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An Arizona Auto Adventure: Clarence Boynton’s 1913 Travelogue

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All photos courtesy the author. [Editor’s Note: Nancy Burgess is a historian and photographer specializing in the history of central Arizona and is the author of An Arizona Auto Adventure: Clarence Boynton’s 1913

All photos courtesy the author.

[Editor’s Note: Nancy Burgess is a historian and photographer specializing in the history of central Arizona and is the author of An Arizona Auto Adventure: Clarence Boynton’s 1913 Travelogue. She thought we’d like to see an excerpt from the book, showing just how much of an ordeal a trip by auto was more than 100 years ago. No photos were taken on the trip, so she supplemented the travelogue with historic photos of motoring in Arizona from the same time period.]

Today, we think nothing of getting into a vehicle, hitting the highway and driving 100 miles in a couple of hours or less. A modern driver could make a 1,000-mile trip in a few days, even traveling at a leisurely pace. But for five auto pioneers in 1913 in Arizona, their 1,000-mile trip took more than a month without even leaving the state. And thanks to the meticulous journaling of Clarence Boynton, one of the trip’s planners, we get a detailed look at just what it was like to take a road trip when there were no roads.

Just 18 months before the trip, in February of 1912, Arizona became a state. In 1912, there was no statewide road system, and many of the “roads” were nothing more than cattle trails, unimproved wagon or stagecoach roads or tracks across the forest or desert. Pavement was practically non-existent. Creek and river crossings were, for the most part, un-bridged and treacherous, whether wet or dry. The days of the stagecoach, freight wagon and horse and buggy were certainly not over, and automobiles were a rarity in the more rural communities in the state. “Gas stations,” such as they were, were few and far between. Maps were incomplete or incorrect, and in some areas roads were uncharted. It was no country for an auto.

“Machines” on an auto tour, 1903, representing three of the approximately 4,000 cars made in this country by 1904.  (Sharlot Hall Museum Library and Archives)

Clarence Boynton, who had a master’s degree in chemistry from Yale University, came to Phoenix in 1912. Shortly after their marriage, Clarence and Mariquita moved to Middlebury, Vermont, where Clarence was an assistant professor at Middlebury College. Within a short time, Clarence Boynton became ill and was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis. Clarence was told by his physician that if he didn’t make a move, he would surely die, and if he did move, there was a 50-50 chance of survival. In that era, treatment consisted of moving to a dry climate along with rest, so he and Mariquita moved to St. Luke’s Home in Phoenix, one of the many tuberculosis sanitariums in Arizona in the early 20th century.

This is an unused Real Photo Postcard dating from the 1920s. It is labeled “Among the Needles.” The Needles are a well-known series of rock formations in Granite Dells just a few miles north of Prescott on the Prescott to Ash Fork Highway (the current Arizona Highway 89).

Dr. William Warner Watkins came to Arizona shortly after his graduation from the Medical College of Virginia and was licensed in the Arizona Territory June 15, 1906. In 1911 he became the resident physician and Medical Director of St. Luke’s Home, and in that capacity became Boynton’s doctor. Not long after Boynton’s arrrival he—an avowed “autoist” enamored of the new-fangled automobile for pleasure driving, rather than for pure transportation—and Boynton decided to take a trip throughout Arizona in Warner’s 1913 Studebaker in part to demonstrate Boynton’s recovery at St. Luke’s. They would set out in the fall of 1913, accompanied by Mariquita, Warner’s wife Bessie and the Warners’ nine-month-old daughter Merial. Starting and ending in Phoenix, they would travel to Wickenburg, Castle Hot Springs, Kirkland, Skull Valley, Prescott, Clarkdale, Chino Valley, Ash Fork, the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Williams, Strawberry, Pine, Payson, Roosevelt, the Apache Trail, Mesa and back to Phoenix with numerous exciting, interesting or dreaded places in between. The men would camp out, for the most part, while the women would stay in hotels when available or, if not, camp out along with the men.

Wickenburg incorporated in 1909, and R. W. Baxter was elected a town councilman. The Baxter Hotel on Center Street (now Wickenburg Way) was one of Wickenburg’s earliest hotels. The rear wheels of the three early “machines” sport chains, perhaps a suggestion as to the conditions of the roads at the time, about 1910. Prior to establishing their own hotel, the Vernetta in 1905, the Baxter was run by Elizabeth and William Smith, two of the few black residents in Wickenburg. The Vernetta was for many years considered to be Wickenburg’s finest hotel. (Sharlot Hall Museum Library and Archives)

A group of “Autoists,” with a man driving and three women passengers plus a woman on horseback, are out for a drive on the Senator Highway near Prescott in 1915. It must be cool weather, as there is still some snow in the shady areas and everyone is wearing a coat. There is a teddy bear sitting on the hood of the machine. (Sharlot Hall Museum Library and Archives)

A description of road travel in the early days of Arizona statehood included sharing the “road” with travelers on foot, stagecoaches, freight and ore wagons, riders on horse, burro and muleback, along with other non-motorized conveyances, and, indeed, the Boyntons and the Watkins took advantage of some of these conveyances when the “machine” was “out of order.” Of one stretch of the trip, Boynton wrote:

