Monday, April 24, 2023

A Family Road Trip Like No Other

By Terrie Todd

On this day a hundred and fifteen years ago, April 24, 1908, an adventuresome character named Jacob Murdock set out from Los Angeles with his wife and three children in a Packard Thirty touring car. His plan was to become the first family to travel across the United States by car. They arrived in New York on May 26. Having taken Sundays and a couple of other days off, their elapsed time was 32 days, 5 hours, and 25 minutes. A record!

A 3,693-mile road trip where few roads exist is an admirable feat indeed. Mr. Murdock wrote a short book about the adventure, called A Family Tour from Ocean to Ocean. Published by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, the work is now in the public domain. The last seven pages of this 32-page book reveal carefully documented accounts of each day’s journey, including times, places, daily miles covered, and road conditions.

Roads were nearly nonexistent between California and Wyoming in 1909
Murdock knew that the roughest trail would be the first leg and engaged a competent mechanic by the name of L.L. Whitman, who agreed to accompany the family from Los Angeles to Ogden. Mechanic Philip DeMay made the entire trip. The car had 5400 miles on it when they began. The only modification they made was fitting the car with four 36 x 4.5 inch tires so they’d all be interchangeable. They stocked spare parts under the rear seat and carried a small winch on the left running board. On the right, they strapped two 8-foot-long hickory poles (for leverage when needed) and two shovels. This made the right-side doors unusable.

In addition to the five members of the Murdock family and the mechanic, the car was packed with camping equipment, food, two 5-gallon gas cans (which cost $2.50 to fill), ropes and wire for emergency use, a compressed air tank for pumping up tires, an acetylene tank for fueling the headlights, and a .30-30 Winchester to ward off coyotes. Extra tires were sent to Ogden ahead of time and forwarded to various stops along the way.

Murdock’s goal was to average 100 miles per day, stopping at night and on Sundays. Drift sand provided one of their first big challenges. “This stuff is like quicksilver,” Murdock wrote. “The more you shovel, the deeper it gets. It blows into your eyes and ears and, despite persistent effort by the entire crew, headway is very, very slow.”

All traces of road disappeared as they continued through the deep canyons of Death Valley in intense heat. Frequently, they’d manage only about 100 feet of travel before they were stalled by sand. On one especially difficult day, they floundered for eight hours over 18 miles and used 30 gallons of gasoline. Finally, they abandoned the car to scout out a trail that would lead them to a mining camp. Can you imagine the relief?

Many more adventures awaited the Murdocks as they continued to cross rivers, canyons, and deserts. The further east they went, the easier travel became. Word spread, and at several stops, the press arrived to interview them for a story. For much of the stretch between Chicago and New York, they were accompanied by a parade of automobiles in a show of support. Their last day, Tuesday, May 26, included a ferry ride from Hoboken to the foot of Twenty-third Street. From there, they drove up Broadway to the Packard store to unpack and celebrate. They’d not only driven across the country, but into the limelight as well.

Sources: A Family Tour from Ocean to Ocean by J. M. Murdock

In 1942, telegrams bring life-altering news in a war-hardened world—and the one Maggie receives is no different. But running a restaurant with the help of only pregnant teenagers has made her tough. Exiled by her wealthy parents and working in the restaurant, fanciful Charlotte runs away with romantic notions of a reunion with her baby’s father. When Maggie recruits the help of her old friend, Reuben, they embark on a cross-country search. Maggie stubbornly clings to her independent ways until dealt another devastating loss that forces her to recognize that war heroes can be discovered in unlikely places.

A young war widow faces the challenges of a cross-country road trip during WWII in Terrie Todd’s novel, Maggie’s War. Terrie’s also the author of the award-winning The Silver Suitcase, Bleak Landing, Rose Among Thornes, The Last Piece, and Lilly’s Promise. Terrie lives with her husband, Jon, in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada where they raised their three children and where her novels are set. They are grandparents to five boys.

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  1. Thank you for posting today. What an interesting story!!

  2. Terri, what a fascinating story. Sounds like a movie script. I wonder how much fun the kids were having crammed in a car with all that stuff? Brave family to support their father's desire to break a record. Did the end result benefit them financially other than the salles of the book?

  3. I read Emily Post's By Motor to the Golden Gate. The etiquette expert and her son drove to the west coast and were constantly fixing their tires. It may have been an adventure, but it didn't sound like a fun one.