What is a road guide? You probably know the answer to that question, or at least think you know the answer. A quick answer might be “the map in my glove box.” Yes, maps are road guides. Maps guide people along roads and attempt to put them on the right roads so they can reach their destinations. So you can definitely say that maps are road guides.
But a map showing roads doesn’t necessarily tell you the best roads to take. Sure, you can use Yahoo Maps or Google Maps or any of the other online map and travel guides to find out what the experts (or the hotshot computers) suggest for a travel route. You might find a map with the Interstate highways and the major state roads highlighted. You can assume that most of those roads are in pretty good condition. But what about construction projects? And just because you pick a route using major highways doesn’t mean you reach your destination in good time, or that you will see beautiful scenery.
Back in the early 1900s, when automobiles were not plentiful and roads were generally deplorable, books were published that provided drivers with the latest information on selected routes between towns. It was important back then that drivers understood exactly which roads they were on so that they wouldn’t end up on dead end trails or possibly get lost and end up in the wrong town. Maps were helpful, but roads needed to be tested and verified by people driving automobiles so that roads could be gauged under actual driving conditions. Horses were much better able to negotiate rough terrain than cars, but their success in using roads was not helpful in determining whether autos could do so.
I have a book titled “Scarborough’s Road Guide – Indiana.” It was published in 1914, I believe. The copyright page is missing, and my guess as to the date of publishing is based on information in the myriad of advertisements within the book. There are a few high level maps of several parts of Indiana in the book, but most of the text is comprised of descriptions of routes between towns. Written descriptions, not maps or sketches.
A good example is the suggested driving route between Fort Wayne and Columbia City. Numbers to the left of the text represent mileage. Starting at Fort Wayne,
0.0 Leave Court House. Go west on Main St.
0.8 Iron bridge.
1.5 Under railroad viaduct and turn right at forks.
2.2 Turn left. Good gravel.
5.7 Railroad. Fair gravel.
8.7 Turn right.
9.7 ARCOLA. Turn left at brick store.
12.0 Jog right and left. Gravel.
16.7 Turn right on angling road.
17.6 Turn right across bridge.
18.8 Turn right.
19.7 Turn left across bridge.
21.2 Turn right 1 block, crossing railroad, then turn left at school.
21.5 Turn right on brick street.
21.7 Iron bridge.
22.0 COLUMBIA CITY. Court House.
Now that was easy. We covered 22 miles in nothing flat. Were you able to identify any roads by name? Which ones?
This little book is full of that sort of stuff. It also contains some very interesting advertisements. One is for the Wayne Hotel. “Rates – 2.50 and up, American plan. European plan – 1.00 and up.” Man, that American plan was expensive! “Shower baths on every floor.” I’m not sure, but my guess is that the European plan included bedmates. Ones of the same sex, of course. And a shower bath on every floor! Sounds like the YMCA to me. Young man, there’s a place you can go. I said, young man, when you’re short on your dough. You can stay there, and I’m sure you will find Many ways to have a good time. And so on.
So now you know what road guides were like way back when. That’s back when good roads were scarce, cars weren’t dependable, and driving was an adventure more like an expedition than a safari. You were on your own, for better or worse. No cell phones, no pay phones, no GPS, and no radios. What on Earth did those people do for entertainment? They probably signed up for the European plan.