By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Most people have strong opinions about their cars. Deciding factors are often fuel efficiency or comfort since most of us drive paved roads like Interstate 495. Like commuters, collectors in the field depend on their mode of transportation to get them where they need to go. Unlike a typical driver in the US, collectors face difficult and often unknown terrain. A dependable car is indispensible. The right car can even become a collecting tool, as seen in the photograph above. The field journals we catalog frequently describe travel details, notes on arrangements, and challenges in the field – including information about the vehicles driven.
Sometimes these references are short; they may only state that the collector rented a car from the airport. However, some collectors develop strong preferences and even a noted affection for the cars they use. One of the first references like this I found was in the field notes of Alexander Wetmore. He collected in Panama nearly every year during the 1940’s and 1950’s. When he would visit, he utilized staff and equipment at US military bases like Albrook Air Force base. He routinely used the same jeep in the Air Force car pool. In honor of this, the Air Force staff stenciled a Smithsonian designation on the jeep, which can be seen in the photograph below. Wetmore took several photographs of himself with the jeep.
Numerous references to cars can also be found in the journals of the Smithsonian African Mammal Project, housed in the Division of Mammals, Natural Museum of Natural History. Within these journals were frequent lists of needed repairs for various Land Rovers and other cars used. Below is an example of some of the issues that transpired during the Project. Entries are from the field book of D. E. Harvey in Mauritania.
8 December 1966: “…Wired Washington for parts and sent letter to Hank explaining that Ford was not built for this country and that we need another vehicle (Landrover [sic]). There are parts for Landrovers here and with lighter load Ford might be okay…I talked with mechanic today and he said that although the road to Fort Gouraud is bad, roads to the E. are worse. He had had no trouble with Landrovers on these roads. Internationals are ok also but you can’t get parts. Dodge Powerwagon [sic] engine no good.”
21 January 1967: “Did get about 40 km from Fort Gouraud this day. Truck got stuck in sand 15 times. Slept in truck tonight.”
22 January 1967: “Left for Nouakchott but didn’t get past Atar, driver had to sleep and sell his load of salt…”
23 January 1967: “Driver didn’t sell his load of salt yet so I took another truck to Nouakchott. Truck with axel will arrive 25 January…”
25 January 1967: “No parts had arrived. Tie-rod had arrived but customs officers had lost exoneration paper… [mechanic] will have to make a new stud axel & axel shaft…”
Over a month later…
27 February 1967: “Embassy got the axel for truck released from Customs today…”
These types of entries can be found throughout field books, especially in challenging terrain of Africa. The ability to get to a location affects how well and how often it can be a collecting site. Luckily for us, collectors are often willing to deal with a myriad of difficulties to get to their sites. They adapt and make do with what is available.
So you might be asking yourself, how do collectors get to locations that are not accessible by car? What about locations only accessible by air or water? Watch for upcoming blog posts discussing collectors and other modes of transportation.