Papaw.

My granddad Billy Gray D’Amico was born on August 8th. 1927. He was my mothers father. I, along with the rest of my cousins and siblings referred to him affectionately as Papaw; it’s a southern thing. I was born in Texas and he lived there with his family. He had a way of making the time I spent with him seem special. It was special because I lived a great distance from him and could only see him at most a couple times a year. But nevertheless those times were charmed. He had a way about him that would bring worthiness and importance to every moment we spent together. It was impossible to leave there without fond memories.

Papaw documented his life through various mementos of pictures, drawings, newspaper clippings, souvenirs of all sorts – some he crafted himself and some he picked up on the side of the road. He had a natural knack for it. Sometimes he would rediscover to his delight some token of his past and proceed to tell me a protracted tale. The office he kept in his house was to me like a small archeological dig site. It was messy and dusty and piled high with curiosity and intrigue. It looked and smelled like history. But it was even cooler because it was my history too, it was ancestral.

Some years before he passed away, being God fearing and fully conscious of his mortality, he began to distribute to the younger generations these bits and pieces of his past. My wife Jeanette and I were visiting around that time and he took us to the “barn” to see what might catch our eye. Perhaps something we would be able to enjoy since he couldn’t take it to Heaven with him anyway. The barn was even cooler than his office, it was a in fact a time capsule just like the office but a generation older. The barn timeline stopped when the office started. I remember two Items he gave us that day. One was an old dairy farm milk can. I don’t know what he had it for or where he got it, I just thought it was neat and it belonged to him. For some reason it meant something to him and thats what mattered to me. Second was an old composition style note book like the ones we used in grade-school. It was a diary that he made about a trip he took, I assume with his mom and dad. That much I could tell at the time. It was a real piece of him, his own experience and memories. That diary is why I am writing this. I wanted to share those memories of his with anyone who cares to read them. They are fun and even recount some of the very places I have been to before which makes it a bit more nostalgic.

This diary is dated June 19th. 1939. He was just shy of his 12th birthday. It doesn’t say but I assume he traveled with my Nanny and Poppa. Below is the best job I could do at rewriting his words with some minor editing. For such a young boy he had excellent handwriting and spelling. I have taken the liberty to add some modern technology to the rewrite by putting in some links that show and describe places he visited. You can travel along with him by following the links.

For the original, I have scanned the diary and you can read it in his own pencil and paper HERE. Its a PDF of about 7.8MB so it will take some time to download.

This is what the cover looks like after 71 years:

And this is my rewrite:

Billy Gray D’Amico
Houston Texas

Our Trip

7525 Ave C
Houston Tex
June 19, 1939

If found please return
To this address 7525
Ave C
Houston Texas

United States

New Mexico California
Old Mexico
Arizona

We left Houston at 7:00 on Monday evening. Left on a good highway to San Antonio where we stayed for the night in a tourist camp. The name of this camp was the 12th st. camp. We left at 6:00 in the morning got as far as Sonora where we lost 5 hours with car trouble. We drove on through into Stockton and in the Davis Mountains. We seen all kinds of mts. While we were still in the mountains we could see a dark cloud ahead of us. When we reached it it had split up and was raining awful hard so hard, it was flooding the desert, water was everywhere. We saw two or three mountains with light from the skies, it looked like a spotlight. We went through Toyahvale and about a quarter of a mile out of the town we saw adobe houses of all kinds. We traveled on toward El Paso going 35 miles on a tree lined highway – the base of each tree whitewashed, level land around with mountains a short distance away.

We passed through the oldest town in Texas which is Ysleta, small town. Mission there 400 yrs old right on the highway – was about dark couldn’t see everything. We stopped on the outskirts of El Paso 10:00 P.M. Nice tourist camp, had breakfast there in cabin. We then drove in town looked the town over – very beautiful – the city is surrounded by mountains. We parked our car at the bridge of the Rio Grande River walked across into Juarez Old Mexico where we hired a Taxi which took us all over, first we saw all kinds of houses, then schools, then we went in to the areas of the “Bull ring”. We took pictures in the arena and then saw where the bulls stayed and where they dragged the dead bulls out of the “bull ring”. We saw where the men came through the gates to kill the bulls. We drove on and seen many more houses and buildings then we come to a mission which was 4 hundred yrs old, we seen the market and all kinds of shops which sold souvenirs. We saw a monument here we took pictures of it and left. We stopped 3 blocks from the bridge and walked the rest of the way. We bought souvenirs and crossed the bridge, left El Paso 10:00 A.M. drove a short distance and entered New Mexico at the small town of Camitillo, the country very dry, hot and wind strong lots of whirl winds, several near mountains made it look like roads leading over the mountains. Country had to be irrigated if any crops were raised. Crops very small for time of year. There were prairie dogs, ground squirrels along the road. Very few cattle. Both large and small cactus.

