When I was a kid, I was struck with the notion of how wagon train immigrants made
their way across uncharted territory into areas with no roads and sometimes even
no trails. It's not like they just read a map and took exit 236 off the Interstate ! But
I don't think a lot of people ever really give this kind of thing much thought. Getting
a wagon over mountain ranges often involved disassembling the wagon and packing
the parts over rough terrain !!! ... only to reassemble it once the ground was clear enough
to use it again !!! Seeing stretches of abandoned road along a new one gave me pause
to consider the people and vehicles and speed of life that once traveled that path now
left to be forgotten.
With all the freeways and boulevards designed for minimal curves and maximum
speed we have these days, I often wonder if anyone else ever thinks about and tries
to find "the old road"?
If a person set out to travel from Portland, O. to Butte, Montana via their swanky
new automobile in 1913, exactly how would they have gone about getting there ???
Our modern roads departments have done a fair job of using the easiest right-of-way,
and many times those old roads were simply buried under a new one through the tight
stretches. Other times, entirely different routes were favored and the old road was left
to return back the weeds.
As many of us early car nuts know, there was a strong political push in the Model T
era for "better roads" and many of the early two laner highways we knew as kids came
into being from old wagon roads about this time.
Anyway, ... I thought I'd share this "map" of the State Roads of Washington State
from 1913 with additional notes showing updates on new routes and stretches abandoned
by the 1915 Legislature.
If anyone has ever tried to trace the route shown "abandoned" running from Ellensburg
to Wenatchee, you would have a very good sense of what a cross-country trip would
have been like on these "Improved Roads" back when automobiles were first gaining
popularity. I recently drove over Mullan Pass from Helena to Elliston, Mt. A wonderful
trip back in time. One car really get a sense of what life was like before the coming of
the modern road.
Here's a link to the map I mentioned: http://content.libraries.wsu.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/maps/id/755/rec/344
Thanks for posting this, Burger.
We have a 1914 Hudson touring and a story that came with it about a Good Roads tour in '15 or '16 with Governor Ernest Lister riding in our car.
Don't have any proof (documentation) but supposedly they went from the Canadian border to the Columbia River.
Nice to see the roads they probably took.
When my mom and her brothers and sisters were kids, back in the teens, there was still a lot of open country around here, especially in the Flint Hills to the east. Open country means not only few roads, but also no trees except along the streams. My grandfather came to Kansas as a toddler, and grew up on the prairie in the seventies and eighties. The girls told me they would be out riding in a buggy and he would leave the road and take off across country, and go directly to their destination. I wish he had lived long enough for me to know him, and I wish I could bring him back to tell about the old days.
The Sacramento Valley Model T Club has an annual tour to Clarksville, Ca, about 30 miles East of Sacramento. The local folks along old Highway 40 open their gates and Let us drive on the old highway which is now on private property.
People often ask/comment about my old cars with the automatic assumption of parades
and car shows. And I will admit, I too was infected with that idea too for a number of years.
But I always preferred just seeing old cars out on the road and wanted to channel my own
driving experience the same way. If people are going to see my car/s, it will be out on the
road somewhere, and not parked with 40 like cars in some sweltering parking lot while I work
on my sunburn, you know ? And the older I get, the more I feel this way .... go experience
THE EXPERIENCE ! Who needs a plastic trophy ? I get a "trophy" with every big, smiling
face that erupts when they see the old car. When I come home from a car show, all I want to do
is take a shower and wash it off. When I came home from a backwater road trip, I feel energized
all week !
Good stuff !
This is an interesting map, in that I just finished reading the book "Me and the Model T". This book is a true story about a Roscoe Sheller who was a part of a Ford Dealership in the early teens. Part of the story is how they had to travel from North Yakima to Seattle to get a car. The book has many incites to what life was like in those days. Thanks for posting Mike
I ALWAYS try to do that too. It's a good pastime if you aren't in a hurry.
We always try to drive the "old roads" when out in the T. I have driven roads here in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas that I had to lower the top and windshield to get thru the low tree limbs. Even as late as the mid 1970s a lot of the state highways were still gravel. And that was the "improved roads" A lot of the farm roads and driveways (that could be miles long) just took the "path of least resistance". I remember sections of roads that may be 3 or 4 roads wide. By that I mean a section of road, sometimes a few miles long would be 3 or 4 roads running side by side weaving in and out of the trees, rocks, or ???. People would just drive the "best one" till it got too bad and then move over to the next best. Usually mud and freezing ground is what made a section impassable. You just moved over to a more solid piece of ground and drove it till it was no longer useable. I used to have a 64 Ford Pickup that I got to drive to school sometimes. I got it stuck in the middle of Arkansas Hwy 254 buried in mud to above the headlights. You could just barely see the top of the headlights. I could not get it unstuck that day and by the next day it was frozen in. It stayed stuck in the middle of the highway for three days. That was the stretch in front of our farm when I was still in school in aprox. 1973. The highway dept. finally fixed it (a little bit) when the school bus got stuck in the same hole. They did not get it out for two days. The kids had to exit the school bus thru the back door, because the side door was buried. The front wheels were almost out of sight in the mud. The kids, stayed at our house till the parents came and got them. Every ones parents knew almost immediately that the bus was stuck. My mom had phoned the neighbors on the "party line" Facebook has nothing on a "party line" ..... Anyway the good old days were very interesting at best .... Donnie Brown ...
This reminds me of a book that my wife recommended; Eight Women Two ModeTs and the American West. In 1924, these schoolteachers bought two Model Ts and drove from Nebraska to California and back. In some places, there were no roads, others, they were nearly impassable. A good read.
