On July 11th, Ashland had three very special visitors from California. John, Marie and Helen Boimilla made the trip east to kindle their childhood memories, because they were born here, and consider Ashland their hometown. When they were 10, 8, and 6, respectively, their lives were altered in a significant way because their father Frank, a machinist, lost his job at the age of 46, when the firm he was working for went out of business after 27 years. It was 1961, and the job market had an unemployment rate of 6.7%. At his age, and with seven children, Frank and his wife Helen knew they had to go where the work was, and without delay. Helen had a sister living in California, and the prospects for work there were very good. The Torrence Herald of October 19, 1961 reports that the Boimilla family had arrived in that city after a “care-free” trip.
Before the family departed from their small home at 14 Dean Road in Ashland, Frank bought a used school bus, and outfitted it with sleeping accommodations, toilet facilities and a small kitchen. On Saturday, September 16, 1961 the family was packed and ready to depart Ashland. At 10:00 a.m. neighbors gathered and gave gifts of food, and according to the diary of Mrs. Boimilla, one neighbor named Myrna West gave her a bottle of My Sin perfume. The family station wagon followed behind the bus with Mrs. Boimilla at the wheel while her son Frank, Jr. or daughter Janice rode with her for company. The caravan had to stop twice in western Massachusetts on day one, changing three flat tires!! Instead of reaching the state park at Lee, Massachusetts, they ended up with the bus inside a gas station for the first night of their journey. Not a great beginning for the trip, and the night air was cold according to the diary that Mrs. Boimilla kept for most of the journey.
Helen Boimilla’s Diary
“…the children had breakfast. Frank and I only had coffee, as we wanted to go to Holy Communion. We made 10:00 Mass, and we all looked nice, DON’T ASK ME HOW!!! We came back and had a lunch of beans and Spam, it tasted delicious.”
“After we got the tire changed, we started on our trip again from Pittsfield at about 10:00 a.m. We decided to take the scenic route which was beautiful, but costly. There were too many hills, and driving up and down them wrecked the bus. We got as far as Lafayette, NY and the bus broke down on the road. We were right near an apple stand and bought a bag of apples for $.75. We pulled the bus back to a farm house and the owners were very gracious. The husband is a mechanic, and he is trying to help us. Well, we bunked down in the driveway for the night, while the men worked on the bus until 11:00 p.m. CALIFORNIA HERE I COME…SOMETIME.
The first thing this morning the men went into Syracuse and bought parts for the bus, it cost $107.50 (cracked head, pistons, etc.) The bus didn’t get fixed…in fact, we stayed at the farmhouse another night. The lady has five children and so we all played ball.
(On this day, the diary reports that the family was looking for a state park, but got lost, and couldn’t find a trailer park. They ended up in the back of a garage where fruit gets loaded early in the morning, starting at 4:30 a.m. Mrs. Boimilla wrote, “WHAT A MESS.”)
It is 8:00 a.m. and we are starting for heavens knows where…Going through money like mad. Spent mostly on bus gas, it’s cheap though, only $.17 a gallon.
Thursday we hit a beautiful state park in Andover, Ohio. We all went swimming.
The flies are wicked everywhere you stop. We got an oil leak…MORE MONEY, very discouraging, must get to a store yet. We got as far as a truck-trailer rest stop and stayed all night. It was a noisy place, the trailer trucks keep their motors running all night.
…we landed in Indiana at a state park…I feel terrible, we didn’t get to Mass this morning. No Catholic church for 40 miles…We had a delicious supper of hamburger mixed with a can of tomato rice soup. It made a nice tasty meal.
Sunday night it poured rain and lightening all night…traveled 279 miles to Missouri…had a nice time at this park, in fact we didn’t have to pay.
We went 211 miles today, we are in Joplin, MO.
Rain came in and my book got wet, such is life…78 miles from Oklahoma and we are stopping to get the brakes fixed…going on to Texas tomorrow…children are playing in a field.
Drove 270 miles to the border of New Mexico. We went grocery shopping and went to bed at 7:45.
I just lost $.60 trying to get ice. We just throw our money away!!! We went through different stores where they sell Indian goods. We asked if we could stay by the side of this store for the night. We gave the Indian a dollar even though he didn’t want anything. He left the bathroom door opened—IT WAS A BLESSING!!
…passed Gallup and on to Holebrook, 24 miles away and we got 2 flats! We had to buy a used tire and a tube. We had to get towed back and it cost us $61.16, that included $5.16 worth of gas, very reasonable. We are now at a roadside park, thank God there are trees. We are going to Mass in Holebrook…
We got up at 5:00 a.m. and went back to the gas station and got them all dressed. We went to 7:00 a.m. Mass, in a nice little church. We saw four sisters there and plenty of Indians. I lit a candle afterwards. We talked to some priests before leaving. We are now at a roadside to eat. Nice place, plenty of trees and FLIES…
This is where the diary ends. Her children are not sure if some of it was lost, or Mrs. Boimilla did not continue with the task. As noted earlier, the family reached their destination on October 19. 1961. The diary was typed up by Marie E. (Boimilla) Johnson, and she noted that there was an ad placed in the South Bay Daily Breeze sometime after arrival. It read: 53-passenger school bus, excellent condition, ideal for camper. Call 375-3712.
Over the years, LouAnn Hopkins (of Acton) kept in touch with her first grade classmate Helen Boimilla. LouAnn and her husband gave the trio a tour of Ashland, to include a stop at the Ashland Historical Society where Cliff Wilson brought everyone up to date on what has happened since 1961. The Boimilla’s thought the town looked beautiful and John wrote that they live in California, but Ashland will always be their home. In turn, Ashland will always treasure their story.