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March 13, 1924 from Fred and Nell to JJ Campbell.

“Well, we are on the go again. The Wanderlust struck us again. We are on our way to New Orleans riding a motorcycle, camping this time. I ride tandem and carry motorcycle tent, camp equipment, etc. in side car – Having a fine trip. This is a nice little desert city – 50,000 inhabitants – it has street cars and everything – wouldn’t like to live here – too hot – with best wishes to you and your Mother, Sincerely Fred and Nell”

I want to have known Nell. The idea of 1924, riding in a motorcycle side car, minimal maps, roads, mechanical reliability, pitching a tent on the side of the road, is a lesson in adventure. Her camping gear consists of those things she can hold in that side car.

I want to believe that Nell was a flapper, an early feminist, unapologetic. I cannot imagine the conversations young Nell had with her parents – you are doing what?! With whom?! We told you not to marry him! Or, perhaps her parents were modern and said – go for it! Explore, have fun. Or maybe Nell had been in WWI, arrived home and decided to have an adventure with a handsome pilot she met during the war. Perhaps she was a nurse. Perhaps Fred and Nell were from wealthy families, with lots of money and rebellious natures. I am intrigued by Nell’s possibilities.

Fred and Nell’s trip across the southern part of the United States isn’t as simple as one may think. Prior to this blog, I didn’t understand the development of the US Highway system. Naively, I thought some version of our highways and roads existed, following stagecoach and covered wagon trails. I am certainly familiar with dirt and gravel roads but thought the highway system was born coincident with the invention of the automobile. The transition from those trails to our highway system was convoluted. During this transitional time period, individuals formed trail and road associations to maintain and promote their roads. Some maps were available, but since these roads were literally owned by local associations, the maps were not reliable, signs were not standardized, (if they existed) and it was a bit like a treasure hunt. This leads to my circuitous discovery of the Official Automobile Blue Books. These are not Blue Books that we know – neither the Social Register, nor the Kelly Blue Book of car values. Rather, these are 1,000 page books covering some section of the United States and its “Boulevarded Trails”.

I have the Blue Book from 1914, covering the roads from “Mississippi River to Pacific Coast”. It was republished several times between my edition and Fred and Nell’s trip. An actual portion of Fred and Nell’s trip says: “First 4-corners, school on left; turn left across ditch. Follow main road, slightly winding but direct; pass left hand road 4.0; go in between church and cemetery 6.5. CAUTION for some bad cross ditches.” That took care of 10.5 miles of the 1,500 mile trip. I cannot imagine the discussions that took place along the road. I have great admiration for anyone who could survive said trip and its discussions. I see wonderful comic scenes in a Fred and Nell movie.

Onto the card. Cotton – Arizona has the perfect climate to grow long staple (aka Egyptian cotton). That means that the natural fibers of the cotton are long, making the cloth soft and silky. I love the feel of this kind of cotton, it always feels cool to me. Cotton remains an important part of the Arizona’s agricultural landscape. Fluffy snowballs on dry brown stalks still border parts of Phoenix.

Last comment from Nell, “it has street cars and everything”. I LOVE that she said this. Phoenix had a population of 50,000, money being generated madly, the Westward Ho was a plan in someone’s mind and Goldwater’s had an “Important Silk Underwear Sale”. Teapot Dome is on the front page of the local newspaper. And, last statistics show the average Phoenician experienced a 190% increase in net worth in 10 years.

I love Fred and Nell. I hope that they had children and grandchildren, who fondly talked about Fred and Nell’s Great American Road Trip.

Until the next trip!


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