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The ‘Travels With Charley’ Timeline — Day 3

Sept. 25, 1960 — White Mountains, N.H.

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The Spalding Inn is high in the woods of the White Mountains about 7 miles south of Lancaster in Whitefield. It describes itself – without doing its gloriously old-fashioned character enough justice – on its Web site: “Surrounded by manicured lawns, orchards, perennial gardens and a 360-degree view of the Presidential Mountain range, it offers you the perfect escape from city life.” (video)

Steinbeck says in “Travels With Charley” that he drives east into the rugged White Mountains of New Hampshire on U.S. Route 2 near Lancaster, N.H., and camps on a farm.

He says in “Charley” that he talks to the farm owner about the Russians and the boorish behavior of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the United Nations.

In the book, Steinbeck and the  Yankee farmer talk about Khrushchev banging his shoe on his desk at the United Nations, but that conversation couldn’t have happened. That famous Cold War event  — if it actually happened that way — occurred Oct. 11, 1960.

But did Steinbeck really even camp on a farm?

Fifty years later, after searching in vain for the farm and the farmer near Lancaster, a local writer, Jeff Woodburn, learned that Steinbeck was seen in the fall of 1960 at the nearby Spalding Inn in Whitefield. Exactly when that was, Woodburn was not sure.

On March 30, 2010, a woman who worked for the Spalding Inn’s owner at the time said she was absolutely certain Steinbeck slept at the inn for one night. And Donald Spalding, the son of the original owners and operators of the inn, said on March 30, 2011, that there was no doubt that Steinbeck ate dinner and slept at the exclusive inn during “foliage season” of 1960.

America’s Death Roads

By 1960 cars had replaced trains as the country’s mass mode of transportation. Interstates, truck stops and national motel and restaurant chains barely existed. Wal-Mart did not. America’s fleet of cars had doubled since 1941 to 74 million. About 75 percent of homes owned a car and 15 percent owned two. Automobiles were 4,000-pound death wagons with metal dashboards, crummy tires and lights and no safety gear; 1 percent of drivers used seat belts. America’s highways were criminally lethal. About 36,000 of the country’s 180 million people were killed in or by cars in 1960. In 2010, when there were three times as many autos and trucks on the road and 310 million Americans riding around in them, the annual death toll had fallen to 32,708.

— Excerpted from “Dogging Steinbeck”