The Klondike Big Inch Land Company: A Tale of Puffed Rice and Deflated Dreams

My two brothers and I are very lucky to have been raised by loving, involved parents who made sure we were well equipped to become successful adults. They made sure we studied hard in school, ate right, and we were encouraged to get plenty of exercise by playing outdoors with our friends.

But, they realized that all this may not be enough. Just having a good education, eating a healthy diet, and rocking at Kick-the-Can and Hide-and-Seek would only get us so far in the world. We needed something else, something that could give us the financial wherewithal to fund our dreams. Some parents might have purchased savings bonds for their children; others might have invested in Disney stock.

Our parents bought us land.

Well, they didn’t exactly buy us land. What they bought were boxes of Quaker Oats brand Puffed Rice. This wasn’t just any old cereal, mind you: nestled inside each box was a Deed of Land granted by the Klondike Big Inch Land Co. Inc.; specifically a deed for one square inch of land in the Yukon Territory.

Yep, I became a land baron before I was out of diapers.

Inch FrontInch Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was old enough to truly appreciate the significance of my Deed of Land – not only for its tremendous future dollar value, but also for its ability to make my best friend jealous – I put the document in a protective plastic sleeve and placed it among my other valuable possessions. I occasionally brought it out when I wanted to dream of my future wealth or I needed to up my cred among my friends, but, for the most part, it remained tucked safely away until the day I would lay claim to my land and the prosperity it represented.

Given the significance of the document, I’m not sure how it managed to lay forgotten for many years until it was discovered when I was going through a box of childhood stuff.  There, along with my grade school class photos, Troop 202 Girl Scout sash, and Presidential Physical Fitness Award patch, was my Deed of Land.

Holding the slightly yellowed document in my hands, the dreams began again.

Maybe, over the years, someone discovered oil under my inch. Or, miners had unearthed a lucrative vein of gold running through it. Or, perhaps a developer had mistakenly built a shopping mall on my land and now I could claim a percentage of the total value (including back interest, of course). If land size inflated in the same way currency does, that square inch would now equal a whopping 8.7 square inches. Certainly that Deed of Land extracted from a cereal box many years ago would be worth a sizable sum today. Oh yeah: my ship had just come in!

Before contacting an attorney or hiring a wealth manager, I decided to do a quick Google search to get some idea of the volume of money that would soon be flowing my way. I also wasn’t quite sure where the Yukon Territory was or the location of the closest airport since I knew I’d have to venture up to the Great North to assert ownership of the square inch that was rightfully mine.

Big Inch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only it wasn’t… mine, I mean.

It was all a gimmick. What has been called one of the most successful ad campaigns in advertising history was a gimmick designed to encourage kids to pester their parents into purchasing Quaker Oats brand Puffed Rice cereal.

Back in the early 50’s, a brilliant advertising executive, Bruce Baker, developed a promotion tied to a popular Quaker Oats-sponsored radio show about Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and his trusty dog, King. Mr. Baker convinced Quaker Oats to purchase 19.11 acres on the west bank of the Yukon River for $1,000. The company divided the land into 119,870,000 square inch parcels and printed over 21 million Deeds of Land. Each one was individually stamped with a unique lot number – mine was L-595729 – and placed in boxes of cereal.

The promotion’s success went way beyond the company’s wildest dreams.  Pretty soon boxes of the bland, unexciting cereal were flying off the shelves.

Unfortunately for the millions of us now-graying kids who once dreamed of one day laying claim to our square inch of rugged paradise, the Quaker Oats never formally registered the land. The company determined that it would be a logistical nightmare to register the deeds to millions of children. Even if it could be done, it would have cost the company a fortune.

Not only do we not own our square inches now, apparently we never owned them.

To add even more insult to injury, the Klondike Big Inch Land Co., Inc. was dissolved in the 60’s and the Canadian government repossessed all the land for nonpayment of $37.20 in property taxes.

