'Hearsing Around' On A Cross-Country Trip

Apr 29, 2016

“My mom loved to travel, but she couldn’t afford to go as often as she liked.”

Judy Peterson recalls her mother’s insatiable desire to travel, put into perspective by her “more practical” aunt Helen.

“Mom kept telling Helen over and over, that she really wanted to travel, she had bad cabin fever, and Helen was more practical, she said ‘Mary, the girls need clothes, you need to buy them clothes.’ And mom said ‘They’ll outgrow the clothes, but they won’t outgrow the trip.’”

So when Judy’s mom won $550 at a charity raffle, the stage was set for a cross-country road trip. And because of her “practical nature,” they would be making the trip in a retrofitted 1936 Dodge hearse. Judy says that her mother’s reasoning was that hearses were never driven fast, and were always well maintained, making it the ideal vehicle for driving coast to coast.

So for three months in 1952, Judy, her sister, her mom and her mom’s friend trekked across the country, making regular appearances on radio shows and in newspapers, seeing the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park, and living mostly off of baloney sandwiches.

Judy can’t deny the lasting effect the trip has had on her life.

Judy Peterson and her friend, Jerry Watson.
Credit StoryCorps

“[My mom] was right. I was nine years old, I’m seventy-two now, and I’ll never forget this trip. It was the trip of a lifetime. I think it gave me a much better appreciation of the grandeur of the United States and so many different lifestyles, and things that you’d never have the opportunity to see otherwise.”

Judy Peterson was interviewed by her friend Jerry Watson at the StoryCorps Mobile Booth on February 26, 2016. Click through the slide show at the top of this page to see photos and news coverage of Judy's cross-country trip.

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