That's Another Story

A Rocket Engine Test

In April of 1963 my family and I took our first long-distance, road trip in our 1959 Renault Dafine. This was a trip with many adventures for a very young family that was traveling on a very tight budget. So tight that we didn't have enough money to stay in a motel on the last leg of our trip back to our home in California.

The last motel where we stayed was in Gallup, New Mexico and it cost $5 for the night which included a complementary newspaper. At this time in our lives we had no checking account, no savings, and no credit cards. All we had was the cash in our pockets. As a result, I decided to drive continuously back to our home in Alameda, California. This was a time before the Interstate highway system existed — construction had just begun — and there were no regular rest areas along the highways.

The sun had set while were were in Arizona. By the time we reached California I had to drive across the Mojave Desert in the dark. When we were near the towns of Boron and Desert Lake it was about 2:00AM when suddenly the night turned into day. With this time in history being part of the Cold War, immediately I thought a nuclear bomb had gone off. I quickly got off to the side of the road when a tremendous roar hit us and shook our little car. For a few seconds I was very concerned for the safety of my little family.

I got out to look for the source from where the bright light and the sound was coming. As it turned our, there was a rocket engine being tested on a mountain to the south of us. The engine was mounted upside down so a huge tongue of fire and smoke leaped for the heavens. It was awesome.

I would later learn that the rocket engine being tested was for one of the manned space flight programs. When we arrived at our home after, me driving for 22 hours from Gallup, NM, we had a total of only $2 left in my pocket.,


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