When I was Young No. 4 – Phil and Midge

Phil and Midge

I wanted a bicycle so I could get a second paper route. The only one I found that I could afford with my paper route savings was a much used Elgin skip-tooth-chain bicycle at a secondhand store. I knew the tires were poor but when I pumped up the tires at a service station, the tubes would not hold air. I tried to buy tires and tubes but none of the hardware stores in town had them because it was an import from England. Clyde Newstrom who owned a hobby shop had catalogs for nearly everything. He ordered them for me from a Minneapolis bike dealer and I pushed the bike home on its rims. Mother told me that the ‘skinny wheel’ bike reminded her of our trip from North Dakota to the west.

We traveled on some paved but mostly gravel roads along the Yellowstone River through Montana in the 1 summer of 1941 and had a series of contacts with a honeymooning couple from Chicago. Mother told several stories with minor variations about Phil and Midge.

We stopped at several campgrounds along the river. Many people of our economic status stayed at campgrounds out of necessity when traveling at that time. Hotels or cabins were not affordable nor would they necessarily admit folks like us – migrant or itinerant workers and their families. People along the way could tell we were not tourists because everything we owned was packed in or on the car. When I first saw the Jode family traveling in the movie version of The Grapes of Wrath, their car, except for the model and year, looked very familiar to me.

We first met the couple at one of those Yellowstone River campgrounds where the Yellowstone dumped into the Missouri River just west of Watford City, ND. It was dusk when they arrived at the campground on imported touring bicycles. They were riding to the West Coast for their honeymoon. Their campfire pit was still warm but wet from being doused and they were gone when Mother woke me to get water from the river.

We passed them on the road later in the day and they arrived before dark at the same campground where we had stopped for the night. Mother said that they had only dried food in their bicycle saddle bags so she shared our ground beef and potato stew with them.

The next morning they were gone, we passed them on the road and we met again at a camp ground just outside Billings, MT. We never saw them again.[1] I learned later that they had plans to ride south into Wyoming before heading west to California. We went to Butte.

I kept the Elgin bicycle for several years. However, I did not have it to ride on Broadway to the tenth class reunion as predicted by the student writers of the final class newsletter for the class of 55

[1] In 2006, Ryan went with us on a road trip to Virginia. On the way back we stopped at a rest area and talked to newlyweds traveling by bicycle to Oregon. It was a reminder of the differences in their bikes and those that Phil and Midge rode.

2 thoughts on “When I was Young No. 4 – Phil and Midge

  1. Hi John,

    I just read this and feel it very well could be a chapter in a memoir. You’d need to flesh it out with dialogue, more memories and descriptions and capture the feel of that couple and their lifestyle as compared to yours. There are great pieces of information that could be expanded on—your bike and a second paper route (why?) the willingness of your parents to share with those less fortunate. The comparison of the Jode family to this couple, the kindness and helpfulness of Clyde Newstrom, etc. Great stuff.



    1. Thanks for following.
      In reality, Phil and Midge were the more fortunate. They were rich kids from Chicago and we were on our first leg of being migrants. Clyde was a great guy who helped many boys of lower social status.


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