Rugged roads mark early auto trips

By Don McAlavy: Local Columnist

Shortly after coming to Clovis in 1908, according to a story told many times, Charley Dennis secured some iron stakes from the Santa Fe Railroad, and with Jack Pritchett as his automobile driver, logged the first road from Texico to Albuquerque. Charley didn’t give any details about that trip to Albuquerque and back.

In 1913 or early 1914, there was to be a highway between Amarillo and Albuquerque by way of Clovis. Charley Dennis’ son, Fred E. Dennis, went along with I. C. Johnson and “Vic” Johnson, chosen by the Chamber of Commerce to mark the route (route selected by New Mexico) with signs directing the way. The overland journey was to be made in I.C. Johnson’s Jackson automobile. The purpose of the trip was not only to place signs but to prove it was possible for an auto to make this trip.

The car was loaded with signs, spare tires, tools, gasoline, mud chains, blankets, food and clothing. Handicapped by having no maps and a lack of understanding of Spanish, the three men were lost one-third of the time. It was the second automobile to make the run from Clovis to Albuquerque.

With top speed of 30 mph, the trip, over dirt roads and cow paths, began at 4 p.m. Monday, arriving at Albuquerque at 3 p.m. Thursday – a flat four days.

Earlier, having only horse-drawn buckboards, or buggies, the merchants of Clovis wanting to go to the Portales courthouse on business (Clovis was still in Roosevelt County) had to struggle through those sandhills and back. A good road was what they needed.

What Charley did tell us about was possibly the greatest auto trip in eastern New Mexico. Charley said Gov. William C. McDonald, New Mexico’s first governor in 1912, was in Clovis and had an appointment in Portales. Charley said he would take the governor to Portales. He didn’t tell him they would go by way of Melrose.

In those days in an auto it was necessary to reach Portales by a circuitous route through Melrose, and from there head southeast to Portales. It rather startled the governor. This trip was made, and following the Portales appointment, the governor suddenly found he had only a short time in which to return to Clovis by way of Melrose.

Charley, discovering there was no train leaving from Portales to Clovis at that hour, said to his driver: “Take to the railroad tracks and drive over the ties!” This was done, bringing the governor safely, although rather shook up, to Clovis. By this time the governor was convinced a highway was needed to negotiate the sandhills between Clovis and Portales.

The date was around 1913-14. You might say Charley and Gov. McDonald made the first direct auto road to Portales.