Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Historic Men on an Ordinary Roadtrip Through Pittsburgh

Following the trail of the Vagabonds, a quartet of prominent travelers who journeyed to Pittsburgh and beyond.




From left: Ford, Edison, Burroughs and Firestone | photo: shutterstock

 

Ninety-nine years ago, a group of prominent Americans met in downtown Pittsburgh to begin a slightly goofy journey. The inventor Thomas Edison, then 71, and the bestselling nature-writer John Burroughs, a spry 81 with a full white beard, had already travelled 400 miles in two days in a Packard touring car on the relatively new Lincoln Highway. They had spent Saturday night in the classy Fort Pitt Hotel at Tenth Street and Penn Avenue. 

On Sunday, Aug. 18, 1918, the innovative automaker Henry Ford, then 55, and the rubber king Harvey Firestone, 50, arrived via train from Columbiana, Ohio, where they had spent two days at Firestone’s home.

These four successful and prosperous gentlemen called themselves the Vagabonds. They and their crews made an annual automobile excursion together — camping and “roughing it” (in their own well-to-do way), as they drove through different parts of America on mostly unpaved roads, seeing small towns and enjoying nature. It started with a 1914 trip into the Everglades, then a drive along the West Coast in 1915; a jaunt through the Adirondack and Green Mountains followed in 1916 (no trip was made the following year). This 1918 road trip would venture south into the Great Smoky Mountains.

Burroughs documented their somewhat-improvised itinerary. As a naturalist, he wrote frankly: “Pittsburgh is a city that sits with its feet into or very near the lake of brimstone and fire, and its head in the sweet country air of the hilltops. I think I got nearer the infernal regions there than I ever did in any other city in this country.”

The group didn’t leave Pittsburgh until late afternoon, so they didn’t get far before looking for their first night’s camping spot. They found it about 2 miles east of Greensburg at a grove of oak trees known as Miller’s Woods.

The group shot rifles at the Greensburg camp and discussed the Great War: “Not much of the talk that night around the campfire can be repeated,” Burroughs wrote, “but it gave us an inside view of many things we were curious about. ... How could we help freeing our minds about the Huns?” 

The next day, the Vagabonds headed south on the road we now call Route 119. They soon developed problems with one of the cars, with fan blades cutting into the radiator. Things looked bleak when they got to a garage-and-blacksmith shop in Connellsville, where mechanics thought they would have to send for parts — until Ford himself fixed things well enough for the caravan to continue.

When they stopped southeast of Uniontown at the Summit Hotel, they decided to spend the night. The Vagabonds all signed the hotel’s registry; that famous page has been copied and framed and still hangs outside the Wunderbar in the hotel’s beautiful vintage lobby. 

Once they left western Pennsylvania, things went relatively smoothly through to Asheville, N.C., where they spent the night on Aug. 27 at the grand Grove Park Inn.

Burroughs caught a train home from there, and the remaining Vagabonds drove north to Hagerstown, Md., where the 1918 trip ended on Aug. 30. 

Later, Burroughs wrote, “What beauties and wonders we saw! What glory of mountain tops and what summer ripeness and repose in the broad river valleys! How such a trip enhances one’s knowledge of, and admiration for, his country!” 

The Vagabonds continued their road trips into the mid-1920s, teaching Americans about the joys of auto-touring and camping. 
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

A Bitter Pennsylvania Rivalry Is the Focus of a New Movie

Few questions spark such intense debate as “Wawa or Sheetz?” A local filmmaker hopes to answer which regional chain reigns supreme.

Kraft Heinz Squeezes Out New Ketchup with Vintage Taste

Can a recipe from 1896 still taste as good?

Tour It: Historic Wilkinsburg Mansion Gets a Makeover

The Junior League of Pittsburgh's Show House is a 112-year-old mansion featuring 28 rooms decorated by a different local design professionals.

Today’s Home Relocating North Hills Furniture Store

Owner Jeff Lenchner says a Discount Tire store will open in place of the store’s current location along McKnight Road in Ross Township.

Is Gabby Barrett the Next Carrie Underwood?

The 18-year-old singer from Munhall wowed the “American Idol” judges once again.

17 Vintage Photos of the Steel City of Old

Take a trip back to a very different Pittsburgh.

These Creative Couples Transformed the Traditional Guestbook

Find out why these couples ditched the traditional guestbook and instead chose a drum head, a giant wooden letter and a dictionary for their guests to sign.

PIT Turns to CMU to Make Airport Smartest in the World

The airport authority will use minds at CMU to discover ways to make it easier for passengers to get from the terminal’s parking lots to their seat on the plane.

