Tea, Times and The Lighthouse Keeper in Ceylon

At this point the narrative makes a bit of a leap – from a ship en route to Java to Ceylon, around 10 months later. In February 1906 the party is at Colombo and taking on the local geography and wildlife. Between the faux-British settlement of Nuwara Eliya and the cultural capital of Kandy comes

“the Rambodde Pass, a 12 mile descent with several hairpin corners in it. On several of these corners we had to back, not being able to get round in a single lock”

Power steering having been patented but not yet put into production. Later they visit

“the Buddha temples at Dambulla and the rock at Sicere. Mrs Rolls rides, wife of T[imes] of Ceylon Editor. The temples at Dambulla are cut out of the solid rock on the top of a hill. Also all rock they contain several figures of Buddha including a large incumbent figure of the Buddha painted yellow.

Cave statues at Dambulla, Sri Lanka

The cave statues at Dambulla

In this temple is also some images of Vishnu. Another temple by the side of this is like a great stone room, square and in the centre a stream of water drips through roof. Around the room are several figures of the Buddha, some cut out of the solid stone and some made up of clay. The roof also is carved and painted.”

They also add another ‘furthest point’ to their list, by making it to the most southerly point in Ceylon, Dondra Head – where they have tea with the Lighthouse Keeper (of course). As well as the standard statistics for this run (208 miles, 15 Gallons) there is also the dubious achievement of

“kill 5 dogs on this run”

– whether as a pest-control measure or by accident isn’t clear. Just before leaving for Saigon on the S.S Armand Betric, Charley makes a careful note of his latest purchase as it is sent back to England:

“Shipped case of elephants through Thos Cook and son per S.S. Moldavia to Southampton and insured for £3.”

Much as I would like to record that my ancestor was resposible for introducing feral elephants to the white cliffs of Rottingdean, I’m reliably informed that this refers to a set of carved wooden elephants. These ranged in size from a cat downwards and were still being robustly used and abused by the family fifty years later.

I hope he didn’t tell them about the dogs.

July 4, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Tall tales

Throughout the journey, fantastic and exotic stories are contrasted with the practical and more mundane realities of driving a car almost every day for months on end. The leg through Tasmania and Australia is no exception.

Poor roads – ‘the worst we have ever encountered’ – make short work of their tyres:

“We have our first burst in 2300 miles [and] our first nail puncture in 3000 miles”

and are presumably a real challenge for the competitors in the Reliability Trials being run from Sydney to Melbourne.

Australian Monitor or Goanna

Australian Monitor or Goanna

When not busy making a dent in the local wildlife:

“Run over a lizard 2ft long on return journey”

the party find time for visiting local celebrities – including Mr Crooks, racetrack owner and fellow motorist – and

“Mr Lancells the Gold King”

and evaluating antipodean attractions:

“We go to Zoo in afternoon. Equal to London.”

On the 8th of March the contrast between the tourists’ lifestyle and the realities of life in Australia is at its highest.

“Lunch at Kyamba, a small place of only 3 or 4 houses. This was the only place with 30 miles that we could get anything to eat or drink and being very hungry and tired we all made a dinner of bread, apples and tea without milk and the best only thing obtainable.

“The house was a telegraph office, a man being there all alone. He told us that his place was almost burned down a short time ago by the recent bush fires. His neighbours, he said, had to take refuge in drums of water, the flames sweeping completely over them and he had to keep throwing water on his own house to keep it from catching fire. We pass by a sheep station of 100 thousand acres. The whole day’s ride took us through the scenes of recent bush fires.

On arrival at Gundagai we found the whole village up in arms – staying at the same hotel as us was a farmer who had just recently taken a sheep station about 15 miles away. He was in town for the purpose of prosecuting two men who had been stealing his sheep to such an extent that they had been shipping them away by the car load. And being a newcomer the whole place was against him and in sympathy with the men, who it is said came from prominent families in the same town. Some had even threatened to shoot the farmer if he did not let them off and he did not dare to go out. The night previous to our arrival shots were fired at midnight outside the hotel.”

