Arendtsville is a small town in south central Pennsylvania 3,800 miles from Alaska. In 1937, a group of teenagers set out from their little community with Alaska as their destination.
The teenagers were students of Arendtsville Vocational High School. The school had first opened as a two-year high school in 1911 on the second floor of the elementary school. Enrollment quickly grew and within a couple years the students moved to the second floor of the fire house on South High Street, according to the National Apple Museum web site.
The students got their own building in 1914 when the school board voted to build a high school on South High Street. The course work was expanded to a three-year program.
This was due to the urging of Edwin Rice, who was a student a State College. His arguments convinced people and support grew for a vocational school. In 1917, Butler and Franklin Townships joined together to establish the Arendtsville Joint Vocational High School.
Rice eventually became a teacher at the new school and every few years, he organized a summer trip for students. “Some teachers, it seemed, taught the subject matter in a very formal way; you either understood the material and passed or, for whatever reason, failed. Mr. Rice went far beyond the subject matter and was truly interested in broadening the horizon of education to the real world,” Wayne Criswell, a former student at the high school, told James Wego in the unpublished article, “The Journey of a Lifetime”.
During the summer of 1937, he planned to take 26 students on “a 9,000 mile journey in six weeks on the road to places only known from textbooks, stories by adults, or perhaps a rare movie,” Criswell said.
Rice had been taking his students on summer trips roughly every other year for the previous 15 years. So the idea of a summer trip was familiar with people in the community, but many, including staff at the high school, thought taking a 9,000-mile trip to Alaska and around the county was too much.
Rice didn’t think so. He’d been thinking about it for years. He knew that financing a trip was going to be hardest part. Each student would need to raise around $1,500, a princely sum during the heart of the Great Depression. Most families couldn’t afford to contribute much. Rice met with the families a few times to explain his plans and how each family could afford the trip.
However, the students were agriculture students so Rice arranged to lease about 30 acres of farmland.
“Every boy had to work on the fields, as part of his share of the expense. The harvested crop, done by the boys, was sold to a canning plant in Gettysburg (Burgoon and Yingling) and, of course, had to be transported to the facility,” Criswell said. The students going on the trip did this for three years prior to the trip.
Students also sold shell seeds during the winter.
By the summer of 1936, enough money had been raised that Rice purchased a half-ton truck with an open bed. It was a new 1936 Ford truck, but it was a demonstrator model. The truck was outfitted to hold all 26 boys and Rice. The open bed had benches installed along the sides and up the middle where the boys would ride. Each bench had a flip-top so that items could be stored inside. There was a clothing rack over the cab and a tarp was stored there that could be unrolled over the bed if it rained. Between the wheels on the driver’s side of the truck a handmade stove and cooking utensils. On the other side of the truck between the wheels, food and a keg of water were stored.
In addition to the money that needed to be raised, each boy had to take $50 dollars in order to purchase one meal a day. Each family also to supply 16 quarts of canned foods, which would be used to feed the boys at other times.
Each boy was assigned a duty that he was expected to do during the trip. For instance, Criswell’s job was to check the oil and water in the truck daily and top them off if needed.
Once the truck was outfitted and the parents’ questions answered, the group was ready to set off as the summer of 1937 began.
The students participating in the trip were: Paul Tate, Lester Carey, Donald Warren, Robert Knox, Roland Orner, Russell Barber, Blair Fiscel, Sterling Funt, Paul Cole, William Oyler, Wayne Criswell, Edgar McDonnell, Glenn Bream, Bruce Hartman, Joseph Redding, Warren Bushey, Orville McBeth, Jesse Fiscel, Rodney Taylor, John Andrews, Fred McDannell, Ralph Cooley, John Linn, Glenn Kime and Samuel Rice (the youngest member of the group at age 11).