The small town of Mesilla near Las Cruses, there was the jail that held Billy the Kid. Las Cruses is a good size city. Several modern buildings. We ate lunch dining in a nice place. Drove on to Lordsburg where we got gas and I got stamps for my book – just a few miles farther we crossed into Arizona, still dry hot and lots of mountains lots of {clyes} in the roads. The country is beautiful. Have some small trees here in Duncan where we ad to register our car. Things are greener here don’t look so desolate – trees didn’t last long more mts higher and the road is sure winding small cactus and no trees – state agricultural Dept stopped us in Sangose looked through our car wont let anyone take fruits or vegetables any farther afraid of insects being carried into fruit country. Old man in front of us from Florida had oranges and peaches they took it all away from him and he was mad – we kept driving through the mts came to the first Indians we had seen on the trip it was called the San Carlos Reservation. Some of the homes were made of wood, some adobe and some grass huts – this was near Bylas – the Reservation is very large we traveled on some distance going through mts all time had beautiful green valleys supplied with water from a large lake + the San Carlos river.
We crossed the Coolidge Dam which was very beautiful and huge made some pictures there and also saw some of the highest cactus about 8 to ft high. The next large town was Globe where really started into large mts about the first thing we saw was copper ore on side of mt. Also saw a very large mining camp where they mine gold, silver + copper – this huge mining place was in Miami just a few miles from Globe we reached the highest Globe mts 7 P.M Boy O Boy was they high 6000 ft and took us 1 hr to go over it – was scary but very beautiful we came to the town of Superior just on the other side of the high mt saw where the mined more minerals – was a smelting mine – the cactus here was from 15 to 20ft high – we spent the night in Phoenix Arizona which is the Capitol – Large city, clean + pretty – just out of Phoenix we pass the Wikenburg mts. They were small but scenic. The cactus here was large and in bloom – we crossed another small range of mts before entering the state of California.

We entered California at 11 a.m on June 22 – 1939 across the Colorado river and was stopped and was inspected by government officials – only took 10 min and was on our way – we stopped in Blyth for lunch fine town is a pretty little town Spanish style buildings – The time here has changed again is 10 a.m by their time (Pacific time) here we entered the desert – 106 degrees in the shade it was 100 miles across it, nothing but sand dunes small scrub bushes – it took us 1 hour 20 min to cross – it was awful hot.

When we came to the end of the desert we came to a town called Indio – we saw our first palm orchard – Loaded with dates an we also saw oranges on trees for the first time after entering California – there are still high mt ranges surrounding us – we saw big international, mack and G.M.C. with large oil tanks one behind the other – with the exhaust turned skyward they burned crude oil and looked like trains coming up mts. Near the town of Banning and Beaumont we saw two mt. pks. One 10,000 the other 12,000 ft. snow covered at the base the Salton Sea was a very beautiful sight – there were orchards here of apricots, cherries + oranges and grapefruit – we were in mountains or in sight of some ever since we went through the Davis mts in Texas. Had them in Texas New Mexico Arizona and California – There were large fields of wheat – golden colored in Cal. This country is really a rich fertile beautiful country – the city of Riverside is large with beautiful homes also red wood trees palm trees and we saw our first lemon orchard there on highway – a little farther we saw lime orchards – from the city of Riverside we went through one little town after another you ever knew when you was out of one all the way to Los Angeles. We got to Los Angeles at 5 P.M got us a cabin – cleaned up eat our supper and went sight seeing. And the city is really beautiful at night it is very hilly – Houses and buildings on sides of large hills is really a sight to see.

We had the cleanest nicest lithe 3 room cabin on Ramona ave. called Stillwells auto courts. We left Los Angeles drove through Hollywood – saw three studios, movie stars homes in Beverly Hills on into Santa Monica where we took the highway on a palm lined ave alongside the Pacific ocean – which is a beautiful sight – it was cold enough to wear wool suits and coats here, slept under two blankets its almost impossible to believe. We went through several tunnels in the city. They went right through the hills. The people here sure drove fast would pass on all sides of us and you never heard any one blow their horns. The buildings and houses were all one continuous from Los Angeles to San Monica you wouldn’t ever know you was out of one city into another unless you had a map or saw a sign – we drove 35 miles like this.

We followed the highway toward San Fransisco with the Pacific on one side the San Monica mountains range on the other – and it was foggy too – when the fog started to rise about 9:30 in the mts looked just like smoke going up – a wonderful sight – didn’t get entirely clear or warm until about noon. A very unusual sight was the smaller mountains were covered with wild oats all over to prevent a landslide where they can all the fruit – near the city of Watsonville we saw our first apple and pear orchards – we took the coast highway all the way into San Fransisco down the peninsula we were after dark getting there and got lost up in the mountains – for six hours we wondered around finally getting on the right road and got into the city about 12:30 – San Fransisco is a great city – we went sight seeing the first day we were there saw and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge which is about 5 mi long we also crossed the Oakland Bay bridge which is about 4.5 mi long the center of the bridge resting on an island which the traffic tunnels through the trains trucks and street cars run under the other cars in other words the bridge is a double decker. Treasure Island where the fair was held lies near the Oakland Bay bridge. Alcatraz where the government prisoners are kept is just a short distance from Treasure Island. We looked through a telescope and could see everything very plain on the prison island. Saw the prisoners marching. They all wore blue uniforms. Could see the flowers all the walks – buildings boat landing + guards was very interesting to see.

