by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As the “horseless carriage” became more commonplace by the early years of the 20th century, it became readily apparent that safety and service through standardized signage was signally important. The Automobile Club of Southern California, formed at the end of 1900 and, therefore, literally the end of the 19th century, was a powerful driving (!) force for improved roads and a system of signs that established clear standards for the benefit of the growing number of motorists in the region. As the signage program was developed, a committee headed by G. Allan Hancock of Los Angeles oil and real estate fame with the Rancho La Brea, led the way. One of the group’s key members was Charles Fuller Gates, a figure long forgotten, but whose work in identifying routes and signage locations was critical to the launching of the program.
He was born Karl Getz in June 1866 to German emigrants, though his family moved when he was young to Minneapolis, where his father Conrad was a carpenter. It is not known why, with the new name of Charles Fuller Gates, he came west, but the young man was in San Francisco by the mid-1890s and made a name for himself as an authority on one of the growing transportation elements of the day: bicycling. [UPDATE, 17 December 2021: New information has been found about Gates’ past, thanks to a donation of a scrapbook of his by Kenny Gates!] An enthusiastic rider, Gates reported frequently on top racers and continued to do so when he moved to Los Angeles in 1895. While he retained his love for “wheeling” including being a principal with the Los Angeles Wheelmen, as automobiles and motorcycles came on to the scene, Gates developed a passion for those, as well (he was also quite a camera buff with personal cameras sold by Kodak introduced not long before.)
Gates translated his journalistic skills into magazine publishing by creating Wheeling in 1897 and then there were other magazines including Pacific Automobiling before he recalibrated his publication into Pacific Motoring, which he appears to have run until the mid-1910s. Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the museum’s holdings is the 21 December 1907 edition of Pacific Motoring, dubbed the “Monthly Bicycle Number.” On the front cover, for example, is an ad for The Enblem motorcycles and bicycles, manufactured in Angola, New York but with separate local distributors for the two kinds of products made by the firm.
The main feature article is about “A California Bicycle Factory” operated by the Appeal Manufacturing and Jobbing Company, which, earlier in the year, built a four-story brick building on Los Angeles between Sixth and Seventh streets and moved from its previous location on Main near Tenth (near where Elijah H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman, once had his substantial homestead). The Appeal company was formed a decade prior and changed ownership a couple of times, but it was reported to have produced “bicycles by the thousand” as well as parts, supplies and other items. The article also noted that the city had about a hundred bicycle stores and repair shops with another hundred in the greater Los Angeles area, so Appeal apparently had quite a solid local market. The piece averred that “automobiles, airships [airplanes], moto[r]cycles, yachts, all have their value and place, but the good old bicycle will always be king.”
The magazine had a “Cycling Department” and there was news concerning an annual six-day endurance race with teams or members of such from France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands, Italy, and Belgium, while Americans comprised such teams as the “Utah-Iowa,” “Chicago-New York,” “Yankee-Dixie [with a member from Boston and one from Atlanta],” the “Irish-American,” the Western, and the “Mormon [both riders from Salt Lake City].” Elsewhere there was mention of the ten-mile national championship in New Jersey on the 1st of December won by a member of the New York Athletic Club with a time of 31 minutes, 30 seconds.
Otherwise, there were contents about motorized vehicles, including a “Motorcycle Department,” with a short summary of the meeting of the Los Angeles Motorcycle Club on the 16th, including an election of officers. The “regular pleasure run” scheduled for the 22nd was to go from the clubhouse in South Los Angeles through Pasadena and ending in Arcadia with a return stop at the Mission San Gabriel. Another excursion was planned for New Year’s Day out to Pasadena for “seeing the floral parade and participating in the barbecue at Tournament Park.” Four days later, the group intended to go to Pomona and then return through Brea Canyon and then via the La Habra Valley. The last ride to Pomona drew sixty machines and the hope was that even more would go on this trip.
The rest of the publication largely covered automobile news, including new models from such long-forgotten companies as Thomas, National, and Franklin, while names that achieved more long-lasting renown, including Maxwell and Studebaker. With the latter, there was an interesting piece about “another test of the practicability and economy of alcohol as a fuel” to be conducted by H.A. Grant, a mechanical engineer who was to drive a 40-horsepower seven-passenger Studebaker touring car from New York to Boston. It was noted that “the tests made last year proved conclusively that alcohol was entirely practical as a motor fuel, and better results will be looked for in the present trip, as the carburetor of the Studebaker is especially adapted for the use of alcohol.” Grant was quoted as saying that he was confident that “the engine will be reconstructed to handle alcohol in as economical a manner as possible,” though the new test would involve using “crude oils in the cooling system, thus allowing the motor to run hotter and yet well within the bounds of safety.”
