“No hill too steep, no sand too deep,” U.P. road tested

Officials of the Jackson Automobile Company prepare to leave their factory with their autos on a trip through the Upper Peninsula to prove the product’s toughness and reliability. This trek took place in the summer of 1915. (Photo provided by Bryon Ennis)

Story by Bryon Ennis

When automobiles reached the stage of development where they were no longer referred to as “horseless carriages,” six 1915 Jackson Automobiles made a tortuous journey from the southern portion of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan to the Upper Peninsula. There were few cars in the Upper Peninsula at this time, and there were fewer roads to drive them over.
That is exactly why the Jackson Automobile Company decided to caravan six of their latest model cars to a remote hunting and fishing camp in Alger County. The camp was owned by Michigan Senator Frank T. Newton, who had recently made the transition from public life to private enterprise by becoming sales and distribution manager for the Jackson, Michigan, based company.
He had built his camp in 1910 in the wilds of Alger County, where the hunting was great and the fishing was “unbelievable.”
Newton believed the trek to the far north woods would serve two purposes. First, such a long journey over challenging terrain would help substantiate the company’s sales slogan, “No Hill Too Steep, No Sand Too Deep.” Even in this early stage of the automobile industry, each company—and there were many more than there are today—was trying to distinguish itself from the others with claims of durability, reliability and power. The second purpose for the trip, at least in the minds of Senator Newton and the management of the car company, was to create camaraderie among the sales and distribution personnel so that in future interactions, they would have this common bond of work and pleasure. So, on July 4, 1915, this party of men and automobiles headed out of Jackson for the uncertain goal of a remote fishing camp in the Upper Peninsula.
The evident question one has to consider for such an extensive land journey is, “How would six cars cross from one peninsula to another?” They did not go around to Chicago, up through Wisconsin and then east across the Upper Peninsula. Such a journey, though plausible, would have taken at least month, and these managers needed to get back home to build and sell cars.
The route they took first headed west out of Jackson to Battle Creek then northwest to Grand Rapids, up the west coast of the Lower Peninsula to Scottville and Manistee. When they reached Frankfort, the autos were loaded on railroad car ferries, which made frequent voyages between Frankfort and Manistique.
Because there were so few autos anywhere in the nation, nobody had considered train ferries for carrying automobiles over the Great Lakes; therefore, these ferries had not been configured to accommodate autos. The solution was to winch the autos up onto railroad flat cars, then roll the flat cars onto the ferry. In this way, the autos were securely sailed across Lake Michigan to Manistique. At Manistique, they were again ramped off the flat cars to continue their journey to Seney.
Though much of the Upper Peninsula was still wild in 1915, it was not unexplored by any means. Native Americans had defined trails that were likely first created by large game animals. When the logging industry sent out its first land lookers, they had some idea of where they were going based on credible hearsay and crude maps of these existing trails.
The logging industry itself laid down many miles of narrow gauge track through the forests, so even at this early stage in Michigan’s history, adventure seekers from far and wide had learned of the extraordinary hunting and fishing opportunities in the U.P. But roads negotiable by self-propelled four-wheeled vehicles, without the aid of mules, horses or oxen, were a different challenge all together.
Before the advent of road maps, a common practice of the earliest automobile adventurers was to contact folks in the areas in which they expected to drive who might provide some suggestions for viable roads. One of the adventurers from Jackson, perhaps Sen. Frank Newton himself, wrote the following inquiry to William R. Oates, the state game warden based in Marquette, on May 18, 1915:

“My Dear Friend Bill,
Sometime in the near future myself and a party of friends are going to make a trip with our automobiles from Jackson Michigan, to Newton Club House on Succor Lake.
Now Bill, I am not familiar, in fact do not know anything about the roads from Manistique through to Seney. If you can give me the information as to which is the best road from Manistique to Seney, you will certainly please the old man.
We intend to drive from here to Frankfort and take the boat across the lake to Manistique and from there on to camp. I thought you might possibly know the best wagon road, or some of your deputies would know.
I do hope that you will be successful in receiving the appointment. I have been putting in a good word at every opportunity.
Address me at Jackson, Michigan, c/o Jackson Automobile Company.
Yours, ”
Though we don’t have the response from Warden Oates, we do have photographic evidence of the historic trip from Manistique to Seney, and then on to Camp Newton. Photos taken at various milestones show the kind of roads encountered by this party. Fortunately, albums of these photos were given as mementos to all the men who made this trek, although only three of the albums are known to exist.
The party eventually made its way to Camp Newton, which still exists in Alger County along Highway 77, north of M-28. The men spent a memorable week fishing at Nawakwa Lake and building valuable relationships with each other. Lake Succor, as named in the letter to Warden Oates, has never been that lake’s official name but was likely a personal name given to Nawakwa Lake based on its attributes by Sen. Frank Newton, who evidently longed to be free of Lansing and his duties in the Michigan Legislature. All the participants and the six automobiles completed the challenging journey back to Jackson where a welcoming celebration was held in mid-July.
Unfortunately, the Jackson Automobile Company remained in business only another eight years. Part of the decline and eventual dissolution of the Jackson-based company was a result of stiff competition from Henry Ford’s assembly line manufacturing system. The Jackson Company continued to hand-build sturdy, dependable cars that indeed lived up to their sales slogan, but they could not compete with Ford in price or quantity.
In addition, and perhaps of greater import, was the disruption experienced by the company when the U.S. entered World War I. The federal government, unable to predict how long the war might last, required all heavy industry, including the Jackson Automobile Company, to convert automobile production to war materials. But before the Jackson Company could begin to realize profits from manufacturing war materials, the war had ended. The company was never fully reimbursed for the immense cost and disruption of this changeover.
It ended production in 1923.
But for the Upper Peninsula, the story doesn’t end there. In fact, it continues today with a descendent of a Jackson Automobile Company founder making Marquette his home for the past 40 years. By the time the party of executives and sales personnel visited Camp Newton in 1915, one of the company’s three founders, George A. Matthews had died. However, his sons Harry, Howard and Fred, then running the company, were all part of this adventure. Harry Matthews is the grandfather of current Marquette resident and former NMU faculty member Dr. Scott Matthews.
The story of how Scott Matthews ended up in Marquette is indirectly related to the 1915 event at Camp Newton. After several memorable visits back to Camp Newton, Scott’s grandfather, Harry Matthews, became quite fond of the Upper Peninsula. He brought his son, Harry Charles, up with him on hunting and fishing adventures.
This exposure did not affect Scott’s father in quite the same way that it did his grandson. Scott’s close relationship with his grandfather, their hunting and fishing excursions, and perhaps the colorful stories of his grandfather’s experience in the Upper Peninsula, somehow developed in Scott a yearning to live near “the lake,” not Lake Nawakwa, but rather Lake Superior.
When Scott Matthews was about to finish his Ph. D., he applied to every college and university on the shores of Lake Superior, including schools in the Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada. After teaching several years at other institutions, the opportunity arose for Scott to join the NMU faculty. He readily accepted the position. After ten years on the NMU faculty, Scott entered private practice in psychology at the Marquette Medical Center.
He eventually married Marquette native Joyce Argeropolous. Together, they both still marvel at their good fortune and the spectacular view of Marquette Harbor and Lake Superior from their Ridge Street home.

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