Our family had been from New England to the Puget Sound, but never any further south than Chicago as we traveled back and forth across the states. We left The Dalles, Oregon enroute to Tucson, Arizona. There was an air of excitement because we were going to some very interesting places. Dad and Mom weren’t on vacation. They had themselves and five children to house, dress, and feed. Dad was headed to Tucson looking for full time employment, not to be a snowbird seeking sunshine. They also wanted to get us kids back in school. These trips were a lot more about getting there, than they were about seeing all the sights. Two adults, two teens, and three grade school kids jammed in a car all day isn’t always a great experience. The geography lesson is worth it’s weight in gold though.
We ended our first day in San Francisco. Dinner was at a real Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown. It was an enjoyable meal for me, however, this wasn’t the majority consensus among us kids. All in all, it was something never experienced before and a great opportunity. We arrived in San Francisco after dark. The bridges were still magnificent.
Our second day took us from the bay area inland to the San Joaquin Valley. The temperatures in the valley were warm enough to not require jackets. The snow topped Sierra Nevada Mountains were about forty miles east. We were driving thru miles and miles of every kind of row crop and field crops you can imagine with the snow capped mountains as a backdrop. The sky was clear blue forever. This was the last place in the world to have an adventure, but my keen eyes observed one. It was associated with the vapor trail of an airplane.
(Before moving forward with details of this experience I decided to do some research. It took me about three minutes to confirm my memory was accurate.) The date was March 7 1961 and while riding in the back seat, on Highway 99, in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, I witnessed the launch of a X-15 rocket from a B-52. The X-15 dropped from under the wing. It looked like a part had fallen off the plane. The X-15 rocket ignited. There was no doubt in my mind as to what it was. Dad had a chance to witness the rocket just prior to the end of the rocket burn. The X-15 was not visible as it completed it’s climb and glided back into Edwards Air Force Base. We had witnessed history, but as luck would have it, my future hero Chuck Yeagher wasn’t the pilot for this flight.
The X-15 sighting was a great adventure and a stroke of luck……………my choice of seat could have been on the other side of the car.