Hitch Hiking with My Parents

For our last trip (but not our next) of 2020, Dan and I plan to visit Johnson Shut-Ins, a Missouri state park located about 2 hours south of our home. Johnson Shut-Ins was very much in the news back in December 2005. That’s when the Taum Sauk Reservoir broke and destroyed the nearby Johnson Shut-Ins State Park.

As background info, Taum Sauk Mountain is the highest point in Missouri and is located in Taum Sauk Mountain State Park. Also, in the area is Johnson Shut-Ins State Park as well as the Taum Sauk Hydroelectric Plant where the reservoir resides. That’s the reservoir that broke in 2005 and sent 1.3 billion gallons of water down the mountain. But this story, which is also a calamity of sorts, begins well before 2005….

Growing up, there wasn’t a lot of extra money, but that didn’t keep my parents from being active and making memories. We usually had just one family road trip a year (to Michigan), but throughout the year, we would take “day trips” on the weekends. We would go to 5 o’clock mass on Saturday afternoon (a new thing back then) and then head out Sunday morning. My mom would pack up a picnic supper and off we’d drive to visit somewhere new, often a state park.

I was about 10 years old when my parents decided we would go see the Taum Sauk Reservoir. Now, I had been there on a school field trip some time before our family trip, but I was still very excited to go. These day trips were adventures, and I was always happy for one. I was number 4 in our family of six. At this point in our family history, these trips were with my parents, and “Betty, John and Joe.” That’d be me and my two younger brothers.

After a couple hours driving in the car, we somehow ended up on a gravel road. Remember, there was no GPS back then; although, I’m pretty sure we would have taken a map. The gravel road was windy and hilly. Very windy and hilly. There was discussion with worry, and everyone was wondering if we were going the right way.

I remember my mom and dad asking me if this was what it looked like when I went there with my school class. You know they had to be getting desperate asking a 10 year old these questions! I remember them asking me multiple times, and of course, I really didn’t know. I’m not even sure what I said, but it may have begun with “I think so.”

Next, one of my younger brothers started not looking too good. He was flush, complaining of his stomach, and then…you guessed it – he got car sick. I think there was some yelling. “Quick! Roll down the window!” “Put your head out!!” “Rich, stop the car!”

I’m not sure how much longer we continued driving after that, but eventually we decided to give up – or at least go in another direction. But then… the car started acting real funny, too. My dad pulled off the 2 lane highway road in front of a home with a large gravel area in front of it.

There was a bit more yelling at this point. I remember my dad saying something about Jim. Jim was my older brother who had driven the car at some point in the past. Whatever had happened to the car, whatever made it break down, at that moment, was Jim’s fault.

Once everyone calmed down, my dad knocked on the door of house. An older lady lived there, and my dad explained what was going on. The lady offered to call her son to drive us back home which was about 2 hours away. That was so nice, and we were real happy to have such good luck. We decided to eat our supper on a picnic bench in her side yard while we waited for our ride.

I know we were all hungry at this point, and our supper tasted really good. We usually had potato chips with our day trip dinners, and that was a real treat. Eventually, the good son showed up, but . . . he was drunk. My dad thanked him for coming, and then told him to go back home and enjoy the rest of his Sunday. Desperate as we were, my dad wasn’t going to put his family in a car with a drunk driver.

At this point, my dad’s idea, the five of us all stood on the two lane highway and put our thumbs out. We must have looked pretty pitiful with two parents and three stair-step kids. It took about 30 seconds for a car to stop.

The car was a couple who coincidentally lived about 15 minutes from our home in south St. Louis. We all squeezed into the car, and they drove us all the way home. Right to our front door. The next day, Dad and Jim drove to the car, fixed it and brought it back home. There was no more discussion about it being Jim’s fault because it wasn’t. A couple weeks later, my parents had our rescuers over for a steak dinner. While we continued going on weekend day trips, we never did try to visit Taum Sauk Reservoir again.

Planning our trip to Johnson Shut-Ins reminded me of the Taum Sauk reservoir breach and of that fated day trip with my parents. Our day trip is one of those stories that’s a great laugh – years later.

I’d like to visit that reservoir when Dan and I go to Johnson Shut-Ins this October. Why? My visit would be in honor of my parents who tried to take us to Taum Sauk Reservoir so many years ago. While we didn’t make it there that day, in a way, in so many ways, I am there now because of them.


    • Yes, don’t we all love the GPS!! We didn’t have a cell phone either, of course. I wouldn’t want to give up either of those. Thanks for reading, and enjoy your day!


  1. What a wonderful memory. Time with family is always so special and so precious. Though, as kids, we probably didn’t see it that way. The picture of your whole family trying to hitch a ride put a big grin on my face. What a sight that must have been. Sure can’t do things like that today. Reminds me of the signs we see occasionally in our travels “Don’t pick up hitch hikers. May be escaped prisoners”! Oh yea. Enjoy your day and the week ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it is a good memory. I agree; I don’t think we have full appreciation for life and others until we grow up. Thank heavens we have GPS and cell phones now. Thanks for reading, and enjoy your day!


  2. Loved reading the story of hitch hiking with your family. I was always car sick so I know how your brother felt. That was a tragedy when that reservoir broke. Looks like a beautiful place to visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. Yes, that was a real tragedy. It happened in December; otherwise, the campground at Johnson Shut-Ins would have been filled. I hope to hike the “scour” trail. It will be interesting to see if there is still damage from the breach. Back then, I believe the reservoir had a visitor center and hiking trails, but now I don’t think they offer any of that now. It is a really pretty area. Enjoy your day!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Awareness about the risks of drunk drivers started long ago. Too bad many people still take chances. And, what luck to have a kind couple stop to pick up a hitch-hiking family!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Why does your road trip sounds so similar to ones I take with my family? Haha. I suppose it is not easy going around with lots of people, plus kids have special needs. It was nice that you found help and it ended in a nice meal. Enjoy your trip back to the reservoir. May you not be lost!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! It can get a little crazy with large families sometimes! Thanks for your good wishes. Hopefully, GPS will help us find the place. Enjoy your day!


  5. What a wonderful memory now but how your parents must have felt then. This reminds me of our family trips. As a kid we always enjoyed those trips no matter if it turned out all well or not 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Check before you go, but I believe you can no longer visit the reservoir. I tried a year or so ago trying to share a memory with the boys.


    • I think you might be right. I could not find anything online about visiting. I did see some info about fishing in the lower lake. When we get down there, I’ll ask the people who work at the state park. I hope you are doing well. Everything must be so strange at the college these days. Thanks for reading, and enjoy our day. P.S. Been camping? 🙂


  7. Great story. There are still many dirt roads around this country, especially in the west. We have found ourselves on a few during our journeys. Just the other day we took a short cut in Utah that ended up being 45 miles across a dusty dirt road. To top it off, we had no phone service or GPS. It’s all part of the adventure though. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

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