Covered Wagon Journal 1

February 8th, 2010 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Did you have a favorite vehicle growing up? What kind of rig do you use for photography or other work you do?

Covered Wagon Journal 1

By Philip Hyde (1955)

With Introduction by David Leland Hyde (2010)

1952 Chevrolet Pickup, Perhaps much as Covered Wagon looked new, perhaps slightly greener and a little less shiny.

In the early 1950s, pioneer landscape photographer Brett Weston drove back and forth from New York to California via Texas, up and down the East Coast, to Mexico and widely explored the Western United States. For more on Brett Weston, his photography and his influence on all of landscape photography see the blog post, “The Hidden Brett Weston.” In 1955, Brett Weston settled down for a time in Carmel to help print his father, Edward Weston’s photographs. Brett Weston in the Spring of that year, sold his traveling rig to Ardis and Philip Hyde. The dark-green 1952 Chevrolet step-side pickup complete with a metal canopy made the ideal photographer’s camper.

Knowing my parents, if Brett Weston had already called it “Covered Wagon,” they might have named it something else. It seems like an Ardis and Philip Hyde name, but you never know. I seem to remember my mother saying, “We’ve always called it our Covered Wagon.” Whether Brett Weston gave it the name or gave it another name, and which of his many journeys he took the truck on, is yet to be discovered. Regardless, after the pickup came from Carmel to the Northern Sierra Nevada, it did not stay home for long. Fate ordained it would be a traveling truck for many years, even after I was born in 1965.

I knew Covered Wagon well. By the time I grew to the age I would remember anything though, the old dark-green truck was going on 20 years old and had long since shed its silver corrugated metal rounded shell that made it look like a covered wagon. By the 1970s our old friend had been relegated to local trips to buy groceries and hauling horse manure, hay and rocks for the garden. Besides gardening, landscaping and building supplies, Covered Wagon had become primarily a wooding truck with tall wooden framed-in sides for the back end. I loved that old truck. It had running boards and the spare tire on the side behind the flared front wheel well.

You would often spot similar trucks in the rural area where I grew up in the Northern Sierra Nevada, California. These brother and sister trucks were sometimes lowered, sometimes raised with huge wide tires, brightly painted in orange, red or yellow with decals of flames on the sides, extra long chrome tail pipes and spoke rims. They made a sputtering, rumbling sound that exploded into the noise of a 50-caliber machine gun when their driver stomped on the gas and screeched the tires for 50 yards. Whenever I went with my mom to shovel barnyard cargoes, older kids that I looked up to would come over and say, “Wow, what a cool truck. You could really do something with this. Put in a 4-barrel carb, raise the hood, metallic paint, new rims, bad man.”

As a boy who felt inadequate in many ways, especially in junior high school, I wanted my parents to give Covered Wagon to me so that I could “jack it up” and attain the status of cool. My parents did hold on to Covered Wagon much longer than most vehicles they bought new, owned for exactly 10 years and sold. When Mom and Dad finally did sell it to a local guy who liked old trucks, while I was away at prep school in the early 1980s, I made a big protest, even though I had outgrown my hot-rodding fantasies by then. It was the end of an era.

Even so, I wish my parents somehow could have kept that old truck. I would still have it today. I never went with them on any long trips in it, but I loved it just the same because of all the memories of shorter trips. For more memories of eventually being able to work with my father see the blog post, “Memories of Finally Working With Dad.”

Covered Wagon, as you shall soon read in Dad’s own words, made its maiden Philip Hyde photographic journey in 1955 to Grand Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and elsewhere in the West, shortly after it left off wandering with Brett Weston. Covered Wagon was a loyal, faithful comrade to my family for many years. So without further  ado, here’s Philip Hyde’s Covered Wagon Journal as first published in the Sierra Club Bulletin in December 1956…

Covered Wagon Journal

Extracts from a Summer Journal of Travels Through the Western National Parks and Monuments

By Philip Hyde

In June 1955, my wife and I set out in our newly acquired camping pickup to find out how a summer of being on the move would help us to accomplish our prime purpose of studying and interpreting photographically the western natural scene. Our plans were flexibly hitched to a series of Sierra Club outings. What follows is a collection of extracts from our trip journals of some of the high points of our summer.

(See the photograph full screen: Click Here.)

Capitol Reef from Cohab Canyon, Capital Reef National Park, Utah, 1978, by Philip Hyde. Nationally exhibited and first published in “Drylands: The Deserts of North America” by Philip Hyde. Some say this is a stronger, more majestic image than an earlier photograph made from the same location published in “Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah” by Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde.

June 7. From our sandy bedsite by the Colorado River at Hite, Utah, we are recalling the activities of the past two days. Yesterday morning we got aboard a school bus at Marble Canyon Lodge, Arizona, for the climb over the edge of the Kaibab Plateau, and north, to Richfield, Utah, where we turned off the highway into some of the most colorful scenery of the Southwest. Last night we watched the moon flood its rising light over the great white and red cliffs of Capitol Reef National Monument. This morning, after a brief sampling of the Monument, we got back on the bus to rattle on through the heart of the uranium country. In every direction the landscape is punctuated by claim-marking cairns. Will any stones be left unturned before the tide of the uranium madness recedes in this once remote and austerely beautiful desert wilderness?

