"It's not many times people give you a gold mine and you don't know how to work it," said Birthplace hostess Nina Holcomb of Tupelo's reluctance to develop this site into the present park. Another Birthplace employee told photographer Regis Lefebure, "That Silverado wouldn't be welcome in my family. My family hates Chevrolets. We like Foh-ords." Seeing his raised eyebrows, the woman continued, "Down here we say it with two syllables."
Darkness soon settled upon northeastern Mississippi and Tupelo. Directly across Elvis Presley Drive, dubiously eyeing the Birthplace, was Saint Mark United Methodist Church. The illuminated signboard informed us that on the coming Sunday the Reverend Donny Riley's sermon would be: "No Mask Will Hide Your Sins from God."
In the 1954 screen comedy The Long, Long Trailer, Nicholas (Desi Arnaz) and Tacy Collini (Lucille Ball) use a Mercury Monterey convertible to tow a house trailer from California to Colorado. Of course, everything goes wrong, causing the exasperated Nicholas to say, "It's been one long nightmare, worrying about 'will the brakes hold, are the signals working, are we gonna make that hill, is it boiling over?' "
By that time, trailering had become a well-established American practice. The first bloom of trailer manufacturing in the mid-1930s had seen hundreds of makers enter the market. In the 1940s, Henry Ford provided fellow vagabond Charles Lindbergh with a travel trailer; the Lindberghs used it as their writing retreat for the next fifteen years. Throughout the 1950s, Wally Byam led caravans in exotic locales. The expeditions were covered by publications such as the Smithsonian and Time.
Lucy and Desi's trailer weighed three tons. Our Overlander tipped the scales at 6200 pounds. It was in original condition, and all the systems worked. Period '70s decor was typified by the harvest gold countertops, drably patterned headliner, rackety tambour doors covering storage spaces, and quaint upholstery and carpeting. Foam cushions covered the sitting and sleeping surface in the forward lounge, with thicker padding on the bed between the galley and the tiny bathroom. On the first two nights of our journey, we stayed in motels in White House, Tennessee, and Demopolis, Alabama. But when we finally reached Trailerpalooza, things would get interesting.
The Silverado did a good job of towing, although hilly southern Alabama was a challenge. With its 5.3-liter V-8, which chuffed out 315 hp and 338 lb-ft of torque, the truck had plenty of punch. The problem was the four-speed automatic. A six-speed will eventually be offered, but we could have used it then. A heavy foot on a steep grade would provoke a downshift to second gear, with the engine roaring as though we were shooting from Turn Four at Darlington Raceway. We suspect the 6.0-liter V-8 and the six-speed will be the ideal setup for towing, especially since our truck returned only 10 mpg throughout our experience.
The lunchtime experience on this third day of travel was something else. At a place called Ollie, on the southeast corner of the U.S. 84 and Alabama 41 junction, we sampled the offerings of Clark's Bar-B-Q. Clark and Brenda Hill have been in business for eight years, ever since Clark, formerly a purchasing agent, and hundreds of others were sent home from a paper company in nearby Excel. The menu remains simple, with barbecue, baked beans, potato salad, and coleslaw. But the barbecue is remarkably complex. "Mild sauce, with hickory depth of flavor," as Alice described it. Hill said he is having the sauce patented, and with the help of his son, who has marketing experience, he intends to launch a product line.