Having passed through Wickenburg, about noon we arrived at Congress Junction (the railroad station for the Congress copper mine). This settlement, like many of the same, consists of a hotel and general store and several saloons. We were running toward a shower, so, while we ate dinner at the hotel, we had the curtains put up on the car. Our road apparently led away from the shower, so we started out right after dinner and not until we has [had] passed the town of Stanton did we get any of the rain. A blow-out held us up for quite a while. We were looking all the while for Yarnell Hill—the terror of autoists because of its roughness, steepness, and length—so every rocky grade that we came to we felt sure was Yarnell. There was no mistaking it when we came to the real place. The rock in the road is granite and often a smooth granite surface would have a grade of nearly 20 per cent. At places, all of us except Doctor had to get out, and at last we took the load off the car. On the last steep place the ladies started walking on ahead, carrying the baby, saying that if we had not caught up with them by the time they reached the Evans’ ranch at the top of the hill they would send back help. After they went ahead we “inched” over the worst place on the hill by going as far as we could, blocking the wheels, resting a while, and then going ahead a couple more feet. With the gravity feed car, in some grades we could not get gas to the engine. A can of cotter pins in the tool box got up onto the batteries and ran them so low that we couldn’t start the car with them and, Doctor and I both being too tired to spin the motor on the magneto, we decided to eat our supper and wait for the promised help. We had just started to eat when, in the dusk, we heard voices and the sound of horses coming. Mr. Evans and his son came down on saddle ponies. With the lariat fast to the springs, we started back down the hill and started the motor by running in reverse. By the help of one saddle pony, we went over the hill without any difficulty. At one place, Mr. Evans had us stop while he rested his horse; we had winded him.

One of the more exciting and unplanned adventures encountered on the trip by the travelers was described by Boynton, who wrote:

Leaving Granite Dells, we got out into the open country, with beautiful desert roads once more, and made fine time. Through the little town of Jerome Junction and within sight of Del Rio we passed and began planning what we would do when we got to Ash Fork. At about one o’clock we stopped on the brink of a stream, little knowing that we were to spend the next week here. After thinking the matter over, we decided that the stream was narrow, even if rather deep, and that, with the good headway we would have by going down the bank, we could rush it and stop on the other side and dry the car out. I had been driving but turned the wheel over to Doctor, here. We put everything up above what we thought would be the water level and, with the ladies’ feet perched on the back of the front seat, we slid down into the water and there we stopped. We did not know that the bottom near the side we were on was very soft. A council of war, with the water up to the seat, decided that I should walk to the ranch which we could see to the west of us and try to get horses, while Doctor did what he could toward getting the machine out. To get to the other bank, I had to wade in water up to my waist, and, soaked to the skin, I started out across the desert to the ranch.

This snapshot of a Studebaker of about the same vintage as Dr. Watkins’ is dated 1913. The young man driving the machine doesn’t seem to be too concerned about the “high water mark” on the Studebaker. It is equipped with what appear to be tarps and a spare tire on the running board, a large spotlight on the front and a “AAA” badge on the radiator. All Studebaker touring cars of this vintage were right-hand drive.

I found a man lying on the front porch and a woman sewing. The man said he wouldn’t go down to the wash for anyone, and the woman assured me that, if he wanted to go, she wouldn’t let him. I said I thought perhaps I could get horses there to pull us out. He pointed down to the pasture and told me to go down and get the old black mule that I would find there and bring him up to the barn, and he would help me harness him. I started out and walked nearly back to the wash before I got the old mule. When I got back to the barn, I learned that the cowboy had been sick and this was the first day he had been up. He told me that the old mule wouldn’t let anyone ride him, so I had to lead him all the way around the road, not crosscuts as I had come to the ranch. So many autos get stuck in this wash and come to him for help, that the cowboy had bought a big block and tackle, at an outlay of about thirteen dollars, hoping that, by means of this, they would not need his help. When I got back to the wash—the Big Chino, which drains a large area of the northern country, but carries water only after a recent rain—I found Doctor had the rope attached to the machine and to a post on the bank and, by means of the big Yankee Jack that we were carrying, was trying to get the machine started. We then hitched the mule on and tried to get him to pull, but the old mule was foxy and knew that we were strangers and, while he made all the signs of pulling, he didn’t do an ounce of work.

The Arizona Motor Company, Inc. at First and Van Buren Streets in Phoenix advertised that they were the “largest garage Supply House in Arizona,” had the “Best Equipped and Best Mechanics in the State,” that they could “Rebuild any Machine or Make any Part.”  Their mechanic, Frank T, Lyons, was the man who came to Roosevelt to get the Studebaker running for the final leg of its trip back to Phoenix. (Richard Quinn collection)

Several days later, the Studebaker was towed into Prescott for repairs and after eight days, the travelers were able to set out on the road to Ash Fork again, and this time they made it without mishap, although there were certainly many more “mishaps” to come! Once they returned to Phoenix, the Studebaker was in for major overhaul at the Arizona Motor Company, the local Studebaker dealership and garage.

Original: Hemmings Blog: Classic and collectible cars and parts

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