Saturday, May 31, 2008

Family Automobiles XII

When I quit the pipeline company and went to work for the State of Michigan I gave up a number of things (we were then in Fairfield, Iowa): A company car, a country club membership, a large private office, my own secretary and an unlimited expense account. We returned to Michigan by taking the train to Chicago where Dick picked us up and brought us to St Joe. Elaine's father Herman and I returned to Fairfield with Dad's pickup to bring back our earthly posessions. We rented a house in East Lansing and had to shop for a car. We bought a 1957 Plymouth 4-door with an automatic transmission and radio (Ginger colored with tail fins) for $2425. On the way home from Berrien County three days after Christmas that year a car ran a red light in Kalamazoo just as we were starting up from our signal turning green and smashed us in thr right front fender Elaine and I were wearing seat belts (which I had installed) and the kids were asleep in the back and relaxed so no one was hurt.
We traded the Plymouth for a green 1962 Rambler Station Wagon (got $700 trade-in) and paid the balance of $2078 over 30 months at $79.90 per month. The Rambler was a unique car. All the seats folded down so  you could sleep in it. It had a roof rack with tie-down brackets so you could carry luggage on top. We took some great trips including Yellowstone and Key West. When we bought the Plymouth Barracuda we decided to hang on to the Rambler thus we became a two-car family. Elaine drove it a lot to garage sales. Eventually it was getting pretty worn out so I took it to Watervliet and put it in the back of John's store with the idea that Jim and I could make a father-son project out of restoring it. One weekend working on it convinced us that it would not be feasible because of deterioration of the underside of the unibody (It did not have a separate frame). Quite a while later John called and said it was in the way and asked if it was OK to give it away. I agreed but later he told me he regreted it because the guy got it running again and John got to see his free car running back and forth on Main Street.
The 1966 Barracuda was a 2-door "fast back", one sporty looking automobile. Had the great Slant Six engine with a big greenhouse rear window and the back of the back seat folded down to provide a flat cargo space accessible from the rear. The color was called Racing Green. Our basset Droopy adopted the space behind the rear seat under the greenhouse as his  domain and would ferociously try to attack the gas pumping guy on the other side of the glass. We would usually tell him to ignore the dog but you could tell they were always a little nervous. This was before self service. It had two accidents, the first was when Karen was driving down out of a parlikg ramp and a pillar came out and attacked her. The second was when I was Scoutmaster and we had 7 boys who had been ushers at an MSU football game packed in the car on the way home. A guy made an  illegal left turn and smashed into the opposite fender from that the pillar smashed. The Barracuda eventually became the college car for both Karen and Jim in Ann Arbor. When Jim graduated the Barracuda limped home during a memorable trip on back roads because it conked out several times and had to be pushed.. At home I did my first and only home mechanic tune up job and got it in good running order. Jim eventually sold it for $150 and we all sadly waved goodbye as it was ignominiously towed away.
NEXT: More Jim & Elaine cars

