Road Trip Reports Were News

Originally published in the Sunday, March 20, 1910 Indianapolis Star, these articles were part of  a special supplemental section about the upcoming March 28 Indianapolis Automobile Show presented by the Indianapolis Automobile Trade Association (IATA). Key features of the event were the Floral Parade, contests at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and concluding banquet at the Denison Hotel.
The particular articles in this attachment were a perfect fit for the special newspaper section as they report on two road trips by private citizens as they test the mettle of their cars and take on the adventure of exploring the uneven quality roads of the day. The condition of roads is very relevant to First Super Speedway as the reality of their lack of development was an impetus for building race tracks. Most notably this was true in the case of the Brickyard which was largely born of the frustration the track's Founder and President Carl Fisher had with the poor quality of American roads.
There are two articles in the attachment here. The longer one chronicles the adventure of a Mr. George Ehrhart and his party in his chain-driven Locomobile. Sources beyond this article indicate that Ehrhart was first vice president of the Illinois Automobile Association at the time.
The group launched their trip from Decatur, Illinois and traversed roads and some pathways hardly suitable for cars through the mountainous terrain of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and obviously the geography between. This article mentions other car marques that made similar exploratory outings across different parts of America or even other countries. These were: Rambler, Chalmers and Ford.
Such trips were of news interest in the day because they spoke to a major consumer consideration in the purchase of automobiles: product reliability. Secondarily the report also provided insights to the road conditions of the day which was a topic of political debate in the times. Whose responsibility is it to construct roads and more importantly who pays for it?
One of the services of the American Automobile Association (AAA) to their members was to provide road maps. As pointed out in the article this was vital (perhaps in some cases literally a matter of life and death) and it was essential that all cars be fitted with odometers so drivers and their passengers could know exactly where they were. This was crucial because the reality of the times was that road signs were rare and many country "roads" were so underdeveloped they looked like walking paths. This required absolute focus on your geographic position and a sharp, discerning eye.
The specific path of the Ehrnart party was: Decatur to Terre Haute and then on to Indianapolis. From there the road was described as "magnificent" leading to Dayton, Ohio. They continued to Columbus, Ohio and then on to Wheeling, West Virginia. This was reportedly the most mountainous pass. From Wheeling the route took them to Pittsburgh. This was a region of robust coal, natural gas and iron mining. It was also the home of millionaire steel tycoons and the powerful coal and railroad baron Henry Thaw.
Ehrhart's group took in a sense of American history by visiting Civil War battleground sites. Keep in mind that many veterans of that war were still living in 1910 and many more people had lived during those times - just 45 years after the war ended - and had first hand memories. Gettysburg was among their stops as was Johnstown, the scene of the massive and disastrous flood triggered by a burst dam just 21 years earlier in 1889. They also visited Yorktown, the site of the decisive battle of America's war for independence. A big event of the journey was driving across the world's largest suspension bridge - the Brooklyn Bridge.
The group selected a more northern route to return to Decatur. The left New York and ran parallel to the New York Central Railroad and the Hudson River onward to Albany. Along this route they past the Westpoint Military Academy and the Palisades. The roads from Albany to Buffalo and on to Detroit were reportedly excellent. They passed through Toledo, Chicago and South Bend as well as the Fox River.
A second, shorter artilce about another open road trip is reported in this attachment. Two men, Harold Stone and A.S. Robertson ventured out in Stone's Moline automobile. The article is odd in that it is not precise in reporting their point of departure. The far end of their round trip route was San Diego, California but it is unclear of their origin. Since the paper is the Indianapolis Star it is quite possible it was that city where the men begain their adventure. If so that is extremely impressive given the distance and state of roads at the time.
Among the challenges noted is the crossing of the Santa Margarita River and its boggy "bed" where the Moline reportedly plowed through with little effort. While much roadway was reportedly washed away the boulevard near La Jolla was in good condition. No information is provided on Stone and Robertson's return trip.

Roads032010.pdf1.05 MB