Leaving the museum for the mountain

Pre-1916 horseless carriages scale Mount Wilson
By Lauren Gold, Correspondent, Pasadena Star-News
October 22, 2011

“Gentlemen, start your engines.”

This call from third generation car collector and local historian Michael Patris began Saturday morning’s horseless carriage caravan up the historic Mount Wilson Toll Road. On a trail normally reserved for hikers and actual horses, a dozen pre-1916 Model Ts, Cadillacs and Rolls Royces roared their engines 2.7 miles up the mountain.

The cars, most of which can only travel up to 35 miles per hour and get around 5-10 miles per gallon, had to travel 1,200 feet in elevation at an average of 4-5 percent grade incline, along with uneven, dusty terrain and a series of steep switchbacks, to end at Henninger Flats.

“Slow and easy is the rule of the day,” Chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Forestry Division Prevention Services Bureau John Todd said.

The last time these kinds of cars climbed the mountain was in 1964, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ralph DePalma’s record-setting 28-minute ride to the top. Almost 50 years later, Patris organized Saturday’s event in collaboration with the Horseless Carriage Club of Southern California and the Mount Lowe Preservation Society, of which he is founder and president.

“It’s recreating something of our past, which I think is something important to do,” said Patris, who has written three books on the history of Mount Lowe.

Todd agreed to lead the charge up the mountain, saying the event also tied in nicely with the Forestry Division’s 100th anniversary this year.

For everyone involved, the drive was a milestone.

“We have always wanted to go to Mount Wilson,” Horseless Carriage Club member LaDel Clendenen said. “When we saw this trip, we were excited to get on the road.”

Clendenen and her husband, Allan, from Orange County, drove a 1914 Rolls Royce, with which they have traveled all the way to Switzerland. And the Clendenens’ car isn’t the only one that has led cross-continental adventures.

Horseless Carriage Club veteran Lee Chase owns five Model Ts, which he has taken everywhere from Alaska, to Europe, to Australia and New Zealand. Chase was even present for the 1964 climb, though he wasn’t able to drive it that time. And that is part of what made Saturday’s cruise so intriguing.

“These cars have been all over the world, but nobody has ever done this trip,” Patris said. “It’s an exciting day.”

The event also offered an opportunity for horseless carriage collectors to admire and show off the vehicles for which they have such a passion. Club member and owner of four horseless carriages Frank Bristing said he thinks it is a shame for the cars to be locked up in museums or garages.

“We believe in driving the cars,” he said. “They were built to be driven.”


Here are additional images taken by Steve Crise during the event. Images copyright Scrise.com.

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