Can you imagine driving from San Francisco to New York at a top speed of 13 miles per hour, on mostly dirt roads, while working along the way to fund the trip? Now imagine doing it in 1916!
Mr. and Mrs. A.W. Robins left San Francisco on May 18, 1916, in a camper built on a Ford chassis with a Ralston truck attachment. The affectionately named Adventurer weighed 5,000 pounds, was 14 feet long, 5.5 feet wide, and 5.5 feet tall and was outfitted with all the comforts of home, including running water, gas stove, toilet, gas and electric lights, portable bath, printing press, and a Victrola. The final price of the coach was $2,500.
Mr. Robins working hard at the printing press
The Robinses printed postcards that they also sold along the way that stated the object of the journey was: “Wanderlust (adventure) – to see and to learn.” Their destination was “anywhere and everywhere,” and the time they expected to make the trip was “indefinite.” They also proudly exclaimed the “car” was driven by a woman. Mrs. Robins could drive this car, but she wouldn’t be able to vote in the U.S. for another four years. I doubt they passed many other female drivers on their journey.
The Adventurer may have been tight on space, but that did not stop the Robins duo from bringing along the family pets. A newspaper reporter describes the pair of animals as “a shrinking French poodle and a very bold English bulldog named Monk.”
The Robinses were true adventurers in a time when just driving across the country was a momentous feat, taken on by only the most intrepid travelers. They would travel to a town, set up their 6x9–foot printing press in the back of their “home,” and take on local printing jobs until they made enough money to continue on their journey. The Robinses remind me of the ’60s era hippies who would follow the Grateful Dead around the country, selling tie-dyed T-shirts out of their Volkswagen campers to make enough money to stay on the road, or conversely, the Eastern European gypsies who would travel from town to town in their caravans and do odd jobs until they could move on. Like the hippies and the gypsies, the Robinses threw caution to the wind and packed up their little family, hitting the open road in search of adventure. We may be able to do it a lot faster and with some additional comforts, but those of us who travel in RVs share a little of that wanderlust, and I think the Robinses would feel right at home parked next to us at the campground.
The Adventurer parked in front of the Fort Dearborn Massacre statue in Chicago
The Robinses enjoying their state-of-the-art Victrola
The real star of the show was clearly the bulldog, Monk
Robins family portrait
Mrs. Robins at the wheel of The Adventurer
Notice the fringed gloves as turn signals and the flower vase