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.

  • Book review: ‘The Accidental Further Adventures of the 100-Year-Old Man’ by Jonas Jonasson

    23 hours ago
    by

    Perhaps you’ve read Jonas Jonasson’s “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.” If you haven’t, you should.


    Monroe County seeks reserves officers

    April 28th, 2021
    by

    The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office is excited to announce that it is seeking members of the public to join the Monroe County Sheriff’s Reserves!


    Monroe County highway worker injured near Kendall

    April 26th, 2021
    by

    A Monroe County highway worker was injured this morning in a two-vehicle crash near Kendall.


    Reservations no longer needed to see Monroe County History Room exhibits

    April 21st, 2021
    by

     A recent county policy change has permitted the Monroe County Local History Room & Museum to end the reservation system to see museum exhibits. 


    N-O-W community picnic is May 1 in Norwalk park

    April 21st, 2021
    by

    The Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton School District will host its Picnic Community Day at the Norwalk Village Park from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 1.


  • Monroe County WIC to issue benefits

    April 21st, 2021
    by

    The Monroe County Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will issue benefits and offer nutrition education in May.


    Wilton Wood Turtle Days suspended

    April 14th, 2021
    by

    The annual celebration sponsored by Wilton Wood Turtle Days, Inc., has been suspended for 2021.


    ‘Rustic Romance’ is theme of Royall prom

    April 14th, 2021
    by

    Royall High School will host a prom Saturday, April 24, with “Rustic Romance” as its theme.


    Book review: ‘News of the World’ by Paulette Jiles

    April 14th, 2021
    by

    Seventy-one-year-old Captain Jeffrey Kyle Kidd read the news. Not as you might do or even as Walter Cronkite did.


    Vernon County National Night Out set for Aug. 3

    April 9th, 2021
    by

    The Emergency Responders of Vernon County would like to announce the second annual Vernon County National Night Out event. The date is set for Tuesday, Aug. 3, from 4–8 p.m. at the Vernon County Fairgrounds


    Monroe County’s highway weight restrictions end April 12

    April 9th, 2021
    by

    Seasonal weight restrictions placed upon Monroe County highways will be removed effective Monday, April 12.


  • Archives