The birth of the Great American road trip 100 years ago
For about two weeks every summer between 1914 and 1924, a group of American friends who called themselves the Four Vagabonds would climb in their Model Ts and hit the open road, travelling to some of the United States’ most scenic areas, stopping off and setting up overnight camps along the way.
But these weren’t your average Americans. They were none other than Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs. And the motorcade of up to 50 vehicles, which transported the celebrity Vagabonds, sometimes their wives, their household staff, and all the equipment they could possibly need for a comfortable holiday, was captured by Ford Motor Company photographers.
These high profile ‘glamping’ adventures undertaken by pre-eminent members of society fired the imagination of the American public. And the phenomenon of roadtripping as an affordable way for ordinary families to satisfy their wanderlust soon spread to other parts of the world, including South Africa.
Roadtripping in SA today
With almost 750,000km of roads criss-crossing SA – the tenth largest road network globally according to the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL), and by far the largest on the continent – it’s no wonder roadtripping has become such a popular way for generations of South Africans to vacation, or visit relatives and friends in other parts of the country.
Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa believes that the four pioneers of the original American road trip would whole-heartedly approve of the following tips for modern motorists who want to get the most out of their own road trips today:
As a naturalist and nature essayist, active in the US conservation movement, John Burroughs would advise you to use the unique opportunity of a road trip to discover and explore places of natural beauty, as a chance to learn more about the geological and cultural history of places you haven’t been before.
Whilst planning your route, look up the tourist attractions you’ll be passing along the way, and incorporate the most appealing ones into your itinerary. Many of the newly constructed hotels of yesteryear are still in business as historic B&B tourism destinations today, and breaking up long trips into smaller chunks – with one or two overnight stays en route to your destination, interspersed with some sightseeing – not only reduces driving fatigue and back seat boredom, but makes for a much more enjoyable and memorable holiday.
The Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) recommends reserving overnight accommodation in advance, especially during peak travel periods like Easter.
As the founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, one of the first global makers of automobile tyres, Harvey Firestone would advise you to have your car’s wheel balancing and alignment checked before heading off, to ensure a smooth and safe trip, and not to forget to check the condition of your spare tyre too. Punctures happen to the best of us, at the worst of times. Just remember, spare tyres aren’t designed for long distances or high speeds, so once you have replaced a punctured tyre with the spare, you need to visit a tyre technician to fix or replace the original tyre as soon as possible.
You should only do a final tyre pressure check once your car is fully loaded, and when the tyres are still cool. The optimal tyre pressures, which you’ll find printed on a sticker inside your driver’s door, will help improve vehicle safety and maintain fuel efficiency.
A world renowned inventor whose name is synonymous with the electric light bulb, Thomas Edison was also the self-appointed navigator on the Vagabonds’ adventures, with nothing but a compass and a handful of atlases to guide the motorcade!
His advice to the modern day road tripper would be to familiarise yourself with all the marvellous tech features of your car, and take full advantage of navigation apps like Google Maps and Waze, accessed either on your smartphone or your car’s built-in infotainment system, like Ford’s cutting edge SYNC 3. For parents travelling with small kids, a visual display showing estimated travel and arrival time could even be the silver bullet you’ve been searching for to silence the age-old “Are we there yet?” chorus from the back seat.
And last but certainly not least, captain of industry, business magnate, and founder of the Ford Motor Company himself, Henry Ford would advise you to make sure your car is in tip-top shape before hitting the open road. Be sure to take it in for a thorough inspection with a professional mechanic, who will check all the necessary parts for damage and replace them if necessary, so your car can perform at maximum efficiency.
Also visit the Shell and Engen websites for a list of their Ultra City or 1-Stop service stations on the route you’ll be travelling, and the AA’s website for a list of Toll Fees and Toll Plaza Locations, as well as a current Road Conditions Report, which gives you a heads up on any road works that may be taking place, which could result in detours or delays to your journey.