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About the Author
Bertrand Patenaude teaches history at Stanford University. He is the author of A Wealth of Ideas (Stanford, 2005) and The Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921 (Stanford, 2002).
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The Sun Never Sets
Reflections on a Western Life
By L. W. "Bill" Lane Jr., Bertrand M. Patenaude
Stanford University PressCopyright © 2013 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
The Heartland of the Midwest
Some of my earliest memories of growing up in Iowa have to do with the cold. Apart from snowstorms and sledding, I remember ice cream bars, and plenty of them. During that period, my father worked at Meredith Publishing Company, in Des Moines, publisher of Successful Farming and Better Homes and Gardens. In the early 1920s Dad was personnel manager, and he had the company cafeteria as part of his bailiwick.
One day a man came in with a proposition about an ice cream bar. Dad thought maybe he had a good idea, and he talked to my mother about it. She developed a dark chocolate sauce that would freeze, and they cut up frozen ice cream, dipped it into the sauce, and put a stick in it. Then they put a wrapper on it. My father organized a little investment group and got this fellow to agree to syndicate what they named the Eskimo Pie. You would sell the wrappers, and of course the franchisee would have to adhere to the recipe and the promotions and advertising and so forth. They never got any legal documents to obligate this entrepreneur who came up with the original concept, but it was my dad's marketing idea to franchise these wrappers as a way of controlling the distribution and getting a royalty, because you sold the wrappers.
The dark chocolate was the key food ingredient, and as I say, my mother came up with the recipe for it. She did the testing in our kitchen where we lived, in our house in Des Moines. I remember the testing that went on when I was a very small kid, with this group of grown-ups sitting around the table tasting these ice cream bars. I've always been interested in ice cream bars. I became one of the biggest Häagen-Dazs ice cream bar fans around. And it all started, at least in part, because of that Eskimo Pie.
This episode, which I now can only hazily recall, exemplifies the kind of collaboration between Mom and Dad that would become a hallmark of the Lane family.
My father, Laurence Lane, was born in Horton, Kansas, in 1890. His father, William Earl Lane, died when my dad was two. My father's mother, Estella Louise Lane, was from a farming family background in Geneseo and Moline, Illinois. After his father's death, my father went back with his mother to live with relatives in northern Illinois.
He and his mother struggled to get by. She had a boardinghouse that I remember going to as a child in the early 1920s, before we moved to California in 1928. Dad had to work for everything, and when he was sixteen he dropped out of high school in order to take a job. For a time he worked as a hardware salesman, jogging around Minnesota in a horse and buggy selling Keen Kutter knives. He later went back to school and completed his remaining two years of high school in a single year, in 1913, when he turned twenty-three. He then moved to Iowa with his mother and enrolled at Drake University.
While at Drake, Larry Lane went to work part-time and summers for the Meredith Publishing Company. It was the beginning of a publishing career that would last well beyond a half century. At Drake, his normal bent for knowledge was somewhat distracted by a first-class extracurricular interest: the daughter of the university president, Dr. Hill McClelland Bell, who served as Drake's president from 1903 to 1918.
Mom's background was radically different from Dad's. Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, she grew up in an academician's home. Dad was a good student, but Mom was the more natural student. She was a home economics major and Phi Beta Kappa. Years later, Mom served on Drake's board of trustees. Their romance and graduation were enhanced during senior year by Mom being elected "Queen of the May" by the graduating men students, while Dad was elected "Cardinal" by the Women's League for the annual May Festival.
Ruth Bell and Larry Lane were married right after graduation, which happened to be just at the time that the United States entered the First World War, in the spring of 1917. Dad joined the army, commissioned as a first lieutenant. Mom accompanied him to Fort Oglethorpe, in Georgia, where he did psychiatric screening for draftees to determine whether they were capable or qualified for war duty.
After the war, Dad returned to Meredith, where he served as personnel manager for Successful Farming, a practically oriented, how-to magazine, aimed equally at the Midwestern farming husband and wife. Successful Farming was a regional magazine. It catered to what back then was called "The Heartland of the Midwest," covering about ten Midwestern states.
Moving up the ladder, Dad then became assistant advertising manager for Better Homes and Gardens, established by Meredith in 1922 as Fruit, Garden & Home and renamed two years later. Before long, he became advertising director for all the Meredith publications. The flagship was the very successful Better Homes and Gardens. I have no doubt that my mother's inspiration and her interests—her love of gardening and food—influenced my father a great deal, and had a lot to do with his interest in Better Homes and Gardens and the direction it took in the 1920s. The new magazine was aimed at the home and gardening family, and every article provided an affirmative answer to the question "Is it possible to do something as a result of reading this article?" This was a test that Larry Lane was later to apply to the articles published in his own magazine.
