In 1956, Westminster student Joe Hahn decided to let his thumb and $160 take him on a two-month exploration around Europe.
He packed along steno pads to record everything. Nightly, Hahn noted the weather, and whom he'd met and what he'd done each day. He sent home 12 letters to his parents, Joseph and Ruth Hahn in St. Louis. He carried a big suitcase with "USA" roughly painted on the side.
For months after his homecoming, Hahn took his trip notes and typed them up. He created his record in a red loose-leaf notebook, pasting in telegraph cables and newspaper clippings and mementos.
He hung onto that notebook for years. And now - 60 years later, and 81 years old - Hahn's notebook is about to become a published book that anyone can buy.
"It's really an exciting experience to write a book," he said. "This is something I've never done before, and I'm all excited about it. I just hope I stay healthy so I can enjoy it."
The 1956 trip wasn't his first time in Europe, Hahn said. He had gone with his parents and sisters the year before to celebrate their wedding anniversary. During that trip, he had met a memorable girl in Germany, and several more on the way home via cross-Atlantic ship.
"On the way back, I met two girls from the University of Minnesota who had been hitchhiking around and staying at youth hostels," he said
That put an enticing idea into Hahn's head that he could do the same.
"I asked my dad if I could go and he said yes, if you spend your own money," Hahn said.
Hahn spent his junior year at Westminster College, saved his money, and got on a ship to go to Europe June 5, all on his own.
"I went from St. Louis to New York, and got on a ship to Southampton, England," he said. "I took a taxi up to the truck route and started hitchhiking. I got 16 lifts."
On the previous ship crossing, Hahn had also met a drummer from Preston, England.
"He was kind of keen on my two sisters," Hahn said.
Hahn stayed in touch with the drummer via mail, and when he landed at Southampton, he hitchhiked there for starters.
"He invited me to come to his house and visit him in Preston, England for a week," Hahn said.
From there, Hahn traveled to Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany (and East Berlin), Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France.
In Rosswangen, Germany, Hahn stayed with his relatives he'd met the year before, and tracked down that girl - Elfrieda.
"She'd taken a week off," he said, adding she was very pretty but he didn't marry her. "She's still married and has four children."
His third planned stop was in Vienna, Austria where Hahn had met a waitress he also wanted to reconnect with.
"I always met girls," he said, admitting the reason he came to Westminster in the first place was to be near his high school sweetheart.
At his fourth stop in L'Abri, Switzerland, he stayed at a home owned by Francis Schaeffer and his wife Edith, who founded "the Shelter," an evangelical Christian organization. Hahn said he accepted Jesus as his savior, and wrote a letter home telling his parents of the awakening - also included in his book.
"The rest of my trip, I just went where my thumb would take me," Hahn said, adding he returned home Aug. 6 and returned to school and graduated. The Fulton Sun-Gazette interviewed him at that time and ran a friendly article about Hahn's travels, too.
Hahn did a variety of things in the course of his working life, including a 28-year career with the state Department of Transportation as a right-of-way negotiator. He and his first wife's family owned and operated five laundries. He helped cellphone companies lease land for towers, and assisted when the airport in St. Louis needed land to expand.
"I've just been busy all my life," he said.
In 1996, Hahn was baching it. He answered a singles ad placed by a woman, Nubia, from Bogota, Columbia.
"She was a widow for 12 years," he said. "I wrote her a nice letter."
They went out, and discovered Nubia worked at the same retirement center where Hahn's mother was living.
"We got married in the chapel at the retirement center," he said, adding now the couple lives in a retirement center in the St. Louis area.
In Oct. 2011, Hahn and his wife traveled to Europe, and they visited Rosswangen. Hahn said he'd been given wrong information that Elfrieda had died, but upon arrival, learned she wasn't.
"I thought she was dead, but she was very much alive," he said.
Hahn added he and his wife had dinner with Elfrieda and her spouse, and since then, they have continued to stay in touch.
One of Hahn's acquaintances at his retirement home, a math professor, learned about his 1956 trip to Europe and asked to read Hahn's loose-leaf book last year.
"He said I should get it published," Hahn said. "I saw an ad the next day from Page Publishing and in July 2015, I sent them a copy."
The book, "Hitchhiking Through Europe in 1956," is 260 pages, full of photography, and should be out later this month on Amazon.com and other booksellers.
"They say it's a good book," he said of his publisher. "I dedicated the book to my mother."
The book also includes the 12 letters Hahn sent home to his parents in 1956.
"Unknown to me, she kept those letters and when I was 40 years old, she gave them to me," he said. "Now I'm 81, and the book is being published."
Hahn published book 40 years onA 1956 Westminster grad, he's excited to see what happens by Jenny Gray | October 4, 2016 at 2:19 a.m. | Updated October 4, 2016 at 12:43 p.m.
Westminster grad Joe Hahn with the original version of his travel book