A Good Road is Hard to Find
Around the turn of the century, as the automobile grew in popularity and importance, Glidden tours were established. These were long-distance reliability runs for automobiles. The last of those tours came in July of 1913, with a route that passed through North Dakota on the way from Minneapolis to Glacier Park in Montana.
It was a time when roads were difficult. Far before the establishment of the interconnected, paved highway system that would eventually sprawl across the states, roads were at the mercy of the weather and the ability of local communities to keep them viable.
Upon setting out in Minnesota, the cars struggled and slid upon the roads. In North Dakota, conditions varied. At Grand Forks, the cars arrived late in the day, "spattered with mud. ... Bad road conditions between Fargo and Grand Forks were responsible for the delay." The pilot car, meant to find the best path, was actually the last to arrive, with another car assuming the task. Later, on the journey to Williston, the same pathfinder became stuck in quicksand.
Overall though, the roads were judged to be good. And not just by the touring group. Reports about road conditions were news across North Dakota. That April in Hillsboro, a Better Roads association was being organized, with a newspaper story noting that "Traill County roads in general are in pretty good shape."
A report from the Drayton Echo in late July reported on the recent automobile traffic, saying: "Twenty-five autos have passed through the city the past two weeks over the Meridian road. Most of the autos have been from Winnipeg and Grand Forks and a few from Fargo and the Twin Cities. The road is in good shape ... The men who have had charge of the road building ... certainly know how to build and maintain good roads."
And on this date in Fargo, the Fargo Automobile club, was credited for keeping Fargo’s roads in passable shape "through the use of a gasoline tractor and a mounted drag.” A supply of gasoline was spread on the roads, which apparently helped – despite an unusually wet stretch of weather.
A good road, such as we know them today, was hard to find in those early days, but North Dakotans did the best they could with what they had.
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
Bismarck Daily Tribune, July 25, 1913, p2
The Evening Times (Grand Forks), July 14, 1913, p1
The Evening Times (Grand Forks), April 12, 1913, p3
The Evening Times (Grand Forks), July 26, 1913, p8