The Great Trip West – My Grandpa’s Story

I was fortunate enough to grow up with both sets of grandparents AND great-parents on each side of the family and I have to tell you…

I straight up won the grandparent lottery.

Whether here, or passed on, I have learned something unique from each one.   From how to make (and not to make) candied sugar cookies from Great Grandma Leora, to my work ethic and drive from my Grandpa Cliff Goecker and my black and white outlook on life from Grandma Bev Evans (we might as well go ahead and add shopping and our devotion to the color black in that lineup.  And the enjoyment of an occasional margarita.)   😉

My Grandpa Evans passed away 14 years ago today.  From him I learned to not take things so seriously, how to take a step back and look at the big picture, how to work hard and make sacrifices where they count and where they are needed.   Only after reading through a journal from his teenage years did I realize that perhaps a small portion of my sense for adventure came from him as well.

It was the summer of 1954, a mere 3 months post High School graduation, when my grandpa and five of his buddies embarked on a two week adventure from Iowa to Los Angeles.   To my amazement, they managed to journal a large portion of the trip.  Surprising for a bunch of 18 year old boys!


The Great Trip West

August 14th-30th, 1954

Dick Evans, aka “Bird”

Jim Millhone, aka “Snork”

Dan Nelson, aka “Pork”

John Cundiff, aka “Johnnie” or “Flunkie”

Bill Nelson, aka “Bill Boy”

Ken Bussard, aka “Beak”


 The boys worked throughout the summer leading up to the trip in an effort to safe enough cash to fund the entire journey.   They purchased a trailer, Coleman gas burning stove, sleeping bags, suitcases.   Borrowed tools, tarps, tents, ice chests and maps.   Their vehicle came from my grandpa’s dad, who owned a Chevy dealership at the time.  Apparently is was affectionately named Skunk for reasons both relating to aesthetics and you can guess what else.


The boys were so organized they had even planned out the exact locations they would stop for camping and other activities including points of interest they had only heard or read about.   According to their journal entries they also managed to schedule stops at friends and families.    It was those stops that allowed them a warm shower and hot food.   What a trip it must have been to have 6 young men walking through your door.


Saturday, August 14th, 1954 the boys departed Evans Motor Company at 10:30pm with each of their parents there to see them off.   I am sure to the parents it was a practice run for when they would see the boys off to college upon their return.


The journal details the multiple adventures from camping, nights out, close calls and everything in between.   I had to laugh at some of the nights they spent out and about, getting back to their campsite at 4:30am to catch a few hours of sleep only to get up, get on the road and do it all over again.


One of my favorite notes was the night of their fourth day on the road when they decided to write postcards home.   No cells, no technology, completely removed from the world except for the adventure they were on.  Can you imagine?   This made me smile.  Good job, boys.  Making sure your mama’s knew you were safe, sound and having the time of your lives.


Their entries in California were heart warming.   These 6 boys set out on a mission to make it to California and here they were.  Seeing and experiencing the ocean together for the first time.   Experiencing the life that is the West Coast.   Forging a brotherly bond already strong into something indescribable.

What an incredible experience for them all.


The journal detailing their story is lengthy and contains so much of what they experienced.   My intent was to share many of the stories, however, something has held me back every time I sat down to write.

I think it has to do, in part, of it being sacred.  This story was for the boys to share and experience.   This story is part of the families now that Grandpa is gone.   By telling the entire story was taking a moment in time and history and opening it up for the world.  Perhaps, it wasn’t meant for the world.   Those were the simple days of getting to live your life without everyone else knowing what you were doing and where you were going and who you were with.

How unimaginable is that?

7,000 miles, 15 days and 6 boys with stories and inside jokes that they would share for years to come.   I can’t even begin to tell their story and give it any justice.   So, with that, my good friends, I will leave you with the lessons I took from this incredible journey.


Live your life.   Get out there and explore.   Don’t sit back and wait for things to happen.   Make them happen.   Grab your S/O, your friends, your family… whoever you choose and GO!  Get out there.  Make some plans and live in the present moment.

And, write about it. 

We live in a world so technologically fueled that our future generations won’t have anything to look back on.   Take pictures, print them off, write about your adventures and leave things behind that your kids, grand-kids and their grand-kids can enjoy in the years yet to come.


You just never know who will appreciate it 61 years down the road.

Thanks for that, Grandpa! 



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