Saturday, May 14, 2016

Wilderness Adventuring in the 20s and 30s

Spring is here, and I've already started checking to see when the muddy trails of the Adirondacks will be dry enough to use. In the meantime I've been indulging my interest in vintage camping. The latest gem to come to my attention is "Trail Craft" by Claude Powell Fordyce from 1922. It's available in almost any format imaginable from the Internet Archive.

The book covers every style of wilderness travel, from lightweight trekking to "might as well bring the kitchen sink" car camping. As such it's a good introduction to the equipment and mindset of adventurers in the classic pulp era. If you're into vintage gear porn you'll definitely love it. Here's the author's take on basic backpacking gear.


1. and 2. The Duluth Pack Sack, with the head strap and center suspension shoulder straps, is best.

3. The hunting unit for the knapsacker requires a small gun, with collapsible stock, its ammunition, a cleaner, and gun grease.

4. The silk shelter tent is weather-proof and yet gives the acme of comfort.

5. The chief enjoyment of hike trips is the independence they afford.

Duluth is still making quality packs today, although they're increasingly catering to the hipster market. The "authenticity" of canvas and leather is a lot more bearable when you're schlepping a laptop to the coffee house rather than lugging it on your back. That said, classic materials are still ideal for trips into the backcountry via canoe, horse, or motorized vehicle. The gear may be heavy as hell, but it's well nigh indestructible.

You'll find guns are a regular and expected part of period wilderness trips. In most cases their intended purpose was provisioning, with protection a secondary concern. Wild game was a customary part of the menu for anyone spending time away from civilization.

The unusual collapsible firearm recommended by Mr. Fordyce is Marble's Game Getter. It's a delightfully strange gun that could fire .22 and .45 rounds as well as .410 shotgun shells. By all accounts it was surprisingly accurate.  Sadly, it's a controlled weapon these days because the shotgun barrel measures less than 18" in length.

The book's look at motor camping is pretty interesting. Archeological and scientific expeditions into the wilderness are a regular part of pulp adventuring.  In Lovecraft country there's a good chance those parties would be traveling by car. 

I was surprised to learn that most vintage cars had unexpectedly good off road performance. In hindsight it makes sense- what passed for roads in the 1920s would be considered trails by most drivers today. Vehicles could range almost anywhere there was a reasonably firm, clear path thanks to a combination of light weight, three point suspensions, and a huge amount of suspension and body flex. This classic newsreel footage gives you an idea how insanely capable the damn things were. Just bring along a mouth guard to deal with all the bouncing and shimmying.

It didn't hurt that drivers were expected to perform their own maintenance when anything went wrong.  Service stations were few and far between, so you were on your own.  Most manufacturers included a comprehensive tool kit on board designed to service nearly everything on the vehicle.  Here's the one included in the purchase of a Model T.

Oh, and there's one more section of "Trail Craft" you'll find interesting.  An entire chapter is dedicated to our old friend adhesive plaster, the proto-duct tape of the classic era.
Adhesive plaster is a cheap, strong binder that will conform itself to the shape of any substance. Thus we mend with it splintered gunstocks, broken tool handles, broom handles, chair legs, whips, canes, umbrella handles, jars, and bottles. Even lead and iron waterpipes can be temporarily repaired by its use. Employed to bind a wood split or to hold a loosening ferrule of a fishing rod, it prevents the loss of a day's sport. Further, bowlers, fishermen, golfers secure protection to the fingers and hands by putting adhesive plaster strips over the parts most likely to be blistered, sore, and chapped. Being a non-conductor and waterproof, it is useful in making and repairing electrical apparatus and in insulating wires for troublesome short circuits about the automobile.

1 comment:

CoastConFan said...

What an outstanding article, it almost makes me want to go camping again. Times have sure changed for camping and it’s gotten a whole lot lighter for one thing, so you don’t need a pack mule or a T-Model to get around. There were a number of companies back then that made tents that were specifically made to attach to vehicles, making the inside of the car part of the tent floor plan. or

Don’t forget to add a link to your earlier post about period camping:

Here’s a fun overview about camping A&F style in the 20s, after all if one can’t be fashionable, what’s the point of camping anyway?

Marble Arms, originally Marbles Safety Axe Co, also sold camping gear along with handy, foldable guns, but was not nearly as lavish as A&F’s catalogues. About the closest you can get to a folding gun would be the Henry AR-7 or the folding M-6 AF survival gun now being made again. Sadly neither one looks 20s or 30s correct for period.

And now for something more modern and yet more arcane: a Soviet era survival shotgun carried aboard space ships, just in case.

Abercrombie & Fitch stated in 1892 Download the 172 page A&F 1916 catalogue

Ah the simple life