Book review by Richard Parks,
photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz
An excellent historical and pictorial book on motoring in Southern California is The Road Ahead; the Automobile Club of Southern California 1900-2000, by Kathy Talley-Jones and Letitia Burns O'Connor. The Automobile Club of Southern California does everything well and with high standards. They work with youth programs to instill good driving habits. They produce quality literature, maps and historical books and pamphlets. This is one of their mandates and they take great pride in bringing to the driving public a sense of accomplishment in their century as a great insurance company. Their road assistance programs are top notch and set the bar for others to follow. So it is always a delight to see what sort of publication that they are working on next. The Road Ahead; the Automobile Club of Southern California 1900-2000, represents a century of achievements by this well-respected company. The Road Ahead is a hard-bound book measuring 9 by 11 inches and 128 pages of text and photographs on high quality, waxed paper. The pages are glued to the spine of the book and not cloth-bound. The dust cover jacket has a clean and pleasant look in sepia and gold tones. The Road Ahead was published in 2000 by the Automobile Club of Southern California and printed by R.R. Donnelley & Sons. I did not see an ISBN number, so you would need to check with the Auto club nearest you to see if they still have copies available. You might also check local book stores, used book stores and on the internet. No price is listed on the book cover jacket. There is a Table of Contents, a preface by Thomas V. McKernan, Jr. the present CEO and President of the Auto Club and a highlights page of the achievements of the organization. Following are six chapters and that completes the book. There is no index which is a shame, for there is plenty to see and read in this book. There are 43 color and 173 black and white photographs throughout the book and they range from excellent quality to very small and grainy pictures. But that is not the fault of the Auto Club or the writers, for they are constrained by the era in which they are researching and reporting and some photographs of poor quality are all that exist. On the main, the photographs are very good and the paper that they are reproduced on is of the highest waxed bond type.
The Auto Club is famous for their drawings by famous artists and three are included in the book, along with four posters. The color and design is in the art deco movement. There are 25 magazine covers presented including the Auto Club magazine Westways, and these are absolutely fantastic pieces of historical art work. The Auto club is also famous for their maps and members can go into the offices and select local and national maps for free and there are seldom any maps that can better what the Auto Club provides for their members. There are 27 reproductions of actual Auto Club articles and they range on all sorts of subjects related to travel and driving. There are 8 ads in the book and two reproductions of signs. The Auto Club had signs made and posted all over the West and wherever they had offices to help early travelers reach their destination safely. Today those signs are extremely valuable. One membership card was displayed and 7 medallions as well. The Auto Club made beautiful metal and porcelain medallions to display on cars and businesses. One license plate made by the Auto Club and six pamphlets rounded out the diversity of objects portrayed in The Road Ahead. The Auto Club is famous for their safety programs and the pamphlets are an attempt to educate and inform the public on such matters. At 128 pages, the book is rather on the smallish side, but it is packed, page after page, with fascinating facts on the history of the Auto Club and what it has achieved over the years. And it has been a lot of years, over a century in fact that the company has been in operation. Tom McKernan is the latest CEO and President of the Auto Club and he is a huge supporter of driving safety. He directs programs geared to getting young people to drive safely and to race on safe and sanctioned race courses and not on the streets. The Auto club has been in the business of helping people use the roads more safely in their travels to and from home and vacationing.