We went up on a high mt near the city where we could see the entire city it was enormous in size for theres several cities in one we saw the government fort there the fish aquarium at the public park – the waterfront along the Pacific the fishing fleet – we went to the fair 2 days both days we parked the car and rode the ferry. Was lots of fun and the ferry was sure large like a passenger boat almost. The fair itself was a sight to see – the buildings were very large and very beautiful – the cavalcade was a very good show – it told the story of early California. I played my guitar there on Sunday June 25 – there were about 6000 children played together from all over the United States. We played for an hour in an open air concert in front of the court of nations – a large beautiful building with a large lake directly in front.

There were 70,000 people at the fair the first day we went. We saw Corrigans plane, also saw the China Clipper. The city of San Francisco is so large part of it is built on the side of small mts. The streets are very steep in some parts. The houses are built one jammed up to the other. Not a foot between them in most parts. We went to Chinatown there and saw lots of Chinese also Japs. We bought some souvenirs there too – we stayed 3 days & four nights in San Fransisco. Left there Tuesday morning going to Yosemite Valley. We stayed Tuesday night up in the mts. We got there about 8:30. Was going on into the park but it closed at 9 p.m. And we were 50 miles from it so we stayed there in a camp in the mts. We went on into Yosemite Valley Wed morning. Had to go up very high mts and pass a rangers station pay $2.00 to enter the park. The road was very narrow near the valley only a one way road. Was very beautiful but dangerous. The valley was the most beautiful sight we saw on the entire trip I do believe. There were very high mountains surrounding a valley which was only 1 ½ mile wide by 7 long. There were about 10 or 12 water falls from the snow melting from the higher mts & running off. Was a sight to see. We climbed near the top of one of those falls – made pictures. We saw bears and deers there too. A bear came right p to the car. We saw them feed the bears at 8:00 p.m. That night. At 9:00 p.m. They lit some fire fall from the top of the mtn and you had to look straight up to see it the mtn was so high. It was such a pretty sight. They do that every night.

They have swimming, fishing, hiking, bicycle riding and everything anyone could want to do there. We rode to the top of one of the mountains which was called Glacier Point. We had to pass through a tunnel which was right under a mtn. Solid rock about a mile long. We saw a lake there that was called Minnow Lake, a very deep large body of water. Clear as a crystal. We stayed a day and night there leaving about noon Thursday. Went up into the Redwood forest. The trees are very very large. Called Valley of the Giants and they truly live up to that name. We made pictures there too. One of those trees was so large they had the road running right through it. We drove out car through stopping long enough to make a picture. We saw great pine trees there, they were giant size. The pine cones off of them were a foot to a foot and a half long. We brought some home with us.

After leaving Yosemite Valley we drove toward Los Angeles going through the grape country. We saw great vineyards of grapes. We also saw the tallest mt in the United States, El Capitan. We only saw the top in the distance which was snow covered. We stayed Thursday night, Friday and Friday night in Los Angeles again. Went sight seeing in Los Angeles Friday. Saw lots of movie stars homes, studios. Saw San Amonica the beach, Will Rogers ranch.
We left Los Angeles by the way of Long Beach, San Diego to the coastal route. Went through lots of desert around Yuma to Tucson. It was very hot. We got some dry ice to put in our car – made it better but the ice soon melted for it was so hot. Was 110 in the town where we got our dry ice. The ice only lasted about 150 miles and it was about 200 or 250 across all the desert. One place in the desert we saw nothing but large sand dunes and we saw the board road where they use to travel. There were some small mts across the desert but they were unlike any others we had seen on our trip. They were made up of giant boulders. We came back to Lordsburg wehere we got back on the same highway we went out – followed this into El Paso.
We had some minor trouble with the car which caused us to stop 2 hrs in the highest altitude in Texas – a town by the name of Sierra Blanca. We then drove to Pecos near Carlsbad Cavern and spent the night. We didnt go the the cave because we had gone there last year. We drove on home by the way of Sweetwater, Abilene, Brownwood, Austin the capital, Brenham and Hempstead on into home reaching home on Monday night July 3rd. We were gone 14 days and nights. We really saw some beautiful country and had a very vary nice trip.

The End

Notes:
The best I can tell, he recorded the details accurately. The only mistake I came across was his reference to El Capitan being the highest point in the US. El Capitan is a famous mountain feature in Yosemite NP, which he must have seen on the trip. It is not the highest point in the US.

    • ellenesq
    • January 29th, 2011 9:32pm

    Having not known either of my grandfathers, it’s touching to read your fond memories of yours and to put this tribute here. I now know a little of what I missed. Thanks for sharing.

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