The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume 5, Number 2, Pages 28-32
By David Douglas Smith
David Douglas Smith, a student at Eastern Washington University, has written this article, fifty years after the event, about his grandfather's nonstop 3,809 mile auto trip in a Dodge model D. D. car. In many ways, grandfather, Frank P. Smith, was one of Spokane's first "Dodge Boys - One of the good guys in the white hats."
Frank P. Smith was a man of action.
He had just recently returned from his tour of duty in World War I where he had been severely wounded in action. Most men would have been content to enjoy the slower pace of civilian life. But not Frank. It was his nature to be busy. He was a natural extrovert and it was this inclination that gave him the idea to try something that had never been done before: a non-stop goodwill tour by automobile, from Spokane, Washington to the U.S./Canadian Border, and from there to the U.S. Mexican border, and then back to Spokane. This represented a total distance of over 3,800 miles.
Once the idea hit him, he became obsessed with planning the impossible trip. He charted the whole route and secured the financial backing before telling his wife or his close friends. He was able to convince Regal Brothers Dodge of Spokane, which was at that time the second oldest Dodge dealer in the United States, to furnish a 1930, 6 cylinder, Dodge model D.D. car. Goodrich tires provided him with their new "Silver Towns" complete with air container tubes. Richfield provided the gasoline. The American Legion of which Frank was a member sponsored the expedition. Their sponsorship included provisions, and escorts to insure against traffic problems. Frank picked Grant Ware, the Adjutant of the local American Legion post, to accompany him on the trip.
Grant, although an introvert, was as mutually liked and respected as Frank. Grant was also seriously wounded in the first World War. He was an amputee with a wooden leg.
It was decided that the driving would be split equally between the two. They would alternate three hour shifts. When not driving, Frank was in charge of the mechanical operation of the car. He had devised a method of refueling while moving the car around the gas station. Frank would climb out onto the back end of the car and shout instructions to the people of each community who had volunteered to help. Refueling was a complicated process that involved funneling gas into a barrel that was fastened to the outside of the car. He also developed a system that enabled the driver to change the oil simply by pressing a lever with his foot. Finally he had a sealed device installed near the wheels of the car that would record the time and mileage as well as puncture a card if the car's wheels ever stopped turning forward. This card was checked before leaving, by the Commander of the Spokane Post, L. R. Knipe; and upon their return by Warren W. Greenleigh.
I think I need a Dodge D.D. instead of this heap!
An adjutant in the American Legion is the same as what we generally refer to as a secretary. When he wasn't driving, Grant Ware corresponded with the Spokane Daily Chronicle thus leaving us with an invaluable history of their adventure.
From March 21, 1930 until the evening of their departure the Chronicle carried information on how and where the trip would be taken. During the trip the Chronicle had exclusive rights to the story in the Spokane area. The Inland Automobile Association presented them with an emblem for the car, and the "boys back at the legion" pledged a membership drive to complement their trip. The Legionnaires vowed to get one new member for each ten miles the car traveled.
On the morning of March 28, 1930 all systems were go. All that was left to do was to wait until 6:30 p.m. when the trip would start.
A reporter asked Grant Ware, "Suppose you had to stop for an instant because of a traffic jam or something from which you could not turn or avoid?" He replied, "We just don't figure on stopping. We haven't given it enough consideration to know what we might do if we had to stop; whether we would continue or come back and start over. We just aren't going to stop." With a feeling of kinship and a shared sense of confidence their fellow citizens came out in force that night to give them a rousing Bon Voyage. As a special tribute the Spokane police force provided an escort out of the city.
Just before midnight they reached the Canadian border. Grant Ware recorded this event in a telegram to the Chronicle. "A few miles south of the line we saw the car of one of the border patrol and were careful they got a good look at our car so they would not stop us as we came back. At the line we were met by W. M. Kartsmark and Arthur Clark, both legionnaires, of the customs. They cleared us in a circle over the line, and handed in a certificate to that effect." By 6:30 a.m. they were back in Spokane again and on their way to Mexico or as Frank put it, "From pines to palms. "
The trip was almost ruined over the first weekend due to careless automobile drivers and a speck of dust that somehow got merged in the Tetco time and motion recorder. Grant Ware recorded the near catastrophes:
"Along came a country boy who missed us head-on by inches while watching the excitement."(Near Colfax, Washington) Another thrill here when a half awake driver nearly ran over our highway patrolman, who was stopping traffic on a street and stopped dead in front of us and not three feet away. I shot into low gear and crawled at him and he moved out just in time to save a fender as we are not stopping." (Occurred near Lodi, California) Likewise in Eugene a driver almost ruined the expedition due to his lack of attention. Not all of the unprepared drivers were problems. In fact one car passed them three times. On their last pass the unknown drivers passed them each an ice cream sandwich, proving as Grant said "that there are still a lot of mighty friendly people in the world."
The only mechanical difficulty they encountered almost ended their trip just south of Grants Pass on Monday, March 31. The needle valve stuck and the motor wouldn't idle. The car was using one gallon of gasoline per mile. Frank threw out the clutch, raced the engine, and the trouble ceased.
