Brothers finish grandfather’s cross-country trip in 1917 Maxwell

12/22/2016 12:00 PM |

Bassemir brothers

When brothers Doug and Rich Bassemir set out last month to replicate a transcontinental journey their grandfather made 100 years ago — in the same model car — they quickly realized the undertaking raised the same question over and over: How did Grandpa do this?

It became Doug’s dream to repeat the cross-country trip after he found his grandfather’s diary, which detailed stops and trials along the way. His grandfather, C.W. Tuthill, was a Maxwell Motor Sales Corporation salesman who made the trip in 1916 with colleague P.G. Scull to prove that Maxwell touring cars could serve the average family.

The Bassemir brothers hit the road early on Nov. 16 in Newark, N.J., in a Maxwell touring car they had restored. Although they encountered some difficulty along the way, they arrived in Los Angeles 13 days later.

“Pretty much all the places we went, we were about 100 years and one day behind,” joked Doug, a 56-year-old Aquebogue resident. The brothers had planned to cover 330 miles their first day, but found that traffic and a few mechanical concerns would change their pace. Driving at night was not an option, they agreed, as safety was a priority.

“We nicknamed it ‘Chasing Grandpa,’ ” Rich said. “From then on it was trying to catch up to him.”

The 1917 Maxwell touring car at a replica of a 1920s Mobil station in Cool Springs, Ariz. (Courtesy photo credit: Bassemir family)

The 1917 Maxwell touring car at a replica of a 1920s Mobil station in Cool Springs, Ariz. (Courtesy photo credit: Bassemir family)

Followed by friend John Braska of Massapequa, who drove a support truck with spare parts, the brothers crossed bridges and left tire tracks on some of the same dirt roads their grandfather drove a century earlier. They visited some of the same places Mr. Tuthill noted in his diary, including the Grand Canyon.

The brothers documented their trip in a different way, however, with photos and videos shot on a GoPro. Their videos show them cheering as they cross state lines, zig-zagging their way up a mountain road to get to Oatman, Ariz., and passing buildings and views Mr. Tuthill once drove past — one of the highlights of the trip for Doug.

The notion of seeing what Mr. Tuthill saw hit Doug as they left Sirocco, N.M., headed for Springerville, Ariz., on a road less traveled because there is now an interstate to the north.

“The way my grandfather described it is, ‘Nothing but prairie, forest and mountains’ and that’s exactly what we experienced,” he said.

The adventure also included a few mechanical hiccups, not only with the Maxwell, but with the support truck as well. Yet things always had a way of working out.

“We also joked that Grandpa really had to have been watching out over us, that there was some divine intervention going on,” Rich said.

They were not far from Indianapolis when the Maxwell had a bit of engine trouble and it just so happened that two weeks before the trip a man named Doug Johnson, who owns an auto shop there, had reached out to them to offer help if they needed it. Mr. Johnson had been searching through his desk and found an article Doug once wrote mentioning a potential transcontinental trip, so he decided to reach out and see if the journey ever came to be.

They loaded the Maxwell on the support vehicle’s trailer and when they got to Mr. Johnson’s shop, a team of people swarmed the car and repaired it so they could set off again the next morning.

“The people that we met were absolutely phenomenal,” said Rich, a 61-year-old retired IBM employee from Austin, Texas.

The same went for Thanksgiving, when the support truck’s alternator failed and they had to inch along at 2 miles per hour until it died just as they reached the only open auto parts store they could find. A stranger came by while they worked on the vehicle and handed them $40 toward Thanksgiving dinner.

“It’s hard to explain,” Doug said. “When you’re doing it and you’re out there, we just had so much fun. Every time we stopped, people couldn’t be nicer. All of us were talking about us after and it kind of renewed our faith in humankind. It was really great.”

Now that the trip is over, Doug said, he plans to take the Maxwell to local shows and has thought about eventually lending it to a museum so people, especially young ones, can appreciate what their grandparents and great-grandparents used to drive.

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Follow along

Visit rtbassemir.com for more on the Bassemir brothers’ transcontinental journey


Top courtesy photo: Rich Bassemir (left) and his brother, Doug, take a selfie during their cross-country tour. (Credit: Bassemir family)

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