Monday, December 19, 2011

Hitch-hiking to college. Part 1.

Another guest blog by my deceased Grandfather (what bluesun has dubbed "zombie blogging"). My grandfather was born on October 29, 1897. He graduated from high school in 1917, and enlisted U.S. Army Engineers July 5, 1918 and was discharged September 2, 1919. So, with that little bit of context, we'll let Gramps take over, okay?

During the summer of 1921 Ernest Schlitgus and I had the idea that we would like to hitchhike east and enter some college in the fall. We didn’t have any set place in mind but Ernie had heard of the Wharton School of Finance in Philadelphia and we set that as an objective. We started out on August 8th., each carrying a knapsack and signs reading, “Hiking to College.”We had both been members of the Episcopal Church choir; Rev. Wurtelle started us on our journey by driving us to Owatonna. Going straight west from Rochester, Minn., on the way to Philadelphia seems strange, but in those days there were no numbered highways, only marked trails, and from Owatonna south we wanted to get on the Red Ball Trail to Marshalltown, Iowa, where we could get on the Lincoln Highway. From Owatonna we went thru Albert Lea and Mason City to Iowa Falls, Iowa, where we spent the night sleeping under the protecting roof of a rifle range shed. We had covered a total of 163 miles, only two by hiking.
On the second day we covered 60 miles. One of our rides was in a two wheeled horse breaking cart for a few miles. We hiked a distance of 16 miles during the day, which turned out to be the most hiking we would do in one day on the entire trip. Stayed at “Y”.
Aug. 10th. We walked 1½ miles south of Marshalltown and were on the Lincoln Highway, a dirt road in those days. At Le Grand we found 11 cars piled up at the bottom of a hill due to the slip­pery roads. Helped to get one Ford out of a ditch. At Tama saw the Indian Reservation. It had been a rainy day and when we arrived at Cedar Rapids we decided to stay there for the night. We had covered 78 miles, 8 by hiking, mostly in the mud.
Aug. 11th. From Cedar Rapids to Mt. Vernon. At Wheatland, Iowa, we talked with a man and woman who were rollerskating from coast to coast. Sounded impossible to us in that Iowa mud. At DeWitt we had to detour 20 miles to Clinton. Lincoln Highway being improved. On the detour we passed thru Low Moor and Camanche. At Camanche we stopped for a rest and talked to some men sitting outside a garage. They gave us some apple cider to drink, but later we realized it must have been hard cider or apple jack. Little did I think at the time, that, a few years later I would be married and living in Camanche, and doing business at that same garage. We crossed the Miss­issippi River, over the high bridge at Clinton, to Fulton, Illinois. At Dekalb, Ill. we stopped for the night having covered 173 miles, 6 by hiking.
Aug, 12th. From DeKalb, Ill. to Crown Point, Ind. One ride was in a coal truck which ran out of gas. At Crown Point, Ind. we found out we were off the Lincoln Highway to the south. Total for the day 109 miles, 8 of which were hiking.
Aug. 13th. Back to Lincoln Highway at Valparaiso, Ind. At South Bend picked up first mail from home. On to Fort Wayne, Ind., where we stopped for the night. Total mileage today, 159, 4 by walking.
Aug. l4th. Being Sunday we decided to take it easy. Near Convoy were many vineyards with ripe Concord grapes hanging over the fence. We decided the highway was too hard for walking so hiked along near the fence where the grapes were easier to reach. At VanWert, Ohio we stopped for the night, having covered only 35 miles, 12 by hiking.
Aug. 15th. To Delphos, Cairo, Beaver Dam. Six rides, 3 turns at hiking. To Upper Sandusky where Ernie stopped and refused to walk any farther. Finally got a ride to Bucyrus. Stayed at the “Y”. The Y.M.C.A. at Bucyrus refused to charge us anything for our room. During the day we had detoured off the Lincoln Highway, thru Nevada, Ohio. For the day we covered 87 miles, 8 by walking.
It was in Ohio where we picked up a ride with an insurance adjustor who was driving a Ford coupe. The driver asked if either of us could drive as he wanted to take a nap. I had driven a Ford so told him I would drive for a while. After a half hour, Ernie decided he would like to drive. Evidently he had very little ex­perience, as he failed to slow up when coming to a corner and the car tipped over on its side. The three of us were able to get it back on its wheels and we continued on east with the owner doing the driving.