Years ago, a Quaker Oats spokesperson explained that “the deeds were not meant to have any intrinsic value, but rather to give the consumer the romantic appeal of being the owner of a square inch of land in the Yukon.”

Yeah, tell that to my lawyer.

Planning for Spontaneity

My husband and I just returned from our first post-retirement road trip. Even though we mostly stuck to our planned schedule, it was very freeing to know that, because neither of us have a job to dictate our return date, we could stay away as long as we wanted… or at least until the money ran out.

We had a terrific several weeks in northern California; in Monterey at a car club “convention,” visiting my brother and sister-in-law in the Bay Area, and spending time in Santa Cruz with my husband’s family. In fact, we had such a good time we started to plan our next trip as we drove home. Yep, I think we could get used to this!

Monterey coastline
Monterey coastline
Tasting champagne in Napa
Tasting champagne in Napa

In addition to planning our next escape, we’ve been talking about what we can do to make it easier for us to just pack and go. We want to put a few things in place now so that, when the spontaneity spark hits us or a can’t-miss-it opportunity arises, we can take off at a moment’s notice.

We’ve already made the conscious decision not to have pets because of travel. Although I miss having a dog or a cat, the freedom has been a positive tradeoff.

Our landscaping is – by design – fairly low maintenance, so we don’t need to arrange for upkeep while we were gone as long as our plants don’t have to go more than a couple of weeks without water.

Seasoned travelers have told us that it’s best not to put a vacation stop on mail and newspaper delivery because it is an alert that we will be out of town. Because of this, we have a neighbor pick up our mail and paper while we are gone. Since we provide the same service to her when she’s on vacation, it doesn’t seem like an imposition. To make things simpler and to avoid overlapping vacations, we are considering cancelling the paper completely. Our mailbox is attached to the garage wall so we want to create an opening that will allow the mail to drop directly from the box into a container inside the garage.

Ideally, we’d like to have someone stay at our house for absences lasting longer than a week or so. Not much would be required beyond simple watering and generally keeping an eye on things, but having a presence in the home would make us more comfortable while away. Although we live in a pretty safe neighborhood, this is a big city and we’d be naive to think nothing could happen.

When I was younger, single, and living in a condo with my cat, I had plenty of friends who were happy to stay in my home while I was out of town. They either lived with their parents or with roommates and welcomed the opportunity to have their own space for awhile. They enjoyed the quiet and privacy and I received cat feeding, plant watering, and house watching services. Win-win.

Fast forward a few decades and circumstances have changed. Married or not, our friends tend to be happy with their living situations so are not available to house-sit.

House swapping is something we might explore in the future, especially for longer stays, but for now—and for shorter stays—we are looking for that perfect match; someone who is pet-free, trustworthy, responsible, and who would welcome the opportunity “get way” for awhile in our home.

Hopefully we can find someone before we take off again.

Dropping Ballast

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I was going through my husband’s closet the other morning helping him find something (yes, I found it… I always do) and realized that he has a bunch of clothes that he has very little use for just taking up space. Since retiring two years ago, he has seldom, if ever, worn one of his several nice suits. He’s had little need for a sports coat, and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t worn a tie more than a handful of times in many years. His current attire mostly consists of jeans or shorts and a comfortable shirt. He wears khakis once in a while, but often with flip-flops. Now that he’s taking culinary classes (for fun), he heads to school wearing funny striped chef pants and a chef’s jacket.

I suggested that we make some time soon to weed through his clothes. He will keep a few remnants of his past working life for those more formal events that come up now and then, but I hope we can get rid of a lot of items that no longer fit into his life.

In anticipation of my retirement, I stopped purchasing work-specific clothes awhile ago. No more pencil skirts, no more pumps; nothing that tends to function only as business attire. That’s not to say that I envision a retirement wardrobe entirely made up of “play clothes,” but I think the items I will reach for most often will be on the casual side, and definitely comfortable.

