A true labor of love, author William Cook has reproduced his grandmother’s (Hepzy Moore Cook) narrative of the day-to-day rigors in early twentieth century vacation travel by automobile. The journals describe in great detail, a more remote, less accessible nation that existed ninety years ago during the dawn of America’s love affair with the car. The oldest of the two journals written by Hepzy Moore Cook chronicles a challenging and sometimes very hazardous journey by automobile taken by her, the author's grandfather, Dr. William A. Cook and father, Ralph Moore Cook in August, 1920 from Vermillion, South Dakota to Yellowstone National Park and back again to Vermillion, covering 3,180 grueling miles in the process.
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Touring America by Automobile in the 1920s
The Travel Journals of Hepzy Moore Cook
By William A. Cook, Janice Rhayem
Sunbury Press, Inc.Copyright © 2017 William A. Cook
All rights reserved.
Vermillion, South Dakota, to Yellowstone Park to Vermillion
August 10 - September 16, 1920
AUGUST 10, 1920
We left Vermilion Tuesday morning, August 10, at 6:40 AM, and got to Yankton, twenty-eight miles distant, about 8:15 AM. We drove out Yankton College, where we ate our breakfast of potato salad and egg sandwiches. A short distance north of Yankton we located the grounds of the state hospital for the insane, and drove through them.
On the way to Mitchell we detoured slightly through the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University. At two o'clock we had a warm dinner downtown. From Mitchell to Huron it was cloudy, and just as we reached the garage in Huron it began to rain. For the last few miles of this drive the roads were being worked, and of course were not good. We left the car in a garage and took rooms for the night. Our supper consisted of a lunch of odds and ends that we happened to have. It rained in sheets and did not cease until eleven o'clock that night.
AUGUST 11, 1920
On the morning of Wednesday, August 11, the sun was shining, and a good wind was blowing. We got out of Huron about nine o'clock, after being told by the garage man that he had been out two miles without chains. We found the roads muddy and slippery, and after a few miles the men got out and put on the chains. The sun disappeared very soon after we started, and it remained cloudy, cold, and damp all day long. After having pulled successfully through many mud holes, we drove down a hill into a marsh in the road, and at the very beginning of it we were stuck. The mud and water was about shoe-top deep on one side, but Will had to get right out into it. After I stepped on the gas with the engine in low, and Dr. Elliot and he had pushed and pushed, it failed to budge. Then Will tramped about a half mile ahead up a hill to a house to see if he could get help. We could see him going back and forth from one building to another, and soon he returned with a spade and some boards. He tried digging under the wheels to put a board under, but that didn't work.
When we were about desperate, a Ford with an elderly man in it came along, and after several attempts to pull us out, he failed. A Buick came along, but it couldn't pull us out, so the elderly man went ahead and intercepted a man with a team, which dragged us out backwards without any trouble. By this time there were four cars together, and in the next four or five miles they had to be pushed or backed out of bad holes. The men had to go into nearby fields and get bundles of grain, and rake up in the first mudhole. The car and the men and all our shoes were covered with mud. The old gentleman, Mr. Wurfel of Huron, stayed with us and saw us through all the mud.
We got into Hitchcock about 4:30 PM, and found a good camping ground beside the road and near a house where there was a barrel of soft water. We washed the car inside and out, and after putting up our tent, we cooked beefsteak and had our supper. It was cold and damp, and all of us were cold during the night.
AUGUST 12, 1920
A heavy dew fell, and our tent was so wet it was about 10:00 AM before we got everything done and we were started. From Hitchcock we drove to Redfield, and out to the state home for the feebleminded. We ate our lunch on the grounds and then were shown through one building. Their school was not then in session, and we saw none of the people at work. We did see their looms, and one of them had the beginning of a bedspread and a dresser scarf.
From Redfield to Highmore we had some very chucky roads and had to make some detours. We arrived in Highmore just at dusk, and pitched our tent near the railroad.
