Growing up, camping was the Wardens’ vacation

Dennis Warden

We affectionately called her the “Blue Goose.” That was our name for the newspaper’s van back in the early 70’s. This blue half-ton panel van was used to pick up each week’s edition of the newspaper from the printer and then deliver them to the area stores.

It was a 1972 Chevrolet G10 “Shorty” with a three speed manual transmission on the column. Years later I learned to drive a manual transmission on that old van. 

In the summer it had another purpose. Taking our family camping. As I was growing up my dad only missed the printing of The Republican once. That was to take the family to Florida and Walt Disney World for 10 days.

Before and after that our only vacation was camping — as often as possible.

I can remember waiting impatiently on Wednesday afternoons for pop to come home after all the papers were taken to the post office and delivered to area stores.

He would back up the “Blue Goose” to our back door. Between my mother, little sister and I we already had the camping gear set out on the carport and ready to go, eager to escape.

Part of loading up the van was adding seats for my sister and I. This was a delivery van. It only had two seats. 

To remedy this problem dad used two aluminum fame folding web lawn chairs and screwed them onto a wooden frame. This way the chairs did not fold up on us, or slide around the van too much. That is where my sister, Denise and I sat, right behind mom and dad in the van. (Believe it or not, for those sentimental for the old days, you can still buy those chairs on line from $16.19 to $42.50.)

There are no pictures to prove this. I think my parents destroyed them so they could deny ever putting my sister and I through such perils. 

In today’s environment family services would have taken Denise and I away to protect us from our parents. 

Our favorite destination was Pulltite Campground on the Current River south of Salem. With just 55 standard and three group sites, Pulltite had the quiet and seclusion we were looking for. Run by the National Park Service, this primitive campground is mostly used by tent campers like ourselves and those with small trailers.

Sometimes we shared the trip with friends like the Lenauer’s or the McKee’s.

Our usual schedule was to set up Wednesday evening and have a quick hamburger for dinner. 

Thursday was river day. At Pulltite you could choose between two 10-mile floats. One headed down stream and one starting upstream and ended at the campground. 

My sister and I had a perfect record, never having flipped over in our canoe.

One year, when Denise did not join us, I took my dog (part German Shepherd) along on the camping trip. King was my canoe mate on the Thursday float. After a quick stop at Pulltite springs we got back into the canoe. King leaned over a little too far to look at something in the cold clear spring fed water. The next thing I knew I was in the water and King was still in the canoe wondering what had just happened.

I knew what happened.

Thursday night was always BBQ chicken night. Not just any BBQ chicken. Our family’s famous BBQ chicken recipe does not include BBQ sauce. The secret ingredients are beer, vinegar, oil and cayenne pepper. The chicken is marinated in the mixture overnight and then dipped every 10 minutes while cooking over an open fire. 

Friday was a usually a land field trip. We would head out on an adventure to Elephant Rock State Park, Alley Springs or just read a book. Friday night was steak night. I learned a long time ago that every successful camping trip includes good food.

After breakfast on Saturday morning we would pack up and head out giving up our spot to a grateful weekend camper. 

Things became too wild for us on the weekend, so we always left.

Driving home on Saturday morning we tuned the radio to KMOX out of St. Louis and listened to Jack Carney’s comedy show. That’s when I was introduced to Jack Benny, Ozzie and Harriet, George Burns, Stiller and Meara and so much more.

Other camping destinations for the Warden family included Johnson Shut-ins, Alley Springs, and the Jacks Fork River. The destinations would change periodically but the schedule and the food never did.