Two Mennonite Girls Survive a Cross Country Road Trip

Yes, imagine two Mennonite girls tripping across the country . . .

  • In a blue-gray 1958 Chevy Impala sedan
  • With a chauffeur and navigator
  • Through 47 states + Mexico
  • Five weeks in 1964: July 18 – August 24


My Travel Partners: The Metzlers, whom I call Aunt and Uncle, and their daughter Joann

Unlike John Steinbeck who wrote Travels with Charley about his one-man, one-dog travelogue in the 1960s, we were a four-some, Joann Herr, my new best friend, her parents, John and Mary Metzler, and me. But like Mark Twain, we were “innocents abroad,” leaving our cozy Mennonite countryside and venturing through the wild and wooly West to the Pacific coast, eyes agape with wonder.

Best Bud: Joann Metzler (Herr) whom I met while she was student teaching at Rheems Elementary School, where my Aunt Ruth Longenecker was principal. “She’s such a nice girl. You ought to meet her,” Ruthie said about Joann. She was right! I even thought so at the end of the trip.

Chauffeur Extraordinaire, Uncle John: One day he drove 748 miles! John Metzler, who raised crops and cattle, is related on my mother’s side of the family through a common ancestor, Valentine Metzler, whose immigration to Pennsylvania was celebrated in the reunion in 2013. During this thousands-of-miles-odyssey behind the wheel, he sometimes came up with quotable expressions:

“Oh, schmatza (PA Dutch for pain),” he frets when there are too many switchbacks on mountain roads.

“Now we’re caught with our pants down!” when he makes a wrong turn.

“I thought I’d be hen-pecked with three women around and by golly I am already!” he exclaims 11 days into the trip.

Navigator with a Built-in Compass, Aunt Mary: With only a road map and keen sense of direction, Joann’s mother “Aunt Mary” was quite a trooper. She made sure we were ready to roll between 6:30 and 7:00 am every day. When I felt road sick, she doled out Chiclets. She was eager to see her spry, 81-year-old Aunt Susan in Los Angeles.

In Cheyenne Uncle John was taken for a German because of his PA Dutch accent, and Mary tells him “ta be more English!” Here are the two smiling at Crater Lake, Oregon.


The Big Loop – Like Steinbeck, we did follow a northern route across the Mid-west, angling down through California and sweeping across the Southwest into Texas and further east to Florida and then north back home to Pennsylvania. Along the way, we sometimes fancied ourselves in foreign lands: Parts of Utah looked like Greece to us, the Rockies like the Swiss Alps, and some of Oregon, the Holy land because of myrtle trees.


In the Rockies, I make a snowball on my birthday!


We were entranced by presidents, puffy clouds, national parks  . . .


Yellowstone, 12 million acres of gorgeous scenery - even bears want a part of the action
Yellowstone, 12 million acres of gorgeous scenery – even bears want a part of the action

And the Magnificent Grand Canyon



Oregon and California: Myrtle trees, Joshua trees, Dates and Olives!


Joann and almond tree
Joann and almond tree
Navajo Indian Reservation: Family was pleased to pose in exchange for some pesos
Navajo Indian Reservation: Family was pleased to pose in exchange for some pesos

Tijuana, Mexico: sombreros, a heady substitute for our prayer caps. Joann had no idea she was inviting kisses!


What We Wore

The photos prove our plainness. We always had something on our heads: prayer coverings, black bonnets on top of our caps for Sunday in Salt Lake City, Utah. Accordion pleated plastic wind-breakers for stiff breezes or rain. Dresses or skirts – absolutely no slacks or shorts.

Grandma Longenecker gave me a travel iron – no permanent press fabrics yet in our wardrobes in the Sixties.

Closeup of prayer covering and bonnet like Joann and I wore on the trip with Kodak Ektachrome slides, letter home and post card from the Petrified Forest, Arizona
Closeup of prayer covering and bonnet like Joann and I wore on the trip with Kodak Ektachrome slides, letter home and post card from the Petrified Forest, Arizona

Days were HOT!

One day it was 110 degrees in a car with no AC. Our Boontonware cups melted in the rear view window. Our backs made puddles on the seats, so we tried the feet-in-air position, backseat monkeys! Here below are the Boontonware cups before they melted! And, yes, photos at state lines were staged – part of our ritual.


Uncle John couldn’t wait to get to Cheyenne, Wyoming to see the Rodeo, The Daddy of ’em All during Frontier-land week.

*1964_Wyoming Rodeo_newspaper_300pix

What We Did at Night

Sometimes Joan and I disturbed the peace of the Metzler pair next door in the motel. Once I kicked down a picture on a motel wall in Wisconsin and nearly fell on my head to try to retrieve it. Daily we wrote in our diaries and totted up our expenses down to the last penny.

Usually we snacked and read books. One night I lowered the hem on a skirt with my sewing kit to comply with standards of Lancaster Mennonite School, where I would return to teaching in the fall. Here I’m making a feast of boysenberry bread near Kanab, Utah.


Many thanks to photo-enhancer Cliff for bringing faded memories back to life!

How did I pay for this trip on my slim school teacher’s salary? What secrets did my diary and expense book reveal? Did anyone from home remember my birthday? Find out in my next post!


57 thoughts on “Two Mennonite Girls Survive a Cross Country Road Trip

  1. Thank for sharing this experience, Marian! What an amazing trip for you and your friend (and parents). It’s so different from how it would be today with GPS, cell phones, computers, and photos put on FB and Instagram. How wonderful that you have those slides and photos (I love that you can see the processed by Kodak on one.) I wonder if some of the people you encountered “out west” thought your “Pennsylvania Germans” were exotic creatures?

    Looking forward to the next post–as always! 🙂


    1. I doubt that I ever called home, but postcards and letters did fly across the country as Saturday’s post will show. Because of our dress, there were stares and second glances. In part 2 I will tell the story of a Mormon who mistook me for Israeli because of my head gear.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It was hard to condense it all – 87 pages of notes, lots of postcards and letters, and then so many slides that were not in order because they were taken out of their original boxes, put in and then taken out of carousels years ago. Back then of course, I had no idea I would be reviewing this trip, much less writing about it.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this taste of the past, Darlene. Yes, more’s coming!


  2. Love the pictures, what great memories. Thank you for sharing this with us. Love the picture with the bear, and of you on the mule. Cute.
    Thank you for sharing


    1. You like animals, Gloria – I can tell. I believe it was a long-horn steer or ox pulling the stagecoach in the photo though. I’m glad you enjoy arm-chair travel.


  3. Great pictures, again. How did you take a slide and print it here on your post. WOW. You sure have good memories of when you were younger. And Joann is your cousin, right? I enjoy old pictures, especially people pictures.


    1. My husband Cliff scanned each slide and then photo-shopped the ones that were most faded. As for remembering the memories – not so much. I did have a trip diary to glean from, thank goodness, which I will feature on Saturday’s post! Joann is related to my through my mother and her dad. We are related, but only as distant cousins.


  4. Oh my gosh, Marian, I lOVE this and can’t wait for the next installment. You have such wonderful memories and you are a superb story teller!!


    1. My diary was a handy crutch here: over 50 years ago, so there was a lot to remember. I’m glad you enjoyed our adventure here; I suspect you have many travel memories of your own too, Joan. Thanks always for cheering me on.


  5. What fun! Love the pictures.

    My mom took a polaroid of me and my brothers in front of Mount Rushmore — and yep, she cut the Presidents’ heads off; so all you see is us in front of rock ballast and pine trees.


    1. Even mishaps become stories which you prove here! Yet, you wanted the memory of famous rock heads and your heads together in the same shot of course.

      You mention Polaroids – instant memory recall: I remember the delightful anticipation of printed paper shooting out of the camera, one precursor to Instagram!

      Always appreciate your showing up here, often with a story too!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Marian — “Kiss me” in Mexico. Melted cups in the rearview window. And kicking down a picture on a motel wall. It’s clear that ALL of you had a complete and total blast!

    What did Uncle John think of “The Daddy of ’em All” rodeo? — my inquiring mind wants to know if it exceeded his expectations.


