A Ride on the Overland Auto Stage
By George D. Kimball
The following is an early tourist's account of his 1908 travel adventure through the Redwoods on the Overland Auto Stage. It is abridged from a longer piece in the September-October 1987 Humboldt Historian.A history of the Overland Auto Stage Company appears in the current, Winter 2013, Humboldt Historian.
When I purchased my train ticket at Eureka, I was told that the railroad stopped at Elinor. So, when the train arrived at this station, I got off on the wrong side, not knowing where the station was. After looking for the [Overland] automobile stage I was supposed to find, I concluded it must be on the other side, so I climbed over with my grips to search for the 60 hp Thomas. It was then that the conductor suggested that I had better ride a few more miles. It seems that the [railroad tracks] had been built several miles beyond Elinor since the timetable had been printed, although no mention of this fact was made by anyone.
If it hadn't been for the fact that I happened to meet the conductor, in all probability I would have been left at Elinor, calmly hunting for the automobile, which was awaiting the arrival of the train six or eight miles farther on.
When the train finally reached its destination and could go no farther, I again alighted and this time happened to take the right side. A large automobile was standing in about six inches of dust in a road which crossed the tracks. I arranged my baggage as conveniently as possible and took the back seat. There were two other passengers besides the driver and we had plenty of room.
Our starting point was evidently on the very edge of the forest of big trees. Time and again we came to places where large trees had been felled across the road. Pieces were cut out of the trees just large enough to admit traffic. When coming to these places, as well as various others where the road was narrow, one who is a novice in the art of automobiling was more interested to see whether or not we would get through without scraping the sides or otherwise damaging our traveling apparatus, rather than view the scenery. We passed through places where the trees were so thick that the sun's rays would barely reach the ground and a Kodak picture could not be taken without making a time exposure. The ride through the trees was delightful in the extreme.
I was born on the other side of the continent, in the country known as the Pine Tree State, whose motto is "Digiro," signifying "We Lead." However, in the matter of tall timber it must be conceded that Humboldt County takes the lead over Maine or any other state.
After leaving the redwoods we climbed some very steep hills in the Eel River district. The view of the river and distant hills, as we whirled along around the corners, was not to be forgotten, even though our glimpses of the scenery were taken somewhat on the wing.
About noon our driver suddenly brought the machine to a standstill, and one of the passengers, who had evidently been over the road before, asked the two of us in the rear if we did not want to get out for lunch. I immediately began to look around for some sort of a house which might indicate the good meal which we thought in store, and some distance away, under a hill, we observed such a habitation. There they pretended to have some baked beans, but to one who has been used to the delights of this article cooked in the old-fashioned style of Yankee Land, the dish which was served at Fruitland was anything but palatable.
During the afternoon we traveled at about the same rate of speed as in the morning. At one time, at the so-called town of Harris, which, as far as I could observe, consisted of one or two buildings on either side of the road, we were one hour and a half ahead of time. I have well-defined recollections of the manner in which we were jolted around, in order that this rate of speed might be attained. In fact, we were jolted around to such an extent that I could taste my lunch all the afternoon.
It was climbing Bell Springs Mountain that an incident occurred which might have proven quite serious. At various times, all along the road, we met and passed teams, all of which was accomplished with very little trouble. But at a turn on the side of this mountain, where the road was quite narrow, we met a young farmer driving a horse and buggy. As soon as the animal saw our machine, he immediately stopped and began to paw the air. Our driver was very careful, and stopped the machine instantly and waited for the driver of the vehicle to get out and endeavor to quiet his animal, by standing at his head. After a few moments he motioned for us to go ahead. The machine being on quite a grade, it made considerable noise in starting, and at the sound of this disturbance, the horsed reared on his hind feet and plunged right over the side of the mountain, breaking loose from his driver. As the mountain was very steep at this particular place, it looked to us for a moment as thought the horse had bidden us a fond farewell. If such were his intention, he did not use good judgment in selecting his point of departure from the highway, for he came down astride a small tree, so that the horse was pawing the air with his front foot entirely free from the ground, all of which blocked his further procedure down the mountainside. We immediately stopped the machine, upon getting by, and all hands went back to assist the animal in alighting from his tree-climbing expedition. Strange to say, no damage was done at all, except the breaking of one strap and one or two scratches on the horse. It was indeed most fortunate that the young tree stood in his path, else there is no doubt what would have become of the horse and buggy, as the descent at this spot was very sharp and went straight down for hundreds of feet.
The ride along Bell Springs Mountain was simply delightful. The road apparently runs along the ridge of the mountain for some length of time, and in such a manner that an extensive view of the valley on either side can be obtained, by turning first one way and then another. We were due to reach Cummings, our stopping place for the night at seven o'clock, but it was exactly six o'clock when we arrived at this point.
I thought there would at least be a telephone station at Cummings, but upon inquiry, was advised that this place was about as far out of the world as it was possible to get, considering that there was no telephone or telegraph, or even post office here. After eating a rather questionable sort of meal, about the only thing that one could do was to sit in the dark on the front doorsteps and listen to the noise of the brook rumbling down the hillside, or else go to bed. After a little taste of the former, I decided to investigate the room which had been assigned to me for the night. This room was on the second story, and was separated from the other rooms by simply a partition of paper or cloth, or something of a similar nature, through which could be heard conversation of people on either side of me. Some fellow and his wife occupied the room on one side, and evidently two young men were on the other side. These latter kept up such a run of conversation that, were it not for their deep voices, I should have imagined that two girls were there.
Our party was up bright and early the next morning, and although we were not scheduled to leave Cummings until seven o'clock, we were on the road shortly after six. I rather presumed that the roughest part of the road had been passed, but much to my surprise, the first few miles beyond Cummings were perhaps as rough as anything we saw on the trip. The road was narrow, just wide enough to accommodate a vehicle, and was very rocky.
So much had been said regarding this trip, that it was with no small interest that I decided to take it. Various remarks were made regarding the danger of the trip, all of which were fully appreciated before we had proceeded many hundred yards on our journey . . . Many times the road was on the side of a hill or mountain, where anything but the most steady hand of the driver would have caused a catastrophe . . . The road made many sharp turns at all kinds of angles, some so sharp that it almost seemed as if we could not make the turn. It took a driver with a cool head, and one who understood his business thoroughly, to keep the machine exactly in the road where it had to be.
The dust all along the road was something frightful. There was no top to the automobile and we received the full benefit of it. In some places the machine literally plowed through several inches of fine dirt, the clouds of dust arising from which may be well imagined. In some places, particularly on the mountains, the road frequently took the form of a horseshoe, and as the wind was in the right direction, the dust from one side of the hill would be in front of us on the other side of the road, when we got there; so that taken with the accumulated dust going around the curve, made the atmosphere sometimes almost blinding.
As compared with the ocean trip, it has been stated that there is no back door to a steamer. While this is true, when the back door of an auto opens out over a precipice several hundred feet high, it is not much use to attempt to step out . . . Taken as a whole, I am more than glad that I took the trip overland from Eureka to San Francisco. But I am reminded of the expression, "Never, no more."