The evolution of the art – tents

MyCivil war tent life with family, USA 1861 wife and I just got back from a camping trip in Death Valley National Park a few weeks ago.  During this trip, for the first time we used a new “Family Sized” doom tent.  The tent sleeps 6 people, is tall enough for me to stand up, came with a rain fly and outside vestibule.  The new tent certainly had it all, which also caused me to think back to all the tents I have used and known.

Pup Tents – The earliest and oldest tent I have used was a 1950’s era pup tent my father used in the Boy Scouts during the late 1950’s.  The tent was nothing more than a piece of green canvas, two polls, wooden stakes and some string.  The tent had no floors and no doors at either end.  I used this tent once when I was about 9 years old, in my back yard.  My dad helped me set it up in our backyard.  From what I remember, it took about  10 hours to set.  Most of this was watching my confused dad trying to remember how it was supposed to work.  As I recall several of the wooden stakes split in the touch enriched soil of our backyard lawn.   Once erected, and musty and the smell of mildew filled the air, but after a few hours it was aired out enough to crawl underneath.  There was only enough room for my sleeping bag, and the tent was just tall enough that I could crawl underneath looking much like a WW2 G.I. going underneath the barbed wire.

That night, I slept under the “stars” in Los Angeles, CA.  It was a mild fall evening as I recall, yet somehow my dads old pup tent managed to make it colder.  Now having any doors meant that our cat could wander in during the night and scare me, which he did.  I woke up early in the morning, went inside the house and finally got some sleep. I do not know whatever happened to this tent.  It was better than nothing, but just barely.

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The Green Gopher

Growing up in the 70’s I learned and spent a lot of time camping, hiking, being outdoors and active.  Every spring summer and fall, my parents and I would load up the truck, and later the trailer and head out.  Typically preparations would start the week before departure, and the loading process would start on Thursday afternoon with my brother and I hauling all the gear into the yard, while my mom packed the vehicles.  Friday could not come soon enough and when it did, my dad would come home from work, change is clothes, wrangle up two kids, maybe a dog, adjust the mirrors, and exclaim “We’re off” as we drove out of the driveway.  For the most part, for my family nothing much has changed much from my dad.  It is however the details that matter.

In 1972, I was one year old and to celebrate my dad bought a new truck.  Details of the vehicle back then are scare.  From my point of view, my dad previously owned a 1964 International Scout.  He drive this car for years all over the desert south west in the late 1960s.  When my dad married my mom, my mom made him sell the Scout because the breaks were horrible, and at least three times they failed completely.  It was a wise decision considering the stakes for the family at the time, but the loss of his beloved Scout was difficult and for decades despite its faults the Scout cast a long shadow in our family.

Returning to 1972, my dad decided to purchase his truck.  He chose a Sea Foam Green 1972 Ford F-100 pickup sporting a 302 inch V-8 sporting with a 3.2:1 gear ratio, two fuel tanks, and a four speed manual transmission which included a “Granny Gear”.  The extra costs of a four wheel drive were not an option for my dad at that time.  So, the truck became the “ultimate compromise”.  He opted for 2 wheel drive, but to offer improved traction he chose a four speed with granny gear.  The differential was geared up to offer improve gas mileage, but the little 200 HP V-8 could not pull a grade at any sort of highway speeds.  A camper shell, home built bed, pass-through rear window and the “green gopher” was complete for the initial incarnation

The interior of the truck bed was built by my father and contained storage, and folding queen bed.  The low profile camper shell offered no room crouch, let alone stand up, the windows and top vent offered perfect locations to pull out tufts of hair from the person who was not wise to the danger.  During a trip, I can remember distinctly laying down in the cab between my mom and dad as he drove.  Later my brother and I would argue about who got to sit in front between my parents, but clearly the place to travel was in the bed of the truck.

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