Friday, May 30, 2008

Family Automobiles XI

For a while after the war John's 1947 Studebaker Champion was the only reliable and respectable car in the family. The folks used it on trips (there is a photo of the Studebaker and Dad in Biloxi, Mississippi) and I remember borrowing it to go to Toledo to meet a former girl friend from Colorado and driving her to Chicago. My car at the time was the Jeep and the folks were still driving the 1940 Chrysler I believe. Dick had his 1946 Chevrolet but he was married thus not in a position to lend his car to either his parents or his brother. It was a black or dark blue two-door sedan. If the folks had a car between the '40 Chrysler and the 1951 Pontiac Convertable I don't remember it. Dad had a pickup truck that he used in the war surplus business but I can't remember what kind and I have found no photos. Does anyone have one?
My next car was the 1949 Kaiser Traveler. Uncle Bob Thayer had gotten into the automobbile business in Oak Harbor after the war as a Kaiser-Fraizer dealer. For what ever reason he bailed out and I bought his last car. The Traveler was a four-door sedan with a hatch back, tail gate and fold down rear seats which left a long, flat floor big enough for kids to lay down during travel or for adults to sleep with the hatch back open and tail gate down and mosquito net draped over. I have a photo of Elaine sitting in that rig after we slept overnight at Hamlin Lake.
That was the car I used dating Elaine. I would come home from wherever the pipeline job had me any particular week on a Saturday afternoon (we worked 5 1/2 days) and always washed the car before picking her up for our regular Saturday night date. I estimate this happened at least 75 Saturday nights before she ageed to marry me. It was the car in which we went to Detroit after the wedding and the car  we used on our honeymoon to Canada's Atlantic Provinces and New England and Niagara Falls in the fall of 1951.
In 1952 I was promoted to Pipeline Division Superintendent and we moved to Grand Rapids (Elaine was pregnant with Karen at the time). The Kaiser became surplus since I now had a company car that I always drove, whether on company business of family business since I always had to be accessible by radio. Eventually John had a use for it and since I owed him a few bucks the Kaiser went to Watervliet (I don't know what the situation was with his Studebaker at that time). It must have been used as a family car since Patty remembers riding in the folded-down back on trips to Northport. It ended up sitting on the top of the bank behind Dick's house and I guess finally was hauled off to the junkyard.
I talked about the 1951 Pontiac convertable in my message about Northport. Patty probably has memories about that beauty that she can share. In a message I recieved from Mary Thayer Floro she remembers: 
"Hey Jim: The most important memory of mine is 'the converible' when I was a teenager. Uncle Allen would take me out in his convertible with Aunt Gen in front with him and me in the back seat.....he would put his arm around her and she would giggle and we headed for the outdoor theater. They would be 'smooching' in the front seat in hopes he would get a rise out of me and I would just shake my head and laugh. I miss those people and the convertible. Doesn't get any better." Mary from Ohio.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Family Automobiles X

Post-war cars:
When Dick could see the end of the war coming with the subsequent resumption of civilian car maufacturing he ordered a 1946 Chevrolet fom Shon Bridges, the local Chevrolert dealer.. I never knew the timing, but perhaps Pat does....Anyway he did get the first Chevrolet delivered to Watevliet. Only paid $900. Price controls were still on. That was the car that Dick talked about in my "Another Canoe Trip" which he called "Two Days on the Manistee". That became the Dick and Mary family car for I don't know how long.
The first civilian Jeep: I was still in Colorado when Dad let me know there was a 1946 Jeep for sale for $1,000 in Watervliet and did I want it? (I had just sold a well used 1941 Ford V8 Coupe that I had bought after I returned to college). Yes I did. When I got back to Watervliet I found that it had only cost me $999 because I found a dollar bill beneath the front seat. That would have been in 1948. That 4-wheel drive Jeep (with cloth top and side curtains) made us invulnerable to bad road conditions or deep snow up deer hunting. Deer hunting camp was at the confluence of Sidnaw Creek and the Sturgeon River for many years starting in 1946. One snowy day Dick and I decided to skip hunting for a day and drove the Jeep through mostly unplowed roads all the way to Copper Harbor (practically deserted at that time of year), walked out to the end of the dock so that we were farther north than any other human beings in Michigan and memorialized the occasion by writing our names in pee on frozen, snow-covered Lake Superior...(these were two adult, grown up veterans of World War II, mind you)..That Jeep was in the family for many, many years. At first I used it on my first post-college job as Right-of-Way Agent for Ford, Bacon and Davis,Inc., the engineering firm which constructed the natural gas pipeline from Texas to Michigan. Their offices were on the second floor above the dime store in St. Joe, where incidently a good looking girl named Elaine Belke worked for the Chamber of Commerce (a whole other batch of stories). Elaine liked to drive the Jeep. We have one memorable photo of the Jeep at the beach with her sisiter-in-law with a bowl cover on her head to wind-proof her hair-do while riding in the open. After marriage and moving to Grand Rapids from Detroit and having kids and having no good place to keep it, the Jeep spent more and more time in Watervliet. We had the 1949 Kaiser Traveler (about which more later) and always a company car. The Jeep would go deer hunting every year and Dick used it around the home place some so I decided for insurance and liability reasons to transfer title to Dad. Patty can probably tell you more about the remainder of its career than I. I think it mostly just sat immobile in the back part of the barn collecting pigeon shit. Any way, Dick eventually sold it for $500 to some hillbillies or moonshiners or whomever who hauled it off to Kentucky or Tennessee where it may still be ruuning around the mountains.
NEXT: More about post-war cars.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Family Automobiles IX