The cooperation they received is evident in the fact that the California State Border Patrol, and the Federal Border Patrol, at the U.S./Mexican line, both allowed an inspector to board the moving vehicle in order to fulfill regulations and insure the continuance of the trip.
In almost every town they passed, the citizens would form a parade to escort them through town or help with the refueling process. Their system of refueling must have been spectacular for almost everywhere they attempted it they were swamped with curious onlookers which usually added to the problems. As Mr. Ware commented, "If these legionnaires were not so enthusiastic in the number of members in their convoys, and the refueling didn't draw such crowds, things would be getting pretty well adjusted, but as it is there is no lack of excitement."
Los Angeles was reached in the early hours of April 1. Since the Los Angeles Police Department failed to produce a police escort, Frank's sister Marie S. Nine, a citizen of Los Angeles, served them in this capacity.
According to schedule they were to cross the Mexican border and quickly slip back across into the United States and start the return north. However, the Mexicans would have nothing of the sort. They surprised our boys with a reception described as second only to the welcome extended to Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh. Grant said in his telegram to the Chronicle: "We imagined that we would merely cross the border and return, getting the signed slip as our reward. But to our surprise Billy Silver, representing the Mexican Chamber of Commerce, requested us to circle for a moment and then prepare for a trip to Tia Juana and Agua Caliente. Assigned as motorcycle escort was Louis Ayala of Tia Juana, and let me state here and now that he is a super motorcycle officer. Silver was everywhere directing American and Mexican photographers and doing everything, as he stated "for the representatives of the distinguished American Legion."
The return trip to Spokane must have been the most grueling. Both drivers were suffering from lack of sleep. The most sleep they'd had was about ten hours apiece. Neither had been able to shave, and both men reported feeling rather scruffy. However no one else seemed to mind; as the accounts are full of dignitaries and friends who boarded the car for short visits.
At the same time that the asphalt pilots, as they referred to themselves, were preparing for the last trek northward, the citizens of Spokane were busy preparing to welcome home their boys with a reception that would rival all of the other communities' welcomes put together. The reception began in Walla Walla where they were met by Dick Cashatt. At Waverly the high school band played for them. Motorcycle police from Spokane picked them up en route and escorted them into town. At Spangle, seven cars carrying city officials, legion officers and relatives intercepted them, while four army airplanes from Felts field gave them an aerial salute. Then when they reached Spokane, they were treated to a parade in their honor. The response of the crowd was so great that extra special care had to be taken to insure that the car wouldn't be forced to stop before they reached their point of origin at the Legion's headquarters in the old Dessert Hotel on south Post.
Both Frank and Grant were overwhelmed by the welcome they received. On April 6, 1930, in his last letter to the Chronicle, Grant Ware expressed their appreciation as follows: "It simply took our breath away when we saw what was waiting for us. It can be best indicated by the following happening: Frank was to pull the car into Spokane and this he did. When we stopped in front of the Legion office it gave us that groggy feeling such as we had not had on the trip.
We started on the parade and after a few blocks Frank said, 'Here, Grant, slide under the wheel. That reception has taken the starch out of my knees so bad that I can't shove out the clutch.' "I was about in the same shape but managed to pull through."
They were scheduled to arrive in Spokane at 2:00 p.m. on April 4. They actually arrived at 2:01 p.m. on April 4. They were on schedule even though they went almost an hour out of their way in Mexico as well as losing time in unscheduled parades in some of the smaller towns. The record shows that they traveled 3,809.3 miles in 163 1/2 hours setting a "new" automobile record. The record also shows that the car made 23.3 miles per gallon. One oil change was made, and no water was added to the radiator. Their goals had been both to complete the non-stop trip and promote international goodwill. They were successful in both endeavors.
Letters from Grant Ware to the Spokane Daily Chronicle reprinted by permission of Spokane Daily Chronicle.
March 29, 1930, Friday
Well, here we go rolling along as pretty as you please. Never heard a motor sound sweeter and the old Tetco time and motion recorder is doing its stuff.
Pulling out of Spokane behind four speed cops was a thrill. Usually the wail of the siren is one of those things the motorist doesn't like to hear, but this time it was music to our ears. Traffic melted like magic and we cruised along at 20 and 25 miles an hour out Monroe and Wall to the city limits. Here our good convoy quit us.
Looking back in the mirror it was another thrill to see our good friends McGoldrick and Lambert in the endurance run car, until we hit the foot of the Monroe hill. This was too much for their veteran contraption and we parted company.
Start With Rations.
Before starting, L. R. Knipe, commander of Spokane post, put his signature on our Tetco sheet and as we started it was sealed and locked.
Via Dessert of the Dessert Hotel, gave us two boxes of rations. This is appreciated and the jar of coffee is great.
Jumping back a day, we had an experience that gave us some good knowledge. We decided yesterday to fill our tank under actual conditions. We pulled into a service station and circled the lot. Everything was fine and clear. Frank went out on the rear deck and we took on three loads of gas.
