Tag Archives: 1916

Auto-Camping, From Coast to Coast 1916



I have so many vintage fashion magazines that I usually don’t bother with the homemaker types such as Ladies Home Journal and McCall’s.  But the one above was older, and I really don’t have many magazines from the 1910s, so I picked it up, seduced by the words, “Spring Fashions.”
Inside I found a deal-making story:  “From Coast to Coast, A Nine-Thousand-Mile Vacation for Two for  $350.”  The story is the first person account of Beatrice Backus and her teacher husband’s decision to drive from Massachusetts to San Francisco during his summer break.  In 1916 the automobile was still relatively new, and many parts of the country did not have any paved roads.  There was no highway system, no AAA, no reliable maps for many places.  But that did not stop these intrepid travelers who decided to auto-camp their way across the country and back.
The article details everything to modifications made to their car (they put the back of the front seat on hinges so they could lower it into a sleeping surface) to how much they spent on food and gas (20 cents per gallon!)  In many places they bought their food from farms they passed because there were no stores within miles.
She even described the clothing they took:
“We decided not to encumber ourselves with unnecessary clothes.  What we needed we carried in two suitcases which were also packed on the back seat.  I brought along all my old shirtwaists which were good for just one more wearing, and some that my family and friends had contributed, so that as soon as one was soiled I threw it away.  My husband did the same with his shirts.  Then we both wore good serviceable suits – I had a khaki skirt and middy blouse – that showed the dust practically not at all.  I took along a pongee gown for special occasions.  In order to keep warm, we carried heavy sweaters, in addition to our coats, and in the high altitude we found heavy underwear none too warm.  Traveling in a car is usually cool under any circumstances.  Then, of course, I had several veils, which I wore, two or three deep, through the dustiest parts of the road.”
(Pongee is a type of silk, naturally tan in color, and often coarsely woven.)
The trip took eleven weeks, and with the exception of a night or two in a hotel in Denver, every night, even in the city of San Francisco,  was spent in the car.
And just to prove people were doing such things, here’s a photo from my collection showing a similarly inclined couple.  By the looks of that tent, they got a lot of use from it.
The 1910 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog explains the appeal of auto camping:
“This is the very newest out-of-door sport and the complete outfits of its originators were designed and built by us.  We catalog automobile tents, sleeping bags, cooking outfits, food outfits, in a word, complete automobile camping outfits which will enable the owner of a touring car to take a party for a trip completely across the continent without being dependent on hotels or even stores for accommodation or food supply.  It is a splendid sport and the mobility of the motor car gives a marvelous travel range to those who engage in it.”
The term “auto-camping” slowly fell out of favor, perhaps because the tent was replaced by the travel trailer.  Sometimes, though, you see the two concepts intermingled, as in this 1930s photo of a trailer camp.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Proper Clothing, Road Trip