DRESSING UP FOR A DRIVE — These men look ready to face fire or high water, with their hats and dusters. The man next to the driver may be sporting goggles. During the early 1900s, auto occupants donned dusters (long topcoats) and other riding apparel. These gents took part in a roundtrip endurance race from Tampa to Jacksonville in 1909. Their vehicle, “The Jacksonville Metropolis,” was one of the entries.
Nowadays, we think little of zipping by Interstate to Tampa, about 4 1/2 hours from Jacksonville. A hundred years ago, such an undertaking involved sandy, rutted roads that became quagmires during rainstorms. Arduous races like the Jacksonville to Tampa endurance race made Floridians more aware of the need for highways.
A number of early cars could not boast of tops or windshields, but most roads and streets were made of sand or dirt. Drivers & passengers had to battle dust, bugs, and the elements. Therefore, numerous auto occupants wore caps, hats, gloves, and linen dusters. The men could sometimes be seen in goggles too. A lot of women donned scarves and veils, with their hats tied under the neck. Some ladies protected themselves with large face-covering bonnets, like bee-keeper hats, with a glass window to see through. Or they carried tiny hand-windshields, which they held in front of their faces to keep dust and insects out of their eyes.
Some interesting memories of early travel are given in the book It Ain’t Like It Was in the Good Old Days… No, And It Never Was, by long-time Jacksonville resident Jack McGiffin. According to the author, Georgia’s clay roads proved so dusty that, on dry, windless days, drivers would sometimes park their cars to let the air clear so they could see the road. One of Mr. McGiffin’s childhood trips was when infantile paralysis broke out in epidemic form. Therefore, hotels did not welcome kids when traveling. While driving up north from Jacksonville, Mr. McGiffin’s family stopped at a hotel the first night, and he took off his duster, revealing short trousers and his age. The hotel manager quickly sent the tired travelers on their way. For the rest of the journey, little McGiffin kept his duster on and tried to act like an adult until his family was safely in its room.
After about 1915, vehicles became more advanced. This included enclosed bodies, with windows that raised & lowered. After tops became commonplace, nevertheless, a sudden summer rainstorm could still create a stir among the occupants of some cars. They would scramble to obtain side curtains from under the seats and to put on their hats and gloves. When Jack McGiffin lived in Fernandina Beach in about 1913, his family’s four-cylinder Cadillac had a top, but no doors in the front. The side curtains for rain were also not very watertight, since they didn’t fit close to the windshield.
~written by Glenn Emery