Aug, l6th. A bad day for hitchhiking. Walked out of Bucyrus 1 mile, Rode in car ½ mile, rode in another car 1 mile. Stopped in a cemetery, or “rest camp” as Ernie called it. Walked 3 miles, stopped at another cemetery, walked another 1½ miles. Got a ride in an oil truck to Crestline. Changed to eastern time. Walked 1 mile out of Crestline and rested near a schoolhouse. Very hot weather. Walked by a farm and waved at two girls sitting on lawn. They came and walked a ways with us. Said they were driving to Akron the next morning and would give us a ride there. However we wanted to stay on the Lincoln Highway. Got a ride to Mansfield, and then walked 1½ miles farther. Decided to camp for the night. Rides had been few and short. 24 miles, 8 hiking.
Aug. 17th. To Ashland. Walked 2 miles out of city and got caught in rainstorm. Got ride to Ashland and then on east to Wooster in same car. Walked 1 mile out of Wooster and the weather looked so bad we decided to wait for ride to Massilon or remain in Wooster for the night. We climbed up on top of a high steel bridge. Ernie saw a car coming, waved it to a stop and we got a ride to Massilon. Total mileage for day, 57, 3 1/2 by walking.
Aug. 18th. Couldn’t pick up a ride out of Massilon so we rode the interurban trolley 8 miles to Canton. Caught ride to Minerva, Near Lynchburg got ride with 3 girls. After 4 miles car ran out of gas. Walked back to Lynchburg and returned with two gallons of gas. Then on to Hanoverton. Rested in farmyard. Visited with two girls and a boy, named Pelly. Spent the evening at their house. They had a ukulele which I could play and as Ernie and I had had a lot of experience singing in the church choir, we entertained them with all the familiar songs of the day. They wouldn’t let us leave until their folks came home from an Eastern Star meeting, and then we had to perform all over again. Slept out in the open by a creek. We had had a miserable day covering only 42 miles, 6 by walking. Next morning Ernie got us up and going at 5:30; he said he was freezing to death.
Aug. 19th. It had been a cold night so we walked a half mile to an old bridge, built a fire and waited till eight o’clock with out seeing a car. Decided to walk back to Hanoverton and take a train to East Liverpool which was not too far ahead. It had been almost impossible to pick up rides in Ohio. Walked out of East Liverpool and sat down on a corner where cars would have to slow up. Ernie was reading a copy of DeMaupasant and I was reading out of the khaki covered little bible I had carried thru France and Germany. A car stopped, asking for directions, and Ernie talked the driver into giving us a ride to Pittsburgh, in a car which was already overloaded. Total for today, 65 miles, 1 walking.
Aug. 20 and 21. On the previous day we had taken a streetcar to Bellevue, Pa. a suburb of Pittsburgh. I visited my old wartime buddy, William Raisbeck. Saw Schenley Park Botanical gardens. Also Carnegie Tech buildings, Highwood Park Zoo and Carnegie Museum.
Aug. 22nd. Took streetcar from Bellevue to Williamsburg. On to Greensburg, Stoyestown, Got ride over the Allegheny Mountains to Bedford. Spent night there. Days total 99 miles, 5 walking.
Aug. 23rd. From Bedford to Gettysburg. Saw all the battlefield sights. Crossed the mountain ridge at Tuscarora Summit, Elev. 2,240’.On to Wrightsville. Toll bridge over Susquehanna River to Columbia. Walked 2 miles; then caught ride to Lancaster. 132 miles, 3 hiking.

Aug. 24th. Walk 1½ miles out of, Lancaster. Wait for ride. No luck. Took trolley to Coatsville, 42¢. Got ride to Downington. Walked 2 miles to East Downington, then got ride to Bryn Mawr and then another to Philadelphia. Stay at Minerva. Go to hear Phila­delphia band. Had reached destination. Mileage today 66, 5 hiking. Total mileage, Rochester to Philadelphia, 1,349, 95 miles by walking. We had been seventeen days on the trip. At the Wharton School we were told that all classes for the year had been filled.


  1. A trip like that these days would surely cut down on the number of people in "Wymyn's Studies". Only go if you really wanted an education.

  2. "all classes for the year had been filled."


    but I bet he didn't let it stop him from getting an education...

  3. And the interesting part is no whining, no bitching, just getting it done... :-) I'll bet he was truly a character!

  4. Those were better times. How far would somebody be able to go on foot these days without getting hurt, arrested, sued, etc.? I swear, sometimes I feel I was born too late.

  5. I found this web page with postcards showing what some of that journey would have looked like around that time: