The first car into Big Bear Valley and on over the 101-Mile Rim of the World route was a twenty-horse-power White Steamer driven by John A. Heyser of Los Angeles. He was accompanied by Opie Warner, editor of the San Bernardino Free Press of tat era, and George Wood, owner of one of the three garages in Riverside at the time. The actual time for the trip was thirteen hours and seven minutes, but the running time was eight hours and seventeen minutes.
Mr.Heyser’s own account of the spectacular trip is as follows:
Your writer at the time had pioneered many out of the way towns and resorts in the southwest, dating from 1903 on. But the purpose of this story is to tell you of the first trip to Bear Valley by auto, which negotiated the old horse trail over the Rim of the World and return to San Bernardino by way of Waterman Canyon trail. It had never been done before, and it was held an unquestionable fact that it was impossible for any automobile to negotiate the steep, sandy, rocky and stump-strewn trails for the distance of 100 miles. Wagers were placed 10 to 1 that it would be a failure…everywhere interest was intense…everyone who had made the trip into the mountains behind a couple of hay burners over hot, dusty, sandy, rocky, steep grades was anxious to know the outcome. Automobiles were still a thing of the future, gasoline stations were unknown; on the desert water sold for 10 cents a small pail; gas and oil came in cans only; tires were terrible, a 2000 mile guarantee was something to write home about. There were no self-starters, no storage batteries; magnetos and common dry cells predominated. All wheels were made of wood, just like wagons. Tires were not demountable from the rims. There was no free air; the hand pump was the source of inflation everywhere.
We had stripped the White Steamer runabout of fenders and anything else not required for the tough assignment. We carried on the running boards two ten-gallon cases of Red Crown gas, two five-gallons of water, our Prestolite tank for headlights, and our emergency food supply. Our drinking water was in one canteen…What was ahead we could only hope to find out. The valley folk all said we were loco and screwy.
At 8 o’clock of this memorable morning, the whole town was out on G Street to see the take-off. It is here repeated that there weren’t a half dozen motor cars in the entire valley at the time. Many well-to-do ranchers desired them, but had no faith in their performance. If this one were to successfully navigate the horse and buggy trails over that 100 miles of mountain country and return alive to prove it, there would be a line forming to buy automobiles.
To cheers and noisy farewells, we three started, following Highland Avenue to East Highlands, thence up from Mentone through the “terrible” Santa Ana Canyon to Clarke’s Ranch and the nightmarish Clarke’s Grade into Big Bear. We faced three obstacles: the Santa Ana River, the old Clarke’s Grade, and the unknown trail from Big Bear to Little Bear (now Lake Arrowhead) and the steep descent down Waterman Canyon.
On the first leg, large boulders struck front and rear axels, crank cases, and tore at running boards and under gear. We forded water three to six feet deep; quicksand, cactus, and jagged ends of fallen logs didn’t make the trip a Sunday Picnic. The wagon trail was faint, oft-time indistinguishable and a wrong guess as to direction precluded any turning around to try another route. It was often necessary to back up a mile or two over boulder and deep-swirling fords. Planks were unlashed from the running boards to build causeways over boulders that could not be dislodged. Shovels helped build run ways over lots of them. After ten miles of this, we came to the last ford across the deep and swift river, and we could see the only habitation between us and the goal at the top of the mountain grade. This was the Clark’s Ranch, a little mountain fruit and stock ranch.
The Clark’s had seen our approach and came to the bank of the river to hail us and exchange greetings.
We asked for advice crossing the stream, and the only advice the Clark’s had to offer was to get the hell out of there.
Asked why, Clark retorted that we must be three lunatics; otherwise we would never have gotten that far up the canyon in one of those “devil wagons.” He added that the water was five feet deep there and they wouldn’t even think of taking a team of horses across. To attempt it by automobile was accepted suicide.