The party are on the move again early the next morning and what became of the farmer or the two swagmen is not recorded. Within a couple of days Mrs Glidden is being 

“presented with a bouquet in the shape of an Auto wheel”

by the Sydney Auto Club President’s wife and the whole story seems both far-fetched and far away.

January 26, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Mountains and mutton

As the party heads towards the company’s namesake town of Napier, they encounter plenty of mountains, and challenges.

“We have 3 long steep climbs. Get over 2 alright but get stuck on third, road being covered with 6 inches of loose clay. Had to be towed out – first time in all our tour.”

After waiting half on hour for a flock of 4000 sheep to pass on the second, the third range is worst of all:

“We break an inlet valve, later on break exhaust valve guide and bend valve. After that run over branch of a tree which flies up and gets between chain and rear sprocket but at the time doing no visible damage. We run into Napier on three cylinders. Bad luck follows us all day and only a short run of 53 miles.”

Later on they take on Wellington, Masterton and the Rimutaka Pass,

“The country passed through being one vast burnt up forest.”

After touring North Island they board the S S Maroroa to Christchurch on South Island. Here they are again welcomed by local politicians and dignitaries, as well as those who have made their fame through industry, as Mr Glidden did. So as well as the scenic drive through the Waitaki river and the diversion of seeing

“Mr J Knight and Miss Ellen Jefferys in Monsieur Beaucaire

they also get to inspect the Belfast Freezing Works, where

“all our NZ Canterbury mutton comes from. In the Belfast freezing works one man alone kills 200 sheep per day.”

Later they drive out with Mr Thompson

“to his saw mills. Ride about 2 miles on bush timber trolley into heart of the bush and see the tree-felling operations going on. 3 trolleys drawn by 6 horses running on a wood rail track bring the logs into the Mills for sawing.”

There’s more of this industrial tourism in Tasmania the following week, with a tour of the Tasmanian Timber Corporation Mills. On the way back to Hobart they take in

“[a] museum where we saw a great collection of Tasmanian shells and old convict relics, documents and death warrants, and different clothes worn by convicts – chain and fetters, handcuffs etc.”

It was only around fifty years earlier (in 1853) that the practice of sending British convicts to Tasmania was stopped, so I was surprised to read that a museum had already been constructed to commemorate it. Perhaps it is a sign of how far Tasmania had come in that time (the Governor is laying a foundation stone for a new theatre) that the memory of that time seemed in danger of fading away, like the physical signs of their presence:

“Nearly all the main roads were built by convicts and well engineered – but badly kept.”

December 13, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Storms, steam and soap

After a few more days impressing Fijian royalty, the car and party have to return to ship for transport to New Zealand. Departure is delayed by a tropical storm:

“Leave wharf 6am and anchor in bay on account of a hurricane blowing from the NE and continuing till 10.30. Then stop for 15 min, a dead calm. Starting again, blowing from SW harder than ever. […] Easing at 2pm.”

Although the sea is far from calm they weigh anchor at 2pm, considerably better off than the small boats and punts wrecked on the shore or reef around them. Charley’s notes prove that despite his confidence in the future of the automobile, he is not above admiration of good design and construction elsewhere:

“S.S. Navua, Capt. D MacLean. Twin screw. She behaved splendidly in the heavy sea – a new boat and built on the lines of an Atlantic liner with First Saloon midships and Second aft.”

Landing at Auckland it is just like being back in America:

“Mr Glidden gives his lecture to members of Auto Club at Grand Hotel. […] Members of Auto Club drive with us to outskirts of town.”

Wairoa Geyser, 1905

Wairoa Geyser, 1905

The next stop is Whakarewarewa, notable for the nearby Maori village and geysers, which are efficiently combined: after a display of the Haka and poi dancing outside the hotel in the evening, they take the poi dancers for a ride in the car and go to

“see the Wairoa geyser soaped.”


“This is one of a very few that can be made to play at will and this done by 2 bars of ordinary yellow soap cut into small pieces and thrown in. When first put in it foams up, then goes down again, being quiet for 10 or 15 min, then suddenly boiling up with tremendous force, sending up a stream of boiling water nearly a hundred feet high, lasting about 15 min.”

