Lyle Lundeen cradles a palm-sized red notebook in his soft, creased left hand. The corners are frayed, but the memories it evokes are intact. And the figures jotted down in pencil are somewhat staggering.
He was 16 and his kid brother, Lloyd, was 11, when their parents packed up the nearly new 1939 four-door Chevy and headed west in 1940. They were off from Minneapolis to visit relatives in Santa Monica, Calif. Their folks’ friends Edna and Milton Gerdin joined the trek through the land before there were interstates. The boys stayed home.
“There must have been somebody checking up on us because we survived,” Lyle recalled. “We bought doughnuts — lots of doughnuts — until we got sick. Probably spent more on doughnuts than they did driving to California.”
Lundeen rediscovered the little red journal a few years ago before a reunion with some cousins. He figured they’d get a kick out of it, so he painstakingly transcribed the running totals the travelers kept. With separate columns for “gas, eats and cabins,” his mother, Myrtle, and Edna tracked the expenses their husbands, August and Milton, racked up.
A tiny “A” or “M” indicated whether August or Milton forked out the cash for that tank of gas or this bottle or milk.
Gas ranged from 13.5 cents in Oklahoma all the way to 23.5 cents in Cody, Wyo. Salt Lake City was about average: 7.7 gallons at 20 cents each — $1.55 to fill ’er up.
Apples in Willard, Utah? Two dimes from August. Dinner in Kingman, Ariz: $1.28 from Milt’s wallet. A rental cabin cost $2 a night in Pierre, S.D., and $2.75 in St. George, Utah.
Their grand total? A nickel shy of $119 for a round-trip road trip to California for four.
Lyle Lundeen is a retired Navy pilot and early computer salesman for Univac — “back when they took up a whole floor,” joked his wife, Marga.
He trotted out the little road-trip diary for his monthly Tailhookers lunch at the Richfield American Legion. A group of old Navy fliers meet every second Friday. Their first get-together was in 1946.
Lyle and Marga celebrated their 64th anniversary on Valentine’s Day. They have four kids and four grandkids. They both attended long-torn-down West High School in Minneapolis and met over lunch at the University of Minnesota’s student union.
Lloyd, a speedskating champion, died at 50 from a bad heart. Lyle, who turns 90 in June, fought off pneumonia this winter. There’s nothing he enjoys more than thumbing through his parents’ old road-trip notebook.
“Imagine a cabin for $2 and gas for 15 cents — for crying out loud.”