"On the Way Home for Christmas" -- A Memory from 1930

On the Way Home for Christmas 1930

Written in 1990 by Andrew E. Newcomer, Jr. ’33 (deceased 2003 at 92 years old)

It was an October morning in 1930 as Paul, Frank, Tut (now known as Winn) and I met after a time of Bible study and prayer when our conversation turned to experiences we had had in “hitch-hiking” between Philadelphia, Pa., and Maryville College, Tenn. My room, 416 Carnegie Hall, was the usual meeting place for a variety of conversations. This day we all agreed that “hitch-hiking”…a fairly safe way to travel in the 1930s…was good in the spring and fall seasons, but a most unpleasant way in the Christmas-New Year season!

So I made a suggestion, “Let’s pool our money, buy a second-hand car, and make the trip together.” I outlined how six of us putting in fifteen dollars each could get a car and share expenses on the trip. Since I was the only one in the group who had a driver’s license (from New Jersey), the car could be registered in my name. And I promised that any trips after the first round trip would be offered first to them at a penny a mile.

After a few days of discussion, Paul and Tut agreed if their sisters, Lila and Eleanor, could be included. Frank and I agreed to this, since Paul and Tut were cousins, so all were related. With this, we began to make plans for the Christmas holidays. We calculated mileage at 750 miles, which we believed we could drive in 24 hours, thus avoiding any overnight expenses. The trip would be up highway 11W through Knoxville, Kingsport, Bristol, and up the Shenandoah Valley to Washington, D.C., and on to Baltimore and Philadelphia!

Soon we went by bus to Knoxville to visit several used car lots. One used car dealer showed us a bright green 1924 Hupmobile Touring car, fully equipped with curtains for the window spaces, and in fine running condition…all for $75.00! We took a trial run, and agreed this was our transportation for Christmas.

We were troubled by one small issue: Maryville College had a rule that “boys and girls could not ride together!” We made our plans to be open about our trip. We would load our car in front of Carnegie Hall and the Campus Book Store. Now let the Christmas holidays come. By December 19th we’ll be ready!

The early morning of the 19th saw a 3-4 inch snowfall, the first of the season. We soon attached the beautiful isinglass curtains to the car window spaces. We told each person to bring a blanket along with their suitcases. The suitcases were placed on the left side running board behind a low expandable fence and all tied in place. The two women and Tut climbed into the wide rear seat. I crawled behind the steering wheel, and Paul and Frank squeezed in the front seat next to me.

Over the snowy, slushy highway we slowly traveled through Knoxville, and on to highway 11-W. We stopped briefly outside of Knoxville to let Paul take over for his first experience since driving a Model T Ford in Korea. In the 1930s, Highway 11-W was a wide, two-car macadam road over low hills ever rising toward Kingsport and Bristol. All went well, and Frank, our “cruise director,” told us that by his Ingersol watch we were right on schedule…until we came within six miles of Rogersville, TN!

As Paul drove the car over one small hill and began a down slope, the car started to “fishtail” on the slippery road, gathering some speed. I warned Paul not to be too quick on the brakes as we might skid. His foot must have missed the brake pedal and came down on the gas pedal…and within seconds, we turned over, taking down several fence posts with the car resting on its right side!

Paul was on the snow bank yelling in a loud voice what seemed to be Navy curses. I fell out over Frank, reached back and turned off the engine, then helped Frank to his feet. We turned to help the two girls and Tut out of the back seat. Gasoline was coming out of the tank, so I found a twig to put in the hole of the gas cap.

By this time several carloads of people stopped to help us. After collecting our luggage, turning the car up on its wheels, the people in two cars took us to a nearby farmhouse. There we called a wrecker to tow us to Rogersville. We realized that we would need overnight lodging. Only one small hotel was available, and what a night it was going to be!

The hotel clerk said he had only two rooms vacant, each with one double bed, but that he could put a foldaway bed in each room. It was decided that the two girls and one “male,”, Tut, would room together (after all, he was both brother and cousin). The other three men would take the other room. After an evening meal in a restaurant, and a telegram to Tut’s parents stating we were “delayed by a snow storm.” We didn’t want to upset our parents by reporting the accident. We retired to try to sleep, a sleep that for me was full of concerns as to what next we could do.

The 20th of December dawned a beautiful day holding in its sunny rays a skyfull of decisions. First, the garage mechanic said that he could not repair the torn top or replace the shattered windshield in less than two weeks! But he indicated that the car was not damaged in any other way. Of course, there was no steering wheel – the large wooden one had been completely broken off in the overturn!

