1918 Chev and Levi Duckett Family Photo

A few years ago The Guild had the pleasure of restoring this beauty.

It had remained in the family of the original purchaser for over 90 years.

The following story tells of it's epic, cross country journey.

Levi Duckett, born 1910, was ten years old when he and his family made the "Trip". He was so fascinated with cars, that he was to spend the better part of his life as a mechanic repairing them. Levi, wrote this story in 1974 and passed away in 1976. With exception to spelling correction, the diction and punctuation is Levi's.

The Trip

by Levi Duckett

After two prosperous cotton crops at the end of World War I, and the fact that the City of Phoenix Arizona wanted my fathers cotton farm for a city water filtration plant, he sold out, and bought an orange grove. He and mother had not been back to see their folks since leaving Oklahoma and Illinois in 1912, so they determined to go home for a visit, overland, in a Chevrolet 490 Touring car, purchased in early 1918. (Similar to the following)

As father set about preparing the car for the trip. The car being two years old, he taken it to the blacksmith shop at Scottsdale Arizona. There were no mechanics, or garages, or filling stations, you bought your gasoline at the grocery store. And you had your car repaired at the blacksmith shop. He had a platform built on the back to carry our camping equipment, which consisted of a 9×12 side wall tent, six or eight comforters, for bedding, a grocery box with a week supply of food for seven, and pots and pans, and a trunk of clean clothes for each member of the family. He bought three canteens that were flat, so that they sat on a rack bolted to the running board of the car. They were, ten-gallon one for drinking water, a five gallon one for gasoline, and a one-gallon one for oil.

There were no roads in the twenties, only the old wagon trails of the first settlers to California. So father inquired and there was a fellow who had made the trip across the United States in a car from Los Angles, to New York, name of Locke, he made a guide. It wasn't a map. It gave the towns and villages along the trail. As I remember, it was called the Lincoln trail. It gave distances between towns, and water holes, also wells and windmills where you could get drinking water. It was expensive, but proved its worth. As all our friends and neighbors talked of it being a foolish thing to try to make the trip in an automobile, father wanted to be sure he had the best of tires, to avoid any possibility of trouble on the trip, he checked with the car dealer about the best tires to buy. He called a tire distributor in Los Angles and he recommended Goodyear cord tires. He could furnish four 30×3 ½ tires for $140.00. You could buy fabric tires for $20.00 apiece. Above all things he didn't want to have any tire trouble so he bought the Goodyear tires. The preparation for the trip started on April fools days, and completed by May 5, 1920. We loaded the car the night before, so we could get an early start. We should have sneaked off, not letting anyone know the hour as our friends and neighbors gathered, some offering advise, others protesting, saying they would never see us again. We bid all farewell, and excepted good luck wishes.

There was mother and father, and baby sister in the front seat, two sisters and I in the back seat. We were heading for Havana Illinois. Expecting to get there in ten to twelve days we were going along fine, singing and jolly, it was almost noon and the car started missing and wouldn't pull itself and the load in high gear. But it was only five miles to Prescott and it would pull in second gear. We got into Prescott and into a blacksmith shop. He hadn't any experience with cars, but had worked on stationary engines. A one cylinder engine used for belt power and thought he could help us. After an hour or so he discovered a broken porcelain on a spark plug, he had spark plugs, so he installed one. We had eat a lunch mother had prepared the day before. While the car was being fixed, so as soon as the car was running on all four again we started for Flagstaff. A few miles out of Prescott, we ran out of wagon trail. Most of the trail consisted of cattle's trails, you put one wheel of the car in the trail, the other side ran on the rough desert. We came to a fork in the trail and mother and father debated whether we take the right or left fork. The right looked like it was traveled the most, so father taken the right one. We were traveling along fine, it was getting close to sundown, and we meet our first human being, in a buck board. Father asked him how much further it was to Flagstaff. He advised us we were on the wrong trail. We should have taken the left fork just out of Prescott. It would have been much closer and smoother, but we were only a few mile from Camp Verde, and we could make Flagstaff by dark so we bid him ado and continued on our way.

