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Gallivanting Grandma


A recent study done by Transportation for America projects that in a few years, more than 15.5 million Americans age 65 and older will live in communities where public transportation service is poor or non-existent. As the population ages, getting from point A to point B can become more difficult. But a lack of transportation didn’t stop one woman in 1952. Fern Woods, from Escondido, CA, was a mother to twelve, and a grandmother 27 times over. She was described as neat, “silvery-haired and sunshiny.” She was about 60 years old, and a widow.

Ms. Woods was a stay-at-home mother when her children were young, and after they were grown and gone, she decided to travel the world, declaring to herself, “I’ll see this world before I die.” So she began to hitchhike.

On this date in 1952, local newspapers reported on this “gallivanting grandma” who travelling through North Dakota. Woods carried a “wheelbarrow” with her, which she had welded together herself—a metal GI suitcase that had “new, rubber-tired, toy wagon wheels on it.” Along with this, she carried a zippered bag and a war surplus pack. These items contained a collapsible camp stove and fuel, three different bedding rolls to go with whatever weather she experienced, and allowed her to be self-reliant. She estimated that she only spent about 75 cents a day. The Dickinson Press published a photo of her posing with her little pack, standing just outside the city limits.

Woods loved sleeping outside and hitchhiking across the country, but she said she tried to avoid publicity—in part because of her children, who were embarrassed by their mother’s antics. They wanted her to stay home and babysit, but Woods said, “I tell them that I love them all. But I sat up many a night worrying about them when they were small and then when they were out dancing when they got older. And now it’s my turn and I enjoy hitchhiking. Been doing it for two years now in a god-fearing way.”

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker

The Dickinson Press, Saturday, August 23, 1952