Growing up, camping was the Wardens’ vacation


We affectionately called her the “Blue Goose.” That was our name for the newspaper’s van in the early 70s. This blue half-ton panel van picked up each week’s edition of the newspaper from the printer and then delivered them to the area stores.

It was a 1972 Chevrolet G10 “Shorty” with a three-speed manual transmission on the column. Years later, I learned to drive a stick (if you could call it that) on that old van. 

In the summer, it had another purpose — taking our family camping. As I was growing up, my dad only missed the printing of a newspaper once. That was to take the family to Florida and Disney World for ten days.

Before and after that, our only vacation was camping — as often as possible.

I remember waiting impatiently on Wednesday afternoons for pop to come home after all the papers were taken to the post office and delivered to area stores.

He would back up the “Blue Goose” to our back door. My mother, little sister and I already had the camping gear set out on the carport and ready to go. 

We were eager to get out of town.

This was a delivery van. It only had two seats. So, part of loading up the van was adding a place for my sister and me to sit.

To remedy this problem, dad took two aluminum webbed folding lawn chairs and screwed them onto a wooden frame made of two-by-fours. That way, the chairs did not fold up on us or slide around the van too much. That is where my sister, Denise and I sat, directly behind mom and dad in the van. (For those who are sentimental, you can still buy those chairs from Amazon. A set of two will set you back $99.)

There are no pictures to prove this. I think my parents destroyed them so they could deny ever putting my sister and me through such perils. 

Try that today and family services will take your children away.

Our favorite destination was Pulltite Campground on the Current River south of Salem. With just 55 standard and three group sites, Pulltite had the seclusion my family enjoyed. Run by the National Park Service, this primitive campground is used mainly by tent campers like ourselves and those with small trailers.

Our usual schedule was to set up Wednesday evening and have a quick hamburger for dinner. Thursday was river day. At Pulltite, you could choose between two approximately 10-mile floats. One headed downstream, and one began upstream, ending at the campground. My sister and I had a perfect record, never having flipped over in our canoe.

One year, when Denise did not join us, I took my dog (part German Shepherd) along on the camping trip. King was my canoe mate on the Thursday float. After stopping at Pulltite springs, we got back into the canoe. King must have seen something in the cold clear spring-fed water. The next thing I knew, I was in the water, and King was still in the canoe, wondering what had just happened.

I knew what had happened.

Thursday night was always BBQ chicken night. Not just any BBQ chicken. In fact, our family BBQ chicken recipe does not include BBQ sauce. Ingredients include beer, vinegar, oil and cayenne pepper. We marinate the chicken in the sauce and then dip it every 10 minutes as while cooking. 

Friday, we would usually head out on an adventure to Elephant Rock State Park, or Alley Springs, or just read a book. Friday night was steak night. I learned long ago that every successful camping trip includes good food.

After breakfast on Saturday morning, we would pack up and head out, giving up our spot to a grateful weekend-camper. Things became too wild for us on the weekend, so we always left.

Driving home on Saturday morning, we tuned the radio to KMOX out of St. Louis and listened to Jack Carney’s comedy show. That is where I discovered Jack Benny, Ozzie and Harriet, George Burns, Stiller and Meara and so much more.

Other camping destinations for the Warden family were Johnson Shut-ins, Alley Springs, and the Jacks Fork River. The destinations would change periodically, but the schedule and the food never did.

Camping takes your mind off everyday concerns.



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