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They were leaving from Lover’s Lane, a place of beckoning magic, perhaps due to the countless trysts that had taken place there over the years,-- or more probably, because it was the most easterly route out of the tiny town of Roswell, in the Territory of New Mexico.

The year was 1909.

Lover's Lane, Roswell, New Mexico
Photo courtesy Historical Society for Southeast New

Dr. Louis Benjamin Boellner cranked the engine of the EMF Runabout to life, climbed into the front seat beside his small son, Arden, remembering how the EMF had arrived by flat car from Detroit, Michigan, on the Santa Fe rail spur in Roswell the year before, an event the whole town had turned out to see. Both wore large Stetsons with chin straps, sturdy Western attire, and hand-sewn boots from Amonett’s. A large sign was attached to the back of the car by the kerosene lamp which read, “From Roswell in New Mexico.”

They were about to begin a 600 mile overland jaunt in this unheard of EMF, through the badlands of New Mexico and Texas into Kansas, where no roads existed, with only cattle trails, ox cart and chuck wagon ruts to follow. They had spent hours plotting a course with no maps to follow, only a wild unknown expanse where no car had ever been seen or driven before. They wanted to see the old home place in Kansas, just that one more time. (See map below.)

Ever the fearless adventurer, since growing up in Missouri and Kansas as a barefoot youth who walked those long country miles with his brother, John, to attend classes in a one-room schoolhouse, Dr. Boellner had prospered since coming to Roswell in 1901, being the first optometrist and jeweler in the High Plains of the southern New Mexico Territory. Roswell, was known then as a brawling, wide open town with thirteen saloons, various gambling and bawdy houses, referred to by Midwesterners as, “a jumping off place.” He brought his wife, Grace, his six year old son, Arden, and daughter, Edith, who was four. They arrived in a snowstorm from Amarillo, Texas, aboard a Pecos Valley and North Eastern Railway chair car attached to a freight train. They were driven in a two-horse hack to the Grand Central Hotel, between First and Second Streets on what was called, “Main Street.” Even in winter, the large cottonwood trees and willows lining the rutted streets and irrigation ditches showed signs of coming Spring. It was a good time. In true pioneer spirit, the Boellner family had come to stay.

Main Street, Roswell, New Mexico early 1900's
Photo courtesy Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico

That early May morning along Lover’s Lane was somewhat cool when they set out in their noisy EMF, the bowering cottonwood trees overhead were fully leafed out ,touched by a breeze-- birds were chirping a farewell,-- they carried three rifles, the extra tires that had been ordered, and all the tubes and patches Cummings garage had in stock. They had bedrolls, canned goods, cooking gear, rope chains made from lariats for the sand they were sure was there, several jugs of cool Artesian water, which Roswell was famous for. The route was from Roswell to Lubbock, Texas-- a small settlement where supplies might be found, on to Canyon, the long stretch to Amarillo, then to Dumas, and to Liberal, Kansas.

“Is it far?” his son asked him.

“Not so far,--and a darn sight faster than on horseback,” he told him, or hoped so.

The “E” in the EMF was the eventual creation of Barney Everitt of Ontario, and Detroit, a wagon builder and carriage maker with orders from Ransom Olds, and later, Henry Ford.

The “M” in the EMF was for William Metzger of Peru, Illinois, who was a car salesman with a dealership in Detroit. He was affiliated with Northern Motors and helped organize Cadillac.

“The “F” was Walter Flanders, an apprentice machinist for Singer Corporation, then for Ford in Detroit where he became manager of manufacturing for a time, and where engineers developed the Model T in late 1907.

EMF produced models of its own design and contracted to sell them through Studebaker wagon dealerships . EMF’s were sometimes known to jokesters as “Every Morning Fix-it’s,”--“Every Mechanical Fault,” and “Every Miss Fire.” Still, they were impressive, sold well, producing 7600 vehicles in 1909, while the partners, Everitt, Metzger, and Flanders’ internal problems continued unresolved. In 1913, with assets sold, the EMF name was replaced by an up and coming Studebaker Corporation.

The EMF chugged along in a fit of dust south toward “Spoony Hollow” where some horses were grazing along a broken fence line. They slowed, trying to move quietly past them, -- the horses broke into a wild run, hooves and tails high in the air at the sight and sound of the rattling EMF. It was to be the first of many such encounters along the way.

The trail to the east crossed the Pecos River into another trail called, “Devil’s Race Track,” which legend had it, a place of such intense heat that only the devil himself could live there, the track being twenty –five feet wide, in a natural fault claimed to have been formed by a split in the earth’s crust millions of years ago. It ran along east until it ended in what Texas cowboys called, “God’s Country.”

