Hitching a Ride
1958 - 1960
by Russ Lancaster
"C'mon, Dad," I begged. "It's just one day of school!"
It was the Spring of 1958 and baseball season was about to begin, and in the 1950's, baseball was still King. My favorite team, the Chicago White Sox, were coming to play an exhibition game in Charlotte. I don't remember their opponent that year, it was either the Phillies or Yankees. But, that didn't matter.... it only mattered that this teen age boy from Hamlet would finally get to see his beloved White Sox in person.
Back then, there were only 16 teams... 8 in the American League, 8 in the National. There were no playoffs. You either won your division and played in the World Series or your season was over in September. The only three teams ever in contention in the American League were the Yankees, Indians and White Sox.
My plan was to walk down to Highway 74 from our house on Circlewood Drive and hitchhike to Charlotte. My dad gave in quicker than I had thought and gave me his blessing. After all, baseball and the Lancaster family were synonymous.
I was down by the Highway by 7:30 that morning. I stuck my thumb up in the air and watched as several cars passed me by. I had no sign indicating where I wanted to go.
But then, before 8:00 AM, a car stopped and the man inside waved for me to come up. He asked where I was going and why. I gave him my story and he agreed to let me ride along with him. Luckily, he was going to Charlotte on business. He even knew exactly where to let me out in Charlotte within walking distance of the baseball park.
Around 9:30 or so, he stopped the car on the Eastern outskirts of Charlotte, told me I had about a mile or so to walk to the park and bid me a "Good Luck" and "Good Bye".
The game was scheduled for around 1:00 PM or so and I arrived at the park with plenty of time to spare. I watched the players take batting and infield practice. I was a bit in awe that my favorite players were there within spitting distance of me.
Sometime during the early part of the game, I looked around in the stands and saw my friend Martin Brown sitting there. He was with a grownup that I didn't recognize. I walked up and spoke to them. Martin had been luckier than I and had a ride back to Hamlet. They agreed to let me ride back with them. Now I had nothing to concentrate on other than the game.
I don't remember who won that day, I only remember it as a great adventure. Hitching a ride wasn't that hard to do and I had seen Major League baseball players compete.
When I got back home that afternoon, my mom was a little upset. The school had called wanting to know if I was sick or something since I hadn't gone to class. My dad quickly calmed her down and told her where I had been and why.
The only other time I ever hitched a ride was in 1960. I had just completed three months of radio school at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. I had a 30 day leave coming before leaving for a three year tour in Germany.
I found myself low on funds but also found my three best friends in the same shape. We didn't have enough money to get to where we were going. My friend, Wilson needed to get to Walnut Grove, Ga., another friend whose name I have forgotten over the years to New York, and Johnny Mihu and myself to Hamlet.
Johnny was actually from California but he was going to spend the 30 days in Hamlet with me. He had no real family.
We pooled our money together and bought a 1948 Ford for $100. It was in bad shape but we figured we had enough gas money to get us all home.
We drove for the first three days in Texas day and night. We couldn't get the car to go much over 30 mph. We had no headlights but drove night and day anyway. On the third day, we were pulled over by a Texas State Trooper on the Dallas - Fort Worth Turnpike. He said we were hindering traffic by going so slow. He called a wrecker to pull us in to Fort Worth.
We told him we didn't have enough money to pay for a tow but he told us not to worry. The tow truck driver was friendly and owned his own garage. He towed us in, checked the car out and diagnosed a clogged fuel line. He blew it out with an air compressor and sent us on our way.... no charge for the tow or the repair.
Now we began making good time. As we crossed the border into Louisiana, we stopped the car and made a vow to never enter Texas again. That is a vow I have never broken.
We finally got into Georgia on a Sunday morning and let Wilson off. As we entered South Carolina, we began to lose control of the car. We got out and discovered a flat tire. We had no spare.
This was the fourth day of our trip and we had neither showered or shaved the entire time. We looked scraggly.
We remembered passing a gas station a few miles back in Georgia but without a road map didn't know which direction we needed to go for help. We decided on the sure thing and Johnny Mihu and I began the "thumb's up" ritual of trying to hitch a ride. Our other buddy was to stay with the car.
Within 10 minutes or so, a big white Cadillac slowed down and gave us the once over. It was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. We explained our situation to them and unbelievably they agreed to throw our tire in their trunk and give us a ride back to some little town in Georgia.
We got the tire repaired (again for free) and the service station owner drove us back to our car. Boy, things were nice and friendly back then.
That was my second hitch hiking experience and my last.
We then made it all the way to Rockingham as dusk was falling the next evening. A Richmond County Deputy Sheriff then pulled us over for driving without lights. We explained to him where we were coming from and that we only needed to go six more miles to Hamlet. He made us exit the car, searched us and the car. He didn't give us a ticket but told us the car would have to stay there in Rockingham until daylight since we had no lights.
I called my mom, and she picked the three of us up. We were driven home where we finally got to bathe and shave. The next morning we were driven back to Rockingham to pick the car up. My friend from New York continued his journey while Johnny Mihu and I began what was left of our 30 day leave. The car made it to New York but was left abandoned on some bridge near Long Island when it finally died.
I would never try to hitch a ride in this day and time. It is far too dangerous. But back in the late 1950s and early 1960s it was not unusual to see a hitcher or even to pick one up and help them out. But now.... no, I don't think so.
I remember those two hitchhiking incidents and wonder at how easy it was and how nice folks were to one another back then. But most of all.... I remember Hamlet
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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