Another brief piece discussed the fact that “the actual number of automobiles that will be sold in California this year will amount to over $14,000,000,” with this figure derived from “the amount of tires the Diamond Rubber Co. has already sold to the factories to be used on cars that are already bought by California agents.” The total number of vehicles was stated to be more than 3,000 and, because Diamond was said to sell a little less than half of the tires in the state, it was estimated there would be 4,000 cars with other tires. This total of 7,000 vehicles with an average price of $2,000 each lead to the overall figure.
A page of short notes included the information that the magazine recently moved to Main and 10th, near the old Appeal bicycle factory, requested readers to send in ideas for good roads as the magazine “has been a Good Roads worker for ten long years in Southern California,” and that new manager Ben A. Fay was “new in the editorial chair” so he asked for forbearance from loyal readers. There were also a couple of poems, including one by Evelyn M. Du Kette:
The brown road [unpaved dirt!] beckons, and winds afar,
And the sun shines brightly down,
While I leave for a spin in a big red car,
The noise and the heat of town
There’s a song in my heart as the miles go past,
And the air grows sweet and keen,
While a turn in the winding road at least
Leads on through the forest green.
And a perfume of roses comes down the breeze,
While afar the brown road winds
Past the palm and the eucalyptus trees,
And the rows of stately pines.
Oh, there’s never a joy in this land of flowers
To equal the joy I feel,
As I ride away through the golden hours
In a magical automobile.
Then there is a comical verse from Jack Peresis called “Inventions,” one stanza of which is:
A man has invented a brand new machine,
That runs without steam, or gasoline,
Compressed air or batteries, he scorns them all.
No transmission, compression, nothing to stall;
No cranking or clanking of joints getting loose,
No swearing or tearing or profane abuse.
It glides right along regardless of hollows;
It lays its own track, the auto just follows.
That sounds good, if he could—
But he is in the insane asylum.
A piece called “Good Women Drivers” reported that “women are becoming successful drivers in fact” even if “many consider women only fair-weather drivers.” The example was given of Minnie Roberts, who drove a White steamer from Los Angeles to Madera, north of Fresno, after having it shipped to the Angel City. She drove nearly 150 miles the first day, even dealing with “a terrific storm and cloudburst in Tejon Pas, and stopping over at the Tejon Ranch.” The remaining part of the trip, almost 170 miles, was covered the second day and she was home before dinner, with the magazine saying that drivers, told of her trio, remarked “I would not have ridden down the north side of the pass after the rain with her at any price.”
There was also “Durocar a Busy Factory” highlighting a Los Angeles automobile manufacturing company, located on Los Angeles Street between 9th and 10th, with it being reported that “the full force of men employed here is as busy as at any time in the history of the factory, and the Durocars are being taken away as fast as they are made, and no great fuss is being made over it, either.” It was added that “the Durocar, on a whole, is made for California and her roads, as the men behind the gun have all had lots of experience in automobiles on this coast.” The future looked bright for the coming year, including repair work done as a sideline and “night and day shifts are looked forward to, if business does not take a slump [there was a national depression that erupted in 1907], and as times are getting better daily, this state of affairs will not happen here.”
The issue also has plenty of great advertisements for dealers and suppliers for autos, motorcycles and bicycles, and some general ads, as well as some nice drawings of cars and a photo of “Mr. Van Nuys [likely James B., son of Isaac N., the prominent real estate developer] and His $5500 Pierce Arrow Runabout.” A special insert from Hughson and Merton, Inc. even suggests a Christmas present by asking readers “Why Not Give Your Friend a STEWART SPEEDOMETER?” with prices ranging from $25 to $75. For the hard-core auto enthusiast, that would be quite a gift as one online inflation calculator indicates that these figures would be from just under $700 to about $2,000 today.
As for Pacific Motoring and Gates, the publication appears to have continued for several more years, while Gates continued to be a journalist until his death in San Diego in September 1930 at age 64. He should likely be better remembered for his important role in early highway and street sign development and this issue of his magazine is an interesting look back to the early days of automobiles and motorcycles, as well as his first passion of bicycles, just a decade after the first “horseless carriage” made its appearance in Los Angeles.