Travels Without Charley

Steinbeck's Little Land Ship

Tuesday, 21 September 2010 05:31 AM Written by


Steinbeck carefully planned his trip for months. He studied maps to choose routes that dodged big cities but circled the edge of the country from Maine to Seattle and back.

He also packed his Spartan camper shell Rocinante with everything he thought he’d ever need.

He had a pile of books like William Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” that he hoped to read but never did. He had tools, spare truck parts and several rifles.

He also had a propane stove, a table that converted to a bed, closets and a toilet, as you can see if you use a camera to light up the interior of his camper at its eternal parking place in the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Ca.


It was Steinbeck's idea to carry his little house around with him so he could invite people he met in for a friendly drink.

His truck cab was nothing like the luxuriously appointed pickups today. He had no AC and only an AM radio -- not even push-button.

No wonder he was always talking to Charley.

The Paper Delivered

Monday, 20 September 2010 05:42 PM Written by


This blog is warming up its engines but still stuck in Pittsburgh -- Eighty Four, Pa., to be exact.

In yesterday's Post-Gazette -- the edition of the PG you can carry around and read anywhere without worrying about a battery  -- I delivered the motivations for my "T w/o C" road trip the old-fashioned way -- via newsprint.  

Stacy Innerst drew a great map. Maps are a pretty big part of this adventure -- there's Steinbeck's original "Travels With Charley" map, Stacy's "Steinbeck" map and this blog's interactive Steigerwald/Google map built by Laura Malt Schneiderman.

Plus, I'll be posting other road maps as soon as I get rolling.


Meanwhile, I'm packing and getting my red RAV4 set up so if I need to crash somewhere -- not literally -- I can sleep in it at campgrounds, rest stops, truck stops or Walmart parking lots.

It's not as homey as Rocinante, Steinbeck's truck/camper, but it'll be a much smoother ride on the road.



Chasing John Steinbeck's Ghost

Thursday, 16 September 2010 11:45 AM Written by


September 16, 2010

The book “Travels With Charley” is my map, timeline and guide to where John Steinbeck was, when he was there and what he was thinking about during his spin around America in the fall of 1960.  

But Steinbeck's book is often vague and confusing about time and place. And it doesn't include a number of places Steinbeck went but did not include in his book.

Since Steinbeck took few notes and left no maps, itinerary or expense vouchers among the tons of written material and memorabilia he left us, I have had to rely on other sources to follow his cold trail.

I’ve used clues from letters he sent from the road, newspaper articles written in 1960 (and later) and TV-detective logic to make the best guesses I can.

I am going everywhere Steinbeck actually went on his 10,000-mile trip across 34 states, I think.  I’m taking the same U.S. highways he took – except where they’ve been buried under interstates.

I'm leaving from Sag Harbor, Long Island, on Thursday, Sept. 23 -- 50 years to the day after Steinbeck and Charley set out in their overloaded pickup-truck/camper hybrid.

I won’t take nearly three months to circumnavigate the country, as he did, however, because I won't be spending nearly five weeks off-road staying at posh hotels or visiting friends and family -- as he did.

I'll be moving quickly in my red Toyota RAV4, practicing drive-by journalism at its finest or worst. I’ll report and opine on what I see along the Old Steinbeck Highway in 2010 and try to discover, document -- or imagine -- what Steinbeck saw on his journey in 1960.

 I'll also try to find out how the simpler, less prosperous and less lovely America that he observed, critiqued and worried about has changed or not changed in half a century. And whether those changes have turned out for the better or the worse.

Oh, yeah. About the dog.

I’m not taking one.  

Not because I don't like dogs.  My big joke -- which I won't repeat again -- is that I just couldn’t find a dog that knows how to read Google maps and Twitter at the same time.

But even  if I had our family dog, the late, great Alex, I wouldn't subject him to the long and crazy road ahead.  

First stop is Sag Harbor, where Steinbeck loafed when he wasn't living in his Manhattan brownstone and where his backyard ended at the ocean's edge.

'Dogging Steinbeck' -- A True Book

Tuesday, 14 September 2010 01:00 AM Written by


Nov. 14, 2012

For half a century, we were told John Steinbeck's beloved road book "Travels With Charley in Search of America" was a work of nonfiction. It wasn't.

As former Post-Gazette staffer Bill Steigerwald proved on the road and in libraries during 2010, Steinbeck's iconic bestseller was a literary fraud. It was not a true or honest account of the cross-country trip Steinbeck made in the fall of 1960. It was mostly fiction and lies.

"Dogging Steinbeck" is Steigerwald's new ebook.

Part literary detective story, part American travel book, part history book, part book review, part critique of the mainstream media, part primer in drive-by journalism, mini-Steinbeck bio, it is the true story of his own 11,276-mile road trip across America and how he stumbled upon the truth about Steinbeck's last major work, ruffled the PH.Ds of some top Steinbeck scholars and forced the publisher of "Charley" to tell readers the book was too fictionalized to be taken literally.

"Dogging Steinbeck" is for sale on for $6.99 -- only $2.04 more than what Steinbeck's hardback sold for in 1962 when the U.S. dollar was worth about seven times more than it is today.

Anyone who's interested in John Steinbeck, the truth about "Travels With Charley" and how much America has changed in the last half century America should read it, Steigerwald's mother says, and help him recover the costs of his two year adventure.

Bill Steigerwald

Posts of interest:

A “Travels With Charley” Timeline.

“America Looks Good From Steinbeck’s Highway” is the last of eight print-side travel stories I wrote in 2010 for the Post-Gazette.

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