Whenever possible, I try to follow old routes or highways. In eastern Washington there are several. There are a number of people trying to mark out the Yellowstone Highway and several sections are known. These include Spokane to Walla Walla, sections between Pasco and Yakima, Selah to Ellensberg and on over Bluet Pass. Another source of old roads are the old Blue Books. I have one for the northwest from 1917. Good reading and a great aid in finding the old Roads. Historical societies are also a good source. The Fort Walla Walla Museum has good info on the old Mullen Road from Walla Walla to Missoula, Mt. Much of that road can also be followed an sections are primitive. Research and then have a fun drive!
Burger, People often used GPS... Well sort of. There are books (travel guides) that were written in the turn of the century. Here is a version called the "Automobile Blue book" (standard road guide of America) This book was written to give detailed directions from one town to the next. It Often used landmarks as reference points.
The Blue Book sold advertising to Garages, Hotels, service stations, machine shops, Etc. in return the garage or shop would hang a sign saying they were associated with the blue book.
Here is a copy of a page from the "Blue Book" To give you an idea of how the directions were given.
If you'd like to see this book in person come on down to the Antique Auto Ranch.
(Message edited by mikerobison on September 21, 2015)
My grandfather's favorite story in his later years was to recount his drive from Fillmore, CA to Ft. Smith, AR in 1923. The car was a 1921 Sheridan touring, carrying my grandfather, grandmother, and their six children, ages 5 to 18 years.
One of the things that I recall from his tale was that there were no maps. They would simply stop at each town, buy supplies, and then ask around for directions to the next town. Somehow, the advice method worked. (When you come to the fork in the road, take it.)
He said they drove off the pavement about 20 miles into the trip and never saw pavement again until they drove back onto that same stretch of road on the way home.
At one point, he was advised that the bridge just outside town was washed out. The closest available car bridge was some miles downstream and would add nearly a day to the trip. The alternative? "Most folks have been crossing on the railroad bridge. Just stop and listen for trains, then drive the ties as fast as you can." So that's what they did. Very bumpy ride.
Burger, I don't know if it is still the way I remember it, but when I left Fairbanks Alaska in 1972 I travelled the AL-CAN highway it was billed as 1523 miles of the best UN-improved road in the world. I made it all the way in my 1949 Chevy and was amazed at how far one could go without seeing another human...very relaxing!
When I wad a kid, there was a stretch of road where you could see the old highway in several places. My dad had once pointed out what was left of an old bridge on that road you could see from the one we travelled. I was always fascinated by the ruins of that bridge and looked for it every time we were on that highway.
Huell Houser did a show injunction with the Kern County Model T Club some years back on the old original Ridge Route between Castaic, Ca and Gorman, Ca. Some of you SoCal guys have probably driven it.
The Yellowstone Trail, laid out in roughly 1908, crosses my ranch at Westmore, Montana. The original cement obelisk, again painted Yellow, with the sign showing directions is still at the corner.
You can still drive hundreds of miles of it in Montana and North and South Dakota. Some of it isn't much changed, if at all, from the way it was then.
I belong to the Yellowstone Trail Association. This is a link to their latest newsletter, the Arrow. http://www.yellowstonetrail.org/Arrows/Arrow33.pdf
Stan, thanks for mentioning the old Yellowstone trail. I was not aware of it's existance, tho on a few minutes research see that it goes only about 100 miles north of me. I am familiar with the old Deadwood Trail that goes through Pierre and wanders west along Hwy 14. Every couple of years there is a group that takes teams and horses across it west to the Black hills. They usually follow close highways, but the old ruts are still visible across the prairie. We see them every time we head west to the Black Hills.
I routinely drive my T on section line roads and on some trails along the river. These are not much more than 2 tracks and I believe closely approximate the roads available in the 20's. I'm amazed that the T can easily negotiate roads that moderns couldn't even consider taking.
I belong to the Yellowstone Trail Assoc as well. Lots of good info on their web site.
"The Arrow" is a great newsletter. Thanks for posting the link to it, Stan.
We were on the AlCan hwy earlier this year with the Southern California Model T club. Most is paved, though a stretch of about 100 miles near Desolation Lake was paved but has been torn up to be repaved.
There is a very interesting book about travel in the USA in 1921 is called Model T Tramps. It recounts the story of two young men driving a 1919 Model T to the four corner states in 1921/2. The trip took about a year, their maximum speed was 25mph on a Florida concrete road and their were NO paved roads in Montana.
I have recently acquired a 1922 Automobile Blue Book that a friend gave me. Just like Mike said earlier it was the paper edition of Google Maps.
Tony: I suppose it was inevitable they pave that road but it sure was fun. I suppose that it was needed by the people putting the pipeline in from Point Barrow to get the oil to the refineries....Too bad.
One of my favorite "old highway" trips was Federal #1 in Baja California and Baja California Sur in 1970. In those days the pavement ended at El Rosario if I remember correctly, and from there on the road was sand, or rocks, or fine dust, or various combinations of all three. It was a glorious trip, uncluttered by the modern world. There were no filling stations. We bought gas pumped by hand from 55 gallon drums at little ranchitos.
Our vehicle was an old Border Patrol jeep wagon.
The drive across the dry lake bed at Lago Chapala raised a bit of dust.
We camped on the beach at Bahia de Los Angeles on the Sea of Cortez. In the week we were there we saw one other car, when some local guys came out to fish.
Sadly, you can't make this trip now. The highway has been paved.
(Message edited by steve_jelf_parkerfield_ks on September 23, 2015)
If I ever get mt speedster done I'll be heading up to Ely Mn from Il using roads that existed in '23. I made use of old maps, the towns "roads" passed through, google maps, and wikipedia to figure out which roads there would be. Took hours, but I did it. I can provide a copy of the Wis rout if anyone wants. It is Beloit through Superior with Baraboo and Blackwater Falls in the middle. I bypassed Eau Claire and hit Spooner.