Bob Russell and Bill West graduated from Wellington High School in May of 1961 having supplemented their formal education by enrolling in a drafting course through ICS, International Correspondence School. They started their first class the night John F. Kennedy was elected. That summer they both found local jobs, Bob as a carpenter and Bill an employee of the State driving a mowing machine along the highways. Bill’s income was substantial, enough for him to buy the shiny black Pontiac Coupe from Mr. Reed, so much down with monthly payments.
Bob planned to enter CSU in the winter semester after Christmas so he quit his job as carpenter for a local Mormon church and arranged for his friend Duane Johnson to take his place. But something went awry with his college admissions and he found himself at loose ends. Bill Hartwig’s invitation suddenly seemed the answer. Bill’s mowing job had petered out with bad weather so he, too, thought a trip to Florida was a good idea. Bob's parents were not in favor of his going to Florida and Bill's mother had her misgivings but standing behind her Bill's dad, Jack West, indicated with a jerk of his thumb that he thought otherwise, that it was time for Bill to go.
In January of 1962 Bill West pulled out of Wellington, Colorado, in his twenty-year-old Pontiac coupe, his best friend beside him, headed south. That first night they stayed in a motel and the following morning ate a hearty breakfast before one of them had the good sense to put pencil to paper and realize at the rate they were spending money they would run out long before they reached Florida. Somehow they had spent half their savings and were still in Colorado! That was the last night in a motel. After that one drove while the other slept and they lived on baloney sandwiches.
The cross country trip was not straight forward, no I-70 or I-40. They meandered along two-lane highways in a southeasterly direction adding oil to the car at about the same rate they added gasoline. They found gas for 19 cents a gallon somewhere in Texas but it seemed watery. In Dallas, Texas, the distributor cap broke, and then in Grand Saline, Texas, near the Louisiana border, a valve lifter broke. Fortunately, both of these young men were good mechanics. Had they not been they would never have made it to Florida in the Pontiac.The weather was wet and cold all across the south.
After a few weeks of living on the edge, realizing good jobs were nowhere to be found, and learning that the Hartwig’s landlord was complaining that he had rented his property to two people and now there were four living there, the fellas made the decision to leave Florida and drive north to Anderson, South Carolina, where Bob’s older sister Mary was living with her husband, Barron Simms, and their dog Hector. They left Florida with a few dollars in their pockets owing the last month’s payment to the job agency.
While working at the gas station Bob discovered it was a cover operation for a gambling ring.
Meanwhile, they discovered that the license plates on Bill’s car were about to expire so Bill asked his mother to order the plates and send them to Cass, Arkansas.
Grandma Russell cooked on a small rectangular stove which she fed hickory sticks to maintain an even heat. She was 79-1/2 years old and had been living alone since January of 1960 when her husband Elias passed away. When Bob and Bill arrived unexpectedly Addie was living in her front room having walled off the other rooms with Army blankets hung across doorways. She cooked the boys a breakfast of fresh pork steaks and fried potatoes, balancing the skillets on that narrow stove, at the same time warming that small room comfortably. They stayed with her for several days while they waited for the license plates to arrive in the mail. Bill asked what they could do for her and she told him he could chop firewood. He asked how much firewood she needed and she answered, “Well, Bill, I will always need firewood.” So he started chopping. That is the memory Bob told me about today.
On one of the days they were in Cass they went over to Seldon’s home, just over the hill from Addie Jane’s. Seldon was the eleventh of Elias and Addy's twelve children , Bob’s uncle. He had a bunch of kids and Bill has always liked kids. They had a fun time that day and Bill was always referred to later as “that nice Mr. West”. Another day of that visit Bill and Bob drove into Ozark to eat in a diner. The waitress who came to their table took a long look at them and asked, “What do you Yankee boys want?” Bill told Bob he thought those days were behind us and Bob told him, “Not here, they’re not.” It may have been that day in Ozark that the license plates arrived. Bill put them on his car, they said their goodbyes to Grandma Russell, and once more headed west. That was the last time Bob would see his Grandma Russell.
A couple of long days on the road brought them back home safely to Wellington, tired and broke. By April Bob had joined the Navy and would soon leave for boot camp. Bill could not pass the military physical due to heart problems from rheumatic fever. He enrolled in a school in Denver to study Industrial Arts, rooming in a boarding house with strangers. So “Bob's and Bill’s Big Adventure” came to an end….or did it? I think I need to amend that title to “Bob's and Bill’s Big Adventure – the Florida Caper” for just as Tom Swift had “…And His Flying Lab”, “…And His Atomic Earth Blaster”, “…And His Ultrasonic Cycloplane”, Bob Russell and Bill West have their “Cozumel and the Mayan Ruins Trek”, “Bonneville Salt Flats Adventure”, and “Ham Radio and Antennas Experiment”, and more.The cartoon below, borrowed from the Internet, aptly depicts the relationship of these two guys, Bill and Bob, and why they've shared such interesting adventures throughout their lives. Carol West and I are happy to be a part of it all. Oh, one last thing, Bob says they didn't meet any girls on their trip, not one!