Sunday, April 30, 2017

(11) Preparations, Sea Trials, Part II

(2) Dog Valley Days 

One week after the Packard Tour I went on another tour of the Lincoln Highway in California and Nevada. Although this tour was again of the Lincoln Highway in California and Nevada it was completely unlike the Packard tour. This time I was with members of the Nevada chapter of the Lincoln Highway Association. I was able to snag a ride with Jim Bonar, former Director of the Nevada Chapter. This turned out to be a stroke of luck as Jim's knowledge of the Lincoln Highway through the Sierras of California and Nevada is second to none.

I left my blue '67 Ranchero at the parking lot of the casino where we rendezvoused. I was not the only one to leave my classic car behind. All of the cars on this tour had high ground clearance and most were four-wheel-drive. The Dog Valley Route is on forest service roads. I think my Ranchero would have made it, but I would've had to devote three or four days to cleaning it and getting the dust out of all the nooks and crannies. It was better to leave it at back in the paved parking lot. Riding with Jim assured a bonus that I would learn something on this trip as well.

Original Pavement, East of Verdi, Nevada. 
The tour began with the viewing of some old Bridge abutments and sections of pavement of the Lincoln Highway. Only dedicated highway enthusiasts ("Roadies") or the clinically insane become excited over viewing old pieces of broken concrete. The fact that I was one of those getting excited means that I fit into the one of the two categories. Sadly, as this is being written the historic old pavement is threatened with destruction and removal for development.

Border Obelisk and interpretive sign on the Dog Valley Route

Heness Pass Road

We then proceeded up Henness Pass Road and into Dog Valley. Henness Pass Road and Dog Valley is the original route of the Lincoln Highway over the Sierras. It is a road that is steeped in history. Before the Lincoln Highway the road was used to bring supplies to the Comstock mines. Before that it was the Emigrant Trail into California.

Alder Creek Campsite

Very near the dog Valley Route is the Alder Creek campsite of George and Jacob Donner. It is now a beautiful roadside picnic area. Standing there looking out over the peaceful scene it is difficult to comprehend the horrors of the winter of 1846-1847. George and Jacob Donner lost their lives very near this route. George and Jacob did not even make it to the eastern shores of the lake that would later bear their family name. George's wagon suffered damage near Alder Creek. When the wagon was damaged George suffered a serious injury. George, Jacob and their families and Teamsters made camp at Alder Creek. Neither George nor Jacob would survive the winter and never left the Alder Creek campsite.

Plaques at Alder Creek to the Memory of Tamsen and Elizabeth Donner

A tender footnote to this saga involves the story of Tamsen Donner, George's young wife. Tamsen remained strong through the winter and nursed her husband, George. When a relief party arrived at Alder Creek the rescuers and husband George urged Tamsen to leave with the rescue party. Tamsen refused wishing to nurse her husband in the final few hours of his life. After George died Tamsen hiked to the main camp at the east end of Donner Lake. In addition to caring for George in his last hours, Tamsen saw to it that her children were put into the hands of the rescuers, but she did not survive the winter.

Alder Creek, site of George and Jacob Donner camp
Several years ago, The Anthropology Department of the University of Nevada excavated the Alder Creek Site. To assist the dig, Cadaver Dogs were used to identify the places where human remains were present. The remains cannot be detected by humans, but even with the passage of more than 170 years the dogs can detect the presence. Separate teams of dogs each independently identified several points. I was with Greg Palmer last summer (2016) as he marked the places the dogs had identified. Likely one of these is the final resting place of George and Jacob Donner and others who made camp here.

Greg Palmer marking a place identified as
containing human remains

Truckee River Route Petition
Copy Courtesy of Norm Saylor
Truckee River Route

The Dog Valley Route was abandoned for the Truckee River Route by the mid-1920s. There was a petition drive by residents and businesses in Truckee, Reno and San Francisco in favor of the Truckee River Route. Norm Saylor has many of the original petitions that were signed and delivered to the California Department of highways. The new route was 11 miles shorter, avoided several difficult summits and was considered more scenic and also gave additional opportunities for camping and tourist activities. While all of this is true, it has also been argued that an improved Dog Valley Route would have been even shorter than the Truckee River Route and would have been less expensive to construct.

The Truckee River Route evolved from the Lincoln Highway and Victory Highway into US Highway 40 and ultimately into Interstate 80. The fact that Interstate 80 still uses this route is a testament to the Truckee River Route. Nonetheless, Dog Valley serves as a quiet and beautiful reminder of the rich past of this region of the Sierra Nevada.

