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American Roads: Site Map > Auto Trails > Auto Trail Articles > Touring Topics article January 1913

Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Route Best

An Open Letter by the President of the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Association, Mr. G. W. Wilder

― from Touring Topics, January 1913, page 13-15.


The following “open letter” by President G. W. Wilder of the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Association, has been furnished to Touring Topics as a reply to the article entitled, “Object of the San Diego-Phoenix Race,” which was printed last month in this publication under the signature of Col. Ed. Fletcher of the San Diego-Yuma Highway Association. Touring Topics heartily endorses both routes.

[ Read Fletcher's original letter here. ]

Redlands, December 20th, 1912.

Col. Ed. Fletcher,
1550 D Street,
San Diego, California.

My Dear Fletcher:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of December 9th, reading as follows:
"Will you allow me to offer a suggestion in this ocean-to-ocean highway matter? If you are determined to have the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway via San Bernardino, Indio, etc., will you and your organization support a road from Brawley to Holtville, thence to Yuma and Phoenix? The mileage is a great deal shorter, and on that basis, we can all pull together, in my opinion.
“I was at El Centro Saturday night and tried to get you by telephone early Sunday morning, but found out you had left early for Yuma. Did you come back from Yuma to Holtville, the route traversed by the San Diego-Phoenix racers?
“If there is any possible way for San Diego and you people to work together on this Ocean-to-Ocean Highway matter, I feel they desire to do it, if you want our assistance.”
Almost immediately following the receipt of your letter came the current number of Touring Topics in which I found your article, “Object of the San Diego-Phoenix Race.” Your letter and this article are so intimately connected that in my reply to your letter I want to take up your article.
I take off my hat to San Diego. It is sure a live burg. And I bow to Colonel Ed. Fletcher. He is sure a live citizen. Taken together, you and San Diego can almost make wrong right.
A clear answer to your letter seems to require a brief statement regarding that recent auto trip to Yuma to which you refer. It was a party of six automobiles. It left here—Redlands—Friday, December 6th. It was made up of three machines carrying two each, one machine carrying three, one machine carrying four and one machine carrying five men.
We autoed from here to Yuma over the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in company, the total casualties consisting of one puncture and one broken front spring. We proceeded the entire distance under our own power. We did not do any teaming at any place. Our first stopping place after leaving Redlands was Palm Springs, where we spent the night at the Desert Inn. Our next stopping place was Brawley and the third was Yuma. While we did not leave these places in the morning until after eight o’clock and while we stopped repeatedly to look over the road and talk over various points regarding it and though, as you know, six machines cannot travel nearly so rapidly as one or two, all six of these machines reached each day’s destination before five o’clock in the afternoon. The engineers nears of the party stated to me personally that from here to Yuma there was “no road construction problem that was really interesting to an engineer”; that is, not a difficulty anywhere. On the trip from Brawley to Yuma we went through the Mammoth Wash. We followed this route, because: first, it was the route adopted by the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Convention; and second, because we were informed by those who advocated the route through Holtville and the sand dunes, regarding which your letter questions me, that our cars could not go through under their own power, but would have to be pulled through. We had been invited by advocates of that route to look over its possibilities. We wanted to, but when we telephoned them from Brawley Saturday night and were informed, as above stated, that we would have to be teamed through, and this could not be done so we could make the connections we desired, we gave it up.
