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Coast to coast in Alice Ramsey's tire tracks

Emily Anderson, driving a 1909 Maxwell, re-creates a rare event in driving history

[The following is an excerpt from "Up the Hudson: Day one in the treads of Alice Huyler Ramsey’s 1909 Maxwell", Aug. 13, 2009 issue of Old Cars Weekly, with addtional web-exclusive photos]

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With her navigator Christie Catania sitting on the side of the car
that U.S. motorists currently drive from, Emily Anderson departs
Poughkeepsie, N.Y. en route to her Hudson River crossing via
the Rip Van Winkle Bridge at Catskill.

It was this Twitter “tweet,” of all things, posted on the web site celebrating the very first woman to drive across America 100 years ago, that officially confirmed Emily Anderson, driving an identical 1909 Maxwell DA four-cylinder touring, had also reached San Francisco on July 9, 2009. Aided by hard pavement, corner garages and other conveniences that were scarce or non-existent in 1909, she had needed 31 days to reach the site of the St. James Hotel where Alice finished her 59-day adventure, earning her lasting honor as the American Automobile Association’s “Woman Motorist of the Century” in 1960 and, in 2000, the first woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

One month earlier, Old Cars Weekly had been an excited first-hand witness to Emily Anderson’s first day of travel between New York City and the upstate mountain town of Cobleskill, from which it could be asserted her initial 200 miles had not gone entirely smooth. Still, the stormy weather, sclerotic traffic and perplexing mechanical problems endured on June 9th proved easy to take in stride, thanks to all the encouragement she received from family members (including her three-month-old daughter Kaisa, almost always close by in an escort vehicle); third and fourth-generation descendents of Alice Huyler Ramsey; regional chapters of the Antique Automobile Club of America; and legions of well-wishers who personally welcomed her to various points along the Hudson River Valley or e-mailed the team weblog. Along with an evidently-tireless mechanical team led by Tim Simonsma and his wife Barbara, this moral support would prove a reliable constant as the Maxwell forged west through Buffalo, South Bend, Cedar Rapids, Omaha, Cheyenne, Steamboat Springs, Reno and Sacramento. It even manifested itself the day before the trip officially began in Manhattan, when Emily made a surprise appearance before women students at the Brooklyn Automotive High School. “After they shouted in awe about the car itself,” she wrote in her blog that evening, “someone yelled out ‘And it is a girl driving!’, to which everyone started cheering. I was beaming from head to toe. If you ladies are reading — please know that … Seeing your faces and hearing your comments was the best way to start this crazy journey. You rise me up.”

(LEFT) As the Maxwell neared the 50-mile mark in its northbound
trip from New York City, Peter Ramsey gave the thumbs up from
the back seat along highway 301 in Cold Spring, N.Y. (RIGHT)
Joined by his friend Mike Friedman (left), Frank Pastor
(foreground) traveled the Tarrytown-Poughkeepsie leg of Emily
Anderson’s trip in a 1929 Ford Model A pickup he purchased in
Clifton, N.J. for $225 back in 1961. “You had no choice,” he said
of its Rock Moss Green body and black fenders, “except for a brown
or black interior, so it was easy to buy a truck back then.”

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(LEFT) Peter Ramsey (left), a grandson of the first woman to
drive successfully across the U.S.A. in 1909, embraces Alice
Ramsey Centennial Tour Director Richard Anderson (right)
during the first fuel stop, roughly 20 miles north of Manhattan in
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. (RIGHT) A photo op on Vassar College’s
Chapel Lawn posed the Maxwell with (L-to-R) Alice Ramsey’s
grandson Peter Ramsey; Vassar President Dr. Catharine Hill;
Peter Ramsey’s wife Isabel and 14-year-old son Andrew Ramsey;
Vassar College Historian Betty Daniels; and Alice Ramsey
Centennial Tour Director Richard Anderson.

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Emily’s Maxwell parks outside Vassar College’s Main Building,
which was the largest in America when it was finished in 1855.
The campus president’s proclamation declaring “Alice’s Drive
Day at Vassar College” was presented in the 2nd floor Rose
Parlor where afternoon tea was served in Ramsey’s day.

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