I was born in an apartment down in the city of Des Moines, but very shortly after that my parents built the home on Hickman Road, a dirt and gravel road outside Des Moines. It was a very small, unpretentious house, way out in the country back then, and by now long gone. My brother, Mel, was born two and a half years later. I associate that house with some Airedales we had when I was a small boy. I remember throwing a little Airedale puppy off the sofa and my brother catching it. At least one of those Airedales grew up in our family, because I can recall a big Airedale in the backseat of our car, and my dad instructing me to hang on to it. Of course I did, and when the dog jumped out of the car, it took me along with it.
We had a small farm, with a cow, a pig, and some chickens. I had early exposure to farm life, and in fact one of my earliest memories is of milking a cow. Mom had a very extensive vegetable garden. And we had a pony, a little black pinto named Betty, and a wonderful dog called Cleta, a German shepherd that lived to be very old.
I remember going to school, walking along the streetcar tracks leading out of Des Moines. I went up through the sixth or seventh grade in the suburb. Memories grow fuzzy, but landmark events help make them vivid. I can't think of the name of my early grammar school now, but I remember the day of Charles Lindbergh's historic landing of the Spirit of St. Louis in Paris. It was May 21, 1927, a Saturday. Mel and I sat in the driveway listening to telegraph reports sent from Paris by Atlantic cable on earphones on a little squawk box, a forerunner of early radio called a "crystal set."
Lindbergh's flight was a benchmark in my interest in aviation, which began very early at a wonderful Iowa State Fair that Mom and Dad took us to, an annual event with lots of exhibits, mostly agriculture, of course. I remember a big room that was definitely refrigerated because it had life-size sculptures of a cow, a farmer, and his wife, all sculpted in solid butter. One of the major attractions that particular year was a Ford Trimotor plane that did a loop. That certainly made a big impression on me.
Given my father's work, I was heavily exposed to magazines, especially those put out by Meredith, a company run like a family by its founder and president, Edwin Meredith. From everything I can recall and from what I later learned from listening to my father, it was a wonderful place to work. I went with my parents to Christmas parties down at Meredith where the company gave away five-pound boxes of candy—five pounds!—to all employees. I remember holding this big, thick box of candy. The family atmosphere at Meredith had a strong influence on Dad, and through him on me and my younger brother, Mel. It would help shape the kind of company he would soon establish, a company that he, and then Mel and I as his successors, would manage in the coming decades.
Our family did a lot of vacation camping up in Minnesota, once near Lake Minnetonka, so we had a great deal of experience being outdoors and enjoying each other's company in natural surroundings. We never traveled as a family to New England, to the South, or to Europe. But through Meredith, and through some family connections, we had a steady exposure to life in the American West.
In the growth years of the Roaring Twenties, Dad traveled around the country setting up sales offices and fulfilling special assignments for Mr. Meredith on Better Homes and Gardens and Successful Farming. These assignments often took him west, especially to California, Oregon, and Washington, to drum up advertising. He called on the Raisin Advisory Board, Del Monte, and the Washington Apple Advisory Board, among other food entities. Down in Los Angeles there were several advertising accounts, including Southern California tourism organizations that wanted to promote tourism from the Midwest.
Dad soon learned from his travels and from talking with readers and analyzing reader letters that the greatest difference in living, and in attitudes towards living, were evident when he crossed the Mississippi and traveled over the Western states to the Pacific Ocean. The opportunities, as well as the problems, of building, caring for, and enjoying a home and garden were very different in the Western communities of Salt Lake City, Pasadena, Palo Alto, and Tacoma from what they were along the Des Moines River.
Dad also observed another major difference between Eastern and Western America. In the days of train travel, the itinerant businessman usually saw a big spread of countryside between destinations in the West. Trips were longer and many a weekend was spent sightseeing far from home—particularly in the Far West, where there was such a variety of things to see. The availability of year-round travel and outdoor recreation, fast accelerating with the increasing ownership of automobiles, became very apparent to Larry Lane, Corn Belt salesman, as he rode over virtually every mile of rail line west of the Rockies.
After a business trip, he'd bring home supplies of avocados, oranges, and brussels sprouts to his curious family in Des Moines. These wonders had a magical effect on young boys growing up in Iowa. I was very conscious of our limited supply of fresh vegetables in winter. Mom had a root cellar in the basement. I would go down into that cold basement when it was freezing outside, and here were turnips, carrots, potatoes, and other root plants you could store in a basement. The possibilities were limited, of course, so my dad's return from California with, say, a supply of fresh brussels sprouts, was a cause for wonder.