Personally I did not, and do not, think we should abandon the route that is now passable by automobiles for one that is impassable, until the superiority of this latter route has been passed upon by competent engineers. If you will have Engineer Perry of El Centro and the well-known desert engineer, Mr. C. K. Clark, give a written opinion that the route from Holtville through the sand dunes to Yuma is feasible, also giving a statement as to the method of construction and an estimate of the cost of construction and maintenance, I will gladly then go over the route and make a public statement, as an individual, as to my opinion regarding it; though of course as president of the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway, I am prevented from advocating a route that departs in the least from the route mapped out by the Phoenix convention. But personally, my one desire is to help construct a road from the Atlantic to the Pacific that shall be the one most feasible, most satisfactory, and most likely to bring machines from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and personally, therefore, I will listen to anything. But don’t ask me to make this trip except after the engineers have passed on it. It would be foolish for me, with little or no knowledge of road construction, to go over that route and try to pass upon the possibility of a road from Holtville through the sand dunes to Yuma. The men whose opinions are worth while on that subject are men like Engineers Perry and Clark. From the best information I can gather, however, I am forced to believe, until I have evidence from experts like these, that this road is not feasible. Authorities tell me that those sand dunes travel thirteen feet a year. What would that do to a road? As you know, I have been over the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway from Los Angeles to Yuma more than once. I have been over the road from Brawley and El Centro to San Diego. I have covered, therefore, all the roads in question except that short stretch through the sand dunes.
Referring to your article in Touring Topics, you ran from San Diego to El Centro, 123 miles, in four hours and sixteen minutes. This means an average of twenty-nine miles an hour. I take off my hat to the courage of the man and men who can take the curves from San Diego to the Imperial County line, can then plunge down the Mountain Spring Grade and then through Devil’s Canyon at any such rate. It must have been done at the risk of the lives of every one in the car and at the risk of the lives of everyone else on the road. I note that the trip from El Centro to Yuma via Holtville and the sand dunes, sixty-three miles, took close to six hours. The fact that it took you six hours to make sixty-three miles, when over forty of those miles could readily have been made in two hours, would indicate you spent about four hours in negotiating less than twenty miles. This covers that part of the road for which your letter asks support and that, as I said above, from all unbiased reports, I cannot believe is feasible. You do not say whether you went through on your own power or were teamed through. I would really like to know. Also how many of the Phoenix racers were teamed through.
The six cars conveying our party must have gone through the Mammoth Wash and its sands in less than an hour’s time.
I note again your statement in Touring Topics that the distance from San Diego to Yuma is one hundred eighty-six miles, and from Los Angeles to Yuma, three hundred and four miles, a difference of one hundred eighteen miles in San Diego’s favor. The correct distance from Los Angeles to Yuma over the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway is two hundred and ninety-eight miles, but since the route taken by you from San Diego to Yuma through the sand dunes is not feasible and you should have diverged from El Centro to Brawley and thence through the Mammoth Wash, the real question at issue is the distance from San Diego to Brawley as compared to Los Angeles to Brawley. San Diego to Brawley today is one hundred and thirty-seven miles. Los Angeles to Brawley is two hundred and ten miles. The state survey will add at least twenty miles to your route, so that the real difference will not be over fifty-three miles. This minor difference, instead of one hundred and eighteen, is of little consequence in automobiling and is more than made up by the fact that any automobilist can proceed on the high all the way from Brawley or El Centro to Los Angeles, when the road has been properly constructed. And this has been pronounced a matter of no difficulty by engineers of such experience as Messrs. Clark, Joyner, Bright and Hinckley. In this connection I want to state there is no place between El Centro and Los Angeles where the grade exceeds three per cent and such grades are only in spots, not at any time over a hundred yards in length.
Again I beg to point out to you that while El Centro may be the center of Imperial Valley at the present time, inside of two years, after the Number Five Extension has been completed and that great section to the north brought under water, Brawley will be more nearly the center of Imperial Valley. The road through the Mammoth Wash is right through this section.
