A Road of Never Ending Delight

 While my folks were in town visiting today, we all piled into the Jeep and drove to the local 'antique' store for a little afternoon jaunt. While there, we stumbled across some old road maps. Map collecting has become a recent hobby of ours. The old artwork is usually top-notch and the subject matter (CARS!) is near and dear to our hearts. Today's scores were a pair of mid-1920's maps for an automobile tour of New Jersey and another tour from the Lake Erie and Niagra Falls regions. I'll do a second post devoted to the Lake Erie map at a later date because it had a little hidden treasure inside.

I don't feel like scanning the whole publication since its around 45 pages long and our scanner is a wood-burning model that takes forever. But here are a few highlights...

The New Jersey tour looks to be a 1924 printing from the Automobile Club of America, New York. Several places mention where to write for an all-new "1925 Edition" and the beautiful cover art looks really early 20's. We see a right hand drive phaeton with giant white tires and Mr. & Mrs. Gatsby sightseeing while Sappington handles the machine. The passengers are enjoying a Walt Disney-esque ride by the seaside on a late spring or summer's day. New Jersey is a lovely locale for a driving tour! There's no doubt that the luggage rack sports a trunk filled with a marvelously-prepared lunch of  prime rib sandwiches and Dutch pickles. Sappington also kindly packed a bottle of wine, but don't tell anyone.

I get all of this just by looking at the cover image of this musty road map. 


The map itself includes New York City, but it wouldn't fit on the scanner. It appears the map is geared for the affluent New Yorker who wants to explore the Garden State at his or her leisure. A trip through Trenton, Asbury Park, or Atlantic City during the "Roaring Twenties" would have been a test of one's patience and a driving skill. We've all seen the images of rutted roads and flat tires in the history books. Speed wasn't an issue since cars didn't really get up to the speeds we're used to today, and the roads wouldn't have allowed high speed driving, either. Nevertheless, automobiles were limited to running no faster than 30 miles per hour on the open country roads according to the documentation included in this brochure.

Check out how specific those speed limits were back then. Be sure to tell Sappington to slow down considerably when overtaking a horse on your tour. The state law while doing so is a modest 15 miles per hour, please. Thank you! We wouldn't want to startle the horse with our automobile, by golly.

While we're on the subject of motor vehicle laws, this map also includes a list of "approved" lighting devices for your automobile in 1924. Gas headlamps were being phased out and new electric automobile headlights were the next big thing! A few manufacturers on this list are notable, such as McKee (McKeelite) for their history of manufacturing depression glass and Bausch & Lomb, for their role in other optical devices such as corrective eyewear.

As cars were becoming more affordable thanks to Ford's assembly line and growing competition from other manufacturers, more Americans enjoyed the freedom that personal transportation brought their way in the mid-1920's. More vehicle registrations meant increased state tax revenue, and New Jersey and other states were eager to get a piece of the action. New Jersey would tax motor cars using a formula based on engine horsepower. The more power your car made, the more you paid for the privilege of those extra ponies. The shocker in this list is that New Jersey did not collect a single cent of fuel tax in 1924. None! Something else you could do in New Jersey in 1924: Pump your own gasoline. (or have Sappington do it for you.). The state enacted the ban on the personal dispensing of gasoline in 1949.

State highways and country roads allowed for commerce, convenience and communication. With added revenues coming in, more roads could be built in the coming decade. Many of the routes in the map above were likely not paved in 1924 or were slowly being converted from dirt or gravel to tar and chip surfaces. The toll road was an emerging concept at this time along the East Coast and would take several more decades of engineering and construction before it was perfected. Although parkways and turnpikes appeared prior in nearby New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut well before, New Jersey wouldn't see its first toll road until 1951. By then, motoring had picked up the pace, and highways and gas stations were beginning to stretch their tentacles across the Eastern Seaboard.

 I'm certain that driving a car through New Jersey in 1924 would have been quite the experience. Today's antique store find gave us a small glimpse into that world, and all for the price of two gallons of gas in 2013.  



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