Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road in twenty coffee-fueled days in the New York spring of 1951, on eight long pieces of drawing paper he had inherited—along with his apartment and wife—from Bill Cannastra, an artist who died the previous autumn climbing out a subway train window at Bleecker Street. Kerouac cut the paper to fit his typewriter and taped it together to form what he called “the scroll,” 120 feet long.

In 1957 Viking Press finally brought out a version of On the Road with revisions made over the years by Kerouac, including self-censorship to render it more publishable, plus changes pursued (and some unilaterally made) by Viking. These including the removal of some characters and fictional names for others. Jack became Sal Paradise; Neal Cassady, Dean Moriarty; Allen Ginsberg, Carlo Marx. The gay relationships in particular were toned down. The book was an instantaneous critical and popular success.

Park View Hotel, 1904 (the view was of Triangle Park). Photo by L. M. Fitzhugh.

Park View Hotel, 1904 (the view was of Triangle Park). Photo by L. M. Fitzhugh.

During the six years between typing the scroll and publication of the book, Kerouac kept furiously writing: Visions of Cody, Dr. Sax, Maggie Cassidy, The Subterraneans, Some of the Dharma, Mexico City Blues, Visions of Gerard, The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, Tristessa, and book one of Desolation Angels, none of which were published till after the success of On the Road. He also traveled and worked, including, in 1953, as a railroad brakeman for the Southern Pacific in San Luis Obispo. He lived for a couple of months at what is now The Establishment, was originally the Park View Hotel, and was then the Colonial Hotel, writing two surviving “unbroken word sketches”

Aerial view of Colonial Hotel 1950s

Aerial photo of the Colonial Hotel in the period Jack Kerouac stayed there (center of picture, where Santa Barbara and Osos meet at Triangle Park)

Behind big engine 3669
In the bright day of 
San Luis Obispo the
mtns. of hope rise 
up, treed, green, sweet
—a rippling palm
behind the pot Steams—the young firemen of 
Calif. waiting to
make the hill up to
the bleakmouth panorama plateau of 
Margarita where
stars of the night are holy—


All I want
Is love when I want it
Rest when I want it
Food when I want it
Drink when I want it
Drugs when I want it
The rest is bullshit
I am now going out 
to meditate in the 
grass of San Luis Creek
& Talk to hobos & 
Get some sun & worry
Where my soul is going
& What to do & why 
as ever & ever shit

Southern Pacific engine 3704

Southern Pacific engine 3704, the same model as big engine 3669. Collection of Byron Bostwick.

Kerouac was not the only character from On the Road who ended up in the area. Hal Chase (Chad King in the original published version) was responsible for introducing Jack to Neal Cassady, the emotional visionary whom Jack pursues across America and into Mexico. By the time Jack reaches Denver, Chase is trying to disentangle himself from the Beats and their crazy lives. Chase’s wife Martha was from San Luis Obispo County, and they bought land in Paso Robles and had eight children. (Chase, after watching the doctor deliver the first one, delivered the subsequent seven himself.)

Hal Chase at Bolinas. Photo by Chase’s friend Alex Gough, owner of the Sauer-Adams Adobe.

Hal Chase at Bolinas. Photo by Chase’s friend Alex Gough, owner of the Sauer-Adams Adobe.

The Scroll’s display at the San Luis Obispo City-County Library, beginning September 21, is sponsored by the Coastal Awakening project. Read the Coastal Awakening website and Nick Wilson’s article for the Tribune to find out more.