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

Mobile Service To Connect Hungry Pitt Students to Free Food

PittGrub app will send folks in need to events with leftovers.

What's It Like When You Go from Laborer to Being The Boss?

Pitt's Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence has been teaching business strategies to startups and century-old companies for 25 years.

The 400-Word Review: The Equalizer 2

An unnecessary sequel to the Denzel Washington action flick arrives for a quick beat-em-up fix.

The 400-Word Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

The sequel to the 2008 ABBA musical is far from perfect, but might have enough charm to keep you on board.

You're Going to Be Upside Down a Lot on New Kennywood Coaster

Kennywood has revealed its replacement ride for “The Log Jammer” which will be located in a new portion of the park entitled “Steelers Country.”

Restaurant Review: Poulet Bleu

Richard DeShantz steps it up with a move from Downtown to Lawrenceville and shows Pittsburgh how to make French dining fun.

Pittsburgh to Host Nation’s First Black Beer Festival

Day Bracey and Ed Bailey of Drinking Partners Podcast and Mike Potter of Black Brew Culture online magazine will bring 12 black-owned breweries to Pittsburgh in August for Fresh Fest.

Coming Clean: Why We Aren't a Green City ... Yet

Pittsburgh is no longer a smoky city, but that doesn’t mean it has cleaned up its act. Pittsburgh's air quality still ranks among the worst in the nation. What steps are being taken to reduce Pittsburgh's ongoing dependence on fossil fuels?

Ultimate Comfort Food: The Joy of Dumplings

Why our dining critic thinks dumplings might be his ultimate comfort food.

Our Seven Favorite Dumplings in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, of course, is best known for the pierogi. Our love of dumplings extends beyond that, however. These seven dumplings are our favorite restaurant versions of their various styles.

The Tailor's Dumpling: Kreplach

A Pittsburgh chef and his family continue to craft a family recipe with roots in Poland.

The Pittsburgh Region's Top Dentists 2018

Our annual list, which contains 376 dentists across 11 specialties, as determined by topDENTISTS.

A Weekend Mission of Mercy in Pittsburgh

More than a thousand people come to PPG Paints Arena once a year for free dental care, thanks to an ambitious, all-volunteer effort.

Jump Into the River: Open Waters Beckons Strong Swimmers

It takes a strong swimmer and the right timing to dive into the three rivers. for those up to it, the difference between the pool and open water is profound.

Pirates Are Still a Long Way From a Hollywood Ending

Despite an 8-1 winning streak going into the All-Star break, the Bucs are in desperate need of a sequel, not only to win back some credibility with fans, but also to convince their owner not to sell off more pieces of the team.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Mobile Service To Connect Hungry Pitt Students to Free Food

Mobile Service To Connect Hungry Pitt Students to Free Food

PittGrub app will send folks in need to events with leftovers.

Comments

You're Going to Be Upside Down a Lot on New Kennywood Coaster

You're Going to Be Upside Down a Lot on New Kennywood Coaster

Kennywood has revealed its replacement ride for “The Log Jammer” which will be located in a new portion of the park entitled “Steelers Country.”

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Pittsburgh to Host Nation’s First Black Beer Festival

Pittsburgh to Host Nation’s First Black Beer Festival

Day Bracey and Ed Bailey of Drinking Partners Podcast and Mike Potter of Black Brew Culture online magazine will bring 12 black-owned breweries to Pittsburgh in August for Fresh Fest.

Comments

A Pop-Up Bar in Pittsburgh that Serves a Sober Alternative

A Pop-Up Bar in Pittsburgh that Serves a Sober Alternative

Empath provides the vibe and social space of a bar, as well as stepped up beverage service ... without the alcohol.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

Our dining critic picks his favorite ice cream, ice pop, frozen custard, vegan delight and more.

Comments

Six Underrated Kennywood Rides You Need to Try Again

Six Underrated Kennywood Rides You Need to Try Again

Leave enough time in your next visit to Kennywood to revisit some old favorites and these underrated gems.

Comments


National Aviary's New Renovations Make it Essential Pittsburgh

National Aviary's New Renovations Make it Essential Pittsburgh

It's time to add the National Aviary to the list of local favorites you visit again and again.

Comments

Stop Using Uber and Lyft, Renting a Bike is Better

Stop Using Uber and Lyft, Renting a Bike is Better

You'll save money and have an easier time hopping between neighborhoods on a Healthy Ride bicycle.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates Are Still a Long Way From a Hollywood Ending

Pirates Are Still a Long Way From a Hollywood Ending

Despite an 8-1 winning streak going into the All-Star break, the Bucs are in desperate need of a sequel, not only to win back some credibility with fans, but also to convince their owner not to sell off more pieces of the team.

Comments

Compelling World Cup Worth a Periodic Embrace

Compelling World Cup Worth a Periodic Embrace

The competition is as fierce as the fans are passionate and both can be appreciated without a firm grasp of the details.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: The Equalizer 2

The 400-Word Review: The Equalizer 2

An unnecessary sequel to the Denzel Washington action flick arrives for a quick beat-em-up fix.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

The 400-Word Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

The sequel to the 2008 ABBA musical is far from perfect, but might have enough charm to keep you on board.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Perfect Proposals that Flashed Back to First Dates

Perfect Proposals that Flashed Back to First Dates

Return to your roots before your relationship blooms into a beautiful marriage.

Comments

I Do, Now Let’s Have Some BBQ

I Do, Now Let’s Have Some BBQ

A five-course meal doesn’t fit with every wedding. These laid-back couples opted for casual — and delicious — cuisine perfect for their outdoor and barn receptions.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Wow Factor: Empty Nest Inspires Timeless Makeover

Wow Factor: Empty Nest Inspires Timeless Makeover

When her last child graduated from college, Ingrid Meenen did something she had been wanting to do for 20 years — renovate the first floor of her Upper St. Clair home.

Comments

Head to the North Hills for Two Blooming Garden Tours

Head to the North Hills for Two Blooming Garden Tours

The Wexford Garden and Pond Tour and the Southern Butler County Garden Club tour both take place this weekend.

Comments