We were doing nicely until we hit a rock in the trail. We checked and couldn't see as it had done any damage, so we proceeded on. We had only gone a mile when the engine developed a hammering noise. Father looked at the oil gauge, it was on zero. The outlet was in the bottom of the oil pan, with a brass fitting, which had a copper tube running to the oil gage. The only answer was that the big rock had broken the fitting. So father found a stick and whittled a plug, and drove it in the hole, then used our spare oil we had on the running board. The car was hard to start, but finally did, but it still had a loud knock, so he shut it down. We were all out of the car preparing to stretch the tent. Fate was with us for a man in a REO truck came along. The truck had hard rubbed tires that were smooth. He said he had a tow line he would tow us to Flagstaff, if he could get traction enough. It was ten miles and he could make it by dark, but for fifteen dollars. Father had taken care of the tow cable before he left Phoenix. So he agreed to his price.

He owned a sheep ranch close by and he advised us that camping there could be disastrous. As the Apache went on a rampage every so often. We weren't too afraid, but we had been in Phoenix when they sent out the National Guard to quell them down. It was dark when we got to Flagstaff, he had taken us to the City Park and we unloaded our gear, and he towed the car in front of the only blacksmith shop in town. And brought father back to the park. My mother, brother and I had made camp. Mother was cooking over a camp fire while my brother and I set up the tent. Everything in town was closed, but we had enough groceries to do for better than a week. Se we finished supper and settled down for the night. Next morning, right after breakfast, father went to the blacksmith shop as we were anxious to get the car fixed and get going again. We were in luck as there was a machine shop in connection with the blacksmith, and the operator had been back to Detroit to learn about cars. He pulled the engine out of the frame and said he would have to pour new bearings, but he could do it in two days, so father said go ahead. When he had the engine out , he said all the bearing were burnt out and he didn't have enough Babbitt to do the job. He would have to send to Los Angles for the material. (Since that time I have become familiar with engines, and there couldn't have been more then one burnt connection rod.) Father would make two or three trips a day to the blacksmith, to check on the car. There being quite a few sawmills around Flagstaff, this machinist had set up shop to do their work, so he only worked on our engine when father was there. It had taken him two days to take the engine apart.

While waiting for the engine to be repaired father discovered the front engine support broken and the Goodyear cord tires almost worn out. There was a Goodyear dealer in town, so he had a look at the tires. He called Los Angles, but couldn't get much satisfaction out of them on the guarantee. But he taken it on his self to put on two of the most worn. And advised us to put in for two more as we had them coming The mechanist had an acetylene welding outfit, and he could weld the engine support.

We five children, Opel the oldest, Leroy, just younger than I, Lucille, and Ruth. Were having a wonderful time in the park, as it had swings and a slide. After about five days we got the car out of the shop. We wanted to see the Grand Canyon. We made the trip from Flagstaff in one day. Viewed the canyon, camped over night. We hadn't been on our way very long till it started raining, so we had to put on the chains. After a few hours the chains started breaking and loosening off. We would walk back to get it, patch it with bailing wire, wash it in a puddle enough so we could find the catches on them. We made it back to the park at Flagstaff in time to make camp for the night.

Next morning father bought a new set of chains to have as we had lost the old ones. We were almost to Holbrook when the welding on the front cross member gave away. We hadn't restocked the grocery box, as it wasn't that far to Holbrook, and had planned to buy supplies there. We made it in before the blacksmith had gotten away from the shop. We went across the road and bought a big supply of groceries. Luck was with us this time the grocery man was friendly, and asked us where we were staying. We told him we had a tent. He said the ground was wet and he had a house with a stove in it and we were welcome to it. We accepted and no more than had our gear unloaded and it started pouring rain. We were set till our car was repaired. Father spent the day getting the car repaired, he wanted the smithy to remove the engine, but he insisted that by loosening the rear motor support bolts he could raise the front of the engine to get the broken cross member out. In doing so the crow bar slipped a few times but nothing was thought of the incident. By closing time he had the cross member braised and the car ready to go.

We spent another night in the house. By sunrise we had our gear loaded, and mother becoming nervous and insisting we go back. Father had gotten $500.00 in American Express Cheques, and it was almost gone. The blacksmith had married a bookkeeper that had worked for the Arizona Cotton Growers Association before she married, and she recognized fathers signature, so they accepted a personal check for the repair job. He assured mother that having so much trouble at the start, everything would be OK from now on ! She conceded and we pressed on east.

We stopped at the petrified forest, taken some snap shots, broke up a few pieces of the stone wood and proceeded on. We were almost to Qumado New Mexico, when we noticed the oil pressure gauge drop. Father looked under the car and found a hole the size of the crowbar the smithy used back at Holbrook, it was in the oil pan just behind the crank shaft pulley. He stuffed a rag in it, we used our spare oil and proceeded on. The car heated and used a lot of water.

