- Historic Sites
Goggles & Side Curtains
The roads were terrible, and posted badly or not at all; you had to equip yourself against a hundred mishaps, ninety-three of which actually happened--but you were often up to your hubcaps in pleasure.
April 1967 | Volume 18, Issue 3
With tour book in hand and odometer set at zero, the tourist started out on an itinerary usually measured in the manual from a prominent spot like the courthouse, the post office, or a leading hotel. The operator of the car required the services of a companion who could keep one eye on the mileage figures and landmarks noted in the “motorlogue,” the other checking the printed information against the readings on the odometer. A third eye would often have been helpful. If the navigator missed the white church on the right, while the driver was busy with the clutch or the spark, trouble was sure to overtake the party when the Blue Book and the odometer failed to agree.
Suppose, for illustration, one wished in 1915 to travel by motor from Norwich, Connecticut (“The Rose of New England”), to Willimantic. Starting from in front of the Wauregan Hotel, with odometer adjusted to o.o miles, the machine chugged up the long, terraced hill of Broadway. The surface was “good macadam” and one progressed in this manner:
In addition to providing itineraries, the motor logs also offered interesting background information likely to advance the cause of tourism. For instance, one could read in a tour book sponsored by the Mohawk Rubber Company that Elkhart, Indiana, was the home of the celebrated Dr. Miles’s patent-medicine almanac, issued annually in editions of 12,000,000, and that “52 per cent of band instruments of the world [were] made here. …” Of Spotsylvania, Virginia, a tour book said: “Solomon’s Store; gas,” and added this historical footnote: “Around here in May, 1864, Grant opposed Lee in a series of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. Many homes still have cannon balls lodged in the walls.”
Sometimes touring was complicated by poor local directions, the ultimate being the advice of the confused countryman who lives on in automobile folklore for having declared, “You can’t get there from here.” A well-known phenomenon was the Auto Hater. Farm houses displayed hostile signs—“No Water.” Between Buffalo and Cleveland, the Blue Book gave this direction in 1909: “At 11.6 mi., yellow house and barn on rt. Turn left.” But there was no yellow house. The owner had uncharitably repainted his premises green because, as a neighbor explained to an inquirer, “He’s agin’ automobiles.” Scattered tacks and broken glass strewn at prominent intersections were also tried by the anti-auto faction as a means of holding back the swelling motor tide.
The difficulty of handling a bulky book in an open car moving at cruising speed led to the invention of ingenious attachments designed to reveal the correct route mechanically. Both these expensive accessories and the ubiquitous logbooks were superseded by the handy, folded road map. It went far beyond charting just the heavily travelled routes between fixed points —Chicago and South Bend, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. The numbering system made it possible for the road maps to identify all the roads. And a notable feature of the new maps was—they were free.
The give-away maps were introduced by a new facility, the “filling station,” which delivered measured quantities of gasoline from curbside pumps. There is a dispute as to who built the first real filling station and where. Semantics are involved. What constituted a real filling station? The new kind of gasoline merchant appeared almost simultaneously in various regions where competition was keen. Primitive filling stations are reported as existing in St. Louis, Dallas, and Seattle in 1907. Detroit’s first was a crude shed at First and Fort streets, knocked together in 1910 from some old voting booths. Among its customers was Henry Ford. The shape of the future may be discerned in a station built in Memphis in 1912 by the Standard Oil Company of Louisiana. It had thirteen pumps, a ladies’ room, a maid who served ice water.