About five miles south of Colville, Dr. and Mrs. Goetter picked us up and with them was none other than Past State Commander Raftis, who acted as master of ceremonies, leaning far out and waving us on. In the car also were Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Rogers. Colville was cleared at 10:05 - 25 minutes ahead of schedule. Then through Myers Falls.
A few miles south of the line we saw the car of one of the border patrol and were careful they got a good look at our car so they would not stop us as we came back. At the line we were met by W. M. Kartzmark and Arthur Clark, both legionnaires, of the customs. They cleared us in a circle over the line, handed in a certificate to that effect.
We are driving three-hour shifts.
When I am off, the bearings on the typewriter smoke, or sleep is in order. When Frank is off he gets the gas up to level in the main tank and fusses with the mechanical details or sleeps.
Daylight hit at 5 a.m. and at 6:30 we were in Spokane again, where a convoy of speed cops again took us through. Frank says we are now on our way from pines to palms.
March 31, 1930, Monday
THE DALLES, Ore., March 29, 10:25 p.m. - Thrills and how: Colfax met us with six cars and a motorcycle and there was thrill No.1. As we picked them up, along came a country boy, who missed us head-on by inches while watching the excitement.
Dayton met us with the legion commander and highway patrol. Luncheon was served us on the "fly," and as we neared Walla Walla the chief of Police there came alongside. The legion colors were on his car. A patrol of three motorcycles escorted us all over town, and gave instructions about the road.
The Walla Walla post also gave us letters to President Rubio, Will Rogers, and commander of the Hollywood post of the legion. After crossing the Oregon line we soon came upon the delegation from Milton. We traveled through dust and heavy rainstorms much of the time but maintained our schedule.
One car whose occupants we do not know passed us three times today. The last time was about 6 o'clock. They pulled alongside and held out two ice cream sandwiches, which shows once again there are still a lot of mighty friendly people in this world.
Grant Wires From Lodi
LODI, Cal., March 31, 9:28 a.m. - Sacramento slipped up on its convoy so we went through to Stockton. Picked up gasoline on the way. A five-car convoy met us at Redding and accompanied us through the night. The car is running "sweet," and we are rarin' to go.
Another From Lodi
LODI, Cal., March 31, 10 a.m . -Took on gas at the Dalles and those boys were fast! Another thrill here when a half-awake driver nearly ran over our highway patrolman, who was stopping traffic on a street and stopped dead in front of us and not three feet away. I shot into low gear and crawled at him and he moved out just in time to save a fender as we are not stopping.
From there we continued to the Columbia River highway through intermittent rain to 82nd street in Portland. At Oregon City we were one hour and 15 minutes ahead of schedule. The next two hours was a crawl and we hit Salem at 4:45.
At Eugene we were convoyed through by Comrade Van Svarverud and Patrolman Howard. At Roseberg another highway patrolman and legionnaire picked us up and we took on fresh coffee. Patrolman Nichols and a convoy of five cars picked us up and we followed. In the middle of town a car started out between us but again no stop, although we barely touched a fender.
At Grants Pass we were met by a convoy and we refueled. There were some 20 cars in this convoy and the refueling was the fastest yet.
At this point a speck of dust got under the needle valve and it looked for a time as though the tour was nearing an end. By the time we reached Yreka, however Smith had worked this loose.
We were met at the California border by a member of the Yreka post with one of the highway patrol cars. Arrangements had been made to take the inspector aboard and he inspected our car thoroughly while moving. This is another of the splendid bits of cooperation that has been shown on this entire trip. This required considerable work and friendly attitude on the part of the inspector and is rarely done.
April 1, 1930, Tuesday
San Diego Before Noon
The Chronicle received the following message from Grant Ware at San Diego just before noon today. San Diego is 20 miles from the border.
"Met at Bakersfield by Ralph L. Patrick, brother of the past national chaplain of the legion, and two patrolmen who shot us through town. Los Angeles had no escort, but we met Frank's sister and she took us through. About to refuel at San Diego and then Mexico."
- - -
By Grant Ware, Bakersfield, Cal., March 31, 10:14 p.m.
Just cruising along and minding our business, which is mainly the problem of refueling. All our big trouble comes there.
It is hard to make our refueling helpers understand just what is desired.
As an example, we were picked up this morning by Commander W. C. Myers and Highway Patrolman Ben Heppner of Lodi post. We had missed our contact at Sacramento and decided to refuel at Stockton. We told them what we wanted and when we arrived we had to make half our swing on the main street, and talk about close calls! It was a big business to duck through with two men trying to swing traffic away from our run, but we got it anyhow and then on to Fresno, where they had us scheduled for refueling.
Have Narrow Escape
The car is using so little gas, however, that we decided not to gas. However, they wanted to photograph us so we started in with a motorcycle officer in front. Came within inches of getting stopped again when a lady backed out between us and the officer. But we crawled, yelled and honked until she got out of the way and let us slip by.