AUGUST 13, 1920
The next morning, Friday, we got an early start and drove to Pierre. The view was beautiful coming into the city. We arrived about eleven o'clock and drove to the Capitol. While Will went into the office of the State Superintendent, we looked over the building. Then we called at Mrs. Sanders's, just across from the Capitol, said "Hello," and went from there downtown for a good dinner. Crossing the Missouri River on a ferry boat, we drove into Ft. Pierre.
From there to Philip it was 90 miles and only two places between where one could get oil or gasoline. The hills were terrible and numerous. Some places we almost climbed walls for several feet. When we were only about halfway, a cylinder broke its spring, and we ran for miles on five cylinders. Another car load of people stopped to talk, and they suggested we look at our battery. We found it just about dry. It wouldn't have run many miles more. These people had a bottle of distilled water, and filled up our battery for us. As soon as we reached the next stopping place, a mechanic fixed the spring, and we drove into Philip just after sunset. That was "some drive."
AUGUST 14, 1920
The next morning we left Philip about 7:30 AM, and drove to Rapid City. We drove to Miss Hewett's home, and Will got her to endorse a check he wanted cashed. Then we drove out to the State School of Mines. There were two good-sized buildings, but it is located near the railroad, and the campus doesn't amount to much. We bought some postcards, and Will saw two University girls in the drug store.
We left there some time around four o'clock, and drove over some of the worst, rocky hills one could imagine. We wanted to make Hot Springs that night, but gave up and stopped at Buffalo Gap, after having to drive for a while after dark. We happened to camp across from the moving picture house, and as it was Saturday night, everybody from all the country around was there.
AUGUST 15, 1920
We left for Hot Springs about 9:00 AM Sunday morning. The roads were pretty good most of the way. Several times we had to drive through mountain streams that crossed the road, but they were shallow and clear, so we could see the bottom. We got into Hot Springs about ten o'clock, drove out to see the State Home for Old Soldiers. On the way back we could see the national home for soldiers on an opposite hill. We drove to Evans Plunge, rented bathing suits, and went in for about three-quarters of an hour. It was fifty cents apiece and ten cents extra for bathing caps. We had lots of fun and all felt much better when we came out. Then we went downtown and had a good dinner.
As soon as possible we started for Wind Cave, twelve miles north of Hot Springs. It has now been converted into a national park, and they take parties through the cave twice a day. Two o'clock marks the beginning of the afternoon trip, and we were fifteen minutes early. They charge twenty-five cents a person. Everyone has to register. That day they took 130 or 135 down, one of the largest parties they have taken through.
When the crowd started down the first long flight of stairs, the men in the crowd carried lanterns and candles. We went down the steps through a small opening, and could feel the wind rushing up. We went 300 feet, and tramped about five miles going and coming. In many places there was just room to go through under the low ceilings, in other places we climbed almost straight up, and in still other places there were large rooms, with the ceiling once as high as ninety feet. The rocks looked like huge sponges with a honey comb formation in many places. It took us about three hours to make the round trip. It was wonderful. Coming out at five o'clock, we drove on to Custer, arriving there just at dark.
AUGUST 16, 1920
The next day, from Custer to Lead, we had some fierce roads. Some detours we had to make took us through the forest, and the road wound around through the pines very beautifully. We were in Lead at four o'clock in the afternoon, went to the post office for mail that was forwarded. We bought some supplies, and Will aired the tires before driving to camp. There was a good place to pitch out tent, city water, and other accommodations.
AUGUST 17, 1920
The next morning Will had his correspondence to finish up. Mrs. Elliott and I mended, washed a little, and wrote letters, while Dr. Elliott took his suitcase downtown to be mended.
All writing and other chores done, we drove to town for dinner at the restaurant. There an alumnus of the University [of South Dakota], Godfrey Fry, met us and took us to the Homestake Gold Mine, the largest gold mine in the world. They don't let anyone go down in the mine, but we saw all we could on top. The mine has been in operation for over thirty years, and we met several men who have been employed ever since it was opened.