It was upgrade all morning so we didn't think anything about being wrong with the engine.

We bought gasoline, oil and water in Qumado. Gas was eighty cents a gallon and water ten. Father protested, but the storekeeper said they had to haul it with mule teams, and it was an eighty mile round trip. We were in the mountains now, and the trail was so narrow that there was just room for the car to travel along the cliff. The trail was such that the cliff was on the right side, the side mother sat on, you could look over the side but not see the bottom. We met the one and only car of the day, a Reo Touring Car with two men in it, there was no place to pass.

They were coming down grade so they backed up, and we could see the passenger was scared and gritting his teeth and holding onto the shifting lever. It was so narrow that we rubbed a little paint off both cars on the left side. We crossed a washout up the trail a ways which was pretty rough, so we stopped to check under the car. The weld in the cross member had broken again. Mother was so nervous she trembled like she was having chills. She wanted to make camp, but father insisted that he wanted to get to Mountain Air before dark so that he could order a new cross member and put a stop to all the trouble. It was dark when we got into Mountain Air, but there was a general merchandise store open so father went in to get information about getting the car fixed the next day, and to buy some fresh meat. In front of the store was a stuffed mountain lion the store keeper said weighed eight hundred pounds, a cowboy had shot him a month ago while he was killing a cow. That helped stir mothers nerves very much.

The storekeeper directed us to an old Chatoqua building, said the roof was good over the speakers stand. We found it, and drove the car in and unloaded on the rostrum, made a fire, made supper, had just finished when it started raining and blowing, we made our beds and went to sleep, all that is except mother. Every noise heard or shadow she saw was a big lion. When morning came father went down to order a cross member from Albuquerque. He was advised it would take two days to get it and one to install it. Mother made it OK during the day, but had to keep a shotgun at her close by night, so she got very little sleep during our four nights at Mountain Air. She decided to economize to save money , till we got to her mothers at Yukon Oklahoma, where we could obtain more. So she put on a pot of red beans. She boiled them for the three days we were there and they still rattled on our plates. The altitude was so high they would boil, but wouldn't cook.

After the car was fixed we started east, and had our first big days drive. We had a trail for the tires to run in on both sides of the car. We put about two hundred miles behind us. We were between Clovis and Amarillo when we started to have flat tires. The tube patches were called gasoline patches, much like the patches of today, only there was no glue. You would rough the tube with a piece of sandpaper, supplied with the patches. Then take a stick, dip it in gasoline and rub it around the hole in the tube, remove backing from the patch and smear gas on it, then place it over the hole in the tube. We would patch the tube and pump it up by hand to ninety pounds pressure. We would get about 15 miles and the patch would come off. We were repairing the tire and a Texas farmer came along with a team and wagon load of wheat. He helped us a lot, said he had heard that people who didn't have those things didn't have that trouble and just kept on going.

The temperature was high and the road was dry and dusty. After three good workouts it had begun to cool off, so we made camp at Amarillo, the most miles on one day of our trip. We left Amarillo the next morning and hoped we would make it to grandma's that day, but as the day got hotter we started to having flat tires. We came to a school house that had shade trees and a well , so we decided to camp until the next day. Next day we made it to grandma's by noon, which was a great relief, especially to mother. We spent two weeks there visiting with old neighbors. The folks had lived there from 1905 till they had left for Arizona in 1913. While visiting the cat got to hiking and would break the teeth off the flywheel. When you pushed the starter button the starter would just hummed, but wouldn't turn the engine. I would take the crank turn it a little and the starter would crank it. When they had replaced the bearing at Flagstaff, they had advanced the timing too much, causing the car to heat, also causing it to kick all the teeth off the flywheel.

