Tuesday, September 30, 2008

RG's New Ford Sport Coupe

When the Old Routes were first built, it could be a rough route… mud, potholes, washboard, sand… cows, fences, angry horsemen, even gates to open. The cars weren’t much better, especially by today’s standards.

In our day of hot or cold beverage holders, entertainment systems we can talk to and GPS to guide us to the nearest Starbucks with a drive thru… it is very hard to picture what is was like to take a road trip in the early 20th century.

This picture might help. Late May 1930 R.G. Thompson had had enough of that ole Hudson Brougham. It was a pretty warm day, but he left his tie and coat on hoping the car salesman wouldn’t try to take advantage of him. He headed out from the Stock Exchange Building up 4th Avenue and uptown on Westlake to the William O McKay dealer. The Depression was tough and Eddie Pinkman was eager to make a sale. Too bad R.G. couldn’t get more in trade for the Hudson, but the sparking clean rust free Ford black paint clinched the deal. The Radiator cap added real style, too. Eddie didn’t get much commission for the sale. After all, he sold a new Ford Sport Coupe for only $679.25, but he was happy for the sale and happy to be working. As he headed back in the office, Eddie looked down Mercer Street at the closed Ford Assembly Plant wondering if it would ever open again.

Even though R.G. had to pay for the freight, oil and a tank of gas, he had a few dollars left for a couple of options.
-Spare Tire; at least it wasn’t one of those mini spares! You can’t have a spare without covering it and locking it up. Wise decision R.G!
-Bumpers, real steel bumpers, not those fiber-plastic bumpers we use now. Bumpers were protection for the car, and helpful to push someone out of the very common mud hole.

It was only a year into the depression, so he was conservative in going for solid steel wheels rather than those fancy spoke wheels. The seemingly unending Seattle drizzle and the unpaved roads keep the wheels covered in mud anyway. The temperatures are mild enough to go without side windows as well; after all, that’s what we have coats and hats for.

R.G. enjoyed his Ford for many years, driving up and down Pacific Highway US 99. Many times work took him to Spokane on the Sunset Highway US 10. On those hot summer days he watched that shiny radiator cap carefully for overheating. The cap would too often disappear in a cloud of steam as he headed up the steep hairpin turns of Snoqualmie Pass. Thankfully, if he had real mechanical trouble, he belonged to the Automobile Club of Washington (AAA). Since 1926 they had contracts with “reputable garages” to offer emergency road service for members.

A few years later, R.G. was one of the early managers for Centennial Flour Mills, which is still a major food company, based in Seattle. Besides being a far distant cousin, R.G. hired my mother-in-law as his secretary. Seattle was a much smaller town back then.

Some of this story is true, some is daydreaming. That’s the best way to drive an Old Route, enjoying what you see and also what is written between the double yellow lines.

Copyright 2008 Dan Smith

Monday, September 22, 2008

What the Sam Hill...?

There was a man named Sam Hill who believed in the future of good roads. You may have heard that exclamation of, “What in the Sam Hill…?” That was considered a polite substitute for using the word, “hell”, and came along before this Sam Hill was born.

Hill was a mover and shaker of the early 20th century, making millions in railroads. He knew royalty and other world leaders and traveled the world to learn about how to make good roads… but a darker side was that his home life was not idyllic.

Some of the projects that Sam Hill was behind include:
- The Pacific Highway from Canada to Mexico (US 99 and US 101)
- The Peace Arch on the US and Canadian Border
- Maryhill Museum
- Attempting to start a Quaker community called Maryhill
- Running a phone company in Portland, Oregon
- A copy of Stonehenge as a Memorial to Klickitat county soldiers who had died in World War I
- The Columbia River Highway (US 30)
- The first paved road in Washington State.

He was such a good roads advocate, the US 97 Columbia River Bridge was named after him. The bridge is within sight of Maryhill and the Stonehenge Memorial.

There’s too much of Sam Hill to put in one blog, so I’ll be writing more about Sam Hill and his love of roads, later.

Can't wait for the next Sam Hill blog? Read your own Sam Hill book. The Prince of Castle Nowhere or Sam Hill's Peace Arch.

- Maryhill Museum on Sam Hill
- Sam Hill from HistoryLink.org
- Where the Sam Hill is Maryhill?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Roadsters, Rumbleseats and Country Drives - Review

The video of Roadsters, Rumbleseats and Country Drives gives a nostalgic look at the growth of the automobile from its beginnings and how the car changed our culture. It has lots of sharp video of restored automobiles on the road and well as excellent archival movies and stills from the early 20th century. While this video has a happy “Good Ole Days” focus on the old cars and the driver’s memories, it also has a quick history of the first of the country’s first roads. Highways highlighted include the pre-automobile National Road. Also called the Cumberland Road, it was begun long before the car in 1811 and was also the first road to break though the Appalachian Mountains. The Lincoln Highway and Route 66 are also given their due as part of America’s love of their cars and the nostalgia of road trip.

The video is very well produced, not amateurish. The hard core road geek will know most of the road trivia presented, but it's so well produced, it is easily enjoyed.

Get this video here.
More web information on the National Road
When the National Road was numbered it became US 40, read more at Route40.net.
The Lincoln Highway book
A Guide to the National Road
Help preserve and find out more about the Lincoln Highway.