A History of the Burns Family
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PART SEVEN: The Early Years in Seattle  

Chapter One: Westward to Minnesota

Akron, Ohio to Long Lake, Minnesota
June, 1935


1 - West to Minnesota
2 - On to Seattle
3 - The Melrose
4 - Professions
5 - The Solutions
6 - Fourteen Angels
7 - Trip from Hell West
8 - Trip from Hell East
9 - Wee
10 - Patty Lou
11 - The Old Shop
12 - Earthquake
13 - The Wringer
14 - FIsh Story

More Information

From a pre-interstate U.S. Highway map



Author’s Note

Dust storm, 1935

At the time Guy and Ada decided to move to the Pacific Northwest, food prices were falling, and the drought was getting even worse across much of the country’s midsection, which came to be known as the Dust Bowl. On April 14, 1935, known as “Black Sunday,” a series of "Black Blizzards" raged throughout the Midwest, causing extensive damage and turning the day to night; witnesses reported that they could not see five feet in front of them. Clouds of dust blew all the way to the Atlantic. Less than three months later, the Burnses drove through this region on the way to Seattle. In South Dakota, one of the hard-hit plains states and the land of Ada’s birth and childhood, many houses were buried under mounds of airborne dirt from fields stripped bare by the wind.


Bristol, Wisconsin
July 3, 1935

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Really it does not seem possible that we are finally on our way after all the fixing, sweating, and swearing, and numerous delays in getting ready to start, but here we are in our “fifties” and starting out on a real honeymoon with many interesting sights and adventures before us…

-- Letter from Guy to Ebba, Don, and Helen

As Guy signs the letter and puts the original in one envelope for Ebba and the carbon copy in a second envelope for Don and Helen, he feels like pinching himself. Parked in this Wisconsin campground, they’ve already come over 500 miles spanning four states and it’s just the third night. [1]

Traffic was pretty heavy the first three days – the highway thronged with buses, trucks, and tourists – but it’s beginning to thin out on the Yellowstone Trail, which is what they call this highway stretching out to Seattle via US 20, US 12, and US 10. He and Davy have driven in turns as the American panorama unfolds. The first night was spent at White Fox, Ohio, where they’d met a fellow old enough to remember the days when real prairie schooners rattled past his house. Then came Silver Lake, near Angola, Indiana, with its delicious smell of new-mown hay, but still a pale version of their own fishing spot. And now, on the third night, Bristol, Wisconsin.

Ada’s off doing the washing so they’ll have clean clothes tomorrow, and the boys are strolling around the campground, so Guy has a little time to himself to contemplate the extraordinary journey they’re on. Their homemade prairie schooner has held up well. No flats or breakdowns so far, and it’s getting decent mileage, considering the weight added by the wooden sidewalls and the miscellaneous boxes affixed to the sides for cooking equipment, provisions, washbasins, and other supplies. The bunkbeds, fastened to the back of the cab, are more comfortable than anyone expected. The overall effect, especially with the canvas top and rear curtain and the washboards and camp stools tucked along an outside rail, is pure hillbilly, but who cares? 

The final outfitting of the schooner had taken place over several days at the Mellingers’ house, and difficult decisions were made about what to take and what to leave. They would bring Laddie, but not Tippy. The children’s toys stayed with May. Bobby has brought along his stamp collection and a few of his favorite children’s books, including Hahtibee, Karoo, and Uncle Remus. They’re also bringing the rolled-up 1935 National Geographic world map and the Rand-McNally globe, with its elegant turned hardwood stand and the dent over northwest Australia. At the last minute, the flying duck etchings could not be left behind, nor could the gilt mirror. They need something to make their new place seem like home, Ada said. And she's right, of course, as she so often is.

It was sad to leave Cuyahoga Falls, his mother and sister, the house on Newberry Street where he was raised, the house on Center Street, Falls Christian – the whole first 50 years of his life spent in Ohio. But the hardest of all was saying goodbye to Don and Helen, though everyone tried their best with the usual round of kidding and teasing to keep from crying. Up until the very last, Guy had intended to get up to Cleveland to see Ebba, but with the last-minute delays dealing with the Sedakers’ [2] request for help and signing the farm documents, they’d been anxious to get underway.  In retrospect it was probably for the best. He’s not sure he could have faced that farewell in person. But at the time, he was pretty sore at the Sedakers for making him responsible for collecting the money for the furniture they’d sold when they went west last year. Ada reminded him that at least they’ll be assured of some temporary lodgings in Seattle if they need it! 

       We still have the globe and this map, now framed
Which is a good point, since they have very little cash. Including what they had on hand plus the $35 check from Mrs. Steere, the $35 they got for Dave’s planer saw, plus the $30 the furniture brought in, the Burns outfit started this westward journey with about $150. But Guy thinks it will be enough to see them through. Gas is relatively cheap at 10 cents a gallon, and the price of many basic groceries has actually fallen since 1930. Ninety cents will get you a dozen eggs, a half-gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, and 10 pounds of potatoes.

They are traveling exceedingly cheaply, carrying their accommodations and kitchen with them, enjoying the free entertainments of earth, sky, rivers, forests, and hills. The weather has been lovely so far, allowing then to make good time on the road, and to cook and eat outside each evening. The only complaint around the dinner table tonight had been the mosquitoes, which are ferocious in this part of Wisconsin.

Long Lake, Minnesota
July 6, 1935 (Guy's 51st birthday)

Description: US-12

Old photo of Long Lake, west of Albert Lea, Minnesota

God made a birthday cake today, with layers of green and brown.  Twas a round cake, cuz in Minnesota you stand in the middle and turning round you see the horizon continuous. The clouds were beat and stirred until there was enough frosting to cover the whole, and at night when we pitched camp, the stars came out to make the candles.

-- Letter from Ada to Ebba, Don, and Helen

Bobby with fish caught at Long Lake
The Burns schooner has taken a little rest on the shores of Long Lake, which shimmers and sparkles in the moonlight now that the fire's died down. Ada leans back in the camp chair, looking up at the stars, thinking about where they've been on this long day. After Bristol, they passed through Madison, Wisconsin, near where Father Burns used to spend winter months at logging camps back in the 1880’s. They drove by LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where she saw her first cowboy in a 10-gallon hat, traversed the Mississippi River, and skimmed the edge of St. Paul, Minnesota, whose high-perched houses looked to her like castles on a cliff. The schooner will soon be leaving the civilized world behind. After wolfing down his share of the mess of fish he'd caught that evening, Bobby studied the road map all evening long, and says the best roads are behind them.

During the day she'd sat for long stretches in the back looking at the road left behind, and wondering where they’ll ultimately end up. Cars would pull up close to pass, and she would wave in an uncharacteristic display of friendliness. As she told Guy earlier today, the best place to become an extrovert is to ride in the back of a schooner and look around! [3] Even her migraines do not daunt her enthusiasm for the open road. She's got her sunglasses, and at least the roads are paved and reasonably smooth. It could be worse. They could be going the other way!



[1] All details taken from contemporaneous letters, later letters, and Bob's recollections.

[2] The Sedakers were relatives who lived in Akron, and were close to Aunt Lida. Neither Guy nor Ada particularly enjoyed their company.

[3] From Ada's letter that day to Ebba: "I can now tell you how to turn from an introvert into an extrovert. Just ride in the back of a schooner and face the travelling public.”