Saturday, January 28, 2017

What ever happened to the spirit of adventure?

All photos from the National Old Trails Road Gallery

Oh why did they get to have all the fun?
It took a hardy and adventurous bunch to venture away from towns and the immediate settled areas, Once west of the Mississippi River the condition and even existence of passable roads could not be taken for granted. In many places the road only consisted of two tire tracks in the prairie extending out into the horizon. 

I had seen this book advertised in an old car magazine from the Fifties. It was in an ad featuring the various titles published by Floyd Clymer. Clymer was an early auto historian and his series of "Motoring Scrapbooks"  documented the many hundreds of machines and manufacturers at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The Scrapbooks were primarily just copies of period advertising and are a pleasure to read. I remember seeing a notation at the bottom of the advertisement that advised that "this is not a racing book".

This is a fictional novel that describes the events that transpire in a small Upstate New York village when the first motorcars are brought into this town. Their is a conflict between the owner of the livery business, as well as the common citizens that don't like the noisy machines that frighten their horses. This will develop and becomes a political showdown between the budding motoring class, who would like an "improved" highway cut off that will bring the motoring tourist into their town, and the existing Gentry and power brokers. It is a well written story, entertaining, with interesting characters. It puts a human face on a historical process. 

Ancient? Most of the vehicles were only 30-40 years old.

I keep my eyes open when at Antique Fairs and in Antique stores. I found this copy in a store in Clovis when I was there a couple of months ago. I managed to find a copy of one of Cylmer's Motoring Scrapbooks at a few weeks ago in the Santa Cruz flea market. I guess you could be a spoilsport and say that I could find these on E Bay. Probably, but usually I wasn't even thinking about the book until I saw it for sale. The fun is in the hunt and discovery. 

This next book is one of my favorites. American Road. It chronicles the Army Cross Country Motor Train of 1919. After WWI it becomes apparent that it might be militarily useful to have a through highway that would connect the two coasts. Luckily there was already plans under way to determine the best cross country route, this was to be named the Lincoln Highway. The Lincoln Highway Association attempted to gain the cooperation of communities across the country that were willing to support the building of improved highways in their counties.  It was initially started by major automakers, especially Henry Joy of Packard and tire manufacturers like Harvey Firestone. Henry Ford would have no part of it. He felt that such a massive undertaken should be financed by the Federal government and State and County agencies. It becomes a sanctioned federal government project when the Army decides to send out the land expedition. Interestingly enough a newly commissioned young lieutenant colonel named Dwight D. Eisenhower is assigned to the project. It seems that Ike developed a real interest in the transportation needs of the Country. After his exposure to the Autobahn in WWII he came home and championed the building of our Interstate Highway System. 

This book is very interesting and describes in detail how arduous the passage was. There are some incredible photos in the book. Conditions were pretty much the same as those in the pictures at the top of the page. This was after WWI and while there were many cities that were already quite modern with paved streets, electricity, telegraph, running water and sanitary sewers. The rural areas were another matter. There was a network of roads that connected the cities on each coast, but interior cities were primarily connected by the railroads. Very few people would try to drive from coast to coast. This was an era when most people did not venture very far from their birthplace. Everything you needed was close at hand, work, family, school and church. The graveyard too.

When Henry Ford envisioned the uses of his Model T, he felt that it would help Farmers and people living in small towns to stay in touch with friends and relatives. He also thought it would primarily used for pleasure touring. He probably never thought that cars would be used for daily commutes of over a hundred miles! Of course he probably never thought that their would ever be a network of cross country roads in his lifetime.

This book, Get a horse, was written in the early 1950s and it is a general history of the Auto Age in America. What is remarkable is that there were still lots of people around that remembered the early days. Most people's Grand Parents and even Parents had a first hand experience with the arrival of the horseless carriage. During the half Century chronicled in the book, the automobile evolved from horseless carriage pictured on the cover to the "Shoebox" Ford and revolutionary 1949 OHV Cadillac V8.

There is a great photo section that showcases the first Packard, named "Old Pacific"  that crossed the country in 1903. One of the first cars to do this. 

Is the spirit of adventure dead? I don't think so. Even though the cars of today are amazing comfortable, safe, and reliable and the roadways are generally smooth as glass, we all look forward to a road trip. My Son just returned from a two week, cross country trip. I've managed to put 10,000 miles on my XJ6 since I bought it in March. I shared some of my roadtrips in an earlier post. I've got lots of plans for more trips in the year to come. 

Back in the days when I did most of my long range trips on motorcycles, I really felt like an adventurer. On a motorcycle you have to brave the Elements "mano a mano". You are intimately involved in the experience. It's not like the only effort you have is setting the cruise control on your Lincoln. You have to battle the road to gain every mile. Motorcycle touring helps connect you to the pioneering spirit of the last Century. At least you feel that way. 

Back in the day I was younger also. I was covering new ground, a combination of discovery and freedom. Motorcycle touring was an accessible challenge and it provided a real sense of achievement. In fact all of my early road trips were by motorcycle. I took three very significant trips.

The first was through the Pacific Northwest. 

The second was around the western states.

The third was my most epic. A four week solo trip around the Country. 

These were great adventures. These were all accomplished before I graduated from college. I've got a lot more years on my odometer but I still find myself anticipating another over the road journey.

One trip that I'm dreaming about is a possible trip up the West Coast in a Model T. Will it ever happen? 
Time will tell.

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