Iowa History, a weekly column, appears at IowaWatch on Saturdays.
Cheryl Mullenbach is a former history teacher, newspaper editor, and public television project manager. She is the author of four non-fiction books for young people. Double Victory was featured on C-SPAN’s “Book TV” and The Industrial Revolution for Kids was selected for “Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People.” Her most recent book, Women in Blue traces the evolution of women in policing.
Visit her website at: www.cherylmullenbachink.com
In February 1910 a small group of individuals in Iowa City formed the Iowa City Automobile Club which allowed them the opportunity to enjoy the sights around the eastern part of the state. Their “rubber neck wagon jaunts” took them to various small communities where the sight of automobiles was not an everyday occurrence.
The Iowa City group created the club not for “pecuniary purposes” as they said. Their objective was to “battle for good roads” and to secure “other much needed reforms” related to roads in Iowa. They adopted a simple slogan that said it all — “Good Roads.”
In the summer of 1910 the American Automobile Association planned a 2,300-mile trip called the Glidden Tour that would pass through Iowa, and the Iowa City group planned to receive them like “royalty.” The trek started in Ohio and ran through Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri. It would visit Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport on its way to Chicago.
In preparation for the Glidden group the Iowa City club had dragged about 30 miles of roads in Johnson County to make for smooth rides over the normally rough Iowa roadways. The touring enthusiasts had experienced bumpy roads throughout the other states and were ready for “the quiet and relief from jiggling” in Iowa. Of the 24 cars that had started the journey, only 11 remained in the Glidden Tour.
Also in the summer of 1910 members of the Iowa City Automobile Club accompanied a representative from a company that was making a map of roads in eastern Iowa. The president of the club planned to drive the map maker through the Iowa City to West Liberty section of the state. The map would be “a great benefit to tourists” passing through the state in automobiles. It would indicate various kinds of road beds — sand, clay, dirt or gravel. It would point out railway crossings and include descriptions of the towns along the way.
In the fall of 1910 the Iowa City Automobile Club sponsored a “good roads and sociability tour” of Johnson county. Over 100 entrants planned to travel 120 miles through Tiffin, Oxford, North Liberty, Solon, Morse, West Branch, Solon, Kalona and Wellman. The cars would be filled with wives and friends of the drivers and the purpose was to “promote sociability between Iowa City and the towns of Johnson County.” In addition, $10 in gold would be given to the person in charge of the smoothest mile of road on the tour. The winning mile would be selected by a vote of the drivers after the run was over.
As the club promised, it also took on causes related to driving and road reform. In 1911 the club passed a resolution stating that the group “severely condemns fast, reckless and careless driving.” Members pledged to use their “best efforts to prevent such driving.” The group also petitioned the city to install either red lights, watchmen, or “some other means of warning” at street car and “gasoline buggy” intersections. Since neither the city nor the street car company were eager to pay for the warning system, city fathers suggested that autos slow to five miles or less when they approached street car intersections to avoid the possibilities of “smashups.”
In 1912 the automobile club proposed a “novel plan” for building and maintaining Iowa City and Johnson County streets and roads. The idea was to assign to “various prominent businessmen” strips of unpaved roadway on the main roads running into Iowa City from the city limits to the point where the paving began. The businessmen would have “absolute authority” in keeping up the roads; however, they could call upon the city council for funds to complete the work.
With only a limited number of automobiles in the state, the various automobile clubs scattered throughout were useful in helping to catch auto thieves. When a Ford Roadster was stolen from its owner in the western part of the state, the Audubon County Automobile Association put out a call for other clubs to be on the lookout for the vehicle. They sent a description of the automobile to every automobile club in the state. According to club advocates, that illustrated how much good could be accomplished “through the power of local clubs working with the state association.”