On May 9th, 1962, my grandfather Herbert H. Hasche, took his first step of 1,000 miles from the San Francisco Opera House to the Seattle Space Needle as a way to "reassure man that he will still be able to fill his lungs with fresh air amidst the marvels of the 21st century." He and four other participants by the names of Charles Knowles, 28, Robert LeMaire, 38, and John Stahl, 79, would all receive $ 1,000 from the Rainier Brewing Company upon their arrival, as well as a $ 20 stipend for each night of accommodations of their choice. The only qualifying factors of the participants were that they had to be between the ages of 21-65, in good health, and... a man.
Adam Gossage of Rainier Brewing came up with the advertising stunt in order to promote their finest of ales in celebration of the Seattle World's Fair. My grandfather was one of 700 applicants when he replied, "I was born in 1900, being 62 years of age I feel like 32, I can work the average man under the table." He went on to explain how he grew up farming corn in Doon, Iowa, before he made his way to Hollywood where he worked in the motion picture business with actors such as Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, and Bing Crosby.
With the arrival of the depression and the invention of "talkies," or movies with audio, he made his way back to Iowa where he took up automotive engineering. There he invented the Roto Spring Leaf Bearing that revolutionized the automobile spring structure of all cars; improving ride and comfort, and preventing breaks and squeaks. In 1949 he married my grandmother, Evelyn S. Ellis, had 5 children; my mother being their third eldest, Gina McKee. After the success of his Roto Bearing Company, he moved back to California, retired shortly thereafter, and then started up a construction business. At the end of the biography he submitted to Rainier Ale in 1962 he stated, "I expect to walk to Seattle World's Fair from San Francisco and enjoy it." And that he did.
He started his walk wearing a pair of light colored khaki pants, a sweatshirt with a screen printed image of J.S. Bach, a hat, a long tan cane, and what looks like a pair of black high top boots. He woke up at 3am daily to start his trek north, gaining between 30-40 miles before the heat of the day. He usually threw his hat on whatever hotel bed or loft he stayed in around noon, whereas other hikers such as Charles Knowles chose to wake late and hike late. I like to think my grandfather's dawn hiking habits were from his formative childhood years on the farm where there were chores to be done before the sun rose.
The most humorous part of his getup in my opinion was his battery powered transistor radio that he listened to every day. When a newspaper journalist inquired about his gadget he responded with, "Music keeps me light footed. Those who love music are never morose, never lonely." Along the way he found a total of 69 cents, chrome strips, lost gas caps, empty beer cans, and cigarette lighters. "I guess some people light cigarettes, shake the lighters like matches, then throw them out."
All four hikers started off on different routes. Coach Stahl and Robert LeMaire were way behind in Northern California and Southern Oregon when my grandfather and Charles Knowles, 28, ran into each other off Hwy 99 near Eugene, Oregon. They decided to continue the hike together but because of my grandfather's early rising habits and Knowles preference to sleep-in, they would meet up in the evening at whatever hotel they had chosen beforehand- and in some cases, the only lodging in town.
Looking back on all the publicity and candid photos from my grandfather's walk I noticed their body language towards each other in San Francisco compared to the later photos as they crawled north. They seemed to form a camaraderie over their adventure that transcended age and culture, and I believe they became friends. You can see a photo of my grandfather sitting in bliss with his legs crossed looking up at Knowles, clad in his kilt, playing a tune on the bagpipes he carried along with him. I also noticed as I read through all the articles that every reporter wanted to know who was going to win the competition. Competition? That's not why these guys were doing it. "I'm doing it because I've never done it before." My grandfather once answered, and later said, "I'm doing it for the challenge."
Charles Knowles and my grandfather carried that spirit along with them as they strolled across the finish line of the World's Fair entrance, together, on June 15th- a little over 30 days from the start of their walk from San Francisco, which also happened to be California Day. There each walker collected his $ 1,000 check and six gold coins. My grandfather could not wait to get back home to his family down in Santa Barbara, California, but took a day with Charles Knowles to tour the space needle while in Seattle, and I'm sure to say goodbye.
A year later, one week following the death of John F. Kennedy, and the day after Thanksgiving, my grandfather was hit by a car and killed. He was on his way home to his family, just south of Santa Barbara on Highway 101 at Rincon Hill when he stopped his automobile to retrieve materials that had fallen out.
Two days ago, my aunt Nina, my mother's sister and my grandfather's eldest wrote, "I think back on the strength of your grandfather Herb... He NEVER gave up, stayed positive in the worst of times, and remembered how to laugh and have fun. He considered himself invincible, he feared nothing, and adored his family. He was far from perfect, but always authentic; the epitome of 'true grit.'"
So this one is for you Opa. May I keep my chin up and smile in the worst of times, whether it be physically or mentally. May I embrace the challenge that I chose, and may I find that 'true grit' on my long walk. I'll be thinking of you.
Before hiking the PCT