First we went through the repair shops, where all sorts of repairing is done. Then we went to see what is reputed to be the greatest hoisting machine in the world. An enormous engine hoists great, long carriers that bring up seven tons of ore each time. Steel bands pull up the carriers. When one comes up filled and empty, one goes down. Mr. Fry's father has worked on this hoisting machine for something like 33 years. He sits up on a high platform in the middle of the big room full of machinery, like a king on a throne. As the bells give him warning he works certain levers, and by watching the belts that pull up the carriers he can tell when a carrier reaches the top and empties, and he does not see the carriers, for they are in another building. It is very simple: when two marks, on the ascending and descending steel belts come opposite one another, he knows it is time to reverse.
From this building we went to the foundry, where they make all sorts of molds, and in these they make everything that is used in the mine. Then we saw the big hopper affair where the ore is poured from the carriers. Here it is ground up somewhat, and runs over a belt at which a woman sits and picks off pieces of wood or other particles that may be mixed with the ore. This is the only place where women are employed.
Next we went to a building where this crushed ore comes through under heavy hammers, which work up and down very fast. The ore is very fine when it gets past the hammers. It then runs through water, or over water, and into troughs.
Then we drove down the hill a mile or more to another building, where what is left of the ore is run into immense vats sixty feet deep and twenty-five or thirty-five feet across. It takes hours to fill them, after which a cyanide mixture is poured over the ore, which now is like fine sand. The bottoms of these vats are covered with canvass. After a time water is turned through these vats, and it takes four hours to drain the water off. After they get all the gold they possibly can out of the ore, the remainder goes down to Deadwood and is put through a process there.
They count on not much gold being left when they are through with it. Just now they are not getting much out of the mine. They lack workers on account of low wages, but find it hard to get "top" men to go down in the mine. All we saw was very interesting and worth while.
We left there about 2:30 PM, and drove back through Deadwood on our way to Sundance, Wyoming. Our road was anything but good part of the way, and it was almost dark when [we] arrived at Sundance. It is a flourishing, small town about twenty-five miles from the railroad. We found a nice grassy spot beside the road, and while the men pitched the tent, Mrs. Elliott and I pared potatoes and apples for our supper. We learned that there had been a bad sand storm there all day, and the wind kept on blowing all night. It was impossible to sleep because of the flapping tent.
AUGUST 18, 1920
Before we left Sundance next morning, we stopped for a minute at the home of Mr. Elmore's daughter (he is a furniture man in Vermillion).
On the way from Sundance to Moorcroft we saw the Devil's Tower, a rock 800 feet high standing alone. From Sundance to Gillette we had some bad roads, and at Gillette another tourist coming from the west told us to go on to Sheridan if we had to drive after dark. He said there was a wonderful campground there, and we did find it a great place. We got into Sheridan about ten o'clock because Will had to drive slowly, in spite of the fact that the road was splendid. The camp grounds were well kept as to grass, with electric lights, city water, a good kitchen with gas ranges and plate, two stationary tubs, irons, and ironing board. There were at least twenty-five cars there that night.
AUGUST 19, 1920
The next morning Will cleaned the spark plugs, and we went over and had a look at the pretty city park, which is just across a little stream.
Will decided that the best way was to reach Cody via Billings, Montana. We left Sheridan about ten o'clock in the morning, and along about three o'clock we side-tripped a mile or so to visit the Custer battlefield. On the hilltop where Custer and half his men made their last stand, there is a large monument surrounded by an iron fence. This includes the grave where 250 men are buried. A white slab marks the place where each body was found. A few of the slabs were nearly a mile away, scattered to the southward, showing where the fight first began. A good many acres of the battlefield reserve have been given over to a national cemetery, and the old man who has the care of it seems to enjoy telling how Custer left half his men on the hills opposite with directions to come if they were needed, and when Custer fired the distress volleys, the men did not come. If they had come, the old man believes there were enough to have killed all the Indians. He has been in many fights with the Indians, and he says the old squaws come with knives, to hack to pieces the bodies of the killed.
