Jan 27, 2022 by Tempe Javitz
I live in a place where concrete cloverleaf interchanges scoot your car
in at least four directions, whether you want to or not. When I moved to
my adopted state, I marveled at the incredible height of these soaring
overpasses and bridges, multiplying like rabbits. The other day, stuck
in traffic for the umpteenth time, I couldn't help but think this would
have been an alien world to my Grandmother Jessamine, the renown Western
photographer of the early 1900's. (Her story will be published fourth quarter
2022!). Check out my website for more stories and photos: tempejavitz.com
Let me share a true story of "driving" in the border country of Montana
and Wyoming in the early twentieth century. When my grandmother Jessamine
(aka Jessa) was born in 1886 everyone walked, rode horseback, or climbed into
a wagon. That was horsepower. Twenty miles in a wagon was a long ride to town!
Can you imagine riding to your wedding in a wagon? Upon arriving at the church,
you and everyone else would need dusting off! Well, imagine the surprise, especially
to the horses, when automobiles came snorting down the road.
Jessa and Will’s first automobile in 1919 sported a 35-horsepower engine, but not
exactly equivalent to 35 real horses. Then the fun began, N-O-T! Tires blew, engines
froze, and frequent accidents on bad roads often damaged the frame of the car. You
won’t believe the photo I found recently. Jessa’s trip to town was cut short by a
slippery road on March 9th, 1927. So she jumped right out and took a photo!
Luckily she wasn’t injured.
Jessamine's car on its top!
Oh, but there’s more to tell. How long would it take to drive approximately forty-three
miles on dirt roads in the snow and mud? Would you believe three days? Here’s what
happened in March 1920.
Friday, March 12th: (No it wasn’t the 13th!) Jessa left Sheridan, Wyoming with a car
full of supplies plus passengers. “We left town for the ranch at 7 a.m. and had all
kinds of bad luck.” Jessamine had little Eileen and Bill in tow along with her hired
hands, Willard & Ross. First, a tire blew on a muddy stretch of narrow road. Pulling
over to the side, another tire’s air valve broke off. Jessa luckily had one valve
replacement in the car. A neighbor, Mr. Foss, drove up just in time to assist Willard
and Ross with replacing the tire and fixing the valve.
Remember that quaint idea of neighbors helping one another? It was real. Mr. Foss had
Jessamine and crew follow him home for a bite to eat before going on. Tummies full and
spirits lifted they climbed in the car and headed across the field for the main road.
Unexpectedly the car hit a soft spot, and they slid into a mudhole. Real horses to the
rescue. Another neighbor Gerald Milley saw the fracas and brought his team to pull the
car out. As the horses strained to pop the car out of the mud, another tire came loose
and another air valve broke. Now they were truly stranded.
The hired hands volunteered for a long hike to the mailman’s place to beg use of his extra
team if they ever were to reach home. Mr. Milley hauled the car to his yard and willingly
invited one tired momma, little four- year-old Eileen, and eight- year-old Bill to stay the
Spinning tires in the mud.
Saturday March 13th: Good grief, the hike to Mr. Parker’s didn’t result in a team to the
rescue on Saturday. The Milley’s graciously offered shelter for another full day and night,
as Willard and Ross did not reappear with a wagon until Sunday morning at 9 a.m.
Sunday, March 14th: With nearly twenty plus miles to go, everyone piled into the wagon after
breakfast quick as jack rabbits. The weather was fine until they reached Spring Creek when
the wind started to blow and black clouds gathered. Cold sleet was soon stinging their faces.
They stopped at another neighbors, the Lewis’, to warm up. There they had lunch and started
on the last leg home at 4 p.m. It was still stormy. Four hours and twenty minutes later
they entered the gates at the X4 Ranch. Everyone was exhausted, especially the horses. Monday
morning Jessa’s eyes were still swollen from the harsh weather, but those hardy ranch kids were
none the worse for wear.
Moral of the story: Jessamine needed to carry a massive car care kit in those early years of the
automobile. Valve stems? She needed a backup stem for EVERY tire! Some owners claimed
they repaired their cars with twine, baling wire and/or clothespins. Tools? Nothing like storing
a screwdriver, a wrench, a hammer and pliers under the front seat.
Aren’t you glad we don't have to do that these days? Or perhaps you just grab your cell phone
and call for a tow truck. Right?
Tow trucks in the good old days.