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Around the Campfire: Having fun reminiscing about things from the past

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A while back I posed the idea of a magic wand for RVers. Many of our readers responded with ideas about how to use the wand, but the idea that caught my attention was the suggestion to transport RVers back in time. Way back to the ’50s and ’60s! I got to thinking about all the things that were popular back then and that now are gone, but perhaps not forgotten. See how many you recall!

Vacations

VW van

Our family didn’t have a VW van, but many people did. Hippies painted flowers on theirs, while other folks were satisfied just to have room to spread out during those long family vacations. (No seat belts in those days.) Many “coastal inhabitants” traveled “back home” to the Midwest each summer.

VW also manufactured the popular “Bug” or “Beetle” car. On any given summertime day, the odds were good that you’d glimpse a “Bug” on the highway—which required you to punch your brother or sister and shout, “Slug Bug!”

Station wagon

Other families opted to drive their station wagons on vacation. (How that vehicle got its name, I’ll never understand. I mean, it didn’t remain ‘stationary,’ and it was much bigger than a wagon.) Anyway, the station wagon was another great mode of vacation transportation. Kids played in the back seats while parents took turns driving down great highways like Route 66, Highway 20, and more. “Are we there yet?!” became a familiar mantra.

Stuckey’s

Two-lane roads gave way to Interstate Highways, bypassing smaller towns and making way for road stops like Stuckey’s. Travelers loved seeing Stuckey’s famous red, chalet-like roof. It meant a fuel stop, restroom break, and perhaps some pecan bars. (Read more about Stuckey’s here.)

Highway stops sometimes meant mealtime. Sitting in a roadside diner, you just might see your very own jukebox fastened on the wall at one end of your dining booth table. For a nickel, you could play a favorite tune. Afterward, invariably someone would wise-crack, “Well, that’s a nickel you’ll never see again.”

Entertainment

Antenna television

Long before satellite or cable TV, families manipulated an outside antenna to access television channels. Between the channels, the TV screen displayed “snow”—a kind of visual static. I remember shouting instructions to my dad through our living room window. “Twist it to the right, Dad! Nope! Still ‘snowing.’ Twist it back!” Kids today have no appreciation of how hard we had to work just to get a channel to “come in.”

Avon, Watkins, and Fuller Brush

I clump all three of these door-to-door sales companies into “Entertainment.” Why? Because from the time they arrived at our home until the salespeople bid farewell, I was enthralled. I loved the Avon perfume samples that came in teeny-tiny, glass tubes. I loved watching the Watkins rep demonstrate the latest cleaning product, too.

My all-time favorite door-to-door company was Fuller Brush. Probably because we would hide from him. Yep, Mom was a pushover. She knew it and so did most of the salespeople that darkened our door. The Fuller Brush guy was the worst—er, the best? He could convince Mom to buy almost anything. So, whenever we’d see the guy come up our driveway, Mom would herd all three of us into her bedroom and shut the door. We’d pretend that no one was home. No matter how long the Fuller Brush salesman knocked on the door, we remained hidden. My sisters and I would try not to laugh, but Mom’s constant shushing and obvious desperation seemed so funny to us at the time.

Products

Shoes

You may remember going to an actual shoe store. A salesperson, usually a man, brought out a metal foot-measuring device. Mom encouraged me to “stand straight” as the man carefully measured the length and width of my foot. Then, in what I considered “shoe magic,” the salesman disappeared behind a curtain and voila! He returned in an instant with a shoe box containing shoes in exactly my size! Wow!

Photos

Back in the day, photos took a lot of time. For one thing, photos were taken by an actual camera… with film! You had to wait until all the film was used up before taking it to a local Walgreens for developing. Sometimes you’d wait weeks for the developed pictures to come back. We envied folks who were lucky enough to own an Instant Polaroid camera, which spit out a photo just seconds after the picture was taken!

Vehicles

Each fall the “big three” major car manufacturers would debut their newest models. From year to year the look of cars seemed to change rather dramatically. There were fins, white wall tires, oversized grills, and unique bumpers. These distinctive-looking vehicles are now collector’s items. (If only I had my 1956 Chevy now!)

I’m sure you can think of many additional “gone but not forgotten” things that I’ve missed. Please add them in the comments below, since this is one discussion I didn’t get to have with others around the campfire.

Additionally, if you’d like to read a wonderful book about the history of the family road trip, this is one you’ll certainly enjoy.

##RVT1078

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Drew
23 days ago

My Mom could feed all of us four kids with less than 5 bucks at McDonald’s. I could eat four cheeseburgers, fries and a strawberry shake. All the workers wore white uniforms with their names and the McDonald’s logo. I loved those days.

I recently went to a local Ford dealer to have our car serviced. Nobody there had anything on that represented them as employees. I watched the guy throughout the visit making sure he seemed to know what he was doing. I complained later to the dealer about this and she stated that “This is their place and it makes them happier.” I guess I’m just old fashioned about expectations.

DW/ND
26 days ago

Remember A&W drive-ins and the tray on your door sill and drive-in theaters, and how about those shoe stores where you could look at the bones in your feet in the Ex-ray machine….. and “…be home when the street lites come on!”

MattD
26 days ago

The term Station Wagon, as it was explained to me, was a mule drawn wagon that carried people and luggage from the hotel to the train station, thus Station Wagon.

Steve H
26 days ago
Reply to  MattD

If you watch “Holiday Inn” this Christmas season, you will see an early example of a station wagon. It was used to carry up to 5 passengers + driver + luggage out of the weather from the train station to the resort in the days when most long-distance travel was still by train. In the ’50s, it evolved into the non-air-conditioned predecessor of the SUV as the preferred method of carrying families and luggage on those long, two-week summer “road trips” that we kids suffered through (“are we there yet?”). Now those trips are a cliche for pre-Interstate ’50s travel due to movies like the Chevy Chase “Vacation” series.

Walt
26 days ago

I’m STILL a station wagon guy! Favorites? An ’82 Peugeot 504D wagon (yes, pre-DEF diesel, trés simple!) Learned that “Peugeot” is French for “slow”… Currently have a 2005 Jetta TDI… yep, wagon. (Yes, also pre-DEF, a BEW/PD engine.) Fondly remember the ’59 Chevy Brookwood wagon I drove in high school… My car in Japan was a 1970 Mitsubishi Colt 1000F 3-door wagon and I had a ’72 Blazer (essentially also a 3-door “wagon”) — for over 30 years, from 1972 to 2003.

M D-B
26 days ago

Don’t forget the encyclopedia salesman going door to door.

Sue
26 days ago

Great memories! I loved our family trips to Maine every summer to visit our grandparents. We always had a station wagon (with 5 kids, a necessity!). No seatbelts and we took turns sitting in the front for special Mom and Dad time. I could be wrong, but I think station wagons were named because they were originally used to pick up guests at train stations and take them to their hotel, inn, etc.

Ron T.
26 days ago

Walgreens and CVS weren’t on every corner like now so film had to be mailed to some processor and you waited about a week to get your prints and that usually included a new roll of film! Even in the 70s I had to budget for photo prints after vacations. Sometimes as much as $200 probably more than I spent on gas!

Mike Bizon
26 days ago

Station wagons were named as such because they were the mode of transportation of the suburban housewife. It was the popular car that took the “man of the house” to the train station where he trudged off to the city to work. The “little lady” then did her errands, filling up the wagon.

warmonk
26 days ago
Reply to  Mike Bizon

That makes sense. My first thought was because they are called ‘estate wagons’ (just ‘estates’ for short) in the UK and because Australian ranches are called ‘stations’ that maybe that was the connection.