Forget a Friday afternoon luncheon, a Saturday night cocktail party, or a 10-day Alaskan Inside Passage cruise with kids and grandkids.
Marie and Gil White are celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary in 1940s style.
The South Hill couple are retracing their first cross-country road trip as a married couple, which took them from Rahway, N.J., to La Grande, Ore. They’ll hit the two-lane highways in their big black 1937 Chevrolet two-door coupe, the same model car they had when the peeled out of St. Mary’s Church parking lot after their wedding reception on Sept. 4, 1949.
The original expedition was all about starting their new life together in the West.
George, a proud World War II veteran, was tired of working on a General Motors assembly line in Linden, N.J. The idea to go West came about when an Army and high school friend, who had already moved to La Grande, encouraged Gil to take advantage of the G.I. bill and get his teacher’s degree at Eastern Oregon College. So, with the rumble seat packed with belongings, off went the newlyweds.
“We drove across the country, 3,000 miles,” said Marie, who will celebrate her 77th birthday Tuesday. Fifty-five years later, thanks to 78-year-old Gil and his nostalgic ideas, the Whites will do it again. They’ll drive the same routes (if they’re still there), stay at different motels (because the originals likely aren’t there) and, if they feel like it, eat at McDonald’s (which was years away from being everywhere).
Their car, which cost about $300 the first time around, isn’t the original. Years ago, Gil traded it in for a 1949 Chevy Sedan. More than five years ago, their son, George, found a “new” ‘37 Chevy Coupe at an auction in Coeur d’Alene. Gil bought it, with the intention of making the trip to celebrate his 50th anniversary. But unbeknown to the Whites at the time, the engine needed to be replaced and the trip was postponed.
“We just got the car back this year,” Gil said with a laugh.
Actually, it was only last Saturday. And no sooner had they taken it for a Sunday spin than a moving van company was loading it onto a truck headed to North Jersey. It will be waiting for them when the Whites fly to the East Coast early this fall.They have driven across the U.S. many times, but only once in their first car as a married couple.
“It’s a great thing for them to do,” said daughter Debbie Patterson of Spokane, mother to four of the Whites’ seven grandchildren.
Added her mom: “It’s gutsy,” to which Patterson responded, “It’s spunky.”
The first stop on the 55th anniversary tour, just as on the original journey, will be in Allentown, Pa. The American Automobile Association helped the couple map out the trip, which will take them through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and Idaho and on to Oregon. Although some of the exact stops on their original eight-day, seven-night trip are fuzzy, the Whites will never forget Montpelier, Idaho.
That’s where the car quit.
“So we’re sitting there, and here comes a rural guy delivering the mail,” Gil said.
“He said, ‘Well, we have a real good mechanic back in town. I’ll ride you back to town.’ “
Soon, the mechanic and Gil were back at the car with a box of parts. Ten minutes later, the mechanic had the car running, replacing a cracked distributor cap.
“How he ever knew to bring a distributor cap, I’ll never know,” Gil said.
The inconvenience cost Gil $5 for parts and labor.
“And we drove right on through,” Gil said.
The Whites don’t expect to find any such bargain this time around, but they are confident the new engine in their Coupe will be purring from Union County, N.J., to Union County, Ore., where La Grande is the county seat.
“The only apprehension we have is about all the traffic,” Marie said. “But he’s a good driver.”