Well, the driver hand-fired her up to 1000 pounds of steam, and we hung on as we hit the crossing at 30 miles per hour with a half-block run at it. The entire hood went out of sight under water, the fires were put out and we were all drenched. It was necessary for Opie and Wood to jump off and push the car up the steep sandy bank. But right then and there, the safe arrival of the first automobile to negotiate the Santa Ana and reach Clark’s Ranch was history. It took the boys a little time to refill the gasoline and water tanks and the little pint steam lubricator on the dash for we were hastily preparing for the supreme struggle up that infamous Clark Grade to Big Bear Valley.
The road was different, just a winding, narrow, hot rocky trail clinging to the mountainside by its eye whiskers. There were sharp elbow turns; so sharp in fact that the little car with the wheel base of a wheelbarrow almost had to affect several movements to get around them. Many required unloading the car, and even the driver had to get out and help push, guiding it as he did, as we three young pioneers worried, cussed and struggled on our way slowly up that hot dry grade, under a blazing sun, toward the summit.
Halfway up the top, we ran out of water for the steamer. Opie had faint recollections of a spring somewhere near where we were stranded and eventually found it to bring back five gallons of water, while I rested under the only shade within sight, that of a manzanita bush. Into the hungry water tank went the precious, though rancid-looking fluid, hand pumping a charge of it into the dry generator coils. The fire was turned on, the steam gauge rose to 600 pounds and we were on our way to successfully conquer the impassable Rim of the World.
We soon topped the summit and relished the shade of the huge pines, the shady down grade bordered with ferns and flowers –and best of all, the welcome breeze. We had conquered Clarke’s Grade and our motor car was the first to run its little rubber tires over the pine needles and dusty trail to this wonderful playground.
We drifted in front of the only conspicuous building in Big Bear, a large log cabin that housed the post office and a general store. It was about 2 p.m. and since 8 we had traversed about 45 miles. After answering questions galore about our trip, we took on gas from our slim supply of 10 gallon cases, ate some sandwiches and deer jerky on sale at the store and set out to tackle the Rim of the World return route to San Bernardino, 55 miles. We could have rested on our laurels, but we preferred to carry on to the limit. We were warned at Big Bear just as we had been warned by Clark and others: “You can’t possibly make it. You will be stranded out there in the mountains and it will just be too bad.” He meant it too. There were no tow cars, no oil stations, no phones or radios, just risks and perils.
But we took off across the meadows behind the receding waters of the lake. There was no road nor trail, just a herd of about 1000 cattle feeding on the meadow grass. Now these T-Bone steaks on the hoof had never seen a motor car either. If a White Steamer had not the inherent habit of howling like a half-starved wolf in Alaska, the cattle would have minded their own business. However, they took exception to the howling noise set up in burners and did not seem to relish the smell of gasoline, nor the speed of the jumping thing hurtling across their pasture. Consequently the head man laid down his horns on the grass and took off after us like General Grant must have when he took Richmond. The truth is, we got a kick out of scaring the cattle, and even blew the old rubber bulb horn at them and yelled at them; we invited trouble.
And did we get it. The large bull took after us. Bouncing over grass and dried hoof-holes left in the mud by the receding lake, it was fun for a moment, but as the bovine got closer and closer to our rear-mounted gasoline tank with 50 pounds of air pressure in it, it soon ceased to be a joke but a race for cover. I opened the steam throttle and gave it all it had and as we bumped along we expected to break a spring any moment. Opie and Wood yelled and threatened the bull, but that only just made him open his throttle the more. But we finally outdistanced him.