Due to increased demand for the hot water and falling levels (not soap-blockage), this particular geyser has not erupted naturally since 1940. It’s an eerie landscape:

“The formation around for miles shows signs of volcanic eruptions and travelling along the road you can see the steam rising here and there in the dense bush.”

December 3, 2009. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Merry Christmas…I think

The weather doesn’t improve for the next couple of weeks: Vancouver in December is a rainy place to be. However with the return of the Gliddens, the next (and more glamorous) stage can begin: shipment via the S.S. Moana to Suva, Fiji, two weeks’ voyage away.

The journey begins unpromisingly enough:

“Blowing hard all day and seas running high. Ship pitching and rolling, only two – myself and another gent – down to breakfast. Mr and Mrs Glidden both sick.”

And the next day it is:

“Still very rough and blowing a gale. Officers’ quarters flooded out, two sick. Ship pitching heavily. I am the only one occupying cabin on upper deck.”

For the record, a strong constitution (along with a strange pride in the fact, and decided lack of sympathy for anyone less forunate) has been passed through the Thomas family intact.

It is not until several days later that conditions improve and passengers begin to be seen on dack again. On December 17th the Moana makes a short stop in Honolulu, giving the passengers a chance to stretch their legs and take the car for a spin. They drive up to Pali Pass and take in the view

“When we reached the top where the road goes between the mountains we met a very strong wind, just as much as we could stand against.”

Most excellent. Back on board, and heading south again, the passengers and crew make preparations for Christmas.

“Ladies make a dummy pudding made up of articles contributed by saloon passengers.”

Christmas Day in the South Pacific is a confusing affair, where the traditional boundaries between classes of passenger (and even days of the week) become blurred:

“We celebrate Xmas day on board on account of gaining a day of time which makes our Saturday really Sunday the 25th, Xmas Day. Officers and passengers all join in drawing on the pudding. Concert in saloon, second class passengers join in.”

The next day they dock in Suva for sightseeing, frequenting the races and a little social commentary:

Drive to native prison and cemetery. Hundreds of Hindoos are imported from India to work the sugar plantations. The Fijian are very fine Physique but the race is decreasing.”

The descendants of these Indian migrants make up nearly 40% of Fiji’s population today and there is a long history of ethnic tension between native and Indo-Fijians.

The weather and surroundings have both changed dramatically as 1904 becomes 1905, but the status of the British and American travellers has never been higher. There seems no chance of being pulled over by pesky bicycle cops here: instead they are occupied by taking

“Fijian Princess out for a ride on the car. Photographed in Government House grounds.”

The only hint of trouble on this island paradise comes when transporting the car back on board ship, when

“my umbrella [is] stolen from car.”

November 25, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Back to the day job

Some of you may know that prior to starting this blog, I spent many hours during my time at university painstakingly transcribing Charley’s diaries to preserve them for posterity. You may also know that not long after that, I was burgled. Obviously, I hadn’t backed up the files and so the only digital copy of the diaries (on my otherwise pretty useless laptop) was lost to me. This is why posts are coming a little slowly now: I’m having to work from the paper version, and Charley’s handwriting, spelling and grammar are not easy to decode.

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to typing up this next section of the diaries: after more stunning scenery –

“Leave for Sicamoure Junction, over the great horseshoe bridge […] passing through many snow sheds and over many bridges […] We cross the Columbia River 13 times.

– they return to Vancouver and take the train (treachery!) to Boston, where Charley is to spend the next few weeks as a demonstrator and driver at the Napier showroom. The entries, never particularly flowery, become positively minimalist, a mere ticking-off of the days:

“Thursday Oct 6th 04
At showrooms all day

Friday 7th 04
At showrooms

Saturday 8th 04
At showrooms…”

This steady employment does have its advantages: no more nights spent ‘at work on car’ to repair the damage from a long day’s travelling, and even some time off:

“Sunday 23rd 04
At Club garage in morning, at home rest of day.”