Up ahead they saw a man driving a one-horse buggy and leading a stallion. Again, they slowed, hoping to slip by without incident. The stallion turned, saw them, and broke loose, causing the buggy horse to run away, and all were soon out of sight. Dr. Boellner stopped, climbed out of the EMF to check punctures made by cactus and mesquite thorns. He attached two rope chains on the rear tires to help them through this endless of sea of soft sand.

Their first night out, they tried to cook a little supper over a camp fire. Bacon and some beans, but in five minutes after putting the bacon in the skillet, hordes of motto millers descended on them. They swatted and fanned at them, but to little avail, and decided to do their cooking in daylight from then on. They spread their bed rolls on the sand, ready to sleep under a sky filled with a million stars, alerted now by pack rats scurrying about trying to get to the food in the car.

“Are you going to shoot them?” his son, Arden asked him.

“No, we’ll pack our stuff back in the car and sleep there.” And they did sleep, sitting up that night.

After a little more than two days, they arrived in the settlement of Lubbock, Texas, where streets were just being laid out, a half dozen houses stood with a few more being built, noting that somewhere along the way between Roswell and Lubbock, they had lost one 10 gallon can of gasoline.

From there they followed a wagon trail toward Canyon, Texas. It was wide open, unfenced country with scrub grass where a few ranch cattle and horses grazed. These were gone in a cloud of dust, but now and again, a bull would stop, paw the dirt, snort, then charge the EMF. Honking the horn sent the bulls running off. A small ranch house and windmill could be seen in the distance along this trail which was seldom used.

Fifty miles or so out of Lubbock, they met a woman driving a one-horse haydock buggy on a trail that was fenced on both sides. The horse heard them coming, reared up, nearly overturning the buggy. Dr. Boellner stopped the car, got out-- trying to quiet the frightened horse. He led the horse and buggy into a draw where the horse could not see the EMF. He waited while his small son, Arden, drove the car a half mile on up the trail. The lady in the buggy, they learned, had come from Canyon to give music lessons to a girl at a ranch house farther up the trail. She had never seen a car before in her life, and never wanted to see another one-- it was hard to tell who was the more frightened, the lady or the horse.

Repairing punctures and blow-outs, stalling continuously through the deep sand, they could see curious antelope and mustang horses some distance away along the trail. They were sunburned now, so that both father and son took on a dark-skinned look. They were traveling most of the time in low gear through the sand, and were glad to finally arrive in Canyon, Texas.

They stopped the EMF outside of town and away from the livery stable, so as not to frighten the horses. Here, the word spread quickly, town folks gathered around the car to stare at it. A few read the sign on the back of the car, and shook their heads. They were a suspicious lot, and were not inclined to conversation.

Outside of Canyon, there was a steep mile long hill, the EMF, even in its most powerful low gear could not climb. They rolled back down to where two men on horseback sat watching.

The EMF’s engine sputtered and died. Dr. Boellner climbed out, and in true Western flavor, cautiously approached the two riders to introduce himself.

Leaning down from the saddle to shake a stranger’s hand, the cowboy said, “You ain’t never gonna’ make that there hill.”

“I’d be obliged for your help,” Dr. Boellner told him.

The two riders looked at each other and smiled. “’Peer’s like with two horses and three men, it could be likely. We got lassoes, but never roped nothin’ like that before.”

The horses shied, reared, and would not go near the EMF. Finally, after some threats and coaxing, the two horses with ropes attached to the front bumper of the car, dug in their hooves, and started to pull with the three men pushing from the rear. It was a long uphill climb, having to stop at times to shovel away the sand.

When they reached the top of the hill, with all of them panting and sweating, the cowboy asked, “How much it cost for this here machine what won’t climb a hill?”

“Apparently, too much,” Dr. Boellner smiled. The two riders refused to be compensated for their chore, waved their hats to them as they rode back down the hill.

They arrived in Amarillo about sunset and decided to spend the night there, again parking the EMF far away from the livery stable. Here, as well, it appeared that no one had ever seen a car, so its presence brought many a parade of onlookers to the outskirts of town. One man was even bold enough to ask how fast it would go. Another curious youngster wanted to climb into the front seat beside Arden, but his mother pulled him away.

The next morning they asked around town about the way to Dumas, Texas, and were told there was only a faint wagon wheel trail, and they should follow that all the way, if the sand hadn’t covered it. They bought more gasoline from the only drugstore, labeled, “White Rose Gasoline,” the kind usually used in gasoline stoves. They bought all the drugstore had in stock and started for Dumas. They traveled in low gear because of the sand, followed the trail about forty miles out until they came to a windmill and tank. The trail ended there.

