The following is the first part in an ongoing series recalling a 17-year-old boy’s cross-country trip to California taken with his high school buddies in the summer of 1958. The, story, by Stan Kornafel, was told to Managing Editor David Bjorkgren.
When it started, all they had was an idea, their wits, and some raffle tickets.
When they were done, they had taken the trip of a lifetime, a defining moment in their lives in that summer of 1958.
For four boys, it was to become known as the Amazing Journey of the Chester Eagles Boys Club.
Meet Bill, Dave, Tom, and Stanley. (You’ll meet Larry a little later). It was graduation time at St. James Catholic High School and they wanted to go out in style.
“We wanted to do something stupidly big,” says Stanley Kornafel, a Ridley resident. “We were 17. None of us had a car.”
So what to do? Yeah, they could do day trips, an overnighter, borrow dad’s car and drive to New Jersey or New York. But it didn’t quite hit the mark.
They began to think bigger. A trip to Colorado would be nice. Maybe do some fishing, or mountain climbing. Bill thought he’d like to see Vegas.
By the end of February it was getting closer to graduation and still no destination. Then they had it. Why not go to California? “That’s only a skip and a jump from Colorado,” Kornafel points out.
Destination solved. But how to get there? Besides no car, there was no money. A train, a bus, a plane just wasn’t going to cut it.
“We had to get a car,” Kornafel says, adding, “Our parents were absolutely against the whole idea.”
What happened next happened in a frenzy. “We worked odd jobs, delivering newspapers, soda fountain jerks. They volunteered for extra paper routes, extra hours in the store,” anything to earn some money.
They picked up trash. They put an ad in the Chester Times and hired themselves out as handymen. No job was too small.
“Everything became automatic. There was nothing else.”
Then, while trying to come up with funds for the car, disaster struck. Tom’s father had a heart attack. Tom was already dealing with his sick mom and knew by May that he would not be making this trip.
But the three remaining boys pressed on in their quest for a car. They stumbled across a 1948 Nash Ambassador, a four-door sedan already 10 years old. One of the guys turned to the others and remarked, “it looks like a giant turtle.”
“You’ll never make it out of Pennsylvania,” someone in school told them.
They nicknamed the car ‘Nashie.’
The guy was asking $500. They had $300, but he wouldn’t budge on the price. So close, but no matter how hard they worked, they just couldn’t raise what they needed to buy the car and take the trip.
One day after school, Stan got an idea.
“We could sell raffle tickets to raise money for our trip.”
No one had ever run a raffle before and the others argued against the idea. But a printer for whom David worked agreed to print up the tickets and only charge them for the cost of the paper. The seemingly impossible started to seem less so.
“We got the tickets, but we didn’t have a prize,“ Kornafel says. Then Bill’s mom, a shopper, came to the rescue. She helped them find a deal on a table model radio.
Having no idea what they were doing, and not even being certain that what they were doing was legal, they hit the streets looking for customers. They spread out on the south end of Chester, desperately trying to get people to part with 25 cents for a ticket, five for a dollar.
(Part 2 appears next week. Stan Kornafel is searching for one of the raffle tickets the boys sold to fund their trip. He is asking anyone who may still have a ticket or knows anything about them to contact Managing Editor Dave Bjorkgren at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 610-915-2251.)