Driving in 1919 ~ part 7, from gumbo to dessert

LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO

Our travelers left the Lincoln Highway soon after Pittsburgh for a more northerly route. In North Dakota, they bogged down in gumbo just like LH travelers did in Iowa. After waiting out a rain shower under a tree, they set out:

LH_IA_Joy_UM1964_bb.jpg

LHA President Henry Joy struggles to navigate the group’s official Packard through the gumbo of Iowa in 1915 [University of Michigan–Special Collections Library, lhc1964]

“We noticed that the cars coming in were covered with mud and concluded that they had come over country roads. Surely not the National Parks Highway! So down went the top, and off we started in a wet atmosphere, but not really raining. The chains had not been disturbed since they were comfortably stowed away on leaving New York. One man advised us to put them on, but with a superior don’t-believe-we-will-need-them air we left our tree shelter. He called out after us, ‘Say, strangers, you don’t know what you all are getting into!’ We didn’t, but we jolly soon found out! In ten minutes we had met gumbo, and were sliding, swirling, floundering about in a sea of mud! I will try to describe it. A perfectly solid (apparently) clay road can become as soft as melted butter in an hour. Try to picture a narrow road, with deep ditches, and just one track of ruts, covered with flypaper, vaseline, wet soap, molasses candy (hot and underdone), mire, and any other soft, sticky, slippery, hellish mess that could be mixed — and even that would not be gumbo!”

After visiting Yellowstone, they still had a long way just to reach Nevada. Other tourists repeatedly told them to ship their car to Reno, which would put them back on the Lincoln Highway and near the California border. But they pressed onward across the barren landscape:

“The sand was deeper and the chuck-holes, even with the most careful driving, seemed to rack the car to pieces. If we had had an accident, the outlook would have been decidedly vague for us. Not a car or a telegraph pole in sight. By ten o’clock that morning the sun scorched our skin through our clothing. But we had one good laugh. Over a deep chuck-hole there had been built a stone bridge. On one end, in large black letters, was ‘San Francisco’ (the first sign we had seen with that welcome name) and on the other end was ‘New York’! The incongruity struck us as being so absurd that we roared with laughter.”

They finally gave up at Montello, Nevada, and put their car (and themselves) on a train for the final 400 miles to Reno:

“It cost $3.85 per hundred pounds and $5.73 war-tax to ship the car to Reno (or to San Francisco — no difference in the rate to either place). It weighed, including four spares and other equipment, 4960 pounds, and the bill was $196.69.”

 

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