From the 26th September through to the 12th November the story is the same. Thankfully at this point the call comes to jump back on the train to Canada and pick up where he left off. Within a week he is back in the Rockies and able to record with typical matter-of-factness the difference which seven weeks of winter has made to their travel conditions:

“Delayed by large rockslide which submerges a tunnel in the Frazer canyon, our train being the first in 3 days to go through. All other had to tranship passengers, they having to walk over slide. About 11am another slide fell just as we were passing Hell’s Gate. Frazer Canyon a large rock falling between the sleeper and diner, carrying away part of the platform of the diner and the step of sleeper next berth to me, the car going over pieces which fell on the line.”

Hell's Gate

Hell's Gate during the summer, with train in background

And by the 22nd November he is back with his hands in the car’s innards:

“At CPR Shops over hauling car, taking her to pieces. Send Mr Clemens old bearings. Take off body and dismantle gearbox. Wet all day.”

November 17, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

The Rocky Road

The competition between train and car hots up as the Canadian terrain becomes more difficult, and starts to take on a rivalry that seems oddly familiar:

“Leave for Banff following 97 West Bound as second section. Delayed 8 min owing to petrol failing and lose our position. Having to sidetrack to pass East Bound Express we lose another 30 mins. We leave in the morning about 2 min behind No 97 but notwithstanding all the delays en route we run into Banff, a distance of 80 miles from Calgary, about  10 yards behind her.”

An appropriately close end for a contest which Top Gear would surely be proud of. The party stops in Banff for a few days of rest and relaxation, including a swim in the famous sulphur baths. Mrs Glidden is affected by altitude sickness as they climb even higher to Laggan and Lake Louise.

The railroad on these mountains is quite an engineering masterpiece in itself, and something that the conductors on board the car would no doubt have been happy to talk about:

“This the steepest railroad grade in the world, being from 3 ½ to 5 ¾ per cent in places and has three safety switches. Trains are only allowed to travel at 4 mph down. A fleet of special 8 wheel coupled engines work the traffic on this hill, it sometimes taking 5 of these engines on one ordinary train to ascend it, one taking it down.”

Charley is modest enough not to record that this trip constitutes the first crossing of the Canadian Rockies by car, but can’t help pointing out to Conductor Forrest and reader alike that:

“We descended it with perfect safety, being able to stop at any point without skidding.”

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

Ambitious..and pretty impressive.

November 1, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Planks, trains and automobiles

At the start of September the car, already the subject of constant alterations and repairs, undergoes one of its more extreme modifications: flanged wheels are attached allowing it to run on railways tracks instead of roads. During the next few days’ trials there are multiple problems – the wheels are the wrong size, run hot or leave the rails, and it’s difficult to see how it is ever going to work. The most dramatic problem is recorded in detail:

“We have a narrow escape to getting derailed near Greenwood. An old Irishman with a pair of horses in a buggy is stealing old crossing planks. The horses are on one side of the line and the planks on the other. He sees us coming as he is crossing the tracks carrying a plank, gets scared and drops it and runs to catch the horses who are also scared.

At the time we were travelling at about 40 miles per hour and did not see it until about 30 yards away, and being impossible to pull up we smashed clean into it. Happily it was nearly rotten and was laying square across the rails otherwise we should have left them and gone down a 6ft bank.

The front wheels left the rails, smashing through the plank but dropped fair on again, the plank itself being broken in 3 pieces. There were 7 people in the car at the time.”

Despite this – and having to make frequent stops to cool the wheels – the car makes good progress towards the Canadian border. Perhaps the ‘rail-car’ was another demonstration that the Gliddens planned to prove the versatility of the gasoline-powered car. Perhaps they felt that a nationwide system of car-ready roads was so unlikely that using the existing rail network was more feasible for other tourists. Or maybe this was one man’s whim, just to see if it could be done.

Either way, there is a real feeling of pride and excitement in Charley’s account:

“On our trip across the rails to Vancouver we were run just the same as a special train and called the Napier Limited, carrying our train orders and a special conductor, the same as a special train having to make meets and stops and connections with other trains according to orders. We leave Pontiac 25 minutes ahead of the Imperial Ltd West Bound Express and arrive Moose Jaw 45 min ahead.”

The car’s versatility is such that it can beat the train even on its own turf. Surely the days of the train are numbered…

October 27, 2009. Uncategorized. 3 comments.

