- Touring the West with Leaping Lena, 1925 by W. C. Clark
Thuring the West with Leaping Lena is the account of an American middle-class family's 1925 automobile excursion though western states. The author, Willie Chester Clark, together with his wife and adult daughter, departed their home in Ravenswood, West Virginia, on June 3 for the Pacific Northwest to visit extended family. They did not return home until October 5, having driven 12,652 miles through nineteen states. Major stops along their route included the Black Hills, Yellowstone, the Puget Sound, San Francisco, Yosemite, Los Angeles, the Grand Canyon, Santa Fe, and Dallas.
The Clarks were publishers of a newspaper in Ravenswood and purchased a new Chevrolet for the journey, which Willie named "Lena." Each evening he would prop his typewriter on Lena's bumper and record the day's adventures, which he called "leaps" These accounts were later compiled into a self-published book, which he distributed to the family and friends that they visited along their journey.
Willie was a highly skilled and witty writer, and a keen observer of environmental, cultural, and political landscapes. Nothing seemed to escape his notice. For instance, while crossing the Great Plains, Willie comments extensively about the region's agriculture, even identifying specific breeds of pigs and cattle. In the Northwest, he turns his attention to forestry and takes the family on a side excursion to a sawmill. His humor and insights are what make the book an enjoyable read, and his commentaries have value for readers today.
Accomplished western historian David Dary does a superb job editing the book. Dary's grandfather was a friend of Willie Clark and was paid a visit near the beginning of the journey. His grandfather's copy of the original publication is possibly the only one in existence. After a short introduction presenting the Clark family and the historical setting for their journey, Dary reproduces the manuscript as Willie wrote it, with the exception of gathering the daily leaps into chronological chapters. Dary also includes occasional notes which provide background to some of the Clarks' experiences and destinations. Historical photographs of sites visited by the Clarks add to the book's appeal. My only criticism, which is minor, concerns the notes. Dary's choices of which items deserved a note often seemed random to me. I found myself asking, "Why is this destination noted, but not that one?" Perhaps this is because Dary, or the publisher, did not want to bloat the book with notes. Regardless, the book is a wonderful read and a treasure of information about early automobile touring in the West. [End Page 319]
University of Nebraska at Kearney