They backtracked all the way back to Amarillo, and again asked the way. They were told they’d missed a narrow turn in the trail just before seeing the windmill. It was late in the day by now, so the next morning they started out again, this time finding the hidden fork on the trail which took them to Dumas, a settlement that boasted of three of houses and a small country store. They bought all the White Rose gasoline the country store had, and at dawn, set out for Liberal, Kansas. Soon, after leaving Dumas, the EMF ran over a horseshoe which completely ruined both tire and tube. Dr. Boellner decided he’d keep it for a souvenir of this never-to-be-forgotten trip. They fixed the tire and went on their way. They were almost there.

Liberal, Kansas was a small hamlet with twelve or fifteen houses, a drug and grocery store. They stayed the night there, again outside of the livery stable. That night brought a huge thunderstorm with four inches of rain that made lakes of all the low places, so were obliged to spend another day and night there. They again bought White Rose gasoline, all the store could spare, along with Binder Machine Oil for the EMF’s engine, which didn’t work too well, but it was the only oil available.

Bright and early the next morning, the little town was bustling with people going about taking up collections to buy kerosene to pour on the lakes around Liberal, to kill the mosquitoes, they said, before the mosquitoes killed them.

During their enforced stay in Liberal, Dr. Boellner and his small son, Arden, had become quite a curiosity with their dark skin, Southwestern attire, their rifles propped against the dashboard of the EMF. Some speculated they were from south of the border, maybe even bandits, and were not even sure they spoke the language. The sign on the back of the car confused them more. Wasn’t New Mexico, part of Mexico? “They have to carry guns in Mexico with them all the time, and be ready to fight,” the comments ran. The townspeople even seemed afraid to approach them.

Regardless of the water-logged town, and becoming restless, they decided the next day to start out for Plains, Kansas. The trail led over a small creek, now almost a lake outside of town,--Dr. Boellner got out and checked the depth. He thought the EMF could make it through. It didn’t. They bogged down about mid-way, with water up to the running boards, the tires spinning forth geysers, but the engine kept surging. He had bought a 50 foot tow rope in Liberal, now he brought that out of the boot, waded into the water. The EMF was solidly stuck.

“Look, Dad!” “Somebody’s coming!” Arden pointed to the west a half mile.

Sure enough, a man came into view driving a team of mules hitched to a wagon. Dr. Boellner waded out of the knee-deep mud hole, closed the distance to where the man had stopped.

“We’d be obliged to borrow your mules to pull us out of the bog over there,” he told the man.

The man gave him a surly look. “No sir,-- ain’t no way I’m takin’ my mules over there,” he nodded toward the EMF sitting in a geyser with the engine roaring.

“I have a fifty foot tow rope.”

“Makes me no difference,” the man spat some tobacco. “You’d do best to let that there ‘gol-darned ‘in-vention bury itself in the mud.” With that, he whipped up his mules and rolled away without looking back.

Dr. Boellner scavenged about looking for prairie grass, twigs, pebbles, whatever he could find to give the back wheels some traction. He slipped his cache under the spinning wheels, climbed into the EMF, shoved the engine into reverse, and stomped on the gas pedal. The wheels rocked, caught, and the EMF flew back out of the bog in a gush of splattering mud.

They drove back to Liberal, noting how much of the White Rose gasoline the EMF had used getting out of the mud hole. They parked outside of town, were on their way to the livery stable when they met a man with his wife and child in a covered wagon. The sign on the wagon-side read: “Busted,-- Going Back To Wife’s People In Arkansas.” By the looks of them, and their four skinny horses, Dr. Boellner thought they might be able to do each other a favor.

“Would you be obliged to let us hitch our car to your wagon, out past the creek bed?” He asked them. They agreed on a generous price with Dr. Boellner suggesting they stop first at the livery stable to buy feed for the horses, then go to the country store for any food supplies they needed.

They hitched the EMF to the family’s wagon, which was pulled for about ten miles until they reached drier road, this time passing through the creek slowly,-- but without being stuck. The man and his family thanked him for their payment, which he said would see them through to Arkansas. The two men shook hands, and each went on his way.

The trail was better now and they could travel in intermediate gear. Around midday, they came upon two wagons, with two teams of horses all hitched together in an unusual manner, with the driver standing in the front wagon. The wind was blowing hard by now, the air full of dust. They slowed to an idle, but not soon enough. The team in back heard and saw them, and began to rear and bolt free, striking the front wagon and turning it upside down. The lead team broke loose at the same time, and within minutes all were out of sight. There was no sign of the driver.

It had all happened in a flash. Afraid the man was hurt, or even killed, Dr. Boellner shut off the engine and ran to the overturned wagon. Within a few feet of it, the man came crawling out from beneath the wagon, covered and dripping with broken eggs.

“What in the ‘confounded hell happened?” the man was wiping egg yolks from his face.

“Your horses saw the car,”-- he pointed back to the EMF,--“and bolted. We’ll help you catch them and pay you for your losses.”

