July 2011 Time Capsule

July 2011 Time Capsule

Ancestors in their own words. In this issue: Call of the open road.

With a penchant to travel the family made a motor trip all the way to Florida [from Texas] in 1918, camping out along the way. Evidently that just whetted their desire to “see the other side” because in 1921 they set out for California. Mollie quickly said, “that trip took 14 days to get to California and 12 days to return.”

John remembered, “I wore out three sets of tires on that trip and it was then I got the idea for a tourist court.” They camped one night in New Mexico in a sheep shed due to the kindness of a sheep rancher, and John said he knew then that camping apartments would be popular with travelers.

On his return home he sold his garage … and the family set out for Lorraine, out in West Texas. Once there he built nine sheet iron buildings, each designed large enough to drive a car through and with doors that could be closed to shut out the bad weather. Once inside a traveler would find in one corner a two-eye burner stove and firewood, allowing him to camp entirely under dover [sic].

Located nearby to serve the camping family was a central bathhouse complete with showers and laundry area. He also had a cafe, garage and gasoline pumps. Camping with the provided “luxuries” only cost the traveler seventy-five cents per car.

This memory, published in a Grand Saline, Texas, newspaper in 1975, celebrated John and Mollie Yarbrough’s 69th wedding anniversary. The undated, uncited clipping was found among family papers, and it records a new 20th-century family pastime: motoring by car.

After World War I, more and more middle-class families purchased the affordable Ford Model T. Sunday drives became routine outings. Though paved roads were limited, road atlases were nonexistent, and signs and gas stations were few and far between, long-distance car trips became a popular way to vacation.

Overnight accommodations for these road warriors were another challenge. Hotels were primarily in large cities, usually within walking distance of train terminals. They didn’t offer parking and could be expensive. As the highway system grew in the mid-1920s, motels (a portmanteau of “motor” and “hotel”) popped up outside city limits. These rows of inexpensive cabins offered few amenities, such as bathrooms.

Campgrounds, similar to the one John Yarbrough started, were another place where families could bunk down for the night and then be on their way at sunrise. Before long, car-drawn trailers enticed travelers.

Look for evidence of your ancestors’ road trips in family sources. Photo albums, interviews, letters or postcards and diaries are good places to start, but as for this couple — who were interviewed for their long marriage — accounts can show up in newspaper articles, too. 

From the July 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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