Key West: cross-country drive

1955 US Highway System

We had a breakthrough in the last week on the route my Dad took to Key West. He had 30 days leave after finishing instructors school in San Diego. I assumed he spent that time with his parents. But this last week my Dad remembered that he went to the Bay area to visit a friend and her family. We are pretty sure that he drove from there to Key West not from San Diego. We also think that he picked up his car in San Francisco. His transfer orders show him flying from Barbers Point in Hawaii to Moffett Field in the Bay area to San Diego and then checking in at the Naval Training Center in San Diego.

He remembers taking a train from San Francisco to Palo Alto where his friend Pat lived and a couple of outings while there. So he must have picked up his car there. He remembers once picking up a car and having to replace the battery. This time makes the most sense because of how long it would have been since he had driven it. You had to turn the car in a couple of weeks before your departure. Then it would have come by boat and sat waiting for him for at least 4 weeks. That would have been 6 weeks and maybe two more weeks of his leave before he picked it up.

Yesterday we got together and plotted his most probable route and likely cities he might have stopped in each night. Her remembered a couple of things along the route. He drove near a small town in Arizona where Pat’s family used to live. He wondered if he had taken the now famous historic route 66. He knows he didn’t drive through New Orléans until a few years later after my parents were married. He also remember taking what was then known as route 41 down through Florida. Adding all of that together we are pretty sure of most of the route.

We know he arrived two days early. He had 13 days for travel. So assuming he left 13 days before he was due in Key West we figure he made it in 11 days. I thought it was his first time really driving cross-country by him self but I found out that when he was in Key West before he drove his motorcycle from Key West to Chicago where his parents were living at the time. On that trip he rain into some cold wet weather. So even though this trip was hot (being early September) it must have been much easier physically than a couple thousand mile road trip on a motorcycle in March.

Here are our current guesses at his stops each night and the number of miles it takes to get there on today’s roads:

  1. Bakerfields, California (261 miles) 29 August
  2. Needles, California (272 miles) 30 August
  3. Holbrook, Arizona (298 miles) 31 August
  4. Silver City, New Mexico (230 miles) 1 September
  5. Pecos, Texas (364 miles) 2 September
  6. Cisco, Texas (239 miles) 3 September
  7. Shreveport, Louisiana (323 miles) 4 September
  8. Meridian, Mississippi (306 miles) 5 September
  9. Albany, Georgia (336 miles) 6 September
  10. Lakeland, Florida (340 miles) 7 September
  11. Miami, Florida (279 miles) – 8 September
  12. Key West, Florida (156 miles) – 9 September

This is pure speculation of course and we ended up with one more day than we think it took him but also a theory on why. My Dad check in at 0915 on September 9th. There really isn’t any place he would have likely stayed past Miami and yet to get from Miami to Key West that early in the morning means he would have to get up really early. So maybe when he got to Miami late he just decided to keep right on going and got to Key West the next morning. Hopefully some more memories will come back to him and we can have more confidence in this trip.

My next task is to look up the historical weather data for the days we think he was in each of these towns so we can use it to flesh out more of what his trip was probably like. I’m really enjoying the time that I get to spend with my Dad working on this project.

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4 thoughts on “Key West: cross-country drive

  1. Imagine going “west” with no real maps or roads. Pioneers went on a prayer and faith. I wonder if or how many type A people even entertained the idea of moving across the Mississippi to the unknown…? at least the roads were paved in 1955 !

    • So true! I can’t really imagine what it was like for them. I always think about the pioneers when I drive across Nebraska. It seems to take forever but it is only one day. It took them weeks and weeks. We have amazingly cushy lives when it comes to physical hardship.

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