(In 1970 Edward Abbey helped start Black Mesa Defense Fund to keep uranium mining off of Navajo and Hopi lands on Black Mesa. In 1971 the Sierra Club published Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah by Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde in the Exhibit Format Series to assist in a campaign to protect the delicate desert landscapes of the region. For more on Edward Abbey and Black Mesa Defense Fund read the blog post, “Who Was Edward Abbey?”)

June 13. We started our walk up Aztec Canyon to Rainbow Bridge under heavy overcast. There is a wonderful passage where Bridge Canyon cuts through the walls of Aztec Canyon. One of the choicest bits of canyon we have seen, this proves to be the precise spot where the Bureau of Reclamation proposes to build a cut-off dam to protect Rainbow Bridge from the waters that will be impounded by Glen Canyon Dam. Entering Bridge Canyon we walked on to the grand climax of the Glen Canyon trip. Rainbow Bridge’s mighty, free-standing arch was as impressive in the overcast lighting as it might have been in sunlight.

(For more about Rainbow Bridge and the making of the color photograph of it that appeared in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series Book Navajo Wildlands: As Long As The Rivers Shall Run, see the blog post, “The Making Of Rainbow Bridge From The Upstream Side.”)

June 14. We were thoroughly awakened at 4:30 a.m. by a crescendo in the chorus of rain that had been constant for most of the night. A short time after it began, it was coming into the tent in wholesale quantities. A large rock falling off the ledge above us tore a huge gap in the tent and we were forced to leave. Fortunately, it hit to one side, missing us. As we ran toward shelter under some large boulders, we heard an ominous roaring, and looked up to see a full-blown waterfall cascading down into what had been the camp kitchen. But for the quick thinking of some of those who had been sleeping close to the kitchen, much of our equipment and supplies might have been carried into the Colorado River…

(CONTINUED IN BLOG POST, “Covered Wagon Journal 2“)

Covered Wagon is also mentioned in the blog post, “What Urban Exploration Photography Learned From Nature.”

Did you have a favorite vehicle growing up? What kind of rig do you use for photography or other work you do?



  1. If I had my way I’d be on the road now, either in a pickup truck with a small cab level top or on a BMW sport touring motorcycle. Camping where I can and working at what little jobs I could find along the way. this also reminds of my grandmothers old Chevy pickup. Not sure what happened to it. My last memory is seeing it in the old barn, covered in dust and dirt.
    Thanks for sharing this and I’ll be following along on this journal (journey).

  2. Thank you for writing about your Chevy truck memories, Monte. Nothing like the open road. I was raised on the go and like traveling by land the most. Now if we can change the fuel source, decrease the footprint for the materials and manufacturing and share the road experience a lot more, we won’t have to feel we are destroying the planet when we drive. In the days before your Grandmother’s truck went to the barn, did you ride in it?

  3. Ed Cooper says:

    My early photo trrips were made in klunkers, many of which died along the way somewhere isolated, and I usually slept in the back seat scrunched up. My first real camper was a 1966 Volkswagon Camper, which I made some extended photo trips in. After that, we had a series of campers winding up with our current vehicle purchased in 2007 – a Sportsmobile. We love it. It is a 4 wheel drive camper van, and is ideal…small enough and powerful enough to maneuver into remote places, and still have the comfort of a vehicle isolated from mosquitos and rain.

  4. Hi Ed, that sounds like a great rig. I still use the 1984 Ford Van Dad outfitted for photographing, but it is limited by not having 4-wheel drive. He ordered a bare cargo van with a stick and built the floor, carpet, ceiling, cabinets, counters, hanging closet, fold-out double bed. A very nice setup, but no 4X4. People ask me why my dad would drive such a large gas-guzzling van and i explain that compared to his previous 1970 GMC 3/4 ton cargo pickup with a large camper, a 6-cylinder van does quite well. It gets 15-17 mpg, as opposed to the camper’s 6-8 mpg.

  5. Yes, I do remember riding in that old truck with grandma. If memory serves me correctly it had a stick shift on the steering column. Good memories.

  6. Hi Monte, in our old Chevy the stick was on the floor but something was on the steering column, maybe the emergency brake. There was definitely a lever on the steering column.

  7. My dad picked up a Porsche 944 when I was in high school… I still want one.

    My F150 does the job OK for the time being, but I think I’m going to pick up a smaller 4×4 that can get back in some places the F150 cannot….

  8. Well, time for confessions, I always wanted a Porsche too. However, when I could afford it, my mentor said I would be more a part of the team if I went with a Mercedes like all of my associates. Turns out all of them turned against him later in a class action suit. He was a verbally abusive jerk. Anyway, the Mercedes 300SE was 1 1/2 feet shorter than the biggest Mercedes (560SEL) at the time, but it handled like a sports car. I have come full circle to more of my parents practical, conservation-minded tastes now. I feel our civilization is crazy to encourage people to connect their self-esteem with what kind of car they drive. However, status aside, a Porsche is an amazing driving machine. You know that the moment you get behind the wheel. The sad thing is that we have the technology to build a Porsche-like vehicle that runs on electricity (See the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car”) or even WATER. Oh, gosh, I better not say that too loud, “they” will be after me. Either that or people will think I’m nuts. All the talk about the Hydrogen car, but in the past the major car companies bought out a car that ran on water, that’s right, and they probably suppressed other things we will never know about. In future posts I will be ranting about the auto industry and how they lobbied to have the rapid transit removed from 58 cities in this country. Anyway, thanks for the comment. Cars could be wonderful. I recommend the movie “Tucker” too. It’s all about a guy who challenged Detroit by making a better car and how they underhandedly sabotaged him.

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