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The First Trans-West Coast Automobile Trip

08/21/2015 08:45AM ● By Al Rocca


September 2015
By Al Rocca

While early automobiles puffed and snorted around major urban areas of America before 1900, it was in the first few years of the new century when they appeared in rural northern California. Probably the most famous, and the first such episode, occurred during the last week in September 1902, creating quite a stir in Shasta County. George W. Carmack, the self-proclaimed discoverer and promoter of the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon, drove his automobile confidently into Redding, accompanied by his wife, Marguerite. Carmack’s riches allowed him to purchase an automobile, a Mobile Runabout, in Seattle where they resided. He became obsessed with the idea of driving all the way from Seattle to San Francisco, a distance of more than 800 miles on the crude dirt roads of the time period. The kerosene-burning steamer did well, though not without challenges almost every day.

The town practically stopped all activity, as residents rushed to see the “bronzed travelers.” A reporter from the Free Press Newspaper secured an interview from which the following is reported.

“We left Seattle August 31st, and loitered eight days on the road,” said Mrs. Carmack, who was quite communicative, while her husband was busy twisting up bolts, opening valves, and oiling here and there “so you see we made the trip in fifteen days.”

[Reporter] “How far have you travelled?” “George,” continued she, “look at the cyclometer, please. How far have we come?’

“Exactly 631 miles,” replied the discoverer of the Klondike.

[Mrs. Carmack] “We have had a wonderful trip. I guess no automobile ever made it before. No one would have thought it possible, except George. We have passed through some wild country, up steep grades, over rocky roads and in a few places where there were no roads at all. In Cow Creek Canyon (Hungry Man’s Canyon, some call it) we had none at all in some places. Not even a wagon had even passed over the ground. We had to find our own road.”

“We have come through without even a puncture, in spite of it all. The worst road we had was from Toledo to Castle Rock Washington. Roberts Hill, Oregon, was very bad. We had little trouble in passing over the Siskiyous but we are glad to get out into the Sacramento Valley where we shall have easy wheeling the rest of the way.”

[Reporter] “Your destination?”

“Is San Francisco,” replied Mrs. Carmack. “We are going to visit my mother, Mrs. E. Hardt, at 2001 Jackson Street. We ought to reach her Thursday surely [3 more days], although we are not trying to make speed. We generally start about eight in the morning and make camp at 5 in the afternoon, wherever that hour finds us.”

[Reporter] “Your machine?”

“It weighs over a ton and cost $10,000. We carry over 200 pounds of luggage and besides have fuel and machine repairs. We use steam for motor power. Gasoline automobiles are not such climbers as those operated by steam, and ours is a climber,” continued the lady as she patted lovingly the sides of her vehicle and in doing so almost hit a silver-mounted revolver that lay by her side.
“We have gasoline for fuel and carry twenty-seven gallons. We have to take water every ten miles.”

[Reporter] “Do you ever expect to return to the Klondike?”

“No. We have all the money we want and are going to take things easy and have all the pleasure we can, aren’t we, George?” addressing her husband. “You bet we are,” he replied, and he squirted some oil on another joint. “We left the Klondike in 1899 and never expect to return. My husband has no interests there. He has five quartz claims in the Cascades, all of which he is working just for the fun of being a miner.”

At this point George got into the automobile, bade the reporter a cordial goodbye, and sped around up town to lay in a supply of gasoline, and where they were the cynosure (center of attraction) of all eyes for half an hour while making other purchases.”

The Carmacks did eventually reach San Francisco, to the jubilation of automobile
enthusiasts in and around the Bay Area. In Redding, however, the incident was
soon forgotten. As one local resident succinctly put it, “This variety of vehicle
don’t find much favor up this way.”