We spent an hour there, and owing to the distance did not reach Billings until eight o'clock. We went to a restaurant for our supper, and received directions to the camp ground. We found a place so marked, but no other cars were there. We managed to drive in over a ditch and pitched the tent.
AUGUST 20, 1920
In driving out over this ditch next morning the rear spring on one side was broken, so we had one put on at the first garage. The grease cups were filled, the oil tank drained and refilled, and some other little things done. It was one o'clock when we left there, and in the meantime we learned that we had stopped at the old campground.
Will got up feeling badly that morning, because his stomach was off, and with all the car trouble we felt pretty bum. We drove until about five in the afternoon, and his head ached, so I insisted on stopping at Bowler, just a store and a house. The man who ran the store told us we would have to pay so much more for groceries farther along, that we decided to buy a lot of canned goods from him. We laid in almost enough to last us through the Park.
AUGUST 21, 1920
The next day we got a fairly early start, and I took the wheel. Everything went fine, until we got within a few miles of Powell, Wyoming. We crossed a spur of bad lands, and the road down the hill was narrow, steep, and curving sharply. I threw the car into second, and turned off the gas, but I was already going too fast for that to slow us down. Ralph was in front with me, and I had to have him use the emergency brake, while I handled the wheel and used the foot brake. I was terribly frightened, but we got down, going between 15 and 20 miles an hour. When I could stop, I gave up the wheel.
After driving through Powell, we stopped and ate our dinner before going into Cody. Five or six miles out of Cody a rear tire had went down, and we had to change. It was the first time our extra tire had been used. When we got into Cody, Will found that the brace which holds the gasoline tank in place, was broken in two. He secured a blacksmith to mend it, and took his punctured tube to another place for repair.
While this was going on, Mrs. Elliott and I went to a restroom and lay down on couch to nap. But there were too many flies. Will got a big bundle of mail, and we bought a lot of postcards. It was almost seven before we got the tire mended and found the camping place, which is on the school grounds. After supper Will went to the county superintendent's office, and wrote letters until 1:30 AM.
AUGUST 22, 1920
The next morning, Sunday, we left for the Park. We didn't get a very early start, but had no trouble and made good time. As soon as you leave Cody, you begin to go up and down steep hills, cross the Shoshone River, past the sulphur mills to the mouth of the Shoshone Canyon, between Rattlesnake and Cedar mountains. The road is narrow, with some very steep grades. It passes through four small tunnels before it reaches the dam. The river tumbles along far below, and the mountains on either side with their colorings of red, yellow, gray, and brown, with the blue sky above, make a very impressive picture. To most people it is awe-inspiring. The dam is a wonderful engineering accomplishment, the second highest in the world. After leaving it, you drive through one more tunnel before coming out into the open beside Shoshone Lake. The road winds along beside this beautiful lake, with the mountains on either side for several miles, and the valley widens. Several ranch houses are to be seen, and a few fertile cultivated fields. The mountains are rugged, and some are highly colored. On account of their ruggedness, one sees all sorts of fantastic and comical things. The Laughing Pig, the Goops, the Goose, the Elephant's Head, the Wooden Shoe, the Bear, Thor's Anvil, and Holy City are all picked out quickly.
Excerpted from Touring America by Automobile in the 1920s by William A. Cook, Janice Rhayem. Copyright © 2017 William A. Cook. Excerpted by permission of Sunbury Press, Inc..
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Table of Contents
Prologue: A Brief History of the Automobile and Highway in America,
JOURNEY ONE: Vermillion, South Dakota, to Yellowstone Park to Vermillion, 1920,
JOURNEY TWO: Trip South — Cincinnati, Ohio, to Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Return, 1927,
About the Cooks,
About the Author,