West Michigan Pike

Early travel by motorcar was not for everyone. As one motorist claimed, a man needed three things for automobile touring: Pluck, patience and profanity.
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Great Lakes Motor ToursPrior to 1913 — when horse-drawn traffic in Michigan still outnumbered motorcars — country roads were little more than cow paths, dirt trails and twin ruts through sand dune. Traveling them was generally no joy-ride. Open with collapsible tops, automobiles exposed passengers to dust, wind and rain. Goggles and tight-fitting caps along with floor-length linen dusters and leggings weren’t worn just for looks.

iStock Photot of Vintage CarsBut as the popularity of motorcars captured the American imagination and the lust for travel exploded, the need for serviceable roads arose, and enthused support for the West Michigan Pike — a paved route that would run from Indiana’s border up to Mackinaw City, “Lakeshore All The Way” — rallied road enthusiasts nationwide to join officials on promotional scouting tours between 1913 and 1916.Posing in front of a vintage car

The nearly 636-mile Third Annual Pike Tour in 1915 featured 47 stops along route portions that ranged from tar-coated to unimproved through a region The Grand Rapids Press claimed was “crowded with summer pleasures.” Average running speed: 13.8 miles per hour.

Recommendations from the editor of “Official Automobile Blue Book” listed equipment which should enable a driver to meet every emergency “short of an absolute wreck.” 

— Excerpted from “Vintage Views Along the West Michigan Pike: From Sand Trails to US-31” (Arbutus Press, 2011) by M. Christine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson.


What to Take on the Tour

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