The research for the Route 66 encyclopedia project has opened some very interesting doors, exposed some dusty closets filled with a wide array of long forgotten wonders, and has even allowed me to shine the light in very dark places. Counted among these discoveries were the adventures of the intrepid explorer A.L. Westgard, a pioneer in the development of early highways and automotive tourism.
In 1915, as vice president and director of transcontinental highways for the National Highways Association, Westgard wrote an extensive feature for Motor magazine. The article provides fascinating insight to the construction of the foundations for Route 66 and the US highway system.
“Owing to the recent improvement of the transcontinental routes, it is no longer necessary to load one’s car down with all sorts of paraphernalia to combat the many difficulties which formerly were strewed along the path, nor is it, in this day of dependable motor cars, necessary to carry a multiplicity of parts.”
“To begin with, limit your personal outfit to a minimum, allowing only a suitcase to each person, and ship your trunk. Use khaki or old loose clothing. Some wraps and a tarpaulin to protect against cool nights and provide cover in the case of being compelled to sleep outdoors are essential. Amber glasses, not to dark, will protect your eyes against the glare of the desert.”
“Carry sixty feet of 5/8 inch Manilla rope, a pointed spade, a small axe with the blade protected by a leather sheet, a camp lantern, a collapsible canvas bucket with spout and a duffel bag for the extra clothing and wraps. Start out with new tires all around, of the same size possible, and two extra tires also, with four extra tubes. Select a tire with tough fabric; this is economical and will save annoyance. Use only the best grade of lubricating oil and carry a couple of one gallon cans on the running boards as extra supply …”
In regards to the Old Trails Road, “This route had about two million dollars expended on its improvement during 1914 and a like amount will be spent on its further betterment during 1915. At the present time it takes first place, looked at either from the standpoint of surface condition, scenery, historic interest or hotel accommodations.”
“Across the state of Missouri will be found substantial concrete culverts and bridges, built preparatory to macadamizing the entire route. At present, however, there are still several counties where the soil makes bad going when wet, though for the major distance will be found good macadam or well graded dragged dirt roads, though somewhat hilly.”
From Santa Fe, “Nineteen miles out one almost jerks his car to a stop, and, if I am a judge of human nature, spends a half hour in admiring contemplation from the rim of La Bajada Hill.” “After taking several photographs the traveler leaves the rim of the precipitous lava hill and gingerly proceeds down a very winding road, where three or four turns are so sharp that with a long wheelbase he will be compelled to back up to make it.”
“Though assured by the State Engineer that the new road from Albuquerque to Gallup will be open for traffic this spring, I think it might be well, in case of possible delay of the opening of that route, to state here that a fair road leads from Albuquerque to Socorro, crossing a new bridge over the Rio Grande near the latter town, and thence on good to fair road via Magdalena across the Augustine Plains and the Datil Mountains to Springerville, Arizona, thence via St. Johns to Holbrook, where it joins the regular Old Trails Route …”
In our next post we will get to the meat and potatoes of travel on the best road in America, for 1915, across the desert southwest.