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.

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