“The best commentary on the road between Santa Fe and Albuquerque is that it took us less than three hours to make the sixty-six miles, whereas the seventy-three miles from Las Vegas to Santa Fe took us nearly six.” Emily Post, By Motor to The Golden Gate, 1916. The first coast to coast trip by automobile occurred in 1903. In 1909 factories in America manufactured more than 825,000 horse drawn vehicles compared to 125,000 automobiles. And yet in 1915, the year that Emily Post and Edsel Ford followed the National Old Trails Road to see the scenic wonders of the southwest on their journey to the west coast, more than 20,000 people from outside the state of California arrived at the Panama Pacific Exposition by automobile. Needless to say, it was an era of rapid transition.
In this photo from the Don Gray collection you can see both the Sparton sign and the NOTR sign west of Williams, Arizona.
For a number of years I have been gathering information on the infancy of the American auto industry, the rise of the Good Roads movement and the named highways with the intention being the writing of a book about this period of dramatic societal evolution. That was the subject of a presentation made last October at the site of what I had been led to believe would become the Hackett Auto Museum in Jackson, Michigan. And as Jackson and the surrounding area was at the heart of an industrial boom that included more than 25 automobile manufacturers during the first decades of the 20th century, the trip was also about research.
One of the contacts made during this trip was Russell Rein who has been documenting the history of the named highways for many, many years. He is also a passionate student of the history of a leading manufacturer in Jackson, Sparks-Wirthington. This company was the largest manufacturer of automobile horns in the world during the teens, and later became a leading producer of radios and pioneer in television development as well as manufacturing. In 1915, Clifford and Harry Sparks, sons of one of the company founders, set out from Chicago to San Francisco in a new Ford truck putting up road signs that were a public service as well as an advertising campaign. The signs read, “Safety First – Sound Sparton.”
Fast forward to this past Friday. For several years I have been in discussion with Don Gray, a fellow with an interesting family history. The chapter of that history that spans the period 1910 to 1930 is chronicled in an extensive collection of family photos. Yesterday we finally had the opportunity to meet and to peruse his collection during a visit with Andy Sansom, the archivist at the Mohave Museum of History & Arts in Kingman, Arizona.
All of the materials in his collection were fascinating. As an example, one photo was of his grandfather, on a Michaelson motorcycle at the Padre Canyon Bridge that was under construction at the time. That would be 1914. And then we came to a photo taken on the National Old Trails Road between Ash Fork and Williams, Arizona. One lady in the photograph was standing next to a Sparton sign!
Needless to say the new presentation about the National Trails Road developed for spring and summer 2020 will be revised before its debut in Needles, California on February 7. And it looks like a new chapter in the 5 Minutes With Jimaudio podcast series about the National Old Trails Road has been added.
Meanwhile the search continues. I will be meeting with Don Gray again son. And I will be returning to Jackson this year for more research and a series of presentations that is in development.
Before I40, before Route 66, people got their kicks on the National Old Trails Road in the southwest. That is a story that needs to be told. It has adventure. It has adventurers like Edsel Ford, Emily Post and Ezra Meeker. It has famous and colorful people like Buffalo Bill Cody, Harry Truman and Louis Chevrolet. It has auto racing, serial killers and pioneering automobile manufacturers giving their vehicles a bit of real world testing.
The National Old Trails Road at the Colorado River. Photo Mohave Museum of History & Arts.
Last year I was privileged by opportunities to speak
about Route 66 and that highways renaissance at Cuba Fest in Cuba, Missouri, the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, at the Miles of Possibilities Conference in Bloomington-Normal, at a fund-raising event for the Route 66 Association of Kingman, at the first European Route 66 Festival, at a school in Bensheim, Germany, and at a Promote Kingman event where the new video series, Jim Hinckley’s America: A Trek Along Route 66 was introduced. This year I am narrowing the focus by developing a presentation that centers on the marketing of the Main Street of America in western Arizona over the course of the past century.
An early view of the Hotel Beale courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts
The story of Route 66 promotion actually commences a decade or so before that highways certification on November 11, 1926. The short version of a long story, one that I will provide more detail on in my presentation, is how the National Old Trails Highway was rerouted across northern Arizona, a rather dramatic realignment from the original route from Springerville to Yuma where it connected with the Ocean-To-Ocean Highway.
Through the magic that is “shopping on line” there is still ample time to order a gift or two, and have it arrive on Christmas. As an author I prefer the giving of books, and as I am firmly grounded in the era of the Model A Ford, my preference is for books with paper pages. Even though I applaud and encourage reading of books in any form, it seems unnatural to spend time in the reading room with a Kindleand am quite convinced that a Kindle is a very poor substitute for a Sears catalog.So, let me begin with a sales tool. I can not attest to the validity of the statistics presented but do know that books will greatly enhance life, in spite of the impression often given in school.
