Station Wagon Kitchens and Reflections on Camping

station-wagon-kitchenThe other day when I was writing my post about road food I got to thinking about how those old road trips were taken.  And I don’t mean “by car.”

The roadtrip of the past knew nothing of lightweight gear.  sleeping bags were made of real fabrics, cotton and wool and batting — a down sleeping bag cost a fortune if you could even find one for sale in your small town.  There was no Thinsulate.  There were no insulated sleeping pads — you brought along an army folding cot to sleep on.  I remember the earliest test we had was made of heavy canvas and the poles were 1 1/2 in square wood.  For a weekend trip you loaded down the station wagon to within an ounce of it’s capacity — but of course in those days no one ever paid attention to payload weight and you drove to the campground Friday night with headlights aimed at the sky because you were so overloaded. station-wagon-cooking

Someplace my dad found directions for a plywood “camp kitchen.”  Imagine a 3/4 inch plywood box, the right size to extend across the entire back of your station wagon and about 18 inches deep and 18-24 inches high.  Inside there were compartments for a compact set of pots & pans — usually nesting aluminum gear — to the side was an area for utensils and silverware and another area for basic other needs — salt, pepper, aluminum foil, knives, spatula, etc.

As cars morphed over the years I can remember my dad re-manufacturing his camp kitchen a few times to fit more economically into the back of the car but always it weighed a ton and it was indispensable!

When I look back on the kitchen we had in the RV and then think about those days of roadtrips and camping trips in the station wagon it’s actually kind of humbling.  We managed with a lot less in those early days and we were equally happy — perhaps happier (only because we hadn’t grown up  to know the struggles of adult life).

Life was simpler then.  There were fewer rules.  Today there are rules about everything it seems.  And that’s just the onward march of “civilization.”  But there was a freedom in those days-gone-by that we do not know today.

Of course at that time you didn’t see tens of thousands of RV’s parked in the Quartzite desert.  And there was no such thing as RV’ing as we know it today.  There were a few home made rigs but those were adventurous times and in the post-WWII world people were trying out their new freedoms in new and different ways.

This book about Station Wagon Living was one example.  As people got to be more and more creative with their leisure activities there was a rush to do it yourself projects and new products to make your leisure time more enjoyable.  It’s interesting that in those days people were more eager to go away on vacation; it seems nowadays too many people are afraid to take time off lest the boss discover he / she can do without you.

The drawback of those plywood camp kitchens was that they weighed a ton.  However, my dad’s and everyone else’s kitchen never broke.  They were built to last — and they lasted, and lasted and lasted.  Long after station wagons went out of style.  It wasn’t too many years ago that I threw away — actually I burned it in a campfire — the last remaining camp kitchen that I had been faithfully saving.  Not that I ever expected to use it again — I knew those days were over — but the stupid thing carried memories of good and happy times.  I looked at that (painted) baby blue box and I saw my parents smiles, I saw blisters on my hand, and peach cobbler in the dutch oven, I saw zip packs (those little meals wrapped in aluminum foil that you cooked on coals from your campfire) and smelled the aroma of a complete meal when you poked through the aluminum foil and the first bits of steam wafted towards your nostrils.

I’d never want to return to those days.  Camping was hard work back then.  Even when we knew what we were doing it took an hour to get the tent set up the RIGHT way.  And of course in those days RIGHT and WRONG were a much bigger thing.  You chose the right spot for your tent.  You put the stakes in on the right angle.  You tied the right knots and snugged up the guy lines just right.  There was an art to camping; a science too.  There were skills you honed and perfected.

Nowadays we back into a site, use the levelers to level the coach and plug in the power cord. We can set up on a new site or get ready to leave a site in under an hour — start to finish.  And yet sometimes it feels like there’s something missing.  We didn’t have all the gadgets but we had all the niceties — if you know what I mean.

I’m past sleeping on the ground nowadays.  I don’t sleep that well in a bed anymore — sleeping on the ground is an exercise in futility.  I’m glad I did it when I was younger.  I’m glad I’m not doing it now.  I listen with joy when our grand kid tells us about her trip to the Boundary Waters or to the ski hills in NW Wisconsin.  The funny thing is that when I hear her stories I get to enjoy them twice.  I get to hear for the first time the life she is making as an adult and how much she loves nature and the outdoors.  I also get to relive our own experiences — as similar and different as they may be — and it warms my heart to see something carried forward to the next generation.

It’s good to get older.  I’m not upset about aging.  Better to get old than die young!  But I notice different things now than I ever did before — with one look at the horizon it’s as if I could see infinitely more of the terrain than I ever noticed 25 or 45 years ago.  I’m glad.  I’m happy.  It’s all good.

Thanks for stopping by, and why not check in tomorrow if you have a moment or two.


2 thoughts on “Station Wagon Kitchens and Reflections on Camping

  1. I remember a cross country trip in a station wagon with just my mother, my brother and I. Our middle seat folded down into 1/3 or 2/3 sections. We folded down the back seat and the 1/3 portion of the middle seat and spread a sleeping bag on it so we could take turns napping. I called my brother a dumpy driver because when he was driving he’d hit the pedals too hard he’d dump me and the sleeping bag to one end or the other.

    Liked by 1 person

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