    1. One of the main reasons for the trip was his getting to go to the Frontierland rodeo. We had only one day allotted to spend there, but if he had his druthers, he would probably spent the whole week there.

      “Aunt” Mary wanted to see Aunt Susan in Los Angeles, and we girls wanted to see the West. We all got our wishes — and then some!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just thought of this too: John Metzler was a Lancaster County, PA cattle & crop farmer. Most farms there are 100 acres or less; his may have been more. My journal on July 22 notes that one day we saw the largest purebred Hereford ranch in the world in Wyoming with 60,000 acres, 900 cows – 2500 head of cattle altogether. The welcome sign said: WHY: Wyoming Hereford Ranche Welcomes You!


  7. Marian, we almost crossed paths, and some of our photos/slides look almost exactly the same, you know?? Our family of 6 went west in 1964 in a 1960 Chevy Bel Air pulling a small camper for 6 weeks (likely after July 4 to mid-August)–and got homesick the last week of the trip! So we never made it to Minnesota, North Dakota or Wisconsin that trip, and did not hit Mexico, but we did the Navajo reservation (where there were Mennonite mission workers etc.), Crater Lake, Mt. Raniar, Rock Mt. Mennonite Camp, much more. Did you visit Mennonite churches every Sunday? Or elsewhere? Looking forward to part 2!


    1. Incredible synchronicity! I’d love to hear/see your version of the story. The only Mennonite Church I remember visiting is the one mentioned here. This was a high-powered trip with a huge agenda for every day. The only state we couldn’t work into the itinerary was Kansas, I believe. Love this connection here, Melodie!


      1. Oh, my goodness, after you commented, I found two other brochures from churches: one we probably took a walk-through, a Swedenborgian Church of the New Jerusalem designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and another we must have attended because I have a church bulletin: Vermont Avenue Presbyterian Church on South Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles.

        Of course, we also attended a service at the Morman Tabernacle and heard the bellowing thrills of their amazing pipe organ, but as I mentioned the choir had gone to the World’s Fair.

        Now I must recycle this stuff. Actually, we are trying to down-size, and we came upon all my media from this cross-country trip and paused to process it all once again. It was a long pause! 😉


          1. I just read your post – $20.00 a day for a family six takes planning. Joann and I took turns paying for motels, the biggest expense. You’ll see a snippet from my expense book on Saturday. Sometimes we cut down on food to afford more souvenirs. Ah, those were the days! Thank for the link. I enjoyed another peak into your past, Melodie.


  8. Oh my gosh, I LOVE this post, Miriam. Makes me so nostalgic. The scenery and clothing reminds me of my childhood years. You were so fortunate to get to see so much of the US in that wonderful trip. What fun.


    1. You said, “The scenery and clothing reminds me of my childhood years.” Fancy that! Yes, I know I was extremely fortunate to have this opportunity, probably largely because Joann didn’t have a sister, but that’s just a guess. Now I wonder where you grew up, Cynthia.


  9. What a fun, exciting trip for you! I love to travel so I really enjoyed the pictures. If someone says, “Let’s go to ……..” I’m ready! What fun memories you have of this big trip! Thanks for sharing with us! 🙂


    1. I know you do because you share your excursions on your blog. I’m sure we will hear about your trip to Haiti soon. We didn’t miss any major national park that I know of. From Bryce to Zion – we were there! Good planning on the Metzlers’ part.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for sharing! Having married into the Metzler clan (I am a son-in-law of Joann’s older brother Carl) it is so much fun to picture the the trip with the Grandparents!


    1. Welcome, Jonathan. So, you are one of Joann’s brothers-in-law. I wonder if some of John and Mary’s sayings sound familiar to you. Thank you also for subscribing to this blog. You will find plenty of nostalgic bits here. Again, thanks for reading, commenting, and following – all in the same day. I’m impressed!


  11. Oh, Marian, what a fun time I’ve had traversing the country with you and your three companions! It sounds like a fun trip, falling pictures and all. I can’t wait for the next installment. Kudos to Cliff for photo restoration, and to you for sharing such amazing memories with us all.


    1. Thanks for acknowledging Cliff’s job of photo restoration. It was a gargantuan job, way more than he bargained for, but he took it in stride. I’m glad you enjoyed this vicarious journey.