Cars of the '30s and '40s:
I think the folks had a car after the Model A and before the 1936 Plymouth but I can't find a photo or remember it. (we kept the Model A for several years as a second car). I have this vague memory of the three of us in the back seat of a car  going to Three Oaks every Sunday to visit Grandma and Grandpa Woodruff who were living with Aunt Mary. It was boring! "Are we there yet?" etc etc. At some point Dad would lose his temper and reach around and swing at us. The cunning kid was the one who could anticipate when this was about to happen and duck so that his brother would get the cuff. It couldn't have been the '36 Plymouth because it was a taxi cab model with space in back for jump seats in front of the back seat. We used it for hauling raspberries to the Benton Harbor Fruit Market. Dad wouldn't have been able to reach us
A car of significance to our family but not owned by us was the 1935 Ford V8 four door convertible owned by my roommate at the Beta House, Bob Zimmer. I borrowed it whenvever family visited (they would come out by Streamliner train from Chicago to Denver). That car was FAST. I could do a whole chapter on things we Betas did in that car and another brother's '35 Ford V8 Roadster. I have photos of Mother and both brothers in Zimmer's car up in the mountains on various visits.
An unusual car of the '30s was the Baby Austin. As I remember, Dad bought one for driving to and from school after the Model A was gone (don't remember why or when). The so-called "Baby" Austin was the Austin  7,"...a vintage car produced produced from 1922 to 1939 in the United Kingdom by the Austin Motor Company. It was one of the most popular cars ever produced there....its effect on the British market was similar to that of  the Model T Ford in the USA." It was really a mini-car. It was so small and light that the guys at school would do such things as pick it up and carry it up and leave it on the coal  pile by the boiler room..We had to chain it to a tree like a bicycle. This foolishness plus consistent carburator trouble caused Dad to get disgusted and get rid of it.
Another car was the 1939 black two door Chevrolet bought as a company car when Dad got in the oil business. When oil was discovered in Bloomingdale in the late 1930s Dad picked up some leases and backed by Uncle Brown and some of his rich Denver friends drilled a few wells, a couple producers and a couple dry holes. I got a summer job working on an oil drilling rig and drove that car to and from Bloomingdale every day. Worked the 4PM to midnight "tour" as it was called. I was a "tool dresser" who helped the driller. There was a lot of sledge hammering. I wasn't very good. Made $1 per hour. Considered very good wages in those days.The boom didn't last very long but it pointed me towards a career as a petroleum engineer that eventually shifted to geology.
THE family car for many, many years was the 1940 Chrylser Windsor, Hawaiian blue with wide whitewalls, two door, six cylinder with the shift lever on the steering column. It served all the functions of a family car from numerous trips around the country to a date car for all three of us boys to pulling house trailers from a manufacturing plant to dealers. It had to last all through World War II when the automobile plants were producing planes and tanks and guns instead of cars. I have photos of it in the snow at deer camp with a trailer behind, with two canoes about to leave for our 1948 canoe trip to Western Ontario, with me in my varsity sweater (only one stripe) leaning out the driver's side window, and next to Dad in Nashville on his way to Florida with Mother and two other women in 1941.
NEXT: Post-war cars of the '40s

