Eighty-three years ago this month, a 1920 Model T Ford arrived back home in Columbus. With “COLUMBUS, OHIO” painted on the back of the car, a wool blanket covering the passenger door, and lots of tourist stickers on the windshield, it must have been attention-getting during its journey to and from California.
My grandfather celebrated his 20th birthday by traveling out West with his best friend, Paul (also known as “Bunk”), to visit Paul’s aunt in Pasadena. The magnitude of this event was clear for two reasons. My great-grandparents let my grandfather – the oldest of their nine children – borrow the family car for the trip. They also threw a farewell party for the pair, which was reported on the society page of the Columbus Dispatch.
Leaving Columbus on December 2, 1927, Jim and Paul methodically documented each day’s experiences in a diary and took photographs with a Brownie box camera. During their travels, they treated themselves to a few pieces of apple and cherry pie at Pie Town, New Mexico. They washed down a hamburger with too much beer and tequila in Tijuana, Mexico. At the Grand Canyon, they hiked the trail down to the Colorado River and back, picnicking on sandwiches made from the whole smoked ham that my great-grandmother packed in a lard can for the trip. They explored the Petrified Forest, took a glass-bottomed boat to Catalina Island and sported sleek one-piece bathing suits on Santa Monica Beach. They spotted Mary Pickford, watched the Rose Parade and attended the dedication of Rudolph Valentino’s statue in De Longpre Park.
On January 18, 1928, Paul and Jim started their “uneventful” return East. Along the way, they stopped in San Antonio to visit the Mission of San Antonio de Valero and took a 25-cent tour of the Alamo.
“Bunk and I both cashed our last travelers’ cheques at the Ohio National Bank at Gay and High Streets,” my grandfather wrote in his last diary entry about the trip. “We had a wonderful trip. Never had a quarrel. Best friends yet. A lifetime of fond memories. What a wonderful experience it was!”
A few years later, Paul and Jim became family, when Paul married one of Jim’s younger sisters. They were best friends until they died, constantly reminiscing about their trip. For my grandfather, the adventure led him to become fascinated with the American West. Off duty from his work leading complicated plumbing jobs, he spent his leisure time reading Zane Grey novels.