When our sons were little, summer was when my husband Robert would get the Turtle ready for a camping trip. With plywood, nails, and lots of imagination, he had built a camper on the back of our black farm pickup. With his boys as helpers, he made improvements every year. It became a subject I wrote about in many columns.
Inside the Turtle camper were mattresses set up as a bunk bed. Beneath the bed was storage for cooking gear. A closet held our clothing. The top of the Dutch door at the back could be opened even with the tailgate up, providing ventilation while traveling.
Robert painted the outside of the Turtle white. I painted the inside yellow and then used blue trim to add little Pennsylvania Dutch flowers, leaves, and hearts.
On our first trip in the Turtle was a trial run to see if the equipment was in working condition and everyone could get some sleep. The boys climbed into the back and arranged themselves on the bottom bunk so they could look through the window into the pickup cab and out of the windshield. We drove a few minutes from Sidney and turned into Waubonsie State Park and spent the night.
How quiet and beautiful our state park was early the next morning. Surrounded by bird songs, we sat down to a big camper’s breakfast. When Mr. Johnson, the superintendent of the park, came to collect our camping fee, he laughed to see it was us. Most of the campers come to the park from far away, not just four miles.
Our next outing was to Rocky Mountain National Park. We maneuvered the Turtle into a campsite in Glacier Basin campground. From there we had wonderful views of Long’s Peak, Hallet’s Peak, and the surrounding range. A grassy meadow nearby would be just right for the children to play.
We were learning how to camp with children who were then ages 8 months, 2 years, and 6 years of age. Our days were filled with feeding, changing, cooking, washing, drying, brushing, napping, and pulling children out of mountain streams and other people’s campsites.
Robert remembered camping in Glacier Basin years earlier when he was with some of his older Boy Scouts. Now he was changing diapers in camp. I encourage him to be patient because our toddler sons would be high schoolers sooner than we know, and camping would surely be different for us then.
One morning we put Craig and Jeff into a cart and followed Robert into the forest behind Bobby, who was leading the way. We came to a small blue gem of a lake ringed with tall green pines. Reflected in the water were the soaring peaks of the Rocky Mountains.A big rock on the side of the lake gave us a place to sit sheltered from the wind.
We had a lunch of cinnamon bread, cheese, fresh fruit, and milk. As we ate, chipmunks appeared to see what we might share. Gray jays flew down in search of crumbs. The children were fascinated, watching these wild and fearless creatures.
Across the lake was a beautiful log cabin. I told Robert it would be a perfect spot for a second honeymoon. But when does one take a second honeymoon? When the children are grown and gone? By then we might be too old and feeble to climb the trail to this spot.
So we sat and watched our children splashing gleefully on the lakeshore and realized any time and any place that makes us so happy can be a honeymoon. This one happened to be made possible by the Turtle.
A family named Thompson pitched their tent next to the campsite where we had parked the Turtle. We got to be friends and shared supper with them. Their recipe became a Birkby family mainstay for a quick evening meal, both in camp and at home.
1 pound ground beef
1 cup water
2 bouillon cubes
Cooked rice, enough for the family
Canned or frozen peas
While rice is cooking, brown the ground beef in a little oil in a large skillet. Add water and bouillon cubes. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more water as needed to make a nice broth. Heat peas.
To serve, put a mound of cooked rice on your plate. Make a depression in the middle of the rice and fill it with ground beef and broth. Spoon some of the peas on top and enjoy. If are the kind of person who does not like your foods mixed together, you can put each ingredient in its own place on your plate. Either way it is delicious, especially if you serve it as we did – with a plate of hot biscuits cooked over campfire coals in a Dutch oven.