A Father’s Legacy

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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Florida Escape

New Release: Florida Escape

In 1935, my father and two fellow adventurers headed to South Florida hoping to discover an idyllic paradise. Instead, they found boggy wastelands, rats and mosquitoes, sticks of dynamite, black panthers, rushing rivers, and skunks.

An explorer at heart, Harry I. Heller had already spent one summer hitchhiking 12,000 miles across the United States, which he describes in his book titled Thumbs Up. Not to be daunted, he and his friends persisted in their search until they came upon an abandoned log cabin on a deserted beach. Here they recreated their fantasy of a tropical paradise.

Harry Heller_restored

Harry wrote his adventures in a short journal titled Florida Escape. I’ve edited his work and have now made it available for readers of Florida history, travel memoirs, and true-life adventure.

Note that passages from this work will appear in Facials Can Be Fatal, my next Bad Hair Day mystery from Five Star due in Feb. 2017. If you want a sneak peek at the real story behind those excerpts, you’ll find it in Florida Escape.


Excerpt from Florida Escape

Lester and I were pretty well disgusted by the time we reached Fort Lauderdale. We had investigated a number of possibilities for a campsite, but nothing suited us. Murray was of the diehard breed and urged us to keep going. Rather than argue with him, we agreed. His persistence was not fruitless.

At a fork in the highway, we decided to take the dirt road that ran parallel to the ocean. The sight that greeted us when we had travelled a short distance brought forth cries of enthusiasm and joy. The sky blue waters of the ocean and a wide expanse of beach stretched into the far distance. In the middle of this panorama of beauty, sitting in splendid isolation, was a rugged log cabin. It seemed to have been built to order for our benefit. A few lonesome coconut trees stood romantically outlined in the reflected glory of the setting sun.

A strong odor of skunk filled the air. We turned up our noses in disgust as we approached the door that stood invitingly open.

When we entered, it was to find a scene of disorder. Rubbish littered the cement floor. Piles of empty tin cans, old newspapers, and a varied assortment of odds and ends covered every inch. The wind had blown in sand through the many holes between the logs. Where there had once been windows now were yawning gaps. Someone had attempted to close the openings with boards, which hung loosely from rusted nails. Thousands of fast-moving ants scattered at our arrival. Spider webs stretched overhead, and their disturbed occupants scurried around in great excitement.

But this sight did not discourage us. We were only interested in the knowledge that we had at last found our ideal spot. Without bothering to make inquiries regarding the place’s ownership, or to consider that we might be trespassing upon private property, we rolled up our sleeves and began to clean house.

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Pictures of the Log Cabin Below





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