I agree with you perfectly that “the main object of the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway is to get eastern motorists here from all over the United States.” As an easterner that has not been in California long enough to have the recollection of what brought me here sun-shined out, I want to take up this very point with you. And I know that the one great attraction (outside of the climatic conditions with which all of Southern California is blessed), that brings the Easterner westward is not the view of the Pacific Ocean from the hills behind San Diego, glorious as that is, but day dreams of orange trees that grow in Redlands, in Riverside, in San Bernardino, in Bloomington, in Ontario and Pomona and all along this wonderful Ocean-to-Ocean Highway. Read the advertisements of the railroads written to tempt the New Yorker, frozen in the winter time, or kept warm only by his own profanity, and behold, the picture of California they draw is the land of sunshine and orange blossoms. True, they tell of Coronado and the delightful climate of San Diego, but what would it profit them or California to advertise the Pacific Ocean?
No, my dear Fletcher, the eastern automobilist is not crossing the continent and seeking the eight, ten, twelve and eighteen per cent grades of the Devil’s Canyon and Mountain Springs Road to view the vastness of the old Pacific. That road and that grade and the view of the Pacific Ocean, are, in truth, impressive, but they are not what the Easterner seeks and they oder no presentment of the glorious majesty of California as seen along the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway. Incidentally, why did you not bring out the fact that to get this impressive view the Easterner must climb from below sea-level to five thousand feet? Have you in your partisan love for San Diego forgotten those glorious mountain colors, that wonderful expanse of inland water, those ever changing, towering mountain peaks one views when journeying past the Salton Sea, through Mecca, Coachella, Indio, Palm Springs, Beaumont and Banning? How deep, think you, is the interest of the Easterner in the cotton fields around Mecca, in the date fields at Coachella, in the deserted Indian villages and their pottery, in the petrified palms, in the native live palms around Palm Springs, in the old Indian fish traps set thousands of years ago along the shore of a pre-historic sea, in the rocks covered with the coral growth of that same vanished sea? What think you is the impression of the Easterner when he rolls through San Georgina Pass with San Jacinto, the witch mountain of the Indians, rising ten thousand feet in majesty abrupt and San Bernardino and San Gorgonio, fourteen thousand feet?
And this over that road you have characterized as a hundred miles of desert. My dear Fletcher, when the high line irrigating ditch is finished it will wipe out twenty-four miles of this so-called desert. When the flowing wells of Mecca have had two more years they will wipe out another fourteen miles of this desert. When Coachella and Indio have seen another two years of development they will wipe out twelve more miles of this desert. The waters that flow from the springs around Palm Springs will wipe out another ten miles of this desert. In less than two years there will be less than thirty miles of this so-called desert road, and along it every few miles will be flowing springs; even now there are active ranches. There are more miles of real desert road between El Centro and the Imperial-San Diego County line; there are more miles than this on your road that never can and never will see development. This is no dream; it is a coming reality. An unprejudiced, fair-minded investigation by you can determine the truth of the statement.
After the Easterner leaves Palm Springs, comes what was once the dreaded Whitewater Point, over which today anyone can travel, then the peach, olive, apple and apricot trees and all the deciduous fruits of Banning and Beaumont. The climb is only twenty-three hundred feet, the grade is never over three per cent and the snow-capped San Bernardino and San Gorgonio and San Jacinto peaks look down on him and fill him with the wonder and the majesty of California at the very moment of his realization of his dreams of orange trees and orange blossoms. For through this wonderful cathedral gateway he enters Redlands and the longed-for orange trees and orange blossoms and Riverside with its Mission Inn, famed throughout the east, and through more orange groves and flowers into Colton, Bloomington, Ontario, Pomona, and finally, Los Angeles.
How, think you, will this ride for the Easterner compare with the Devil’s Canyon, Mountain Spring Grade and the view of the Pacific Ocean?
This is the road, these are the creations of nature and of man, that wins the Easterner and makes of him a Californian. You must see it, Fletcher. I know you are fair in mind. I know you are clear in brain. Only your love for San Diego has confused you. Supplant it for a time with your greater love for a greater State. It is a joke for one to think that Los Angeles, with its four hundred thousand people, is jealous of San Diego, with sixty-five thousand. There is, there should be, no jealousy involved in this.
Just as you say. “the main object of the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway is to bring the Eastern motorist here to California,” and that is just what the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway as outlined is intended to do, and will.



Copyright © S. Varner 2006