I remember Dad once coming back with a crate of artichokes. We used to meet his train at the station in Moline, because the train didn't go through Des Moines. He walked up with this crate of something very exotic-looking. At that time, Mom had never seen an artichoke—or if she had, she certainly had never cooked one. What on earth do you do with an artichoke? Such ingredients were not available in Iowa, so there was no way to write about them in Better Homes and Gardens, even though the magazine had a national audience. Still, Mom became intrigued with the possibilities of Western cooking.
Anyway, Dad had plenty of opportunity to witness the striking contrasts between the Midwest and the West, and not only in winter. Of the thousands of miles of track that he covered, perhaps none was more significant than a seventy-one-mile excursion on the Yosemite Valley Railroad. The year was 1922. Mr. Meredith invited him along on a ride through the San Joaquin Valley as the guest of the president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, who provided his private car. Dad loved to recall this trip, and it has become legendary in our family.
Mr. Meredith had served as secretary of agriculture under President Woodrow Wilson, and the traveling group included experts on the agricultural economy of the great San Joaquin Valley. As a sidelight, they switched off the main line and rattled up the spectacular valley of the Merced River to the El Portal Terminal, in the Sierra Nevada foothills and the mountains, where they transferred to a motorized open bus for the drive into Yosemite Valley. The dramatic transition from seacoast to broad valley to high mountains in only a few hours' travel made a lasting impression on Dad and convinced him that travel and recreation would, in the advancing age of the automobile, play an increasingly significant role in the lives of Western families.
It wasn't long before Mom, Mel, and I got to see the magical West for ourselves, as our family branched out to the coast. My mother's father had gotten diabetes and retired as president of Drake University in 1918, and he and Grandma Bell and Mom's four brothers moved to Southern California, to Los Angeles, and a house off Wilshire Boulevard in 1919, the year I was born.
This move west was hardly an unusual phenomenon. Midwesterners migrated to Southern California in large numbers in the early years of the twentieth century. Land was subdivided and was sold very cheap to get the population to move out to the West in order to develop a consumer base for agriculture and for other business. Iowans certainly did their part. For a time, Long Beach was informally known as "Little Iowa" and "Iowa-by-the-Sea."
The Southern Pacific Railroad had a tremendous vested interest in this. Synonymous with the West in 1898, the S.P. was then the major transportation system, landholder, Washington lobbyist, and, by all odds, the West's greatest booster for agricultural, industrial, and tourism development. For over three decades, the "Big Four" of Huntington, Stanford, Hopkins, and Crocker pyramided an empire that had no peer west of the Great Divide and few in the entire country. Desiring a publication to serve as the voice of that empire, the Southern Pacific created Sunset magazine in honor of its crack overland train, operating between New Orleans and Los Angeles, the Sunset Limited. It still operates today.
Founded in 1898, Sunset had an explicit creed: "Its aims are the presentation, in a convenient form, of information concerning the great states of California, Oregon, Nevada, Texas, Louisiana, and the territories of Arizona and New Mexico—a rich and inexhaustible field over which the dawn of future commercial and industrial importance is just breaking." The Southern Pacific used the pages of Sunset to lure people, especially those east of the Mississippi, to come west and buy land. Sunset was in part a society magazine, featuring articles about natural wonders like Yosemite but also chatty stories from places like Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, and Paso Robles. The magazine offered news about mining and farming, as well as poetry and jokes, always in the spirit of the Sunset motto: "Publicity for the attractions and advantages of the Western Empire."
Sunset was based in San Francisco, and published articles about the city's April 1906 earthquake and the rapid recovery in the years afterward. No natural disaster could dampen the enthusiasm for the migration to the West. The Sunset issues of these years, printed on the Southern Pacific's own presses, were filled with advertisements for nearly every Western county and irrigation district, wooing settlers to a land where everyone could strike it rich and have an orange tree and a palm tree in the front yard as well. In the April 1910 issue, land in the Fresno area—"California's Valley of the Nile"—was advertised at $40 to $125 an acre, with a small cash payment and the balance to be paid over four years.
These were the years when the Western states, and particularly California, experienced some of the largest percentage gains in population ever recorded. Many of the new Westerners were enticed here by the seductive pages of Sunset. Most of the newcomers crossed the plains and mountains by train. Many arrived by ship, and the S.P. had some of that action, too, as it controlled a major steamship line with connections with Eastern and world ports, including Hawaii.
Excerpted from The Sun Never Sets by L. W. "Bill" Lane Jr., Bertrand M. Patenaude. Copyright © 2013 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Bill Lane's Reflections Kevin Starr vii
Editor's Note xxi
1 Columbus Day 1
2 The Masthead 33
3 Sunset Unlimited 59
4 True West 91
5 Ambassador Bill 121
6 A Man in Motion 147
Epilogue: Promises to Keep 167
Index of Names 171