A Trip on Route 66 in the 1940s

Ruth Lenorovitz generously shares her account of a trip to California in the late 1940s. She wrote it circa 1999 in order that her granddaughter have some family history.

[My husband and I] were married in August, 1947 in Braddock, Pa. where I lived. My aunt who visited from Los Angeles convinced us to take a leave of absence from our jobs and go to California to see if we could “make a go of it.” We decided to leave in October, 1947, and you can read what I had written six years ago to our granddaughter. I also have a postcard of Vesta Court cabins where we stayed one night.

~Ruth Lenorovitz, 2006

Now that we'd made our decision to go to Los Angeles, we had to figure out an inexpensive way to get there. Joe had some money saved up, but we wanted to keep it to use in L.A. until we both got jobs. We planned to leave in October.

At that time, automobiles were only being manufactured in Detroit, Michigan, and cars had to be sent to the west coast for the dealerships there. We saw an ad in our local newspaper that was put in “The Smiling Irishman,” a local car dealer who also had a dealership in Los Angeles. He was looking for people to drive his new cars from Pittsburgh to the west coast. The only cost to the driver would be gasoline and oil, and the trip could take up to two weeks.

We jumped at the chance because we could pack the car with our wedding gifts and then stop in Detroit, Michigan, to see my aunt Anne, and then to South Bend, Indiana, to see my uncles Harry and Max, and all of their families. We were given a beautiful 1947 Studebaker and we just managed to get all our gifts and suitcases in the trunk and on the back seat.

Travelling across country was a great adventure, and we enjoyed seeing the sights in many states. After leaving South Bend, we picked up Route 66, a national transcontinental highway that stretched diagonally across the country from Chicago and ended in Los Angeles.

We planned to travel as economically as possible to conserve our money and we got a good start from Aunt Helen and Uncle Max. They owned a market in Braddock and they gave us fresh fruits, vegetables, bread, eggs and canned items. One of our wedding gifts was an electric pot called a “Roasterette”—it was the predecessor of today's crockpot, but it didn't have a temperature dial. There was a dual plug on the side and I could switch from low to high heat by flipping the cover on it. It was really meant to cook soup, meats, etc., but we found it very convenient for soft boiling eggs for breakfast, heating up canned soups, and cooking vegetables. There weren't too many motels in those days, and of course there was no nationwide toll-free number to make contact with them. We always managed to find a nice clean motel at the end of the day when we wanted to stop for the night.

Our first view of the west after crossing the Mississippi River was St. Louis, Mo., and we stopped at the Meramec Caverns. Our tour took us deep underground, and we got to see the stalactites and stalagmites that were forming slowly as the centuries passed. Our guide gave us a handy rhyme to remember which ones “grew” up from the ground and which ones hung down from the top: “When the mites go up, the tites (tights) come down.”

We stopped in Claremore, Oklahoma, which is the home of Will Rogers, who was an American cowboy humorist, author, and philosopher. After his untimely death in 1935 when he was killed in an airplane crash, his friends built a memorial to him there. It has a fascinating collection of his memorabilia, and it was interesting to view it.

While travelling through Gallup, New Mexico—the Indian Capital—we pulled off the road to take pictures of some unusual rock formations. There was no sign to tell us that it was a “soft shoulder” and when we tried to drive back onto the road, the car wouldn't move. When Joe pressed the gas pedal, the tires would spin around in the soft sand. This was out in the country and there were no houses or gas stations in sight. As we stood there trying to figure out what to do, an old, battered truck pulled out of a side road and came over to us. There were several Indians in the back and they all hopped out to help us. After they pushed our car back onto the road, we offered them some money but they politely refused. We drove into their small village and purchased some little Indian dolls and other handmade items.

Ruth Lenorovitz with local children near 
            Gallup, N. Mex.
Ruth Lenorovitz with local children near Gallup, N. Mex., 1947.

Our journey on Route 66 took us through the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and the Grand Canyon. Each of these national parks was unique and breathtaking. We regretted that we couldn't spend more time.

. . .

We entered California at Daggett, an inspection station where every car was stopped and looked into to see that no agricultural products were brought in from other states. There was always a danger of people unknowingly bringing in fruits or vegetables that carried harmful insects that could ruin the crops. When the inspector saw how packed the trunk and the back seat were, he said he accepted our word that we didn't have produce and told us to drive on. We knew we were in California when we drove through the lush orange groves that dotted the countryside.

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Ruth Lenorovitz in 1947
Current photo not available

Once in California, Ruth Lenorovitz and her husband Joe settled in the San Fernando valley. They currently make their home in Studio City.