At 11:40 am on Monday September 12, 1921 Lou Henry Hoover began a 3,945 mile cross country trip from Palo Alto, California to Washington, D.C. Ostensibly, this was a trip to move the family’s Cadillac to D.C. Its deeper purpose was to support her father, Charles Henry, in a time of grief. Her family had wired Lou on August 14 that her mother had grown very ill. Lou headed west on a train, but arrived on August 19, the morning after her mother passed away. As she wrote in a letter:
He needs change very much, and yet is of course in no humor to get much benefit from a train journey, and none whatever from an ordinary visit. We wanted the California Cadillac in Washington, and I have always longed to drive across, so I told him I was going to do that now, at the opportune time, and of course he is coming along, so that I won’t have to be alone!
Lou and Charles were accompanied by a nephew and Matias “a wonderful Philipino boy, devoted to him [Charles], who can drive a car or cook or do any of the chores we balk at!” Charles kept a log with daily entries about the trip. One example, the entry for September 19:
Leave Elko 10:15 AM, 5 gal gas at Wells. Fine ranches during 17 miles from Elko to Deeth Wells. Threatening rain with high winds all day, could see storms off on mountains. Sprinkling at 4 PM and had a punctured tire! Arrived at Cobre (about 8 houses) 5 PM, camped in RR station. No hotel. 94 miles for the day.
Lou elaborated in a letter:
. . . there is absolutely no place to camp close to this barren little station, and no other nearer than twenty miles, – no ranch or hotel or anything. The shack that calls itself a hotel here has only one empty single room. But the station is nice and big, and has just all been beautifully painted inside. So we gave Matias the “hotel” room and we “camped” in one of the two waiting rooms, – with our own cots and bedding!
September 30 was another interesting day:
The coldest morning we have had. Told ice forms here every month of the year. Leave at 10 AM, engine won’t start. Oil congealed, can’t crank or use self-starter. Sun coming out warm 11 AM. Continental divide, elevation 11,330, Atlantic side, Pike National Forest; Pacific side, Arapaho National Forest (Reservation) Denver 59 miles. Stop at Hotel at Henderson, small country tavern, clean rooms and good supper. Drive – 90 miles. 18 days – 1648 miles.
Lou felt the trip was a valuable experience and was tempted to take her son Allan along, as she wrote him: “I fear I should have felt there was more ‘educational value’ to be got out of a transcontinental trip, than out of six weeks of school! And then you would have been in for it!”
The trip took 35 days and along the way they used 367 gallons of gas, 17 quarts of oil, had $96.71 in auto expenses and repairs, 5 punctured tires, one accident, an engine failure, and 2 repair stops.
This trip has a number of qualities that make a good movie: emotional drama, adventure, and surprising historical details from a time when transportation was far more rustic and challenging than today.