic. Actually, the only one I remember for sure was the Shoshone Canyon’s dam hill. With its steep grade, one-lane tunnels and crumbling verges, it was known as the “worst half-mile of U.S. highway” in the country. We loved it.

I haven’t mentioned the cars of my childhood Sunday drives. Their tires had little talent toward “road hugging,” making skidding on curves part of the fun. And if you’ve heard the term, “blow out?” That’s exactly what those tires would do, meaning having a spare or two made the difference between getting home in time for dinner or not.

Then there were engines. They hated the thin air. They particularly hated climbing, even when fitted with something called “high altitude jets.” I still don’t know what that was. As for the brakes? You checked the brake pads before venturing too far afield.

We particularly loved the rumble seat in our elderly 1939 Plymouth coupe. Rumble seat, you ask? To explain, between the rear window and the trunk, a bit of what would otherwise be part of a trunk lid could open up to reveal a well holding an extra seat.

Riding in the rumble seat going up Shell Creek Canyon or over Sylvan Pass wasn’t for the faint of heart, but both were paved. We would stand on the rumble seat, leaning on the Plymouth’s rusting roof and scream with excitement, peering down, well ... forever.

Another favorite and another matter was Dead Indian. Driving into Sunlight and Crandall ... now that was a real adventure.

Our game little car had a high clearance, which was good. It needed it on what was just a rutted track. Up we went, grinding in low gear, climbing toward the sky, our ascent slowed by occasional stops so the radiator could cool off. Going down the other side, Daddy would downshift to inch around the tight turns. If there was a washout, the inching became backing and filling with the rear of the car seeming about to fall into the abyss.

Then we would kneel on the rumble seat, elbows hooked on the seat back, daring each other to look down. Terror! Pure, unmitigated, delicious terror. Daddy was the best driver in the world. He wouldn’t let us go over the edge ... would he?

Oh, those never-to-be-replicated (thank heavens) Sunday drives.

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