Truckee River Route of the Lincoln and Victory Highways

Saturday, April 15, 2017

(10) Preparations, Sea Trials PART I

(1) A Ford Amongst The Packards

Palace of the Legion of Honor
Lincoln Park, San Francisco

Before setting off on this cross-country trek I decided it would be best to make a couple of trial runs. As much as I'd like to believe that "failure is not an option," it is certainly a potential outcome. But a little bit of practice can minimize the chance of failure and help in anticipating the challenges of the road. Practice may not be as important as vehicle preparation, but it will help in anticipating problems.

Ready to go
"Wait, Just 1 more picture"
For the first trial run I decided to do a tour with a group. Last September the San Diego Packard club and the California Lincoln Highway Association sponsored a tour of the Lincoln Highway in California. California is the one place that has had, since the inception of the Lincoln Highway, two routes. One route travels west from Reno, over Donner Summit and down to Sacramento. The second route travels the South Shore of Lake Tahoe and runs down what is now Highway 50. This one is often referred to as the "Pioneer Route". In all other cases it was the goal of the association to find the single most efficient route.

After leaving Lincoln Park in San Francisco, our first stop was at the Blackhawk Automobile museum in Danville in the East Bay from there we travelled to Livermore, then over Altamont Pass to Tracey. Then it was North to Stockton and Sacramento.

Western Terminus, Lincoln Highway Lincoln Park, San Francisco

Blackhawk Auto Museum, Danville, Ca

Summit Garage, Altamont, Ca

After spending the night in Sacramento, we climbed into the Sierras through Placerville and over Echo Summit, then on to Reno. The San Diego Packard Club is really a great group to tour with. They were very welcoming and didn't mind at all having an old Ford with its sometimes grumpy owner joing them. Having been to a lot of car shows where there are a lot of "trailer queens" it was nice to see people actually using their cars for an extended road trip. If I had any questions about the cars or the tour I knew that I could simply "ask the man who owns one."

Kyburz, Ca. Pioneer Route, Lincoln Highway
No one is really quite sure why there are two Lincoln Highway routes across the Sierras to Sacramento. Some say that Henry Joy, Lincoln Highway Association president, was really taken by the beauty of South Lake Tahoe and the road that would become the highway 50 corridor. My own theory is that two routes were provided because of the notorious reputation of the passes into California. When the Lincoln Highway was created, it was less than 70 years since the Donner tragedy. Even now, with modern snow removal equipment, Donner Pass is often closed by bad weather. Whatever the reason, the fact that there were two routes over the mountains meant we were able to see some beautiful scenery, but not have to back track. There are other places along The Highway where there are two routes, however these other spots are usually result of later alignments finding a more efficient route.

Echo Summit
I'm glad that I took this first trial run with a group tour. I learned some important lessons which will help on the cross country trip. I also learned some things about myself. One thing that I learned was that although I was raised in the San Francisco Bay area I really have no tolerance for heavy traffic or crowded roads. At one point I even made the snide comment that the tour should be called: "The Northern California Traffic Tour". Even US Highway 99, north of Stockton, was at times backed up. I am amazed that there are people who voluntarily subject themselves to this on a daily basis. Oh well, to each his own.

Carson City Mint, Sept. 24, 2016 We missed a ceremony held
earlier in the day observing the 150th anniversary of the setting
of the cornerstone. (Traffic cones are a later addition)
Another thing I learned was that I took the wrong car. Believe it or not I own two old Rancheros one is a 1959 that Linda and I will be driving east across America. The other Ranchero is a 1967 that my parents bought new. It is not as nice of a travel car as the 1959. The 1967 is a stripped down, basic 6 cylinder, while the 1959 has a big engine, is better insulated and has air-conditioning so that the windows can be rolled up on hot days while traveling on a crowded freeway. The crowded freeway in the hot noisy car also contributed to my ill temper. I had originally planned to take the '59, but I was still working out some issues from the rebuild. The 1967 was a sure thing. On a positive note I averaged over 20 miles to the gallon on the tour.

Nevada's grand old Statehouse

Ultimately my dislike of the heavy traffic of California urban areas caused me to leave the tour before I reached Sacramento on the return trip. I have to say there were a couple of things unique to California driving that contributed to my aggravation. One occurred after the Banquet at the Auto Museum in Reno. I had decided to drive to the cabin at Donner Lake to spend the night. No need to run up and expensive motel bill when I had a comfortable bed and more pleasant surroundings just 35 miles west of Reno. Unfortunately, I failed to take into account that Highway 80 would be closed that night. It was not closed for snow or weather, rather it was closed for a gang shooting that was taking place at the agricultural inspection station just east of Truckee. Shootings in the Sierras and in Reno are not necessarily uncommon occurrences in September. They often coincide with a Reno motorcycle event called "Thunder in the Streets" or something like that. What amazed me the most was that nobody seem to be making a big deal out of the fact that a major interstate east-west highway was closed for an active shooting. Apparently, it was just a recreational shooting. No need for alarm. The folks in Reno were just happy that the bikers had chosen to leave the city before drawing their guns. The year before the guns were drawn and the shots were fired inside of a casino in downtown Sparks.

