Dinty Moore Stew, Barrel Bombs and Sardines


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Published: October 26th 2006
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Here it is, after midnight, while the rest of the world slumbers (at least around me) I sit up, busy parking memories.

Circa, mid fifties. The Buick was the classic black and white. We'd load it to the hilt, and off we'd go for our annual camping trip. Trust me. I knew where the middle of the seat was. Because if my sister's elbow or knee or God forbid her foot crossed that line, there's be a cat fight in the back seat.

To a skinny nose picking toe headed kid, we were headed to the North Pole Mountains. I didn't have a clue. And yes, I asked umpteen times, 'are we there yet?' But the truth was, our destination was either Kings Canyon or Yosemite. Some times we'd head up Hwy 99 to Kings Canyon, but most of the time we'd head up Hwy 365 to Yosemite. Through Lone Pine and Bishop, and turn off on Tioga Road. Ahhh, when we got that far, it was usually dark. But none of us kids in the back seat were asleep, we were wide eyed, watching as the forest emerged from the desert of Eastern California. And we'd pull into Tuolumne Meadows campground. We'd pile out of the car, smell the fresh mountain air, and start gathering wood for a fire. Yes, back then there was enough wood laying around where we foraged enough for great campfires every night.
Dad would pitch the tent, ahhh, that old tent. I still have it. It's a classic now. Then he'd start pumping the Coleman stove. No propane cartriges back then. White gas. And every year, regardless of where we went, Kings Canyon or Yosemite, we'd have Dinty Moore stew. As I look back on it now, was it a treat, or were my folks just spoofing us kids, and they were really just being cheapskates? I guess I'll never know. But food like Dinty Moore stew just tasted good up in the mountains. Like Spam. Wouldn't think of having it at home, but up in the mountains, it was a treat. Yeahh, those were the days before McDonald's or Taco Bell.
Yes, Tuolumne Meadows in the 50's. The general store in the big tent, just as it is today. And Gene Hempel the park ranger. My brother could tell this story better, although he was a lot younger, but I think Gene Hempel had such an impact in his life that he became a ranger. Tuolumne Meadows. Soda Springs, Young Lakes, Lembert Dome, Dog Lake, Cathedral Lakes, Lyle Canyon. That is all by memory.
So we'd go camping. I don't recall if it was often we'd meet our cousins the Browns there. But we did at least once or twice. On such a trip, I remember Steve and I climbing Lembert Dome. When we got up there, he showed me some barrel bombs he had, and we let off few of 'em. KAPOWWW, it would echo throughout the entire canyon below. Sheeze, if we did it today we'd go to jail. Maybe we would then too, but we never got caught.
And we didn't get caught the time that I took the little red hatchet (that I still have) and started chopping down a small tree near our campsite. Steve came up and wanted to do a few chops too, bless his little destructive heart, but I was having fun chopping, and wasn't ready to give it up yet. So a little tussle ensued, and the hatchet went into my wrist. There was Bllllooood on the saddle, and blllllooood all around... and a great biiiiig ppppppuddddddle of..... bbbblllloooood on the ground.... Steve was soooo sorry. He took me to the general store, and bought some gauze to wrap around my wrist. And of course I didn't want ANyone to know either, so I kept it a secret, and we got away with it. I have the scar on my wrist today to prove it happened.
Yes, and bears. Every year, bears would come into the camp. What would camping be without bears coming into the camp? So Steve and I go to the general store, and buy a can of sardines. The girls (my sister and Steve's sister Janie) sleeping bags were by themselves, and Steve and mine were by themselves. But we'd fix those girls. We took the can of sardines and put them all around the girl's sleeping bags. THaT should bring the bears. That should bring the bears right near those girls. Haaa, it will be a great laugh on them. Ha ha haa.....
Well, I don't know if it brought the bears, or if the bears were just planning on coming anyway, but that night there they were. But they didn't seem to restrict themselves to the area around the girl's sleeping bags, because I awoke to see a bear at the foot of my sleeping bag standing up on his hind legs!!! It scared the tar out of me. But there was dear Dad... banging away on a fry pan. Thank goodness, the bears high tailed it out of camp, and up into a tree. Now we were all awake, out of our sleeping bags, and running after those bears with our flashlights in hand, while Dad was busy banging on the fry pan. We'd watch as the bear lumbered away and start climbing a tree. We'd shine our flashlights as they climbed highter and higher.




Those were good days. Great trips. We'd head home through the heat, with no air conditioning... or maybe we did have one of those window units, I do remember those, but I don't recall if it ever worked.
And we had that Rambler station wagon. Two toned brown. That sound fiftyish? Wow, when we got it, was it a treat to sprawl out in the back of the station wagon. Not cooped up in a seat! I could lay down, put my feet up, look out the back window.









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22nd January 2007

T.M, Days
In those days, if the wagon just made it to the Meadows you felt like you had accomplished something. This was before the rest stops. Those canvas water bags on the front grille. A truly great campground at one time --and not bad now-- where the love the mountains would attach for a lifetime. Thanks for posting your memories.

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