A 1923 Cross-Country Road Trip

historic photo of two people from the 20s leaning against the front bumper of a car

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By SUZANNE WARING

Anyone thinking about a cross-country road trip in 1923 knew it would be an adventure. Starting from Montana—where there were few gravel roads much less paved roads—was a real undertaking. 

Because the Great Falls, Montana, Kiwanis knew it would be considered a story of interest, members decided such a trip would promote the state and, more specifically, their community.

The person with the innovative idea was Kiwanis’ member, Claire Flint. He suggested the organization buy a new automobile, sell advertising to finance the trip, and send someone by automobile to the Kiwanis convention in Atlanta, Georgia. 

The idea was met with enthusiasm. The Kiwanis bought a new Buick 4-Sedan and sold advertising. Across the hood was a promotion for the Dempsey-Gibbons boxing bout that was to be held in Shelby on July 4. On the vehicle doors were advertisements promoting approximately two hundred businesses in the Great Falls area, which raised $3,600 to fund the trip. Space was also given to promote hospitals, schools, and other institutions. On the back, more than a thousand Great Falls residents placed their signatures, wishing the travelers a successful 7000-mile trip. 

Chosen to make the trip and attend the convention as delegates from Great Falls were Mr. Clarence Conrad, along with his wife, Georgiana, and Walter Thisted, who would also be the driver. 

Arro Refining Company in Lewistown contributed gasoline for the trip.

They started out for Lewistown on May 8. From there they headed east toward Kansas City, and eventually to Atlanta, arriving in time for the opening of the convention on May 28. Along the way, they often stayed a day or two in cities, to meet with other Kiwanis club members and take in the local sights. 

It is absolutely amazing they did not have any car trouble during the trip, not even a punctured tire. The “Checkerboard Booster” car, with the squares of various sizes carrying advertising on the doors, drew attention wherever they stopped. The wheels were painted with the Kiwanis emblem. Reporters featured them in their local newspapers. 

In one city, a passer-by on the street stopped to ask the travelers in the “marked” car if Montana was close to Shelby. It took a little explaining to clarify that Shelby was actually in Montana.

At the conclusion of the convention on June 8, the trio drove on to Washington, D.C., where the men attended the National Shriners’ Convention, since both were also members of that organization. 

On the way home, they further promoted Great Falls by going through additional cities on a different route. They went to Detroit and had the Buick manufacturing plant certify that the car continued to be in excellent condition. All went well on the return trip until they hit Montana. 

It rained for three days in eastern Montana, making the already poor roads impassable. The three abandoned the car in Wolf Point and took the train, getting home late the night of June 24. It wasn’t the grand homecoming that the Kiwanis had planned. 

Once the car arrived back in Great Falls, the names of all of the advertisers were put into a drawing, and Mike Mullen of MikeHasIt Clothing Store won the car. He displayed the vehicle in front of the store for some time and used it to advertise his business. 

The car was lent to other members of the Kiwanis that September. It went to the Custer Battlefield Highway Association National Convention in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The MikeHasIt store went out of business that October. Mike moved back East, and no one seems to know what happened to the Buick. MSN

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