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Cross-Country Road Trip by Georgia Trio Marks 90th Anniversary
by Kathy Higginbotham
On March 6, 1923, three Cochran residents boldly headed out in a Model T Ford on a cross-country trip to Long Beach, California, and back. This year marks the 90th anniversary of their amazing journey, a feat that is documented through the travelers’ intriguing personal letters and photographs in The Auto Gypsies, a book compiled in 2003 by William “Bill” Purser and Fred Noegel, Jr.
Fred and Emma Noegel were just a young couple when they moved to Cochran, GA, in 1919 to start a bakery business, which they later expanded by opening shops in nearby Hawkinsville and Eastman. In the fall of 1922, however, they decided to sell the business and start preparations for an automobile trip to California the following spring. During their short time in Cochran, they had become close friends with the family of Mr. Joel T. Deese, a native Middle Georgian from Wilkinson County. When Pansy, the family’s home-schooled intellectual daughter, heard their plans, she expressed a keen desire to see the “Wild West,” and the Noegels graciously invited her and her beloved dog Dan to accompany them.
In a time before any type of modern highway system existed, the travelers relied upon auto trails marked with colored bands on telephone poles to guide them from one town to another. Driving on mostly unpaved roads dotted with few motels and eateries, they usually pitched a simple canvas tent in a public campsite or along the roadway for their nightly shelter and prepared their meals on a camp stove using provisions purchased from small-town groceries and local farmers along the way. Tracing their combined eastern and western routes reveals that they traversed approximately 6,000 miles during their three-month odyssey. In their letters the trio mention approximately 211 towns and notable landmarks they encountered along the way. Among the places they tarried were Lookout Mountain, Mammoth Cave, Pike’s Peak, the Grand Canyon, and Santa Catalina Island. Their delightful correspondence testifies to the thrill of experiencing America’s open roads and natural wonders, a feeling that travelers in their comfortable modern automobiles driving along today’s well-paved and well-marked roads still experience ninety years later.