One time, we were in the car on Highway 101. We had to take 380 to get over to 280 to get home. "Where did the highways get their numbers?" I asked to make conversation. I was 11.
"Well, Shorty. I don't know." At that moment, I realized that my weekend was over. We’d spend it researching how highways got their numbers.
When we got home, we sat at the table and went through the Ma Bell Phone Book. DMV? No. They do motor vehicles. Department of Transportation. Yes, they handle the roads. Dad helped me write a letter (several of them until it was right— no backspaces or Control X/Control V available). We then went and got stamps and mailed the letter.
A few weeks later, we got a letter back telling us that North-South highways are odd numbered and East-West highways are even numbered. It went on with more detail, but I didn't really care by then.
Just now, I googled this question. I got 28,500,000 results. The first is Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Numbered_Highways), “United States Numbered Highways," which explains it in great detail without having to use the Ma Bell Phone Book, pen, paper, draft letters, final letters, envelopes or stamps.
When I was nine, I'd saved up $50 and I wanted us to have sleeping bags so that we could go camping. Dad said that he'd buy his and Mom's and that I could buy mine and Todd's, but I had to research different sleeping bags to find the best for what we had to spend. I was nine; I didn't know anything thing about sleeping bags. But not to worry-- Dad was to teach me how to research. At age nine.
This process would have been a lot different today. Today, I could teach my kids to open their Internet browser on their iPods and search, "best sleeping bag." Done.
But back then, there was no internet, internet browser, or Google. What did we have? The library and store clerks. Dad explained that we couldn't just go to the store and trust the clerk. Sometimes they are stupid and sometimes they just try to sell you the most expensive. So you have to know before you go.
Dad took me to the library and we we were there for hours. We first asked the librarian where the best place to find this information would be. She directed us to the issues of a magazine called, “Consumer Reports”. Dad had me look through them and I found an old issue about camping equipment that including sleeping bags.
I read the article and made notes. It outlined the different outer and inner materials with pros and cons. We talked through it and decided we wouldn't be camping in snow so crossed those off the list. Rain wouldn't be on purpose, but dew could happen, so while water-PROOF wasn't imperative, water-RESISTANT was.
I remember deciding on an nylon exterior with a Dacron II interior. I remember this clearly almost forty years later. In my quick Google search just now, Dacron had is founding by Dupont in the 1950s and by the 1970s it was in it's second rendition. It's still used in pillows and, likely, sleeping bags.
So then it was time for the shopping. Did we just go to the store and buy them? No. We went home. To the telephone and back to the good ol’ Ma Bell Yellow Pages. Dad had me call Montgomery Wards, Best, Sears, and a local camping store. I asked if they had Dacron II filled nylon sleeping bags and the cost. I made a chart of each and then we chose Sears. The next day (yes, this took all weekend) we drove to Sears and I chose our sleeping bags and counted out my dollars to the clerk. I got green, Todd got orange, Mom got brown and Dad got blue. We used them for many years and my pride at having shopped for them never dwindled.
All of that said, I still just teach my kids to open their Internet browser and search. It’s a different world and they need to learn the skills of the new world, too. Not all old school skills are still necessary. That said, they did have to listen to this story about road numbers and sleeping bags. No sense in wasting a good story about how I had to walk 5 miles in the snow to get to school research all weekend to find answers.