Book review: ‘The Vagabonds’ by Jeff Gunn

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Fort Myers, Fla., on the Gulf Coast, had been known primarily as a place where cattle were gathered and marketed and for its strategic military location. When famous inventor Thomas Edison chose to build a winter home along the Caloosahatchee River, the citizenry of Fort Myers hoped this was the first of many. Henry Ford and naturalist John Burroughs visited Edison in Fort Myers in 1914, and during that visit, they traveled or attempted to travel in the Everglades. Time was spent in the Everglades, but travel was limited. There were few of anything that could be considered roads, thus travel was basically impossible even for the famed Model T.

A more serene trip was taken the next year, as there was to be a Thomas Edison day at the Panama-Pacific Exposition. Ford’s private railroad car was the main source of travel. Since there were more than one exposition, Harvey Firestone suggested driving to the one in San Diego. Ford dealerships made it easy to arrange automobile travel. It was during this trip that the idea of an annual camping trip emerged. The trip would provide time away from work and exceptional publicity for each of their products.

It was hoped that the idea of a traveling camping trip would catch on with the emerging middle class. Though the middle class would hardly “camp” as the “Vagabonds” did. There were staff to set up and take down. A chef was provided, as was an accompanying supply truck, often two. Tents had electric lights compliments of Edison — provided by batteries. Even so, the idea did catch on, leading to auto campgrounds and eventually motels.

Ford involved John Burroughs in many of the trips to provide insight into the natural world. The resultant publicity encouraged the sale of his books as well as the products of Ford, Edison, and Firestone. Often the wives were included in the trips. Except for 1922, trips were taken each year, usually in the northeast; in 1923, though, the trip was to northern Michigan. In 1924, the last of the trips included northern Michigan, Massachusetts and to President Coolidge’s home in Vermont. Toward the end of their joint travels, the inventors didn’t draw automatic attention, as there were other noteworthy happenings from the broadcast world.

Regarding the trips to northern Michigan, it should be remembered that Detroit, Mich., was Ford’s home base where Model Ts were produced. Consequently, a trip to northern Michigan, while less settled than the northeast, was well within reach.

At one point, Ford was considered a possible presidential candidate. He spoke out against both World Wars for different reasons. With World War I, he was against foreign involvement, but World War II found him sympathetic to Hitler’s antisemitic stand. In both cases, he was American citizen enough to produce equipment for the war efforts.

Edison spent his later years attempting to identify a plant that would grow in the United States and produce latex for rubber production. His goal was to identify potential plants and an affordable method of extraction. The intent was to make the U.S. self-sufficient. Though he grew many interesting plants on his estate in Fort Myers, he never accomplished his goal.

“The Vagabonds” is well worth reading for its insight into history as well into Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Should you follow their travel example, the Henry Ford Museum near Detroit is something special, as are the Ford and Edison estates in Fort Myers. Considerable information on both is available on the Web.

Comments are closed.

  • Norwalk Lions donate to SACS

    January 14th, 2022
    by

    The Norwalk Lions Club celebrated the 70th anniversary of the foundation of their club (Jan. 8, 1952) on Saturday at the American Legion Hall in Wilton.


    CWD found in Monroe County

    January 11th, 2022
    by

    The two deer were adult bucks harvested in the towns of Ridgeville and Glendale. These are the first confirmed wild positive cases of CWD in Monroe County.


    Covid-19 surge causes Vernon County to scale back contact tracing

    January 11th, 2022
    by

    With heavy hearts we are sharing that today we hit surge capacity with contact tracing at the Vernon County Health Department due to rising daily cases of Covid-19 in our community.


    KVR Winter Festival is Saturday

    January 6th, 2022
    by

    The Kickapoo Valley Reserve will host its 21st annual Winter Festival on Saturday, Jan. 8. 


    Donations, sponsorships sought for Norwalk flower baskets

    January 6th, 2022
    by

    One of the highlights of driving through Norwalk in the summer are the flower baskets hanging from the light poles and the planters lining the street. 


  • Man injured in Clinton logging accident

    January 4th, 2022
    by

    A 41-year-old man was severely injured in an Amish logging accident Monday in the town of Clinton, according to the Vernon County Sheriff’s Office.


    Hawthorne named CEO of Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers

    December 24th, 2021
    by

    Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers recently announced that Kim Hawthorne has been appointed as chief executive officer of the organization. 


    Royall Education Notes: Booster Club Alumni Weekend set for Jan. 14–15

    December 24th, 2021
    by

    By MARK GRUEN | Royall School District superintendent Happy holidays!  As we roll into the holiday season, I want to […]


    Monroe County Health Department offering free Covid-19 vaccines

    December 24th, 2021
    by

    The Monroe County Health Department will offer appointments for free Covid-19 vaccinations at its office location, 315 W. Oak St., Sparta, on Monday, Dec. 27, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. 


    Gundersen Health System: ‘The situation is serious. We need your help.’

    December 21st, 2021
    by

    We are facing a dire situation together. Gundersen Health System hospitals are at or near capacity with patients struggling with Covid-19 and other serious illnesses and injuries.


    Cashton residence considered loss after overnight fire

    December 16th, 2021
    by

    The Monroe County 911 Communications Center received a report of a residential fire on Mascot Avenue in the town of Jefferson at 2 a.m. Thursday.


  • Archives