From Minnesota to California by motor car – 1915

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 8, 2001

One of the most unusual booklets ever created by an Albert Lea resident is based on a trip three local people took by motor car to California on the south route 86 years ago.

Friday, June 08, 2001

One of the most unusual booklets ever created by an Albert Lea resident is based on a trip three local people took by motor car to California on the south route 86 years ago.

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Taking this trip were a local dentist and his wife, and an attorney named John F. D. Meighen. And it was Meighen who kept a daily log of this journey and had it published by the Commercial Printing Co. of Albert Lea in 1916. His intention was to have the booklet used as a guide for other area folks planning to make an auto trip out West.

This trio of travelers left Albert Lea about 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 2, 1915, in a 1914 Cadillac automobile. Meighen wrote that on one running board of the car were three fiber suitcases secured by ropes. On the other running board were a tent, a spade, some &uot;mud hole&uot; rope, an extra can of oil, and a duffel bag full of heavy clothing. Three extra tires (spares) were strapped on the back of the auto. Inside the vehicle were robes and two small traveling bags.

&uot;It pays to worry about the future, because the things one worries about rarely happen. In out 2,400-mile drive to Los Angeles, we never used the tent, nor the spade, nor the rope, nor the oil, nor a dozen and one other articles we had with us.&uot; Meighen reported. And the only trouble the travelers had were two tire blow outs between Albert Lea and Des Moines, a flat tire in Nebraska, and a final flat in Needles, Calif. He added, &uot;We never had the chains on or the top up.&uot;

Please keep in mind that the roadways between cities back in 1915 were unpaved. These alleged highways were actually called trails and the routes on the country roads were marked with signs or symbols placed on utility poles and even trees. Out in the plains and desert areas without poles or trees, steel posts with signs were placed along the roadside.

Meighen and his traveling companions spent each night in hotels and ate all their meals in cafes along the route. These accommodations ranged from excellent to :&uot;never again,&uot; according to the daily narratives in the booklet.

To give an idea of their progress in an era of fairly slow travel by automobile, here’s a listing of the overnight stops: Iowa Falls, Iowa; Atlantic, Iowa; Beatrice, Neb.; Salina, Kan.; Hutchinson, Kan.; Garden City, Kan.; La Junta, Colo.; Raton, N.M.; Las Vegas, N.M.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Magdalena, N.M.; Springerville, Ariz.; Winslow, Ariz.; Williams, Ariz.; Kingman, Ariz.; Needles, Calif.; Barstow, Calif., and finally Los Angeles, on Nov. 19, 1915.

The routing of this trip seems to be rather different when compared with the present system of highways and interstate routes. Perhaps the oddest part of the trip for these Albert Lea folks was going straight west from Albuquerque to Magdalena and Springerville and north to Winslow. This must have been the best route for autos in 1915.

Two interesting aspects of this journey involved a ferry boat and something he called &uot;hairpin turns,&uot;or what are also known as switchbacks.

Back in 1915, the only way to cross the Colorado River between Arizona and Needles, Calif. was on a small ferry. Today, an I-40 bridge over the river makes this river crossing much easier.

The curvy roadway was encountered about 20 miles south of Santa Fe, N.M., at La Bajada Hill. Meighen wrote, &uot;Two miles long with 18 hairpin turns. Drive very slow.&uot;

This trip from Albert Lea to Los Angeles was actually recorded as being 2,440 miles. Now the distance between here and there on better roads and shorter routes is approximately 1,850 miles.

Meighen returned to Albert Lea a few weeks later by train, a journey which maybe took four or five days. The dentist and his wife came back to Albert Lea by automobile in the spring of 1916.

In the next column we’ll have information about a former area resident named Bill Atkins who made several very significant contributions to American life.

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