“. . .we located a ford and secured two men and a team of horses to tow us through the current, which was very swift.”
The following passage, excerpted from the journal of a businessman named J. B. Powles, was included in a longer story published in April of 1907 by The Ranch, a newspaper based in Seattle, Washington. The passage relates, in part, the adventure of Powles as he drove an early make automobile, “a twenty-horsepower 1907 model Franklin machine,” through the California countryside during winter.
The route he took through Santa Barbara County over rough and rocky dirt roads was originally made for horses. This period of history was a transitional time between horse drawn carriages and gasoline powered vehicles. Much of Powles’ experience revolves around dealing with the hazards and poor conditions of the rural and primitive roads, which had originally been built for stagecoaches and buckboards.
In the full article Powles mentions numerous times the road being washed out or undermined by the river and repeatedly writes of the muddy conditions and the need to use tire chains. In one instance he admits turning back to rest for the night “owing to condition of roads and darkness.”
Like other narratives published in newspapers of the time, in which the novel thrill alone of driving the newly created automobile is the point of the story, Powles’ trip log reads like a report on road conditions and how his “machine” handled them.
Owing to the long stretches of desolate countryside and wilderness between towns, the absence of any communication out on the road but for word of mouth, the challenging conditions of remote roads and questionable reliability of early automobiles, it seems it really was a “remarkable” experience to go out for a cross country drive in southern California in the early twentieth century. Traveling by auto was an exciting but iffy prospect.
February 18—Left Paso Robles and took the road to Pismo Beach so as to divide the day’s ride. The roads were only fairly good and as we were not certain of our course we followed the telegraph poles. Left Pismo Beach shortly after noon and joined the main road to Arroyo Grande. Stopped at Santa Maria for instructions as to how to get to Los Olivos and then missed the road and took the one to Los Alamos. This was a very dangerous road because of bridges being out and the roadway undermined by the overflow of the river. We resumed the right course and proceeded to Los Olivos. After passing this place we lost our way to Alamo Pintado, but were redirected. There were lots of washouts along the way. At both Alamo Pintado and Paso Robles we found that no other vehicles had been through for seven weeks on account of the bad roads.
February 19—Had to avoid the regular pass to Santa Barbara—Gaviota Pass—because of bad wash outs. We took the San Marcos Pass, which is dangerous under any conditions, and is prohibited to automobiles. After leaving Alamo Pintado we encountered the river and found that the bridge was washed out. After some trouble we located a ford and secured two men and a team of horses to tow us through the current, which was very swift. From here on the road was very tortuous and dangerous. It was steep and rocky and we used the low gear almost constantly. At the highest elevation the pass was 3,300 feet above sea level. We crossed 38 arroyos. We reached Santa Barbara just after dark, with little carbide and very little gasoline left.
February 19—At Santa Barbara, we learned that the roads were entirely out and impassable and we consequently decided to ship our automobile to Los Angeles and took the steamer State of California to port of Los Angeles.