FLORHAM PARK, NJ- In 1939, seven 16 year-old school-mates drove across the country to visit the Golden Gate Bridge during the World’s Fair. None of them could have known that two generations later that same journey would be recreated.
Lauren Herbine had heard the story through out her childhood, from her mom Nancy. Her grandfather, Bill Browne, along with his buddies traveled across the country, in a vehicle they built from combining a bus and an ice truck. The month long journey had its share of breakdowns, injuries and delays, but they made it to the Worlds Fair. It took them more than a month to get there and about the same to get back. No modern conveniences, no cell phones, telegrams, however a double-dose of determination combined with support from family and friends powered this miraculous journey. It is recorded with great detail in the book Spirit of 39.
Herbine knew one day she would take that same journey. A Monroe Scholar and geology major at William and Mary, she presented the story to the scholarship committee in 2016. Her history adviser loved the idea, and the money was allotted for the trip, which in 1939 only cost her grandfather and six of his friends, $212.00.
Keeping in mind the lack of modern conveniences, Herbine, and friend, Elizabeth Schneider kicked off the journey in Florham Park, and traveled the Lincoln Highway, using only a map as the the young boys did in 1939. She didn’t spend nights in hotels but in campgrounds and with the intense heat sometimes just slept outside.
Herbine was pleasantly surprised at the well-signed Lincoln Highway & Route 66 as well. However, the trip led down many small town back roads. One time a gravel road led right into a cornfield. It took them half the time it did in 1939 and when they arrived at Golden Gate State Park, the first stop was Treasure Island; the island created for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition and World’s Fair. The girls found an island of abandoned buildings targeted for redevelopment. It was nothing like the site Bill Browne and his friends traveled across the country to attend.
The trip home did not include Elizabeth Schneider, but, was made better by a surprise visit from her father Rick, while Herbine was staying in the Grand Canyon. They hiked to the bottom before they returned home.
The endpoint was, in 1939 the high school for Florham Park and Madison residents. Today, it is the home of the middle school in Madison. Herbine and her father Rick; sometimes known as Brick, were greeted by her mom Nancy, Florham Park Mayor Mark Taylor, and local historian and long time Florham Park resident Marie Northridge. Her son, Mike researched the entire original journey and enhanced the authenticity of the road trip.
After a short rest home Lauren will return to school with a great story and an even greater adventure to share. A copy of Spirit of '39 is available at the Morris County Library and the Florham Park Library upon request. The entire journey has been chronicled at Spirit of '39 on Instagram