From this point on, we began to put together a plan. We could not wait two weeks for car repairs. We could get along without a windshield and top if we could drive the car. So we searched for a steering wheel that would fit on the steering shaft. Our search produced several wheels, but only one would fit the shaft. For a dollar, we bought that one steering wheel…once on a small Whippet Car. It was like putting a silver quarter to cover up the space of a silver dollar! Next we changed the battery since all the liquid had come out of ours. Also we had to put in more oil in the engine. With a spin around Rogersville to test the car, we found all was well…so hurry up, gang, let’s get on our way to Philadelphia! But how do we travel in an open car in this cold, damp weather, even though it’s a sunny day?

We started by going to Woolworth 5c and 10c store, and buying a skating cap of wool and a pair of toy airplane goggles. I bought a warm pair of wool gloves, and some extra large leather gauntlets. I put the wool gloves inside the gauntlets and was ready to go! Back at the hotel, we all dressed in our warmest clothes, being sure to put on turtle-neck sweaters, or bring scarves and towels to wrap around our necks. We wrapped each girl in a blanket and lifted her into the backseat. Since all the luggage was now inside the car, the backseat became a lounge. Tut joined the girls, and all were covered in an extra blanket. Paul and Frank, warmly dressed, joined me in the front, where I had draped an old raincoat over the Whippet steering wheel. We were on our way over snowy, slushy roads heading for Philadelphia.

What a comical picture we made! Each with a different colored tassel on our skating caps, sheltered behind aviation goggles with colored towels wrapped around our necks, and soon to be splattered with slush from passing cars that froze our clothes and blankets! On and on we traveled, cold and ice covered: a long wait in Bristol as a mechanic replaced the old generator. Then through the night, stopping about every 100 miles so I could warm my hands over the warm engine, and wiggle my fingers so tightly held in the gloves and gauntlets.

There was the early morning, warm breakfast at a roadside restaurant, some relaxing and personal hygiene, and then on and on…the next stop being a flat tire! Far from any help, we discovered that all the tools had been lost in our overturn at the accident! With only a lug wrench and a screwdriver, how does one change a tire, a 30x4 with air pressure at 60 pounds?!? It can be done – Here’s how!

We started with six-foot oak fence rails, and gathered several large boulders. Placing the stones on top of each other two or three feet from the rear axel, we lifted the fence rail on top of the stones and under the rear axel and had four college students sit on the extended end of the fence rail, lifting the car. In about 20 minutes, the spare tire was on the car!

There was a lovely sunset one of the times we stopped for gas. A young attendant greeted us with a smile and “Can I wipe off your windshield?” We told him that it had been “wiped off” back 200 miles! So with rest stops, food stops and gasoline stops, we soon passed through Washington, D.C., and entered Baltimore in time for the 5:30 evening rush hour! I remember stopping at the top of a small hill for a traffic light, then starting down toward a main street called The Alameda. Halfway down the street, I saw the traffic signal turn to amber. I pressed on the brake pedal to slow down, and the brake pedal refused to respond! I tried to slow down by hitting the curb. I reached for the emergency brake…there was none! At that moment the traffic light turned red, and with our horn blowing, I swerved left to join a confused line of cars, their horns blearing loudly, waking up all the sleepy passengers! Our car came to its final stop outside the pumps of a service station before a wide-eyed attendant. Soon one of Baltimore’s “finest” with a star gleaming brightly came to inquire about our driving!

He quickly understood our predicament, and waved us on with a word of advice…”Get those brakes cleaned up!” The mechanic did this with a blowtorch, melting the ice that had frozen on the brake cables. After a time of rest and food, we drove through the night to come into the edge of Philadelphia by dawn…only to have another flat tire…and no fence rails or stones! This time, one of Philadelphia’s “finest” came to our rescue, and with the proper tools, changed the tire.

Thus we arrived on the 21st of December at Tut Barr’s home in Germantown. His lovely mother prepared breakfast, his doctor-father checked us over, and we each hurried to call our homes saying we had come for Christmas. I left my friends after I called my parents in Reading, Pa., asking my father to come for me and have my brother, Richard, drive the Hupmobile to Reading for me. With only a fretful night in Rogersville, and some short naps on the way, it was over 48 hours since I really had any sleep.

It is another story on how my father and I worked on the Hupmobile during the Christmas holidays…We put a new “used” top and a good windshield, reworked the engine, made makeshift curtains for the window spaces and had it ready for the return trip. All that happened on the early January return trip is another chapter, even to the item that Frank Neff did not return with us. His church officers said he was “too valuable a person to risk such dangerous transportation.” So he came back to Maryville College by railroad Pullman! Only the five of us know the joy of the road! 

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,154.