While at grandma's father tried unsuccessfully to get new tires to replace the other two cord tires he had started out with. So he swore he would never own another Goodyear tire. With the fabric tire we had as a spare, and he bought a new fabric Fiske tire at Yukon Oklahoma. We figured we could make it to Havana Illinois. One day while visiting around grandma's, I went to turn the crank, so the starter would catch a tooth on the engine, it kicked and broke my right arm. So I had my arm in a sling the next six weeks. That left father to crank the car, so he would park on a hill, so we could put it in gear, and let the clutch out after it started rolling. We now had pretty good dirt roads and we met quite a few buggies and wagons, we would scare most of the horses, but otherwise got along pretty well except for a flat now and then. We got to Clinton Missouri early in the evening and al were tired, as we had been on the road about three days. There was a good hill at the court house square so father decided to buy some fresh meat and inquire where there was a school house just as we had found they made the best camp grounds, and we didn't have to stretch our tent, if it started to raining we could pick up our blankets and move into the school house, and there was always a well. After buying our meat, father got in and kicked the brake off, as the engine started it kicked, you could push on the foot feed, but it only raced the engine and the car stood still. There was a garage in Clinton, so we went to get him to see what the trouble was. He said probably a broken axle. Had a truck and would tow us to a spring, close to a creek that would be a good place to camp. It was swell except for the mosquitoes and they like to eat us up after sundown. It was close to town so he towed the car back to his shop, and father walked back while mother and us kids made camp, and cooked supper. There were plenty of leaves, so we burnt leaves to smoke the mosquitoes away. I don't know which is worse the smoke or mosquitoes. Father went to the garage soon after breakfast to get the car fixed. They tore the car rear end apart and it had broken most of the teeth off the pinion and ring gear. They didn't have one so they called Kansas City. He didn't have one either but could get one out of Detroit in a couple of days Father noticed a pinion and ring gear hanging on he wall in the garage, so he asked what it was, he was told it was for a Model T Ford and wouldn't fit a Chevrolet. He insisted they try. They did and it fit perfect. So we spent one more night with the mosquitoes. Next morning we loaded up and started on our way.

We got along swell till noon, and just as the day warmed up we started to having tire trouble. We were just outside Jefferson City by a shade tree. So we rolled the tire into the graveyard and repaired it. I think it was the last of the Goodyear tires we started out with, we would patch it, put it on the car, let it off the jack and it would start to leak the air out. I think it was thirteen times that we fixed it, and pumped it up. We were all worn out by now. So father Walked back to Jefferson City to buy a new tire and tube. He couldn't find anything but a Goodyear, so he told the man if he would mount it he would buy it. He brought it out in a Franklin Car. After he had it on the rim, he raised the hood and removed one of the spark plugs, replaced it with a short tube of a thing with a hose about ten feet long, started his engine, and the tire was up to ninety pounds pressure in no time. How we wished we had one. We made it almost to St Louis that night, but came to a school house and decided to make camp.

We started early next morning, didn't take long to get to St Louis, but had a time finding a bridge across the Mississippi. Mothers oldest sister lived in Greenville Illinois, and we wanted to stop there a little while. Our guide didn't include east of the Mississippi river so we asked the way. We were coming into a town when we met a man in a wagon and asked him if it was Greenville, he said no it was Collinsville. We would have to go almost back to St Louis to get to Greenville. We backtracked and made it in the early afternoon. We spent a week there with my aunt. Mother was born there, close, at a little town of Mulberry Grove. She wanted to see the old home. She had moved to Havana from there when she was twelve years old, so she didn't recognize to many of the surroundings. Some of the old buildings had been removed and new ones put up, even her old homes had been remodeled. We spent a week with my aunt, it was during the 4th of July.

We left Greenville for my grandfathers. We camped at a school house just south of Springfield Illinois. Next morning we went to Lincoln's old home and got a few splinters from the old rail fence around the yard. We made it to grandpa's early afternoon we visited old friends and relatives. There we so many that we hardly had time, before we had to start back home to school, to start in the first week of September. We still had to visit fathers youngest sister that had moved to Rutledge Missouri.

By taking it slowly we made it with a medium of flat tires. They were pretty poor except the new one. We spent a day and two nights with aunt Dealie, and as we were leaving father put the car in gear and the shift broke off down in the transmission, but we found a new one in town. He installed it and almost made it back to grandpa's when we hit a bump in the road and the car dropped down in the center. We got out to look and the car frame had broken on both sides just at the front doors. So father walked to a farmhouse and called a livery stable to rent a surrey and team to take us to grandpa's. By this time it was getting close to the last of August, and school was starting back home the first week in September, and we couldn't possibly get a new car and make it back in time to start school. So we made reservations on the train and made it back home in time to start school, the second day of school. May 5th to September 2nd 1920, 120 days, what started out to be a two week trip. Granted, much time was spent in visiting friends and relatives. More time was spent in the going ! At present day road conditions (1974) and cars three days driving time each way, with ample time to spend in camping grounds.

View More Photos of the 1918 Chevrolet Model 490 Touring Car

Back to the Index of Articles