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“Veil, Duster and Tire Iron”

June 8, 2011 - Karin Elton
From the This Date in History file: On June 9, 1909: Alice Huyler Ramsey, 22, set out from New York in a Maxwell DA on a journey to become the first woman to drive across the United States. (Ramsey and three female companions arrived in San Francisco on Aug. 7.)

How fun! It’s fabulous to drive cross country at any time, but can you imagine driving as a woman in the early 20th century and in a newfangled horseless carriage?

What a great road trip. I’d like to know more about it. Did the car break down? If so, what did they do? It’s not like there was an auto repair shop on every corner.

There’s a lot of information on the Web. Her journey started because of her husband buying her a Maxwell. She took lessons from the local Maxwell dealership, and through it entered an automotive endurance test and then was asked to go on her cross-country trek. Dealerships along the way were instructed to have replacement parts and mechanics at the ready in case of breakdowns.

Forty-one driving days, 11 tires and 3,800 miles later they arrived in San Francisco, where they were met by a large crowd. Alice Ramsey and her companions (who did not drive during the trip) experienced bad roads, poor weather, flat tires and mechanical breakdowns. In Nebraska, they met up with Indians, feared the worst, then discovered the Indians were just hunting jackrabbits. In Wyoming, the group was stopped temporarily by men on horseback, a posse tracking a murderer. In 1961, Ramsey wrote about her adventure in “Veil, Duster and Tire Iron.”

In 2000, Alice Huyler Ramsey became the first woman to be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.


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