There are six chapters in The Road Ahead. The first chapter is titled 'Good Roads' and is my favorite, because I have a predilection towards the pioneers in anything. The 1909 photograph of a farmer with his two horses pulling a car out of the mud is a classic one. The Auto Club waged a relentless campaign to encourage the government to build new roads and improve old ones. The wooden board track road from Yuma, Arizona to San Diego, California was literally the only way to get across the sandy desert in 1916. I'm told some of the planks are still there in parts of the desert. The second chapter is called 'Service to Members' and depicts the programs, brochures, maps and other assistance that the Auto Club has rendered to the motoring public in its more than one century of existence. The Auto Club's first magazine was called Touring Topics and premiered in February 1909. They also started the 'Touring Bureau,' a mobile safety and rescue car that helped stranded motorists and has evolved into the famous road service tow trucks that we now can simply place a phone call to get a response. In those early days the van or truck driver working for the Auto Club would simply drive around the roads looking for people in trouble and there was no lack of desperate motorists. Another service was the posting of signs to help motorists find their way. The west not only had deserts to contend with, but the cities were not as congested as they are now and even the towns needed signs for directions. Along with the signs were the maps given out by the Auto Club and we all used them. They are a favorite of mine and I have rarely found maps that equaled those of the Auto Club. The beautiful posters, ads, magazine covers and magazine articles helped to popularize the west in the imagination of the American people. The Auto Club can rightfully say that they also helped the tourist industry and encouraged people to do more traveling. Another benefit to the public was the sponsorship of car racing. Promoters could rely on firm backing of the Auto Club and in return they created safer rules and venue sites for the races to take place on.
The third chapter is named 'Model City of the Future' and discusses the period of the 1920's and '30's. This is the golden age of the automobile, although at the time we probably couldn't see that. In 1923 the State of California registered their one millionth car; which was an almost unbelievable figure to most people. Where had all these cars come from in the two and a half decades of the motorcar in America? But they were here and the automobile was changing America and especially the west coast forever. Hollywood picked up on this new sentiment and hyped the use of cars to the fullest. This stimulated the demand for roads and more roads increased the demand for more cars. As you read the captions and look at the old photographs you can see something very familiar in this book that you once saw in your grandparent's albums. Another thing that was happening and the Auto Club was right in the middle of it all, were the political campaigns involving motorists. The Auto Club was encouraging an increase in taxation in order to improve the roads and to start programs on auto safety. The Auto Club was also in the forefront of fighting for the creation of new roads, highways and the concept of freeways. Freeways would increase the flow of traffic and improve efficiency in our road system and the Auto Club was supporting that concept too. The Auto Club also supported the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games and made special road maps to help tourists and travelers find the venue sights that were spread all over Southern California. In 1934 the name of the magazine was changed from Touring Topics to Westways, which it has remained to this day. California was becoming the outdoor playground for the nation and people were flocking to the state to take in the wonderful climate and scenery and the Auto Club was promoting that idea far and wide.
Chapter four was titled 'Grown up with the Automobile,' and discusses the war years of the 1940's through the middle years of the 1960's, two and a half decades of unprecedented growth in California. The Great Depression had brought an influx of people, but World War II had an even greater impact on the Golden State as military bases were created by the thousands as embarkation points for our troops in the Pacific Theater of Operations and as a defensive force in case the Japanese Imperial Navy and Army should invade. After the war many of the soldiers, sailors and airmen stayed or they moved to California after they were discharged. They also came to enjoy the wide open spaces that the automobile made possible to see and to visit. I remember those days when we would drive for hours on any road that was passable just so that we could see where it would lead. It was the greatest of surprises to see where the road went and what we would find there. The Auto Club sold war bonds, supported the war effort, encouraged motorists to conserve valuable fuel and rubber and to support the desperate efforts needed to win the war. Westways often showed pretty models in the most fashionable styles of the times to take our minds off of the war. The end of the war came and growth exploded. Freeways were built; smog and pollution became so bad that many people moved out of the urban areas. Chapter five is called 'California at the Crossroads,' because something had to be done about the congestion and smog and the Auto Club was one of the leaders in this field. As they did in 1932, the Auto Club helped to support the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and again they put out maps and helped tourists and travelers to find adequate lodgings and their way around the vast Southern California area. The last chapter, number six concluded with this name, 'We're always with you,' and for those who need a tow, that's very appropriate. But it's also the case that if you need to take care of problems with your car, the Auto Club can help. You can register a car, or pay fees at the Auto Club offices and save a trip to the congested DMV offices. The Road Ahead is a book written by the Auto Club to tell us more about the Auto Club. It is a bit biased in favor of their views, but that's reasonable as the company has a solid reputation that has stood the test of time. Personally, I like this book for the historical narratives and photographs. If you see it in a bookstore, add it to your library. I rate it a 6 out of an 8 sparkplugs.
I rate this book a 6 out of 8 sparkplugs.
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