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Family Automobiles VIII

To keep this tale chronological I have to insert the Pratt's 1924 Dodge Touring Car in between the folks' Model T (Henry Ford didn't designate model years) and the 1928 Model A.
Presumably the 1924 Dodge replaced the 1915 National which went on the 1919 trip to the Upper Peninsula. My Grandfather Wilmer Pratt died in 1926, leaving Henry at home with his Mother, my Grandmother, Abigail. With Wilmer gone and his two brothers Charlie and Burr dead in the 1918 influenza pandemic, Henry had the entire Watervliet fruit operations, three orchards, on his hands alone, an overwhelming burden with the Great Depression at hand. He sold the Paw Paw Lake cottage, along with the adjacent Swarting's Orchards. Dad and Mom took over the Bowe Farm and orchards to keep them from being lost to foreclosure, and Henry shrunk his operations to the old family farm and orchard south of Watervliet where Vincent lives today. At some point the 1924 Dodge became surplus (I suppose Henry replaced it with a truck or Aunt Eva brought another car into the family when she married Henry, Linda could probably tell us). I was in high school when I became interested in the old Dodge. It was sitting in the corner of a garage-like building behind the old family home with flat tires gathering dust and bird poop. I offered Henry $12 and he said "deal..."
That started a flury of activity on Dick's and my part. We pumped up the tires and hauled it to Watervliet behind one of Dad's cars and parked it under the catalapa tree to the left of the driveway. The first thing we did was to take off the top, frame, cloth and all and throw it into the dump down at the top of the hill behind the house (that was only one of a number of bonehead things that were done regarding that car). Then we patched some rust holes in the body with pieces of galvaized sheet metal and painted it two tone  maroon and tan, cool colors in those days (also matched the colors of our football jerseys). Our model for the car was from "Harold Teen", the comic strip about teenagers that ran in the Chicago Tribune (we also tended to dress like them, especially the felt hat tilted to the front with the brim pushed back). We obtained two 6 volt batteries and hooked them in series to make 12 volts. A 12 volt system that was eventually adopted by all makes was a Dodge characteristic starting with the first touring car in 1915. We pulled the spark plugs and cleaned and replaced them and reattached the wires fron the distributer. What we didn't know was that there was such a thing as a firing order and that you don't just re-hook the wires from the distributer to the plugs in random order. With fresh gasoline and everything ready to go I stepped on the starter and recoiled in horror at the awful clatter and sputtering and backfiring that ensued. I immediately shut it off  Then my father, no automobile mechanic by any stretch of the imagination, gently explained the facts of life with respect to firing order. With the right wire hooked to the right spark plug, we tried it again and the Dodge fired up and after a little smoking as the engine cleared its nose it purred like a kitten. We never had any engine trouble but we did have plenty of tire trouble. The tires were like truck tires and changing a tire or patching a tube required the use of tire irons and large ball-peen hammers. It was helpful that the father of a friend, Bob Pierce, had a garage and repair shop downtown (where Dad and John had the store).
I've told you of some of the things we did with the Dodge (see Paw Paw Lake Foolishness). A fair amount of time in the summer was spent hanging out with Chicago girls out in the Ryan Cottage neighborhood. John was four and a half years younger than I thus didn't share some of the fun and foolishness (and hazards) that Dick and I did being only one grade apart. I went off to college (and seriously considered drivng the Dodge to Golden but never did) and then Dick and I are in the Army and then John is in the Navy. While we are all overseas Dad, my Father, pulled a really dumb stunt. He SOLD our Dodge to a local mechanic for $25. The last I saw of it it was sitting in a garage on the east side of M140 south of Covert. I never did really forgive Dad for that. When Dad finally found his life's talent as a retailer (war surplus) he would sell anything that anyone wanted and a lot of things they probably didn't really want. Among other things he sold without my permission was my special one-of-kind tent that I found and intended to be my family camping tent (when I got a family, that is.).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Family Automobiles VII

The Folks' Fords:
It is plain that the first Allen & Genevieve car was a Model T Ford Coupe. The evidence is a photo of Mother with me as a baby on her lap sitting on the running board of a Model T. The dog "Biscuit" is also trying to get on her lap. It was taken in the fall of 1922 (leaves are off the maple behind the house). There is another photo of the Model T which shows me on the back fender and Dickie waving from the window. It is a tall, gangly looking car with rectangular windows. The two doors are hinged at the rear. Black, of course, and had to be started with a crank.
When Henry Ford finally quit making the Model T in 1927, he came out with the 1928 Model A. Dad was the first one in town to own one. It was one hot-looking automobile in my view. A Ford Roadster with a rumble seat. On the driver's side was a spotlight mounted on a column attached to the running board. (a Roadster was a two-door convertable with side curtains). In my mind's eye it was light colored but the photos show that it was dark.The folks drove the new Model A to the 1928 Indianapolis 500. Dad said that on the way home everyone had racing fever and that there were all sorts of challenges to the new Model A. It's supposed top speed was 65 mph. As I remember he said  no one could take him.
The following year they went to the Kentucky Derby in the Model A. The wiiner was Clyde Van Dusen, a mudder. Until Big Brown did it this spring, Clyde Van Dusen was the only horse ever to win the Derby starting from the #20 outside post.
What came next may seem unthinkable but the folks had good reasons. They had the Roadster body pulled off the chassis and replaced with a closed four-door sedan body.. Imagine the situation in the Roadster: Allen, Genevieve and three rambunctious little boys on one seat. There was no second seat and you couldn't put them in the rumble seat. Probably a good alternative to buying another car. I have photos of this remodeled car on the ice in the middle of Paw Paw Lake.  One shows the car with chains on the rear wheels and Genevieve and the three boys all dressed up for winter standing alongside.
NEXT: The 1924 Dodge.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Family Automobiles VI

