Seven weeks on the road to the ‘promised land’

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 6, 2001

When the Cooper family left Alden on Nov.

Friday, July 06, 2001

When the Cooper family left Alden on Nov. 3, 1920, to move to Long Beach, Calif., in two automobiles, they intended to travel somewhat southwest on a fairly direct route. However, a report of a snowstorm on the Raton Pass south of Trinidad, Colo., resulted in a drastic change of routing while they were in Strong City, Kan., on Nov. 15, 1920.

Email newsletter signup

Making this trip were Henry and Floy Cooper and their three children: Harold, Evelyn and Ralph. And the information used for this and the previous column comes from a 57-page narrative of this long trip written by Floy Cooper and furnished by her grandson, Paul Cooper of Albert Lea.

As mentioned in the last column, this family exchanged road condition information with other travelers. They also made the journey with other tourists in what could be called a convoy. This tactic came in handy because their two autos had a series of mechanical problems created by the miserable roadways. Thus, another auto in the group could provide a ride to he nearest town for help, or assist with towing power to pull a vehicle out of a mud hole or sand dune.

The new routing for the Coopers was south to Wichita, Kan., through Oklahoma and into Texas. This family celebrated Thanksgiving Day in the town of Temple, Texas. Their holiday dinners cost a dollar each in a local cafe.

After spending a few days in San Antonio, Texas, the southernmost point of this trip, the Coopers went north to Fredericksburg, then west to El Paso and across New Mexico to Tucson, Ariz.

From the then fairly small town of Tucson to the Colorado River involved driving across a desert region with an abundance of sand dunes and difficult travel and camping conditions.

On Dec. 20, 1920, the Coopers prepared to cross the Colorado River between the towns of Ehrenberg, Ariz., and Blythe, Calif. Finally, the &uot;promised land&uot; was in sight.

Today, this river crossing can easily be made on the Interstate 10 bridge. Eight decades ago this trip across the river was on a small ferry boat. Floy wrote, &uot;This enterprise (the ferry) surely has a bonanza for trade, with cars standing in line to be taken across. The barge holds two cars and cost $2.50 per car.&uot;

Entering California, the alleged &uot;promised land&uot; (a term used several times in Floy’s narrative), didn’t make the traveling any easier. From the ferry landing to Blythe, a distance of four miles, straw had been scattered about eight inches deep over the sand to provide a crude road bed.

Seven miles west of Blythe large signs warned all tourists to have enough water, oil and gas to take them over a 96-mile stretch of mostly sandy roadway where there were just two places where water could be obtained.

As I read over this narrative of the trip written by Floy Cooper, I began to wonder if these folks would arrive in Long Beach by Christmas Day. They did. The end of their seven-week journey on the south route came on Dec. 23, 1920.

The Cooper family lived in California during the glorious 1920s. With the advent of the Depression Era, they encountered some financial problems. Yet, there was the farm they still owned in Freeborn County. In either 1933 or 1934 they came back to Minnesota. This time they didn’t spend seven weeks on the road.

Paul Cooper, the son of Harold, was born in Long Beach and grew up on the farm west of Alden. He graduated from Alden High School in 1952 and became an English teacher at Albert Lea High School. He’s now retired after 35 years of teaching.

Again, special thanks go to Paul for furnishing the narrative of this 1920 trip to California written by his grandmother, Floy Cooper.

Next week we’ll have information about still another trip made from Albert Lea to California and back to Minnesota in 1946.

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