I plan to donate many of my work-specific clothes and shoes right away. Those that I can’t quite let go of yet, I will box up—with a date indicated on the outside—and store them somewhere convenient, but outside of my closet. If I go one year without needing the clothes, they will be donated too.

When my husband and I remodeled our house years ago and added the upstairs master bedroom, I got my own, rather large, closet. At first, the clothes I had barely took up half the available space, but, over the years, I’ve managed to fill it up… and then some (I’m much better at intake then I am at outgo).

Culling our belongings is an initial goal of our grand retirement plan. We are looking forward to acquiring more experiences than possessions, and putting greater value on traveling light and often rather than being burdened by schedules and obligations.

Of course, clothes are not the sole focus of our efforts to clear out the cutter. We have too much crap stuff in general and I think it is getting in the way of our ability to enjoy a calmer and more organized home. We are by no means hoarders, but let’s just say that, as we’ve navigated through our life together, we’ve picked up a few barnacles along the way. Many of the things we’ve acquired to complete our home are now just bulk we no longer need to balance our lives.

It will take some time and effort, but we need to scrape off the hull and empty the bilge. Life is too short – and getting shorter. It’s time to drop some ballast and sail on.

Road Skills

I am back in Southern California following my two-week vacation (“Practice Retirement”) spent driving across the country with a friend. The trip was a positive experience overall and I’m happy I was able to have the adventure.

Looking back, I have several observations that I need to consider for future road trips I hope to take with my husband after I join him in retirement.

Bring a paper map
In an earlier post, I wrote of my love of paper maps. Although we were well-equipped with a GPS, two iPads, and a smart phone to help us get from here to there, I would have felt lost if I hadn’t had my US Road Atlas with me so I could track our progress along the way.

Keep a journal
I brought along a small tablet for general note-taking, and, every evening, to write a page or two about my experiences that day. Because often details can slip away from the memory banks, keeping a journal helps me capture moments I don’t want to forget.

It will also come in handy, if I ever pass that way again, to help me remember what not to miss – places to eat, things to see, experiences to be had.

Be aware that small moments can become big memories
Random conversations with strangers, eating at a local hole-in-the-wall, seeing a rainbow through an opening in an otherwise cloudy sky. These are the experiences that stay with me and make the journey most memorable.

Don’t be shy
I am not an extrovert by nature, but, over the years, I have become more and more comfortable striking up conversations with people I don’t know. Away from home, I think this practice is even more important. I had a so many enjoyable interactions and learned so much just by opening myself up and initiating conversations.

Two new friends with benefits (they can cook!)
Two new friends with benefits (they can cook!)

Often a simple “hello” said with a big smile can be the beginning of a memorable exchange. Even if I only got a smile in return, that’s one more smile to add to my day.

Try the local cuisine
Since we were traveling along a southern route, we had the opportunity to chow down on barbeque in Texas, slurp gumbo in Louisiana, and sample fried pretty-much-everything in multiple southern locals. I’m not a big fan of bacon fat and I prefer my vegetables fresh as opposed to being smothered with oil and cooked beyond recognition, but I thought it was important to at least taste everything.

When we wanted to take a break from heavy food, we looked for, and often found, a Panera along the way so we could supplement our diet with fresh salads.

Make room in the suitcase for a little vanity
Because it was just my girlfriend and me for two weeks, I didn’t bother to bring any make-up. Although it was freeing to just wash my face and go, I often wished that I packed a little something to brighten the bare face that stared back at me in the mirror every day.

Although I don’t wear a lot of make-up (and often none at all on the weekends), I know that wearing at least a bit makes me feel perkier.

Allow for alone time
Even though it would have been cheaper to share, it was money well spent to have separate hotel rooms along our route. My friend has very different sleep habits than I do (she stays up late, and rises late in the morning), and, after spending many hours together in the car, I needed to have some time by myself.

Fortunately, my husband and I share sleep schedules so we won’t be needing separate rooms, but having a bit of time by myself allows me to recharge my batteries. I do much better and am much less cranky if I can carve out an hour or two of “Me Time.”

