Echoes across America

Gainesville native Amanda Hollinger sets out to retrace the road trip her Gram took as a youth nearly 70 years ago

In the summer of 1935, Nora Hollinger, right, and four of her girlfriends, all in their 20s, set off on a cross-country road trip, a 14,000-mile odyssey that would also include forays into Canada and Mexico. Today, Nora's granddaughter, Amanda Hollinger, left, leaves her home in Asheville, N.C., to recreate her grandmother's journey.

Courtesy of Amanda Hollinger
Published: Sunday, August 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 31, 2004 at 11:37 p.m.

Five women on the road, doing things their way and living on the edge of exhilaration.

Nora Hollinger and four of her girlfriends - all but one a teacher - left Wheaton, Ill., for a 14,000-mile road trip. It was the summer of 1935, before interstate highways criss-crossed our country. The women were all in their early 20s.

They traveled west through the Rockies, south to Mexico, and then up the California coast all the way north to Vancouver, then back east to their starting point in Illinois.

Nora kept a journal during their travels. When she returned, she created a scrapbook titled "Echoes," written in Nora's meticulous handwriting and illustrated with charming black and white photographs.

"Echoes" captured the imagination of Amanda Hollinger.

Today, Nora's 32-year-old granddaughter leaves her home in Asheville, N.C., to recreate her grandmother's journey. Nora's trip truly is "echoing" through time - through 69 years.

Amanda will travel the same route as her grandmother, also accompanied by her girlfriends. She'll compare Nora's trip with her own. How has our country changed? How are people different?

Until Friday, Amanda worked as development director at the YWCA of Asheville. She quit her job to take this trip. She's always been close to Nora, or Gram. In fact, Amanda was named after her grandmother - Amanda Nora - and Nora taught her to play Scrabble and piano. All through college, Nora wrote to her weekly. Amanda wore Nora's wedding dress when she got married, and wears her grandmother's wedding ring. They are both petite. Nora is 4-foot-10. Amanda is 5-foot-2.

An adventurous family

"Times have changed since 1935. As a mom, it makes me kind of nervous, but she's got a map and a cell phone," says Amanda's mom, Sandy Hollinger, deputy superintendent for curriculum and student support services at the Alachua County School Board. "I'm excited for her to do this and try out her dream. She's always loved to write."

That's the big draw. Amanda is keeping a journal during her trip, and at the end, she hopes to take a few months off to work on a book. She'd like to become a professional writer.

"Women and children and poverty are Amanda's issues," says her dad, Tom Hollinger, director of anatomic education in the Department of Anatomy at the UF College of Medicine.

Dad describes Amanda as "something of an idiot savant." He says she learned Japanese so well during a study-abroad year that people say she speaks Japanese with a Tokyo accent. On a six-week exchange trip to Ecuador when she was still in high school, Amanda was so fluent, he says, that people thought she was Ecuadoran.

Nora is 91, and lives in Gainesville.


Nora and her friend Helen Ott were the instigators of the original trip. The two met as education majors at Mount Morris College in Mount Morris, Ill., a Church of the Brethern school.

They bunked together in the summer of 1934, when they drove in Helen's Ford coupe (with rumble seat) to the World's Fair in Chicago.

"We had so much, fun we thought, `Gee! Wouldn't it be neat to take a long car trip?' " recalls Nora.

Both women taught school that year, and they wrote letters back and forth planning their trip. They were so excited. Helen saved $25 a month toward her trip. (Nora earned $100 a month, minus $25 paid for room and board.)

They gradually added more young women to the mix until five friends would be traveling together. Helen's dad said, "You're going to need a new car," recalls Nora.

When they took off from Wheaton, Ill., they drove a Plymouth sedan that's odometer read 1,500 miles.

It was dependable. "They had a couple of little breakdowns but nothing major. They always got help and got it fixed," says Amanda.

Nora's trip

"June 10! The great day at last arrived that we've all been looking forward to for so long."

By the second day of their trip, they'd chosen "committees."

"Helen, of course, will drive and take care of the gas and oil money. The rest of us drew for places. Marge and I are the food committee; Nellie and Ruth are the lodging and baggage committee. By the time we had the car packed and were ready to go, it was 12 o'clock. Our baggage (all but necessities eliminated) consisted of three large suitcases, two small suitcases, 20 covers, a suede bag, an electric iron, a cooking kit, a hot plate, a hatchet, two boxes of staple groceries, 15 pairs of shoes, a radio, five purses, a shopping bag full of literature about places of interest, and five notebooks."

Nora says committees were the most efficient means of organizing themselves.

"That way, we weren't at sixes and sevens about it," she explains. "There was no dissent, but we were open to suggestions." Each "committee" managed the money for that particular need. When a committee ran out of funds, everyone chipped in the same amount to that particular kitty. Nora says it worked great.

