The very first time the Atlantic flowed all the way from Brooklyn to the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco.
On May 2, 1915, 26 year old Effie and her 45 year old mother Avis motored out of Brooklyn, across the Brooklyn Bridge and headed for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Effie drove a sidecar-equipped 1915 Harley-Davidson F-11 motorcycle. Effie said, “We merely wanted to see America and figured that the three-speed Harley-Davidson for myself, and sidecar for mother and the luggage were best suited for the job.”
The trip took two months. At the time there were no paved roads outside of cities and there were few cities along the way. Effie was damn handy with the contraption and did her own repairs of which there were many. Flat tires were the biggest obstacle and at times they had to stuff blankets inside the tires to make it to the next town. Avis said she came along to add weight to slow her “hellcat” daughter down. Effie had had several run ins with the cops in Brooklyn for speeding and terrifying the children and horses but she generally got away by just driving off as the police were on foot. Avis tatted much of the way. You know, tatting. Tatting is essentially Victorian handkerchief trim. Not so very common these days.
Effie had grown tired of a no future job as a secretary on Wall Street and wanted to see the world. It wasn’t a sponsored trip nor was it a publicity stunt. It was just two fearless women on a road trip, well a dirt road trip. They took the essentials including lots of tire glue, a pump and patches, blankets and a Savage 7-shot semi-automatic handgun.
Effie previously had a series of motorbikes, essentially bicycles with motors, and then moved up to a single cylinder Metz motorcycle before finally getting her Harley. Fully loaded with mom and sufficient ammo ‘the bathtub’, as they called it, came in a half a ton of road warrior iron and female grit.
“I got a lot of non-family discouragement,” Effie recalled in her memoir. “Decent roads would be non-existent for most of the way; there would be deserts to cross, high mountains to climb, lack of water, no repair shop, no this and no that. Some things there would be, such as wild animals, wilder Indians, probably floods, maybe cyclones and other offhand acts of God; until it began to sound so interesting I would not have missed it for the world.”
The two engendered a lot of enthusiast support along the way as they were considered wild beyond measure. Keep in mind this was just as the first Women’s Movement began and before the 19th Amendment passed in 1920 giving women the vote. Just 100 years ago women were not considered full citizens. The pair were detained more than once for wearing pants in a couple of towns where it was not legal. They agreed to put skirts on which of course would blow up over Effie’s head if they went over 20mph. But hey, the law’s the law, right? I guess if they didn’t like it they could vote the law out…oh right…
Their trip included days of hot desert sand blasting them in the face and freezing nights in the mountains. At the Grand Canyon some brigand stole their gun. Effie said that he was the only “jackass” they encountered.
In San Francisco, they toured the exhibition, whose list of distinctions included the first transcontinental phone call. Visiting the local Harley-Davidson dealership, the pair and their vehicle attracted an enormous crowd everywhere they went. Effie recounted to a reporter how one day, just after leaving Chicago, they endured five punctures and one blowout. “What did you do?” asked one incredulous eavesdropper. “Fixed ’em,” Effie replied nonchalantly.
After touring the World’s Fair they cruised along Highway 1 to Los Angeles and then turned left and drove back to Brooklyn!
Effie resumed her dreary job but soon a letter arrived from Oregon. It was from Guy Johnston, a man she had run into (literally) some months earlier while riding in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. He had seen an article in a local newspaper reporting the successful conclusion of her ride.
A blazing correspondence ensued until, much to Effie’s delight, she received a telegram from Guy, asking her to meet him that afternoon at Grand Central Station. Two weeks later they were married, and Effie headed out to Oregon to start her new life. Avis came too. It was a fair arrangement, considering that Effie was about to become a stepmother to a widower’s three children. She and guy had a daughter of their own.
Avis lived as a grand and well loved matriarch until 1958 and Effie died in 1966. Effie spoke of her achievement as just an amazing part of her life but with little bravado. She said any woman could do the same even without a pistol (though was still sore about it being swiped even decades later).