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.

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