I have uncovered a treasure. A batch of family automobile photographs. I had a vague feeling such a collection existed because there was such a scarcity of automobiles among the rest of the drawers full of photographs. I had forgotten that I had sorted them all out some time ago...It could have been in the early '80s because the youngest car pictured is our 1978 Chrysler LeBaron. Most of the photos have no caption on the back to identify either the car or the people. I'm going to go through them with great care correct that deficiency for the sake of generations to come. Several of the cars I don't recognize so I'll have to use the internet to identify them if I can. Should be fun.
The first thing I have learned is that the 1915 Woodruff car was a Dodge. There is photograph of a vintage car with a caption on the back that says: "A.N.Woodruff Dodge. Made trip to Oberlin in 1917. Genevieve, A.N. & Lizzie". That leads to at least two conclusions, Allen and Geneviieve were sweethearts in 1917 and maybe A.N. did drive, contrary to my statement in "Family Automobiles" sent May 19. The photo shows a four-door touring car with a cloth top, color black.
With Jim's help I will find some way to share some of these photos with you all.
Google "Dodge Brothers History" and see Wikipedia for good picture and description of this car. After reading it and looking at the illustration I was able to identify a photo a front view of A.N.'s car with Allen at the wheel. There is also one showing a tire being changed with A.N. standing by.
The Pratt and the Woodruff families were obviously a cut above the average car buyers in those days when the Ford Model T was the ubiquitous car of the common folk. Prominent fruit grower and prominent businessman......
One puzzle I have thus far been unable to solve is the make of the car that Genevieve is pictured sitting in in 1921 in South Bend. Mom was the only one of the seven Pratt brothers and sisters who didn't go to Michigan Agricultural College. Instead she went to South Bend Business College and worked at Studebaker. She lived with a family named Wellington in a very nice neighborhood. I guessed that it might be a Studebaker but a thorough Google search showed that it wasn't. Since the car surely belonged to the Wellingtons I'm not going to spend any more time on its identification.
NEXT: The Fords

Friday, May 23, 2008

Family Automobiles V

Finishing the 1985 article in Michigan History:
We stayed that night in Alpena and made Bay City the next day. In spite of the heavy rain we had encountered north of Hillman, there were still columns of smoke at various distances until we neared Bay City. From Bay City we went south and west to St. Johns. On that stretch we had our only car trouble---a flat tire. It was getting dark when we reached Kalamazoo. Though only forty miles from home, we stayed overnight. Driving or riding even 170 or 180 miles, going through every city, village and crossroads, built up fatigue in a way hard to realize today. That eighty pounds pressure in the tires didn't help either.
That is the end of Henry's story. He was remarkable in the way he could weave a story and type it himself although it took a lot of editing to get it ready to go to press. He  wrote great stuff on being a Freshman at MAC, horses at the farm etc.. Linda should give us some sort of inventory of his stories and share some of them with us.
I am going to spend some time with this story and old highway maps and county maps and try to figure out how one could retrace the Pratt family's 1919 trip on today's roads. This is the kind of thing I have done to trace LaSalle's 1680 walk from Lake Mkchigan to Lake Erie and Hugh Heward's 1790 paddle and portage from Lake Erie to Lake Michigan. I will let you know what I work out. This is the kind of thing that either Dick or Dad would have liked to do.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Family Automobiles IV

Continuing with the 1985 Michigan History article:
We stayed several days in Sault Ste Marie. One day we picnicked on Whitefish Bay some fifteen miles southwest of Sault Ste Marie. Just as we were finishing our lunch, a car drove around the picnic area carrying a man with a megaphone who warned that any people who were returning to the Soo should leave because a fire was approaching the road back. We went back faster than we had come, and I fervently hoped no tire would go flat.
We left the Soo early one morning to catch the ferry. Our parents had decided to return by way of the East Michigan Pike along the Lake Huron shore, so we headed for Cheboygan. Here we saw the last of Lake Huron for some time. Not far from town we came upon a two-tracks-in-sand-road like the one on the Mackinaw Trail. This one continued for thirty miles.