“Well, I’ll be darned,” the man smiled. “All the times I come along this way after taking wheat to Liberal and bringing back eggs for setting, never a day like this.” He told them his father-in-law was a wagon maker, so the wagons could be fixed. He refused a two mile ride home, and would not accept the pay for his eggs. He watched them drive by out of sight, still standing in the road.

They drove on with more punctures, and often had to stop to dig the high centers out of the trail ruts. Finally, late in the evening, they arrived in Plains, Kansas, another small settlement with a dozen houses and one country store. There, they bought all the White Rose gasoline on the shelves. Since the early summer twilights were longer, they decided to cover a few more miles before dark.

Approaching a farm house in the dusk, where a wheat farmer was driving a dozen horses and mules into a rock corral, they slowed the EMF. They waited until the farmer had gone inside his house, thinking it safe to quietly go by. The horses’ and mules’ heads went up,- they circled the corral once, twice, gathering speed, and over the rock wall they went.

It had been quite a day.

The trails were becoming so-called roads and travel was easier in high gear. They kept going on, stopping to repair punctures and blow-outs,-- trying to be inconspicuous when entering a new place. Closer to Wichita, travel was more plentiful. Before that, they had not seen a single car of any kind. They drove through Wichita with everyone eyeing them, something they had become accustomed to. Thirty some miles on was El Dorado, Kansas, where Dr. Boellner’s brother, John lived. Almost home.

His brother hardly recognized them, being so sun-darkened, wearing ‘bandito’ clothes, carrying rifles, and in a rattling monster breathing smoke that scared horses and town folks alike. It was the first night in weeks they had slept in a bed with a roof over their heads, or had a hot water bath, and fresh clothes. They had many a story to tell.

Three days later, they all piled into the EMF, leaving Star Street in El Dorado, Kansas, to drive through the town, his brother, John, his wife and children all sitting proudly in the EMF, pleased to be seen riding in the only car in their town. They were driving the ten miles to the Boellner homestead in Leon, only a ‘wink in the road’ north. The day was pleasantly warm, the country lush and green with the scent of sweet grasses in the air, a far cry from the desolate terrain they had just driven through.

Dr. Boellner was excited to see the corn and wheat fields, the endless stands of black walnut and pecan trees again, all flourishing, and would be happy to see his elderly mother, Mary Ann Boellner, still living at the family homestead.

His mother refused to set one foot outside the door until ‘Louis B.,’ as she called him, drove the EMF to the edge of the wheat field, away from the house and barn where her mare, ‘Biddie,’ was. No amount of coaxing would change her mind. She welcomed all of them inside, still peering out the door to be sure the EMF was nowhere in sight, all to the great disappointment of her son who had driven all the way from the New Mexico Territory to show her his car. She had never seen a car before, and did not want to see this one, much less take a ride in a ‘dangerous machine,’ as she told him. Disappointed as he was, Dr. Boellner smilingly remembered well that when his mother made up her mind against doing something, it was set.

After a day or so of strolling over the acres of farm land where he had spent so much of his boyhood, it was time to make preparations for the long trip back to Roswell. They drove back to Wichita, where four new tires and tubes had to be ordered from Detroit, Michigan, as there were no tires to be found in Wichita. Days later, the Goodrich tires arrived and they were on their way back.

As fate would have it, ten miles out of Wichita, the EMF broke a rear axle. This was the most serious of breakdowns. Dr. Boellner hailed a man in a buggy and asked him to take word to the foundry in Wichita to send a wagon back for the axle. They left the EMF sitting by the roadside, and rode back in the foundry’s wagon. Repairing the axle took two more days, and finally they were on their way again.

The way back from Wichita to Plains was more familiar now. They bought new supplies of White Rose gasoline and Binder oil,-- the roads were drier, and the new tires made traveling almost pleasant. They did have some trouble finding the faint wagon trail again into Amarillo. In Amarillo, this time, they could buy all the gasoline they needed.

Outside of Canyon, the same steep hill was there only this time they were going downhill instead of up. They were relieved when they began the last lap home from Amarillo to Roswell, this time mapping out a shorter route, and bypassing Lubbock, Texas. They had to stop along the way many times to attach homemade rope chains to the rear tires since the sand was so deep.

In all the three weeks and 1200 miles they had traveled, there had not been one foot of paved road. Nor had they seen a single car along the way.

It had been an adventure like no other, a trip to remember for a lifetime.

Author ’s note: My grandfather, Dr. Louis B. Boellner, became a renowned horticulturist, winning many honors through the years. Staff members from Life Magazine were in Roswell, New Mexico, interviewing him for a feature article in the summer of 1951. The EMF story was to be part of the feature. Sadly, late in the summer, he passed on suddenly before the article could be completed. He loved to tell me of his trip to Kansas in the EMF, and now, I’m telling it for him.