"We Model T'd to Yellowstone, 1923" is an excerpt from the memoirs of Ella P. Jordan Dale

We Model T'd to Yellowstone, 1923


Roads were primitive, and the sisters handled most of their own car repairs, including patching and pumping a tire that went flat three times on the first day of travel.

By Ella Jordan Dale (written in 1956)

In 1923 when Winnie and I decided to drive the family Model T Ford to Yellowstone Park, camping along the wayside, we might as well have announced we were negotiating a trip to the moon. Mother thought the hazards comparable for travel along the one-lane roads, mere widened Indian trails.

We agreed that Winnie would be serviceman on the trip. She not only had a mechanical mind, but she also had a mechanical beau. When Dick learned of our plans, he marched her to the garage and gave her a one-lesson course in Ford construction, briefing her on the assemblies most likely to go wrong.

Due to a limited budget, we filled the grub-box with baked goods, produce from our farm, and staples sufficient to last until we reached the park. There were the rolled tent, the canvas cots, quilts, blankets and pillows. We filled the suitcase with sundry toiletries, underwear, socks, and one dress each, should feminine whimsy call for one to replace the khaki knickers we would travel in. From Mother’s kitchen we scrounged cooking utensils and tableware; from the woodshed, a bucket, a short handled axe, a spade and towrope. Conceding to Mother’s wishes, we left the shotgun and .22 rifle on the kitchen wall rack. The paraphernalia was stacked in the back of the car. The rearview window, already half covered with heavy drapes, was all but invisible.

Though we ourselves were exuberant that July morning when we bade the family goodbye, Mother’s mournful face bore witness that she believed it to be her last farewell. After all, female drivers were not a dime a dozen, as now, and few of those who did drive went gallivanting over the country without male escort. Furthermore, well into our twenties, we were still little girls to Mother.

The first day, we passed over beautiful Snoqualmie Pass and just as lovely Blewitt Pass, the road corkscrewing through deep evergreen forests. Suppertime found us at the eastern base of the Cascades. We located a mossy camping site under a large maple. A mountain-fed brook chattered beside it.

We spaced two stones on which to rest the coffee pot and build a fire between them. Fresh fried potatoes is all that I recall of the menu, but I shall never forget the thrill of our first meal cooked in the open.

The lowering sun doused the mountains and the lowlands in gold. Before the dishes were done, the lavenders, blues and purples reigned.

“We lost so much time today, how about driving on for a while?” I suggested.

At ten, we reached the auto camp at Cashmere. Two tents were already pitched and all lights were out. The night was dark so when we started to set up camp that we realized our error in not making the first one in daylight. Since the tent was designed to utilize the car as one wall, we stood on the running boards to pull the canvas over the top of the vehicle and fasten it. Setting up the cots, which were folded as they came from Montgomery Ward, was a Chinese puzzle. The legs kicked out in all directions. When at last we got them into upright position, our combined strength was not sufficient to pull the canvas-stretching rod into its proper groove. We tried to respect our neighbors’ right to quiet, but we giggled at the prospect of a bed on the ground. Then an idea came. I lay down on the cot, caught my heels over the rod, and pushed it into position. “First time I’ve seen a bed made up with the feet,” Winnie giggled.