These are gift suggestions for the armchair traveler in your family, or the adventurer that spends the winter reading about and planning adventures. Of course, you can always choose to let them shop for themselves with an Amazon gift card.
The first suggestion is Motoring West: Automobile Pioneers, 1900 – 1909by Peter J. Blodgett. This book is actually a series of short stories – written in the opening years of the 20th century. They detail the adventures of early “automobilists” as they pioneered cross country travel by automobile.
Here is an excerpt. This is from the story Automobiling in the West published originally in Scientific America on August 3, 1901. “Pull out block and tackle, wade around in the mud, get soaked to the skin and chilled from the effects of the deluge, make fastenings to the fence or telegraph post and pull. Pull hard, dig your heels into the mud, and exert every effort at command. The machine moves, your feet slip, and down in the mud you go full length. Repeat the dose and continue the operation until the machine is free from the ditch and again upon the road.”
As we are talking about pioneering automobilists, another book that I highly recommend is By Motor to the Golden Gateby Emily Post. Originally published in 1916, this illustrated book presents a fascinating look at early cross country travel and it is written in a manner that places the reader in the passenger seat. As a bonus, some of Post’s trip was along sections of the National Old Trails Highway that latter become Route 66.
For another tremendous book that highlights the adventure and challenges of motoring in the American back country before the advent of the US highway system, I recommend The American Road.
This book is the chronicle of an astounding military expedition that was designed to test the viability of long distance military convoys utilizing motor vehicles, and call attention to the good roads movement that eventually resulted in the creation of the US highway system. Well written, this book almost reads like a novel filled with adventure. Amply illustrated with historic images from the 1919 convoy, and the fact that the future president Dwight David Eisenhower was involved, ensure this will be a memorable read.
The holiday season is a perfect time for telling folks where to go, and if you do it right, they will look forward to the trip. Next week, I will share one more list of gift suggestions.
Gift ideas and suggestions for building a Route 66 reference library –
As we are drawing close to the Christmas holiday it seemed an excellent time to discuss gift ideas or hints that you can give friends and family. For the Route 66 enthusiast, nothing short of a road trip itself beats a well stocked library.
First on the list should be EZ 66 Guide For Travelers by Jerry McClanhan. Without a doubt this is THE essential guide for anyone planning a trip on the old double six. We never leave on a trip without our copy.
This is a bit of shameless self promotion but as a companion to the EZ Guide, I suggest Travel Route 66. This is a guide book to Route 66 with suggestions for short detours to enhance the trip, a bit of history, and a few of our favorite stops along the way.
My next suggestion is the latest book from Joe Sonderman. Joe draws from his extensive collection of historic images and post cards, and with fascinating, crisp text and photographs provided by folks like my dearest friend and I, and Jeroen and Maggie Boersma of the Netherlands, he tells the story of Route 66 Roadside Signs and Advertisement.
I also suggest that you consider the series of regional Route 66 books Joe has written for Arcadia Press. For the most part these are historic photo essays on topics such as Route 66 in Arizona and Route 66 in Texas. The photos themselves are well worth the purchase price but lengthy, informative captions present a multi dimensional portrait of Route 66 evolution.
Next I would add Route 66 Adventure Handbookby Drew Knowles. This book will inspire a trip or two, and enhance a weekend adventure on Route 66 or a grand odyssey from Chicago to Santa Monica.
For an interesting look into Route 66 at the time of decommissioning when the highways future was uncertain, I suggest Route 66: The Highway and Its Peopleby Susan Croce Kelly and Quinta Scott. Published in 1988, this book, as with the highway itself, is about the people. They are at the core of what makes a Route 66 experience just as they have for nine decades.
Another great little time capsule to add to the library would be A Guide Book to Highway 66 by Jack Rittenhouse. First published in 1946, and reprinted in 1989, this is more time capsule than book.
The little pocket guide gives a mile post by mile post reference to service stations, garages, attractions, hotel and motels, and trading posts along Route 66. There are also notes about history and points of interest in communities, and other details that make this book a portal in the world of Route 66 in the immediate post war years.
Not exactly Route 66 related, By Motor to The Golden Gateby Emily Post is another interesting time capsule and a most fascinating read. First published in 1916, the book chronicles Post’s adventures to California from New York. In the southwest her journey followed the National Old Trails Highway, predecessor to Route 66.
Watch for part two of this guide latter this week –