Everyone seems to love these vintage family road trip stories, so I figured I’d contribute one of my own from my family (actually my wife’s family, but close enough). This particular story covers the tale of a family road trip from Akron, Ohio to California in a 1930 Packard Club Sedan taken in the summer of 1936. It is an interesting window into a different time of cross-country travel.
This story actually starts in 1920 when Marguerite Kofron (my wife’s maternal grandmother) and her twin brother William (affectionately called Billy) were born. Billy and Marguerite’s mother Maurice died of complications from childbirth, suddenly leaving Dr. Frank Kofron finding himself a single father of two infant children. A licensed chiropractor by trade, he leaned heavily on relatives for assistance, especially the parents of his deceased wife, Clement L. and Laura Emerick (These would be my wife’s great-great-grandparents, for those keeping score).
Driving cross country in the 1930s was still somewhat of a novelty, so word of the trip made the society page of a local Akron paper. So in the summer of 1936, the Emericks, along with their sixteen-year-old twin grandchildren would embark on an eight-week trip across the US, leaving Dr. Kofron behind to presumably tend his practice. Trains were the preferred method of traveling cross-country in the 1930s – it certainly would have been faster and cheaper than driving. They likely chose to drive for the same reason people do today: Freedom to set your own destinations and itinerary, as well as enjoying the sights and the deliberately slower pace afforded by driving.
Mr. Emerick was a retired railroad brakeman at this point, having put in his 40 years at Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and living off a decent pension. Born in 1862, he would have been 74 when embarking on this trip. Around this time, Emerick appears to have purchased a used Seventh Series Packard Club Sedan (pictured in the lede). In those days Packard didn’t advertise model years, and the series numbers (especially the early ones) don’t always line up with model years. Still, judging by the presence of turn signals (the 1929 models didn’t have them), I’m guessing that this is a 1930 or 1931 model. Maybe one of our eagle-eyed commenters can identify the precise year, but for the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume it is a 1930 model.
Packard offered two different chassis configurations in 1930: The 127.5″ wheelbase 8-26, which was used for most models, and the longer 134.5″ wheelbase 8-33 used in seven-passenger models. The Club Sedan is unique in that it takes a five-passenger body (distinguished from the regular sedan by the lack of rear quarter windows) and places it on the longer chassis, giving it ample storage room for an external trunk behind the body. While having the rear wheels extend beyond the body gives the Club Sedan a somewhat stubby appearance, in reality it was anything but: This was a massive car. Regardless of which model you chose, in 1930 you got a straight-eight engine producing “more than 100 horsepower” according to the brochure (the V12 wouldn’t arrive until 1933).
Packard described the Club Sedan as being an “ideal traveling car,” as well as being well suited for parents. Looking at the ad above, I would be hard-pressed to disagree. I’m sure the smooth driving Packard was a supremely comfortable way to eat up the miles in 1936 – I doubt the same could have been said for a contemporary Ford.
I’m not sure what prompted the senior Mr. Emerick to purchase a five- or six-year-old Packard. Keep in mind that a six-year-old car back then is probably equivalent to a fifteen-year-old car today – cars didn’t last as long back then. For the money that he paid for the used Packard, he probably could have purchased a new Ford. We can speculate that perhaps it was his years on the railroad that gave him an appreciation of fine machinery, which the Packard definitely was. Packard at the time had cultivated a reputation for high quality, understated luxury, and I could certainly see myself choosing to own one, were I alive at the time.
Judging by the newspaper clippings, I’m guessing that they took Route 66 to Los Angeles for the westward phase of this trip, which didn’t include any side trips that I know of. They then appear to have driven up the coast on the PCH to San Francisco and then headed west on a northern route to Choteau, Montana to visit relatives for two weeks, which again made the local Choteau newspaper.
While there, they apparently took an excursion to Glacier Park (now Glacier National Park), about 100 miles to the north of Choteau. I’m guessing that the Model A in the photo above (taken within the park) was the nephew’s car.
Here’s a photo taken from the Summit in Glacier Park. Feel free to indulge in some car spotting – Other than the Model A in the distance, these are far too old for me to readily identify.
Here’s another picture from the summit. I’m not positive, but the car in the background on the right could be Mr. Emerick’s Packard.
Ultimately, the family made it safely back to Akron. Alas, there are no surviving relatives to tell me more about this trip, so I know nothing about whether the Packard experienced any mechanical issues (my guess is no). Billy died in 1989, while Marguerite died in 2006. Unfortunately, I did not discover these fascinating photos until after she died, but I hope you find them as interesting as do I.