Mud, and other annoying details

And so the convoy of cars continues into St Louis for the World Fair incident-free, except for an incident on the 8th August when a paraffin lamp and a Cadillac with a petrol leak come into unfortunate contact. The garage is ‘gutted’ (much like the car’s owner) but luckily no other cars are damaged and it appears that the mechanic working under the car escapes unharmed.

Oh, and there’s another incident the next day when they are backed into by another driver, smashing one headlight and breaking a front spring. It probably doesn’t help that the other driver is a cowboy and the other vehicle a horse.

On the 11th August the cars arrive at the World’s Fair showground:

“about 200 cars all told. A lot of local cars take part. We stand our car in the Transportation building and exhibit her as the car that is touring around the world.”

After a few days enjoying the publicity and spectacle of the Fair, the car and its mechanic are shipped back to Chicago to prepare for the next leg, on to Milwaukee. Unfortunately Charley loses his wallet just before they are due to leave and has to trust that an advertisement in the paper will reunite him with it eventually.

There are many places in Charley’s diaries where I wish there was more information: more about the places they visited, and more of his personal reflections on the people they meet and his relationship with his employers. But when the account expands from its usual list of distances, weather and place names, the difference is striking.

The car passes through an area hit by a ‘cyclone’ a couple of weeks earlier (probably the 1094 St Louis tornado, which killed three people):

“The roads were in a very bad condition, having nearly 6” of mud all the way in due to excessive rains. Several telegraph poles of 18” thickness were snapped off close to the ground and roads strewn with trees. We passed several houses with thin roofs completely stripped. In one or two instances the roofs of houses were carried for 2 miles by the wind. The lowlands all around were also aflood.

Ploughing through the mud here means a lot of work on the car in the next few days:

“Take out and straighten square shaft. Spigot bent, also disc of clutch. […] Take off and straighten rear axel. […] Up all night at work on car. Finish setting gear and axel 6am. […]  Have to make alteration in flanges to get proper gauge, being 1 3/8” out.”

Perhaps this is the kind of work Mr Glidden had in mind when he wrote Charley a reference in 1909 calling him

“a capable, honest man in every respect and able to manage shipment of car and relieve its owner of many annoying details.”

October 11, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Niagara and New York

Late July 1904 sees the convoy of cars head into New York State and dip a toe (or tyre) into Canada.

“Take trip by Electric car to Niagara Falls. Go around by gorge route, also down Scince (?) Tunnel Canada side into the back of Horse Shoe Fall. Cross over by the great steel arch bridge into Canada.”

Surely the electric car is a modern fad? Apparently not: Wikipedia tells us that

“At the turn of the century, 40 percent of American automobiles were powered by steam, 38 percent by electricity, and 22 percent by gasoline.”

Electric Car, 1904

Electric Car, 1904

It appears that the Gliddens’ trip was not just a headline-grabbing way to advertise the wonders of the automobile and the freedom it could provide, but a method of demonstrating to those considering a purchase or investment that gasoline-powered cars were the future. One of the benefits of gasoline cars was their longer range, especially in less built-up areas –

“Electric cars found popularity among well-heeled customers who used them as city cars, where their limited range proved to be even less of a disadvantage.”

So next time you are tempted to laugh at a G-Wiz or Prius, consider that these city-car drivers have a long pedigree. Only time will tell whether the latest incarnation of the electric car can do what its ancestor failed to, and change the world’s driving habits.

The next few days do little to reassure readers of the safety of any of these early cars, however. Just outside Toledo:

“Rambler car overturns on the run, throwing lady and gent out without injury.”

Two days later:

“The 80HP Perless car that is on the run collides with an Express train, gets smashed up but nobody hurt.”

On the sandy road to Chicago the cars are dropping like flies:

“White Steam car skids in sands and overturn down a 6ft bank. Little further on pass Cadillac car upside down in the ditch. Man breaks his wrist and car is smashed up. About 20 miles further still we pass a Winton car which has skidded in sand trying to turn a sharp corner, smashing near rear wheel and running into fence.”

It’s hardly surprising the whole of the next day is spent at work on the car – there were much tougher challenges for car and driver to face on roads outside America.

September 15, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

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