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!

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