Posts Tagged ‘mud’

Driving in 1919 ~ part 7, from gumbo to dessert

June 22, 2018

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.”

 

Advertisements

Iowa Gumbo Snared Lincoln Highway Travelers

January 16, 2018

LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO

Early motorists writing of cross-country journeys had little to say east of the Mississippi; once on Iowa’s dirt roads, they couldn’t stop. Iowa was notorious for “gumbo” mud, a result of the land between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers once having been submerged. Superb for crops, that same rich soil stymied cars when wet.

Making matters worse, Iowa’s roads were improved at the county level, where voters preferred minor overall improvements over diverting more funds to the Lincoln Highway. LHA president Henry Joy took the state legislature to task in a scathing article for Collier’s in 1916: “Not a wheel turns outside the paved streets of her cities during or for sometime after the frequent heavy rains…. Millions of dollars worth of wheeled vehicles become, for the time being, worthless.”

LH_IA_Joy_UM1964_bb.jpg

Henry Joy in gumbo near La Mouille, Iowa, June 1915. [UM 1964]

That article followed a 1915 trip that Joy made with LHA secretary Austin Bement and Packard mechanic Ernie Eisenhut in a new Packard 1-35 Twin Six, the first 12-cylinder production car. His photo album, with hundreds of snapshots from the muddy 2,885-mile journey, can be found at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Library. The captions themselves are often entertaining:

“Nearing Tama, Iowa, our rear wheels threw gumbo higher than the telephone poles.”

“The natives took reserved seats to watch us work their roads.”

“Three hours were spent in this mud hole near Tama.”

“Four hours were needed to dislodge us from the Lincoln Highway east of Marshaltown.”

“He pulled us out for $3.00 and a drink of whiskey.”

In By Motor to the Golden Gate (1916), future etiquette writer Emily Post wrote, “Illinois mud is slippery and slyly eager to push unstable tourists into the ditch, but in Iowa it lurks in unfathomable treachery, loath to let anything ever get out again that once ventures into it. Our progress through it became hideously like that of a fly crawling through yellow flypaper…. Our wheels, even with chains on, had no more hold than revolving cakes of soap might have on slanting wet marble.”

By 1920, with more than 430,000 registered vehicles, Iowa still had only 25 miles of paved roads outside of cities. The 1924 LHA guide warned, “It is folly to try to drive on Iowa dirt roads, during or immediately after a heavy rain.”

Dry spells brought horrible clouds of dust but it was the gumbo that was forever remembered. George Schuster said it best in his recollection of Ogden, Iowa, during the 1908 New York–to–Paris race: “It rained all day, the mud is nearly hub deep. We slid from one side of the road to the other. We covered more miles sidewise than ahead.”