      Oregon was a biggie for us – Grant’s Pass, lovely myrtle-wood trees, and much more. We were awe-struck most of the time. I didn’t mention the redwoods and sequoias down the coast, but they were beyond amazing to us Mennonite country girls.


  12. Fascinating Marian. Your posts are like short little memoir books. The photos are always a treat. You’re lucky to have your hubby’s technical support. I look forward to the next part. Oh, and I love that picture of you sitting on the bed, it reminds me of some movie star from the sixties. 🙂


    1. . . . a movie star from the sixties. Wow, if only that Mennonite girl could have imagined your saying that now. Yes, my hair is real; it still is but there’s less of it!

      Yes, I’m thankful for Cliff’s photo restoration help, not my strong suit. I’m happy to hear of you recent accolades and opportunities. Writers like you make me think publishing is possible. Thank you, Debby.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. John Steinbeck couldn’t have said it better! You are a great travel writer. Joy, laughter, and striving for God form an undercurrent in all your stories.

    And what I want to know is this. How did Cliff manage to get such clear pictures of those slides??!! I have a huge box full of Kodak Carousels. . . . .


    1. I accept your compliment and your every-ready encouragement. Thank you, Shirley! I will pass your message on to Cliff.

      Of course this photo journal would not have been possible without Cliff’s help. The slides were scanned, then Photoshopped in multiple layers, and finished with custom mounts made from the original frames. The whole project took an enormous amount of time: I honestly could not afford his services. Fortunately, this was an in-house job!

      Ironically, we opened a closet door upstairs in an effort to begin down-sizing about two weeks ago, saw all these Kodak Carousels, and this is one result. In other words, we fell down a rabbit hole. 😉


  14. Oh Marian I am agog . What an amazing holiday you lucky thing you . I think we spend a rainy week in Barmouth in tent . I wait with baited breath to hear the next instalment . Such handsome girls you were ( are) now I know where the grandchildren get their grace and beauty from . All those places I have always wanted to visit ….you never know cos it ‘s never too late …that bear wow!!!


    1. Your expressive remarks always warm the cockles of my heart. When you visit the States you’ll have to stop by and see us in Florida. I’m glad you enjoyed the travelogue so much. Readers like you make it a joy to write, Cherry.


  15. Oh my gosh, Marian,that was wonderful! Cliff did a superb job of enhancing those slide-photos t add to your rich descriptions. Thank you for inviting me on your road trip. I feel like we had a great time! Can’t wait to see what’s next. 🙂


    1. I actually heard you say, “Oh my gosh, Marian” because I recall you happy exclamations when we were together in February. So glad you enjoyed the travelogue. I’ll pass the compliment on to Cliff-tographer.


  16. Thanks for sharing your journey with everyone and thanks to Cliff, too. The photos are spectacular. Did you girls get kissed?


    1. No, we didn’t, Elaine. Now we’d probably both take it as a lark, but back then we sheltered, innocent girls would have been mortified. You are the first ever to ask this question. 😉


        1. Perfect come-back, Elaine. It’s fascinating to contrast our “then” and “now” images of self, don’t you thin?. Thank God we can change and grow.

          Your comments are always spot on!


  17. It’s been a long while since I visited your posts, but your 1964 travelogue after your first year at LMS took me back to memories of our first year of teaching. Your photo of enjoying boysenberry bread reminded me of our late night teas with Alta Hoover. Remember?


  18. Yes, the tea – served in clear glass. With Alta Hoover, what a woman! Thanks for reviving a lost memory.

    I have been going through other slides and found some choice ones of you on the LMS campus, even one of you walking to class and another poised in front of the trailer we rented. After they are scanned, I will send you a file via email, probably a .jpg. Okay?

    You may remember you gave 3-4 photos from LMS to me at the EMC 50-year reunion (me doing lesson plans in a dorm room, etc.) Anyway, Cliff scanned them, but I cannot find the files anywhere and I’ve searched and searched. Would you mind re-sending them? I promise to return them to you ASAP.

    Again, welcome back, Verna. So nice to see you here again! We have a long, shared history.


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