Grandma and the car named Hamgravy

November 8, 2009


On June 23, 1930, my schoolteacher grandmother and three girlfriends set out on a road trip in a car named Hamgravy. They left from Janesville, Wisconsin, and spent two months driving around, with Grandma keeping meticulous records in a trip journal the entire time. There is an accompanying photo album.

They took a southerly route through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado (Denver), Utah (Salt Lake City), Nevada (Las Vegas), dipped into Mexico, then made their way up the coast of California, through Oregon, Washington, up to Canada (Banff, Alberta), down through Montana to Wyoming, where they turned east and headed across South Dakota and Iowa home to Wisconsin. According to statistics noted in the journal, they traveled for 62 days, 9969 miles (50 of which were apparently on ferries), visited 133 towns, and spent a total of $271.04 which worked out to 1-1/2 cents per mile.

???Lena and I met the girls, Edna and Irene, at Janesville this a.m. and we were finally off at 10:30. At 11:15 our most able pilot, Hamgravy, decided to have a flat tire. The man in the Ford garage was the first to inquire if we had a couple of guns with us. At Dixon we saw a statue of Black Hawk on the banks of the Rock River. At 4:30 we crossed the Mississippi River. Landed in De Witt at 6 and had a chicken dinner for 50??. Traveled 166 miles. Temp. 93.5??.???

It looks like the four girls went in together on the cost of buying the car, and had it freshly painted for the journey. There were eight flat tires altogether. They apparently were not opposed to flirting a little with people they met on the way. ???We stopped at Loveland [Colorado] for gas and Lena promised the service man some Schlitz beer next time we come. ??? Otherwise, the car was dependable. ???Yesterday we saw cars towed through the mud and today they were towed through sand in the desert. Found some awful detours but our Ford rambled right along while other cars were standing still. If Hamgravy only knew! ???

It does seem like my grandmother was kind of the captain of things: ???We are driving along the Great Divide and can see many snow-capped mountains ??? Irene gave up driving at Twin Lakes when a fellow told us we still had 30 miles of mountain driving to Aspen. So Hamgravy and I are taking the rest over the mountains by way of Independence Pass ??? an elevation of 12,200 feet. Lost a bit of my courage but got up the steep grades in second. It???s cold up here and we had our pictures taken on a snowbank. We are glad to be over and finally reached Aspen at 3 o???clock for dinner.???

Nightly accommodations were at travelers??? campsites, where the cost of various sorts of cabins and cottages was $1???$3. On at least one occasion, they drove further than they had planned, with some extra adventure and more praise for the car. ???These lodges are expensive places, $14 a day, so we decided to drive 40 miles before we could afford to sleep. At the ranger station we were informed that we couldn???t go on because of forest fires but we followed four fellows to the fire and cars were taken through by forest rangers. Eleven cars went with us and Hamgravy went up the long grade to Summit Inn on high. We passed a Buick on up grade so are we ever proud of our Ford. Some exciting day! Wild bears even crossed our road. Reached cabin at 11:45. Traveled 235 miles. Tent cabin $3.???

After two months on the road, they were anxious to be finished. ???We are going to make home today so are stepping on the gas all the time. ???It???s Janesville or bust!??? We didn???t stop to eat but bought a lunch to take in car.??? On August 22, my grandmother the road-weary traveler reached home in Almond, Wisconsin.


I know there???s a book project in these materials. First, it is simply extraordinary that in 1930, these four young, single women set off on such a journey unchaperoned (well, I???m assuming it???s extraordinary). Second, it???s such a complete accounting of all aspects of the trip that it would be too bad not to share it with others. I suppose I could do the journal and photos, and intersperse history and contemporary events in appropriate places.

Remember that bit yesterday about sitting on my ass? It was back in 1993 that I typed up the handwritten journal and scanned all the photos.

One Response to “Grandma and the car named Hamgravy”

  1. Kay Says:

    Like I said before: it must be awesome to own such a thing from your grandma. I’ve always been a little fascinated with keeping journals and such, been doing so since I was a child.Did your grandmother give them to you?

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