A George Tuffin Adventure

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George Tuffin in 1934 in the driver’s seat of his 1923 Model T Ford, which he bought for $7. Photos courtesy of Salmon Brook Historical Society

Many Granby residents will remember the late George Tuffin. He had something to say at every Town Meeting. He was a former First Selectman and former president of the Salmon Brook Historical Society, as well as a permanent volunteer. George loved tractors and old cars. He knew almost everyone in town, and he definitely knew which local barns held treasures for his collections and tag sales. His elegant-waxed mustache was legendary.

In the summer of 1936, George was 19, a college freshman. He and three West Hartford friends decided to drive to California and back. The adventure was featured in the Hartford Courant in September 1936. Some excerpts from the article are included.

The four young men pooled their limited funds and bought a 1926 Studebaker touring sedan, which had already been driven cross-country eight times—their “Desert Cruiser.” They had it completely overhauled and outfitted with new tires. Then they started, with a minimum of clothes and a two-week supply of canned food packed in the trunk on the back of the car. 

To save as much money as possible, they slept outside in sleeping bags. If it rained in the middle of the night, they merely pulled up the flaps of their waterproof bags and slept on. If the weather was too bad, they sought shelter in a barn or under a tree. One night they crept into a freight car, sharing it with a hobo who had also crawled in out of the rain.

Their daily routine was to wake between five and eight a.m. and breakfast on Shredded Wheat and milk. Then they drove all day, eating dried fruit and crackers and stopping at any interesting places they found. About seven p.m. they started looking for a place to camp, with as few mosquitos as possible. Supper was cooked on their portable oil stove and dishes were washed in water which had been heated all day in a can strapped near the engine on the running board. Three of the young men brought along musical instruments to entertain themselves in the evenings—George on violin, Elton on guitar and Ed on sax. Maybe Robert sang along.

Through National Parks and over scenic routes they made their way to the coast. They camped overnight in many of the parks and listened to lectures given by the ranger guides about the geological formations. They kept diaries and journals, with notes on the lectures. They marveled at the colorful rock formations in Bryce Canyon National Park and climbed to the peak of Mt. Lassen, 10,450 feet above sea level, in the Volcanic National Park in California.

In Oregon, they stopped at a farm for a day, where George and Elton pitched hay in return for a dollar each and dinner for all. They wanted to save their silver dollars as souvenirs, but as funds became low, they were spent for food and gasoline. At Great Salt Lake, they stopped for a swim and were amazed that it was impossible to sink. In the Mohave Desert they were much surprised to learn that water for their car cost ten cents a gallon if they did not also buy gas. Their drinking water was carried in a large canvas water bag. 

They bought as little food as possible in the attempt to keep their expenses down. One day they were very fortunate when the trailer of a large fruit truck overturned in front of their car and spilled peaches all over the road. For several days afterward they had delicious ripe peaches to eat. The corn fields and fruit trees along the road gave them ample opportunity to have fresh vegetables and fruit at no cost.

The young men were amused by the signs they saw on their travels. In Ogden Canyon, “Credit cheerfully given to children of eighty and over if accompanied by their grandparents.” At a wayside restaurant, “Mary had a little lamb. What’ll you have?” And on the way to Boulder Dam, “We don’t know where Ma is, but we have Pop on ice, 10 cents.”

Finally arriving in California, George and his friends camped on the beach in Santa Barbara. They spent several days fishing, swimming, relaxing in the sun and sleeping under the stars. The travelers then decided to drive to Los Angeles and see Hollywood. Unable to visit any movie studios, they decided the city looked just like Hartford and they might as well go home.

In Barstow, California disaster struck. The trusty Desert Cruiser had a broken crankshaft. In desperation, they telegraphed their parents and were advised to buy another car. After scouring the town, they found an old Chevy coupe which they bought and had repaired, all for $25. They shifted the tires, battery and spark plugs from the Cruiser and put their baggage trunk on the rear of the coupe. The springs had to be blocked to stand the extra weight.

Then they started off again. They were barely out of town when the car broke down and had to be towed back to the garage. After two more false starts, they finally got underway and traveled on, stopping every few miles to repair the car. Two of the travelers had to ride in the baggage compartment, sitting on the seat taken from the back of their first car and using their sleeping bags for a back rest.

In Albany, New York, when they were on the last lap of their journey, George and his fellow travelers found they only had 27 cents between them. After talking it over, they decided to send a telegram home, collect, for more money. The clerk in the telegraph office asked for a 32-cent deposit, but after a bit of persuasion, he agreed to accept their entire treasury and trust them for the rest.

After having their funds reinforced, they traveled on and reached home August 10. In 44 days, they had visited 15 states, covered 9,000 miles and had five blow-outs and four flat tires. The entire trip cost them only $55 each, including the purchase of the second car and the repairs and parts for both cars. They saved every possible cent by doing most of their own car repairs and by washing their clothes in wayside brooks and lakes. 

Tuffin in 1936 with a different Studebaker (1927). 1929 Ford in back.