Only pack what is needed (and learn to need less)
I had envisioned that I would post to my blog regularly during my trip. In the end, I managed to make only one post, and it was more difficult than I thought it would be.

I love the writing process. I write, I edit, I rearrange, I delete, I fuss, I re-write. I brought along a laptop because I thought it would be too hard to do that on an iPad. Now, I’m not convinced that the laptop helped at all, and it added bulk and weight to my luggage.

Before going on another trip during which I want to blog, I need to practice writing and posting from my iPad.

“If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”  ― Dr. Seuss
“If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”
― Dr. Seuss

In two weeks, we went through three time zones and fourteen states. We experienced temperatures up in the 70’s on down to the low 20’s. We enjoyed warm sunshine, thick clouds, bone-chilling wind, and driving rain storms. I rode a bigger-than-life, cut-out buffalo, visited Elvis’ birthplace, and got to view Edward Hopper’s painting, Nighthawks so close I could almost smell the coffee.

I missed my husband, my house, and sleeping in my own bed, but I’m so happy I didn’t miss this journey.

Our Tax Dollars at Work

My husband and I decided to take a leisurely route on our drive home from Sacramento a few weeks ago. On our trip north, we took Highway 5, which runs up the middle of the state – it’s the best choice for getting from here to there in a single day, but there’s not much to see along the way. For our return trip, we opted to take Highway 1, which has to be one of the most beautiful highways in the country, if not the world.

I’ve traveled on this road many times; on family vacations, riding along with my parents and older brother when they delivered him to the University of California, Santa Cruz where he went to college, and then again when I attended UCSC, and a handful other trips over the years. Each time, I have been transfixed by the breathtaking beauty along California’s rugged coastline. As I got older and became more aware of these things, I marveled at the level of planning, engineering, and construction expertise that must have gone into creating this ribbon of asphalt that hugs the coastline.

This time, because we began our journey in Sacramento, we had to negotiate a number of freeways before we were able to connect up with Highway 1 in the city of Santa Cruz. From Santa Cruz, our journey took us south through Capitola, Castroville (the “artichoke capital of the world”!), Monterey, and Carmel, before we began the approximately 90 miles of highway that winds along the coastal area known as Big Sur.

It is difficult to capture in words how stunning the scenery is along this route. To the north, the highway passes through a lush pine forest, then, as it winds south, the road turns toward the coast, offering views of the turquoise blue Pacific Ocean meeting a rocky shore that rises abruptly to become the Santa Lucia mountain range. Because we were traveling south, our lane was on the outside, close to the edge of the cliffs. Great for taking in the views, but a bit harrowing as we wended our way along the curvy road. Fortunately, there are many turnouts provided along the way so travelers can stop for a closer look and to take pictures.

Up until the 1930s, this part of California’s coastline was relatively inaccessible. In 1921, state and federal funds were appropriated for the ambitious project of constructing a road from Carmel to San Simeon. San Quentin Prison provided much of the unskilled labor, paying the prisoners a whopping 35 cents a day, and the promise of reduced sentences. Because of the area’s topography, 33 bridges had to be constructed, including the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge.

Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Creek Bridge

After 18 years of construction, aided by New Deal funds during the Great Depression, the paved two-lane road was completed and opened in June of 1937. The road was initially called the Carmel-San Simeon Highway, but was better known as the Roosevelt Highway, honoring the current President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1939, it was redesignated as Highway 1, and, in 1965, became the first State Scenic Highway.

Several areas along the route are prone to landslides and the road has to be shut down from time-to-time to clear the path. Fortunately, I have never experienced one of these slides in progress – I can’t imagine how frightening it would be to have rocks and boulders suddenly rain down on my car and the road in front of me.