`Full of wonders'

They traveled on country roads before the interstate highway system existed. They experienced the Rockies and saw bears in Yellowstone National Park. Hoover Dam was in the end stages of its construction and would open in October. They saw the ocean for the first time. Long Beach was empty. The Golden Gate bridge was under construction. They crossed the border to Tijuana, Mexico. It was the first time Nora had traveled out of the country. She recalls liking the Mexican food and crafts.

They didn't see a lot of evidence of the Great Depression. "We saw Okies with their cars all loaded up with possessions and kids. Lots of kids. We felt sorry for them. Gosh, it was awful, but there wasn't anything we could do about it," recalls Nora.

Wherever they went, Nora says they were "tight." They didn't buy anything unnecessary. They were very careful about their money.

For example, they loved Yosemite. But when they inquired as to the cost of renting a room in Yosemite's lodge, they learned the rate was $5 a night. Their budget was $1 a night for accommodations, so the girls slept out in the open, without a tent, rather than pay such an exorbitant rate. They went to the campground and, rather than admit they were too thrifty to stay at the lodge, they pretended to the ranger and other campers that they had forgotten their tent.

Nora's trip was all the more significant when you consider the context - a 14,000-mile trip when all the girls were in their early 20s and when Americans typically weren't taking long automobile trips. "My dad says they probably couldn't have even taken the trip 10 years before," says Amanda.

Nora was 21 that summer. She says she hadn't traveled much, having visited only Indiana, Michigan and Missouri up until then. "That was in my first 16 to 18 years. During my childhood, nobody even had a car," says Nora. "I came from the horse and buggy days. No one went anywhere."

Amanda's trip

Amanda first saw "Echoes" a couple of years ago. The scrapbook fascinated her. She decided to recreate the trip about a year ago, and has spent the time since researching the route. She's going to stay as close to possible to Nora's itinerary, even taking the same roads as much as possible.

"I've been Googling everything," she says. Can she find the same campground? The same restaurant? The same sights? Sometimes.

Sometimes she'll find there's only one campground for a town, and she's assuming that might possibly be the same one Nora stayed at, just under a different name.

Nora's trip cost her $180. Amanda estimates she will spend $1,500 on gas alone. Nora's budget was $1 a night for lodging. Amanda has packed camping equipment and is hoping to find shelter for $10-$20 a night.

Like Nora, Amanda will stay with friends and family along the way. Nora estimates that 10 percent of her trip was spent in the hospitality of others.

Amanda will be driving a light blue Ford Taurus station wagon - with sun roof - donated by a friend. She tried writing to Chrysler Corp. to see if they wanted to donate a Plymouth similar to Nora's but didn't hear back.

Like Nora, Amanda's girlfriends will be joining her along the way.

Amanda earned her undergraduate degree in English from Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., and a master's degree in public policy from the University of Minnesota.

'A gaggle of Guilford women'

Amanda's friend Elly Wells, 34, does freelance marketing work for businesses and non-profits in Asheville. She'll join Amanda for the Seattle to Vancouver loop, Sept. 9-13.

The two played soccer together at Guilford. Wells introduced Amanda to her future husband. Both women are 5-foot-2 and both love to run.

Wells says she remembers going to Vancouver on a family vacation

as a child. She is excited about going back. They'll be visiting an uncle of hers who lives in Seattle whom she hasn't seen in 20 years.

"It will just be fun to be on the road with Amanda," says Wells. "She's the kind of person you can go to a funeral with and still have fun."

Amanda and Elly are used to sleeping in really tiny spaces together, so if they end up sleeping in the back of the station wagon, Wells says she's prepared.

Shannon Waldron, 32, met Amanda at Buchholz. They were both on the soccer team and in the Latin club. Waldron is a land-use attorney practicing in Annapolis, Md.

"We went to different colleges and different grad schools and everything, but we just really bonded, and we're just really close," says Waldron.

She's meeting Amanda in Cody, Wyo., in mid-September, and then flying home out of Denver, Colo. They'll be going to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks together.

And from San Francisco to Seattle, Amanda will be traveling with her musician friend Ami Worthen. Amanda and Ami plan to do a little street theater, with Amanda performing with a hula hoop and the two of them singing, accompanied by Ami on the ukelele.


"I woke up one night and went, `Coffee! How will I get coffee on the trip?' " says Amanda, laughing. "So one of my girlfriends gave me a plug-in espresso maker for my birthday.

"I'll be going down the road playing my CDs and making espresso in the Ford station wagon."

And she'll be sending dispatches to The Gainesville Sun along the way.

Also from Gram's journal: "And so a glorious summer ends, as all things have to do - but the memory lingers on."

Julie Garrett can be contacted at (352) 374-5049 or at

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