County residents going west on the southern route

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 29, 2001

Taking a trip to California in this era is merely a matter of choosing the preferred method of transportation.

Friday, June 29, 2001

Taking a trip to California in this era is merely a matter of choosing the preferred method of transportation. There are the airlines, the buses, Amtrak passenger trains, motorcycles, and gas- and diesel-powered vehicles. And this time of year the routes available for vehicular travel offers several possibilities based on the freeways and sightseeing choices between here and there.

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Yet, years ago, people going to California by automobile had to make a serious choice of routing based on the time of year.

The most direct route to California involved going over the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Range. There were several high mountain passes, such as Donner and Berthold, where deep snows made auto travel on unpaved roadways a real challenge for five or six months of the year about eight decades ago. Thus, the logical choice during the winter months was the south route.

There were several variations available, but the basic route was based on going to Texas or New Mexico, then across south Arizona and the desert region to always sunny California.

All this narrative so far is intended to set up the scenario for the travel adventures of the Cooper family who lived on a farm west of Alden. In late 1920 they rented the farm to another family and held an auction of some furniture, farm equipment and livestock on Oct. 17. This family was moving out west.

Making this &uot;Westward Bound&uot; trip to Long Beach, Calif., were Henry Cooper and his wife, Floy, and their three children, Evelyn, Ralph and Harold. They left Alden on Nov. 3, 1920, in two automobiles, a Studebaker and an Overland. Their household goods were shipped in a transfer truck to a M. F. Horning out in California. Horning was likely a family friend who was already living in Long Beach.

What’s coming up is based on a day-by-day description of this auto trip from Alden to Long Beach written by Mrs. Floy Cooper and preserved as a family memento of life and road travel just over 80 years ago.

The Cooper family in their two automobiles traveled on the then really rough Jefferson Highway to Mason City,Iowa, to spend the first night at &uot;a tourist campground out on East State Street.&uot; This was the first of many nights the Coopers were to sleep inside a tent.

The Coopers went south into Missouri to Kansas City, then west in Kansas to Lawrence, Topeka, and a small town named Strong City, located 24 miles west of Emporia.

As this family traveled through Iowa, Missouri and into Kansas, they exchanged road condition information with other auto drivers, especially those coming from the places further ahead on their route. Also keep in mind this was the era before radio and reliable weather forecasts from other parts of the nation.

The only reference I’m going to make to the auto trip John F. D. Meighen made just five years earlier, and featured in this column a few weeks ago, is based on a place named Raton Pass. This mountain crossing is part of the 26-mile roadway between Trinidad, Colo., and Raton, N.M. It has a high point of 7,850 feet in altitude. When Meighen and the couple from Albert Lea went over the Raton Pass on Nov. 9, 1915, there just wasn’t any snow in this mountainous area.

However, the Coopers were in Strong City, Kan., on Nov. 15, 1920, when they found out from other travelers coming in from the west that there was already six feet of snow on the Raton Pass.

This news resulted in the Coopers making the quick decision to alter their trip to California on an even more southernly route.

In the next column we’ll conclude this trip report with more details about the Cooper family and the longer-than-planned journey in two autos from Alden to Long Beach.

Feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.