Celebrate August Wilson's Birthday With a King and a Block Party

The ninth play in the 10-part Pittsburgh Cycle will open outside at the August Wilson House.

First Look: Soju in Garfield

Simon Chough’s Korean restaurant is six years in the making.

I Feel Pretty Isn't What You're Expecting (And That's Okay)

Reviews of "I Feel Pretty" and "Super Troopers 2," plus a rundown of events at the Pittsburgh Underground Film Festival.

Get Your Clark Bars While You Can – They May Soon Be Gone

Production of Pittsburgh native candy bar may halt if the current producer cannot find a new buyer.

Coughlin's Law Wants To Be Your Mount Washington Destination

Notes on the busy new bar and restaurant near Grandview Avenue.

The 2018 Return of the Burgh-y Mother's Day Gift Guide

It's back! From the dog mom to the working mom, we've got you covered with these locally made must-haves.

Patriot Games Can’t Diminish Harrison’s Place in Steelers History

James Harrison intimidated opposing players in a way not seen since the days of Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


A Bitter Pennsylvania Rivalry Is the Focus of a New Movie

A Bitter Pennsylvania Rivalry Is the Focus of a New Movie

Few questions spark such intense debate as “Wawa or Sheetz?” A local filmmaker hopes to answer which regional chain reigns supreme.

Comments

Kraft Heinz Squeezes Out New Ketchup with Vintage Taste

Kraft Heinz Squeezes Out New Ketchup with Vintage Taste

Can a recipe from 1896 still taste as good?

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
First Look: Soju in Garfield

First Look: Soju in Garfield

Simon Chough’s Korean restaurant is six years in the making.

Comments

New Chefs Coming to Smallman Galley

New Chefs Coming to Smallman Galley

Smallman Galley will rotate its third class of chef/owners this June … but this time there’s a twist.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 2018 Return of the Burgh-y Mother's Day Gift Guide

The 2018 Return of the Burgh-y Mother's Day Gift Guide

It's back! From the dog mom to the working mom, we've got you covered with these locally made must-haves.

Comments

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

A coffee shop, an iconic landmark, an airport and beyond — these are the best places to practice the art of people watching.

Comments


Coughlin's Law Wants To Be Your Mount Washington Destination

Coughlin's Law Wants To Be Your Mount Washington Destination

Notes on the busy new bar and restaurant near Grandview Avenue.

Comments

Smallman Galley Goes 3D With Its New Cocktail Menu

Smallman Galley Goes 3D With Its New Cocktail Menu

The bar team at the Strip District restaurant incubator continues its flights of fancy with Flashback Flavors.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Patriot Games Can’t Diminish Harrison’s Place in Steelers History

Patriot Games Can’t Diminish Harrison’s Place in Steelers History

James Harrison intimidated opposing players in a way not seen since the days of Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene.

Comments

Penguins Seeking 3-Peat With The Swagger of a Champion

Penguins Seeking 3-Peat With The Swagger of a Champion

The power play, star power and goaltending are among the primary weapons the Penguins have at their disposal in their quest for another championship. But so, too, is an unshakable belief they can hoist Lord Stanley's Cup three times in a row.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
I Feel Pretty Isn't What You're Expecting (And That's Okay)

I Feel Pretty Isn't What You're Expecting (And That's Okay)

Reviews of "I Feel Pretty" and "Super Troopers 2," plus a rundown of events at the Pittsburgh Underground Film Festival.

Comments

Despite The Rock, Rampage Is a Wild Misfire

Despite The Rock, Rampage Is a Wild Misfire

A review of "Rampage," plus an update on the former Friends of the Hollywood Theater and other local movie news.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
These Creative Couples Transformed the Traditional Guestbook

These Creative Couples Transformed the Traditional Guestbook

Find out why these couples ditched the traditional guestbook and instead chose a drum head, a giant wooden letter and a dictionary for their guests to sign.

Comments

The Best Ways to Reuse and Repurpose Wedding Decor

The Best Ways to Reuse and Repurpose Wedding Decor

From new decor in the home to donations to charity, check out these ways to repurpose leftover wedding decor.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Tour It: Historic Wilkinsburg Mansion Gets a Makeover

Tour It: Historic Wilkinsburg Mansion Gets a Makeover

The Junior League of Pittsburgh's Show House is a 112-year-old mansion featuring 28 rooms decorated by a different local design professionals.

Comments

Today’s Home Relocating North Hills Furniture Store

Today’s Home Relocating North Hills Furniture Store

Owner Jeff Lenchner says a Discount Tire store will open in place of the store’s current location along McKnight Road in Ross Township.

Comments