At one point a fire showed up ahead close to the wheel track. It looked pretty hot. I stopped the car while we discussed whether to stay in track or try an uncertain detour off the road. Dad observed that the wind, blowing mostly from the west, would blow  most of the heat away from us. (It happened that the fire was on my side of rhe car anyway).I backed uo a couple of rods to get a flying start, and we got past with only a brief blast of heat.
In this two-track stretch we went through the only real forest on the entire trip. It was possibly virgin, since I remember seeing no stumps, and some of the trees were quite large. In this forest we had the only rain of the trip. It began lightly, and we were able to get the side curtains on before it turned into a regular cloud burst. I began to fear running into mud since the soil was not pure sand that was on most of the unimproved roads. Still, the soil had enough sand to swallow up that frog-strangler of a rain.

In this same wooded stretch we came upon a three-way fork in the road. Dad and I got out to figure out whch one to take. For the first time we had a real fear of being lost. We had seen our last house a few miles out of Cheboygan and, incredibly, not a single car. One fork was obviously little traveled. The other two looked nearly the same, and our final choice was largely a guess. A few miles farther on, somone shouted, "a house!" There were more houses, then we rolled into what looked like a metropolis---the tiny hamlet of Hillman.

The twenty-four miles from Hillman to Alpena over a graded road seemed like a trip down a boulevard. I felt more tired from keeping the car in the tracks as we twisted and turned, dodging trees and stumps, with only brief rest stops than on any other stretch of the trip. But I recovered fast on the way into Alpena.
NEXT: Two days to home.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Family Automobiles III

The West Michigan Pike Tour stayed in Petoskey the night before we arrived. While we were in Petoskey, the newspapers reported that after the tour left town, a sudden shift in the direction and speed of the wind swept a forest fire across its path. Such a string of cars could not turn and retreat quickly, so the drivers put on more speed. They all got through, but it was said that several of the cloth tops caught fire as did some of the women's hair.
We left Petoskey early in the morning in order to catch the railroad ferry at Mackinaw. It was easy to spot where the tour had been caught. Young saplings were bent in a curve toward the east, fixed in that shape by the heat.
When we arrived in Mackinaw City, Dad went to the station to buy ferry tickets. He returned shaking his head at the charge---$14.50.
I soon found out that putting an automobile on board the Chief Wawatam was not as simple as loading railroad cars seemed to be. Automobiles were required to face the front of the boat, and since they had to be driven down the narrow causway between the tracks, the turnaround had to be made on board near the bow. The turning space was narrow there, and with the National's long wheelbase, it required many moves forward and back. Dad watched and told me when to stop at the end of each zig or zag, no doubt mentally wringing his hands until the thing got turned around.
The highway out of St. Ignace paralleled the shore of St. Martin Bay, then straightened out into an area of low ground that was covered, I believe, mostly by cedar trees. Here, too, the road was mostly two tracks through the sand. The sand was apparently of less substantial character than that on the similar road north of Kalkaska, for the wheel tracks were strengthened by strips of cedar bark laid crossways. Here, a week before, a ground fire had swept through and burned away the bark. In order for the West Michigan Pike Tour to get through, the county and state crews had laid new bark, so we had no trouble.
The road was strictly one lane, and we suddenly found ourselves on a collision course with the Pike Tour on its way back south. Trees close to the tracks prevented casual turning off the road. We saw them about a half a mile away. Stepping on the gas, I desperately looked for a turnout. One appeared, I got the car off, and we watched the tour go by.
Packards, Cadillacs, Pierce-Arrows and Peerlesses were in the majority. No one thought to count them---possibly twenty---an impressive parade in a place like that, long before tourism had become anything like an industry. More than half the license plates seemed to be from Illinois. I watched carefully for a burned top or a half-bald woman, but saw neither. Then, all women wore hats when "motoring" anyway.
NEXT: Sault Ste Marie and begin the return trip.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Family Automobiles II

Continuing the 1985 Michigan History article:
Free air was rare in 1919, and the tires on the National called for 100 pounds of pressure. They usually got only eighty. The tires, with their carcasses of three or four layers of canvas, would bear little flexing. To make the ride bearable you skimped on pressure, which made pumping the tires up by hand more bearable too.
Spring and summer had been dry that year, and from Cadillac on we saw columns of smoke from forest fires. There was little to burn in 1919 except grass and underbrush, but they were enough to make quite a lot of smoke. The smoke was visible at varying distances, from the horizon to beside the road.

