30 July 2012
More than a century after the commercialization of the automobile, we find ourselves in another–perhaps the most significant–transition in automotive technology since then: electric vehicles.
I bring this up because since Day 1 of the Drive for Innovation I wanted to take the Chevy Volt to some unusual places, like Pikes Peak. But the primary spot I wanted to park was outside our cabin, about three hours (on today’s roads) north of San Francisco.
Why? Because 105 years ago, my great grandfather drove his Franklin touring car there when “roads” around the mountain-ringed valley were essentially horse trails.
A May 5, 1907, article in the old San Francisco Call described the trip on a page dedicated to promoting the wonders of cars. It’s filled with ads with titles like
The ads surrounded stories describing endurance challenges met and matched by various cars–all of them long-since rusted into fading memories or stored in museums and private collections. One item described the 150-mile trek from San Francisco to Gravelly Valley by W.P. Fuller, who had bought and was building up a summer place in a spot that even today is almost in the middle of nowhere. The valley didn’t look then much different than it does today (although much of it is taken up by a lake, shown below in winter during a drought year).
He had bought a Franklin from Boyer, presumably one from the December 1906 shipments Franklin made to Boyer from New York. The Call story read, in part:
“Fuller says that the roads from San Francisco to Cloverdale are in a splendid condition. From the latter point to Ukiah, they are bad…From Ukiah to Centerville and from Centerville to John Day’s ranch they are good. From there the good roads stopped.”
Today, this is a point where a 10-mile winding dirt road takes drivers along the Eel River and up over Blue Slides into the valley. It’s usually slow, washboarded and rocky going; most people hate it. A century ago, the “road” required drivers at the pass to stop and chop down small trees to use as braking aids on the slide down into the valley! The Call story noted that the road was used only by the postman–on horseback.
Flash forward to the drive, and I wanted to recall that 1907 achievement by getting a Chevy Volt into the valley for the first time. But, lo and behold, as we drove along the Eel River, we saw, parked alongside to gravel road, a silver Volt, presumably owned by someone frolicking in the waters below. Sigh.
A century’s change
The moral of the story is that it’s all about infrastructure. It took decades for roadways to stitch together the United States and other countries as the car took hold. Today, the infrastructure for plug-in EVs is in its infancy. But the good news is that engineering cars and the EV infrastructure is a solved problem (and, obviously will get better and less expensive over time). For now, though, patience is a virtue.
For years, we had a poster above the cabin toilet that my old man tacked up. It was a picture of a proud rock outcropping being battered by ocean waves. It read:
“Things take time.”