Patricia Craig Johnson --- Searching for My Ancestors --- Sharing My Life Stories

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Monday, August 16, 2010

The Prairie Schooner Days - 1942-1948

It was a little house trailer that was about 30 feet long and 8 feet wide. It was Blue and Gray on the outside. It had a livingroom kitchen combination and a back bedroom. It was a 1942 model Prairie Schooner, and my parents bought it in Denver, Colorado when I was about age seven. We were living in Cheyenne, Wyoming at the time they bought it. They had taken another couple to Denver to look at trailers, and ended up buying this one for us. It would be our home, off and on, for six years until 1948 when I was age thirteen.

The picture that is part of this story shows what it looked like. The place the picture was taken is Tillamook, Oregon. We lived there while Dad was working at the "Lighter Than Air Base" during World War II. The date on the back of the picture is November 20, 1942. It says "This is a Kodacolor print". The colors are odd but it is the way 70+ years effects film. The license plate on Dad's Pontiac is "4-10321 Oregon 42". I'm not sure what David and I are looking at, but dad had a dramatic way of staging pictures. I think he was a frustrated movie director or something.

This little trailer house, which is so primitive by today's standards, was so important in my life. It was the haven David and I came home to, after school. It was where we read and painted and drew pictures and smelled the good home cooking that our mom provided. With only one bedroom, David and I shared the davenport in the livingroom. It was one of those old fashioned davenports that had no arms and when it was folded down it made a very good double bed. When my Dad was getting ready for work and my Mom was cooking breakfast and fixing his lunch, it was a comforting feeling to lay there listening and be an invisible part of the scene.

The Prairie Schooner was a special little house trailer. It had the privilege of being parked in some unusual places. Most of the time it was parked in a regular "trailer park," but occasionally my dad would find a unique place to park it. In Laramie, Wyoming he found an old abandoned gas station and made some arrangements to park there. The trailer had the spot where the pumps had once been and we had access to the station for the bathroom. The Prairie Schooner had no plumbing, but that was not too unusual in that day. At least it didn't seem to bother us kids, there was always a wash house or shower house in the trailer parks and we didn't think anything of walking across the yard to use the bathroom. Everyone did it.

One time we were parked in an alley behind a rooming house. We used the rooming house bathroom while we lived there. The neat thing about that place was that at the end of the alley, there was a movie theater. David and I had to just go a few steps to go the movies. With no television in those days, the movies were our main entertainment. There was no movie rating system in those days, if it was playing, it was safe to go see. Parents didn't have to even think about what their kids might see at the movie. It would be a couple of decades before we "progressed" to that point in our society. David and I spent hours reading comic books. That was another way to have fun. Then, of course, we went to the libraries where we lived and had the whole World at our fingertips. Many hours were spent in the trailer reading of far off places and adventure.

The last place the Prairie Schooner was parked was in the yard of Mrs. Anna Smith. She had a large property between Scottsbluff and Gering, Nebraska. The distance between the two towns is three miles and her place was about in the middle. It is totally developed now and doesn't look anything like it did in 1946. In 1946 it was pasture and chicken coops, and sand pits. My Dad had arranged with Mrs. Smith to park our little house trailer there. I am sure it was meant to be a temporary arrangement, but we would stay there for about two years before my Mom, David and I moved to Scottsbluff, to 1909 First Avenue. Mrs. Smith became a very good friend to our little family during some hard times we had while living there. David and I rode into school with the Eckland kids. Their Mom, Susie, sort of adopted us and took us everywhere they went. We didn't have a car after my Dad left, so we were dependent on the bus or neighbors for transportation. The Eckland family lived behind the Swift Packing Plant, which was maybe 1/4 mile from Mrs. Smith's place. Their daughter, Janis and I were best friends for many years. They were so kind to us and didn't ever treat us like "trailer house trash." I didn't know that term then, but I certainly knew the subtle meaning of it.

Trailer parks during World War II were definitely the image that folks have of them. Usually people were so transient that they didn't bother making any attempt to look permanent. The yards were junky and the trailers were junky and the kids were sort of urchin looking. We had fun though, and didn't know any better than to be happy. We all had one thing in common — we moved around a lot, had to start in new schools a lot, and sort of had a way of sticking together while we lived in the same trailer park. These were very short lived relationships.

When my parents divorced the Prairie Schooner was sold. I don't know who bought it or what happened to it. I was happy to be moving into a basement apartment — sort of like "regular" people lived, with a bathroom and everything. You can read about that place in another story called 1909 First Avenue.

As I look back on my years in the Prairie Schooner, I value them and I value it also. It was a good solid base for two kids to hang onto and come home to. I guess it proves that the spirit is what counts when it comes to what makes a home, not the luxuries. I wouldn't trade my Prairie Schooner memories for anything.

I finally figured out how to make it black & white which shows more detail. I like both pix so I am leaving them both in. Patj

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