Somewhere north of Kalkaska and south of Boyne falls, we entered an eight-mile stretch of highway that was unimproved in the total sense. It consisited of  tracks in the sand that wound back and forth to avoid trees and stumps. At first we tended to hold our breath, expecting to get stuck in the sand, but it didn't happen. The soil seemed to be pure sand, but because of its texture or the roots it contained, the wheels did not sink in. The smooth treads that were characteristic of tires then were ideal for dry sand, although worthless in mud or snow. We stopped for lunch in this area and found huckleberries all over the ground.

Progress was slower the second day. On some roads our speed was no more than fifteen miles per hour. Detours added to both distance and time. When we reached Petoskey the second evening the mileage was under 140. It had taken as long to drive that as it had to drive 200 miles the first day.

The fact that the route closely followed the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad tracks most of the way from Grand Rapids to Mackinaw City was a great help. Often when we thought we might be off the route, the sudden appearance of a pair of steel rails to the right or left put us at ease.

For several years the "Good Roads" movement had been a lively political issue, promoted by resort interests, automobile clubs, chambers of commerce and the like. Two promotional stunts were the West Michigan Pike Tour organized by the Chicago Auto Club and the East Michigan Pike Tour sponsored by the Detroit Auto Club. For the western tour, a group of cars would start in Chicago and drive up the west coast to the Straits and on to Sault Ste Marie. The parade would be joined by cars full of good roads boosters along the way. Only a few cars, usually expensive makes, went the whole distance.
NEXT: Forest fire!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Family Automobiles

I am going to put down here what I can remember or have heard about Woodruff and Pratt family automobiles and invite you all to add your memories. This effort is an offspring of a series of Emails between Patty and myself which I enjoyed.
Of course both Grandpa and Grandma Woodruff grew up during the horse and buggy days and the family aquisition of cars did not mean immediate retirement of either. The earliiest car story from Dad was about his father A.N.Wodruff arranging (apparently by mail or telegraph) to purchase a  car from a dealer in Chicago in 1915. He and Dad took the train to Chicago where Dad (a 17 year old) was given about an hour of driver training by the dealer in Hyde Park and then they were off back home to Watervliet. As I sit here I am imagining what a trek that must have been on sand and dirt roads and maybe some short stretches of paved city streets between the streetcar tracks. It is a matter of regret that I have either fogotten or never asked what kind it was. A.N. never learned to drive.
The next car is well documented. It was the Pratt family "National". Using Uncle Henry's words and an old photgraph album of a Pratt Family trip to the Upper Penisula I put together an article for Michigan History Magazine that was published in the November-December 1985 Issue  It was entitled "A Car and a Camera". I am going to "serialize" it so you can follow them on their remarkable journey day by day.
In our party were Mr.and Mrs.W.M.Pratt of Watervliet and the children still living at home--Genevieve, Isadora and myself. I was eighteen and did all the driving during that 1919 trip. Our car was a National, a 1915 touring car made in Indianapolis---cloth top, room for seven passengers, 134-inch wheelbase, the 37-by-15 inch tires pumped to 80 pounds pressure, weight 4,200 pounds. One feature was almost unique in those days---its two-toned paint job. The body and wood wheels were very light gray. Its mudguards, radiator shell, headlights, top and other trim were black.
Our destination was Sault Ste Marie where a third sister, Helen, was employed. Starting at 6:00 A.M. we zigzaged northeast across Van Buren and Allegan Counties. The state had not begun to post any numbered routes. The only intercounty routes going north were the West Michigan Pike along the lakeshore from the state line at New Buffalo, the East Michigan Pike from the state line north of Toledo running along the east side of the state, and the Mackinaw Trail from the state line through Kalamazoo, Cadillac and Petoskey. All three converged at Mackinaw City.
We took the Mackinaw because it was much straighter and carried less traffic, which even then was important, considering the dust that would be kicked up by a car in July. Maps that were of any use to the motorist were almost nonexistent. At irregular intervals the words "Mackinaw Trail" were stenciled on telephone poles, with no indication that a turn in the route was at hand or up ahead. A  rule of thumb motorists went by was "follow the most travelled road when confronted with a four-corners or fork in the road". Highway projects, all gravel then, were frequent, which meant detours. The detours were poorly marked if at all. The "most travelled" rule did not work as well on detours, so they often involved both inquiries and backtracking.
On the better roads we could drive about thirty-five miles per hour, which was then ten miles above the speed limit. We reached Cadillac at 6:00 P.M., twelve hours and two hundred miles after leaving home, and checked in at the Hotel Cadillac. On any trip in those days you stayed only in towns.
NEXT: Onward to Petoskey.