One of many landslides at Pitkin's Curve
One of many landslides at Pitkins Curve

In one area where a large number of landslides have occurred, the California Department of Transportation is completing an ambitious project designed to protect both travelers and the fragile coastline. At Pitkins Curve, they have realigned the road by constructing a bridge that juts out from the side of the cliffs, thereby allowing future landslides to pass under the bridge and not fall onto the road. They are also building a “rock shed,” which is I can only describe as an exterior tunnel. The theory is that rocks and boulders will fall onto the roof of the shed, rather than on the cars and cyclists on the road.

Construction of the rock shed. Image by the California Department of Transportation.
Construction of the rock shed. Image by the California Department of Transportation.
Entering the amazing rock shed
Entering the amazing rock shed

The original construction of the highway (even with the poorly paid convict laborers) was extremely expensive and could have only been done with tax dollars. I am so grateful that, back in the early part of last century, the federal government and the citizens of California wisely saw the value of such an ambitious project.

I can’t say that I enjoy paying taxes, and I certainly disagree with a lot of things my tax dollars fund. I also understand that there is a lot of waste and a certain amount of fraud in the system. It’s not perfect, but I do know that it takes a lot of money to keep all of the moving parts of this great country operating smoothly. When I travel on roads built long ago because the government and voters at that time thought it was important to dream big and create a legacy for future generations, I realize that the decisions we make today will reflect the values we hold.

In our current climate of tax resistance and reduction in government spending regardless of the societal cost, I wonder if we would have the vision and commitment to the common good to fund a project like Highway 1 today.

Mapping our lives

Several hours and a few hundred miles away from home, I realized that I had forgotten to bring my beloved road atlas with me on our trip to northern California. My husband and I have driven these freeways many times before, and it’s a pretty straight shot, so getting lost was not a worry. Both of us have smart phones, so both Google Maps and the ability to call for help and directions were both readily available. Still, I wanted a map.

I like being able to plot our progress; I want to see what little towns are up ahead, and, during the especially boring parts of the journey, to see how much further we have to go before something more interesting will appear. What’s the name of that lake over to the left? Which turnoff did we take last time when we visited that great little winery? Have we passed from Kern County to Kings County yet? Without a paper map, I am left with a blue dot moving through the state on my iPhone screen. Empty and soulless.

I inherited my love of paper maps from my father. He kept a large stack of them on his bookshelf – many were of often-visited locals, some he picked up on his and my mother’s journeys around the country and the world. He found it difficult, if not impossible, to throw any of them away – even when he picked up newer versions of ones he already had. This made it harder when I was clearing out his home for sale after his death. I discovered that I not only had inherited his love of maps, but also his reluctance to throw them away. Each was a souvenir of a trip taken and a physical memory keeper of his and my mother’s journey together.

The California road atlas I had inadvertently left home last week was one that belonged to my father. It is dated 1986 and contains notes he had written on many of the pages. Not all of them are trip-related; on the detail street maps showing the city of Los Angeles, he made notes indicating where the 1992 L.A. riots were occurring. I can picture him sitting at his home in San Diego, watching the news on television, the map book opened to the pages showing the parts of L.A. that were on fire.

map

As my father’s mind slowly slipped into the fog of dementia, and his earlier memories were clearer to him then recent ones, I discovered that he had adopted a ritual using the local newspaper’s daily US weather map. Every day, he mapped his journey – across the country, and then overseas – that he took as a young recruit during the Second World War. Every day, he plotted his movements, from Cincinnati, through Denver, to California (where he met my mother), to Las Vegas (where they married three months later), to New York. Then he drew an arrow to the right towards Europe.

I don’t know much about his experiences during the war, but I do know that he was one of the lucky ones. He avoided the worst of combat and came home physically and, I believe, mentally unscathed. What he plotted every day on the newspaper map were memories of a great adventure. I wish I had kept one of those sweet, precious maps.
It’s probably time to buy a new California road atlas (assuming they still make them). I know that many roads have been added to the state since 1986 and a newer one would be more useful.

I also know that I will not throw away the old one that belonged to my father.