June 9, 1909: Driving Ms. Ramsey

In 1909, a diminutive 22-year-old housewife from Hackensack, New Jersey, hopped into her dark green, four-cylinder, 30-horsepower Maxwell touring car and headed west. Alice Huyler Ramsey and her companions, two older sisters-in-law and a 16-year-old friend, were beginning a 59-day, 3,600-mile transcontinental odyssey that would end on August 9 in San Francisco, California.

It was an easy journey. After all, 152 miles of the roads were paved. The trip required only 11 tire changes, some new spark plugs and a brake pedal replacement. Most nights they were able to sleep in beds, although on one occasion in Wyoming they shared them with bedbugs.

And they had maps covering part of the journey, although for a good portion of the route they relied on printed guides giving directions using local landmarks that weren’t always that up-to-date.  In one case, they were supposed to make a turn at a yellow house and barn, but it seems the owner, not an automobile enthusiast, had repainted them green.

In Ohio, they reached the breakneck speed of 42 miles per hour.  But in Iowa, they encountered mud and flooded out roads. In Nebraska, a manhunt for a killer. And in Nevada a group of heavily armed Indians, who fortunately were not on the warpath but hunting.

But in the end, Ramsey and her friends arrived to cheering crowds in San Francisco and drove into history, the first woman to drive coast to coast. She was named the “Woman Motorist of the Century” by AAA in 1960.  She repeated the trip another 30 times — in shorter periods of time — before her death on September 10, 1983 at the age of 96.

The buffalo isn’t as dangerous as everyone makes him out to be. Statistics prove that in the United States more Americans are killed in automobile accidents than are killed by buffalo.
Art Buchwald