Mr. Swain’s Wild Ride


    In the winter of 2009 through the spring of 2010, the La Jolla Historical Society presented an exhibit called “Mr. Swain’s Wild Ride” as part of their “All Roads Lead to La Jolla” exhibition. Taking Jethro Swain’s 1916 diary, artist Robert Bauer brought diary passages to life with his water color paintings as Jethro and his wife Alice took their Ford Model T from their home in La Jolla, CA, north to Chico, CA, then east to Milan, MI. The 3900 mile trip took two months to complete.

    Click here for a map of his 1916 route.

Mr. Swain’s Wild Ride

    In 1916 a La Jolla resident named Jethro Mitchell Swain purchased a new Ford five-passenger car in San Diego for $495 with the intent of taking it on a road trip to Northern California and, thence, to Michigan to visit relatives in the small town of Milan.  He recorded the trip in diaries as he and his wife, Pard, camped along roadsides, struggled to find the next stop for gasoline and coped with flat tires and breakdowns – all leading to the conclusion that the open road of 1916 was just that – very open, dusty and not without perils.

    Ironically, when the Swains returned to La Jolla, it was without their car.  They took the train home!

   After driving 49 miles along a coastal dirt road north, they stopped to camp on the first night of their long, two-month journey in Oceanside. The following day they headed to Santa Ana and, then, toward Los Angeles where Swain records they had a wreck. But soon they were headed to Bakersfield and Lebec where Swain notes “took in gas, 6 gal. $1.20.”

    Having been on the road since the first of August, the end of the month found Swain and his wife, Pard, arriving in Salt Lake City where they stayed overnight in a new hotel and had a fancy dinner with the entire bill coming to 70 cents.  Swain complained about the high price of gasoline – eight gallons for $2.80.

   The 1916 Ford continued its route through Wyoming and Colorado then across part of the plains states before going northward to Michigan.  They arrived at relatives’ homes in Milan, MI., cold and tired on Sept. 30, 1916.  Swain took time to “clean the shotgun and read the papers.” The Swains spent the winter in Michigan and returned by train to their La Jolla home at 7354 Fay Ave. in late February, 1917. But the long and winding road had taken further toll of Swain’s poor health. He died in La Jolla a few months later at age 72. The house he lived in remains standing.