Lincoln Highway along Donner Lake
After a partial night's sleep at Donner I joined up with the tour participants again at the Donner Memorial State Park. There, we had a tour by docent Greg Palmer. Following the tour we were also able to tour the museum at the State Park. The Donner Party tragedy is hard to comprehend. While some say the emigrants brought it on themselves by a late start, incompetence and poor leadership I find myself thinking that they were not that far out of the norm of 19th century farmers. They were in a difficult situation, they were late, they had taken a route that was untried and untested based on advice from a 19th century con artist and the snows came just a little early that year. Add to the mixture stress and short tempers it becomes easy to see how circumstances overwhelmed them.

Neil Rodrigues, Vice President, Ca. Chapter, LHA

I stayed with the tour down the western slopes of the Sierras and then as the afternoon temperatures climbed and the traffic increased I decided to peel off and return to Donner. All in all I enjoyed the tour and I'm glad that I did it. One of the chief things I learned was that my road atlases were not going to be sufficient. They required me to take my eyes off the road too often and to recall the details of the comprehensive driving instructions more often than I wanted to do. I had begun to consider a GPS even before I did this tour. I was told to save my money and to simply use my smart phone. I found out very quickly that the smart phone is inadequate for this type of touring. If you don't have a GPS that can sit on the dashboard so that you don't have to take your eyes very far off the road then you need a navigator who will be happy to hear you recount the details of the tour and what the driver saw at 60 miles an hour.

A Ford Amongst the Packards

Saturday, April 1, 2017

(9) Supplies

Morning Coffee

"What do we need to take on this trip?" This simple question has consumed much of my spare time over the last 10 or 12 months. A little voice repeating this question at times wakes me up at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. My angst is more of my own creation than it is of this journey. Yet the question is a little bit tougher for us because we've chosen to make the journey in a 1959 automobile and because of our plans to camp most of the way. We also plan to prepare at least half of our meals on the road, over a Coleman stove. Certainly this trip would be much simpler if we were driving a brand-new car, sleeping in a motel and eating in restaurants. But what's the fun in that?

By un-complicating things it seems that I have complicated things. Suddenly I have to worry about spare parts and what tools to to take a long for the inevitable repairs.
From Station Wagon living
Ford Motor Co.

Linda and I are certainly not the first coast-to-coast travelers to confront questions of what supplies and camp items to take on our journey. Emily Post and Frederic Van de Water faced the same questions. Interestingly enough both employed a similar approach in solving the problem. Ultimately they laid their clothing or their camping gear and supplies out and compared the size of the pile to how much room they had in the car. Both were seeking a "Goldilocks equation", that is making sure you have everything you need without taking too much.

Van de Water was a little more successful in estimating his needs than Emily Post. Post had to ship things home from the road. Van de Water and his family shipped some of their clothing ahead to San Francisco, deciding that most of their clothes were not needed on the road.

The lesson learned is that if you aren't going to need something don't take it. The proliferation of stores and the wonder of overnight shipping allows you some wiggle room in your estimates. But if you don't need it, don't take it!

When the California Missions were planned along El Camino Real in the 18th century, the missions were established a day's journey apart (walking distance). In crossing the United States by auto, our modern-day equivalent to the California missions are Walmart, Lowe's, Menard's and NAPA auto parts. I know that I will never be more than a day's drive from the supplies I need to complete this trip. If the parts aren't at one of those stores there is always the Internet.

I think today's travel has become much more individualized. What equipment, supplies and repair parts need to be taken along depends on the style of travel that one chooses. Traveling with a new car and staying in motels requires little more than a cell phone and either of road atlas or a GPS. Certainly having towing on your auto insurance policy would also be of aid.
Model T Camping,
Ford Motor Co. Photo
Crossing the continent in the 19th century meant being self-reliant and trusting skills of yourself and others in your party. Crossing the Lincoln Highway in the early 20th century still meant being self-reliant, but was considerably easier. The 1924 edition of the Official Road Guide of the Lincoln Highway provided a list of supplies and provisions. It also reviewed the list of provisions for 1866. In 1924 the 1866 advice of taking along a cast-iron woodstove was no longer relevant. No longer relevant to us today is the 1924 advice for patching inner tubes and tires. If we don't pack enough food we might have rumbly tummies for an afternoon but we certainly won't end up like the Donner party.

Even taking into account automobile repairs, the Internet and overnight mail have made things easier. Should something break on my Ranchero I can contact Summit Racing ( and order what I need and it will be shipped to me, wherever I am, within a day or two.The people that I speak with over the telephone will undoubtedly be knowledgeable and helpful.

Making this trip is now much easier than it would have been in the past, but it still requires some degree of planning.

Lakeview Motel, Donner Lake, Ca.