A Father’s Legacy

June 18, 2023

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! But a special thanks to my father, Harry I. Heller, for sharing his adventures in his journal titled Thumbs Up. After he died, I edited and published this remarkable account of his 12,000 mile hitchhiking trip across the U.S. in 1929. He didn’t pay a cent for transportation and put his life at risk to reach his goal. This is a true coming-of-age tale that will appeal to armchair travelers, U.S. history buffs, and fans of adventure travel.

Copyright © 2014 by Nancy J. Cohen
Published by Orange Grove Press
Digital ISBN: 978-0-9914655-2-1
Print ISBN: 978-0-9914655-3-8
Edited by Nancy J. Cohen
Cover Design by Boulevard Photografica
Interior Design by www.formatting4U.com

After taking his exams for the New Jersey Bar, twenty-four-year-old Harry I. Heller set off on a hitchhiking cross-country adventure. Relying on his wits and not his wallet, he traveled across the United States without paying a dime for transportation. In the days when a job paid one dollar and seventy-five cents per day and seeing a movie cost ten cents, he hitchhiked his way from New Jersey to California. Among his many escapades, he got lost in the Yosemite Mountains, confronted hungry bears, raced downhill in a truck with burnt-out brakes, jumped on a speeding train, and climbed Pike’s Peak on foot. This true coming-of-age tale shows the courage, fortitude, and determination of a young man following his dream and learning to rely solely on himself.


When I stood between the rails upon which the caboose rested so as to get a better look through its open rear door, it was without realizing the roadbed was a hazardous place on which to stand.

The car contained a young man who, judging from his attire, was a member of the crew who occupied the home on wheels during its travels. He obligingly answered my questions pertaining to his business. Then an unknown duty summoned him to the front, and he disappeared from view behind a partition. Thinking his absence would be temporary, I waited for his return. However, he had forgotten all about me.

As I stood there, no ringing bell or whistle warned me of impending danger. One moment all was quiet and peaceful. The next moment, I was face-to-face with death.

A terrific crash shattered the silence. Simultaneously, the caboose seemed to leap toward me.

Being a few feet away from the end of the car at the time it had started to move, I instinctively raised my hands as if to thrust it back. Extending outward from the end of this caboose was a short, thick iron bar that resembled a battering ram. As this met my hands, the same thing happened to me that might occur to a person shoved backwards by a playful friend. I staggered, tried unsuccessfully to recover my balance, and then fell heavily to the ground between the rails. A feeling of unreality attached to the whole adventure until I heard the puffing of an engine.


“What a treat! This is a real-life slice of American life that is difficult to comprehend these days. If I were teaching US history, I’d have this on the reading list for that time period on the very brink of the Depression… Highly recommended for anyone interested in early 20th century US history.” Michal Sherring, Author of Done for at the Danford

“A picturesque description of a remarkable journey in a time when hitchhiking was a reasonable way to get around. Whether you are a history buff looking for a glimpse into days gone by or simply a fellow traveler, this book is sure to feed your senses. Mac C. 

“This is a tale of wit and candor and a glance back to a different, much-more-innocent America! A time capsule memoir for those who dream of hitting the open road, or the arm-chair adventurer looking for a transportive good read. Thumbs up!” Sherry S.


A true life coming-of-age tale about a 12,000 mile hitchhiking journey across the U.S. in 1929 #adventure #travel #memoirs Share on X


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6 thoughts on “A Father’s Legacy

  1. Wow! I’m going to check out your dad’s journal. How marvelous that he undertook such an adventurous–perhaps at times a bit too adventurous–journey and that you were able to read and edit it. Good job!

    1. Thanks, it was very meaningful to me to fulfill his dream of publishing this journal. I wish I’d asked him more about it while he was alive. He was a good writer, too.

  2. What a fantastic legacy your dad left! You must be so proud of his journal. He’d be so proud of you for publishing it, and for becoming an exception writer, too!

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