Here’s a wonderful photo of my grandfather that really lends itself to studying it, and thinking about the time and place that it was taken. It’s a photo that was in my grandfather’s collection.
My grandfather was Ted (Edward Thomas) Sexton (1902-1980). Ted grew up in Bemidji, MN, one of twelve siblings. As a young man, he moved “down” to St. Paul to get a job as a printer. It was in St. Paul that he met my grandmother, Marie Wolters, whose family had a farm in West St. Paul.
Here’s the photo. Click on the photo to see a larger version.
I love studying this photo. There are so many things to notice, which can help tell the story of when and where it was taken. I also look forward to taking more time and learning even more.
To my knowledge, my grandfather never mentioned anything about this particular event. So all I have to go on is the photo itself. Ted is the boy on the far left, in the dark shirt. I don’t know anything about the other boys in the photo.
Clearly this was some sort of road rally that the boys went on, driving from St. Paul to Canada. One of the boys is clearly wearing a University of Minnesota sweater. (My grandfather did not attend the university).
I haven’t yet identified the type of car, but it seems likely to be a Model “T”, given the time period. If you look closely, you can see the number “23” on the license plate, under the letter “B”. You’ll see “MINN” down the right side of the plate, so this is clearly a car that was registered in Minnesota. And the date on the plate puts the picture at 1923, or at least within a year or two. If it was 1923, Grandpa would have been 21, which seems about right. You can also see a plate below the main one which reads “Bemidji”, where Ted was from. So perhaps these are friends of Ted’s from “back home” in Bemidji.
I’ve also thought a bit about when this photo may have been taken. If the boys participated in a road rally, we’d assume that they’d have their picture taken either at the start or at the end of the rally. It’s hard to say which one of these two this photo would have been, but I’d lean towards saying it was taken at the end. The boys and the car are located on some sort of wooden plank bridge over what looks to be a small stream. Given the rustic nature of the bridge (note the hewn log handrails), it seems more likely that it’s up North near the Canadian border, rather than down in St. Paul. Had the boys taken a picture at the start of the rally, they’d likely be in the city and we’d probably see other drivers and cars.
It’s hard to say much about the time of day. The shadow of the car appears to be directly under the car, so the photo appears to have been taken near midday. We can also think a little bit about how long the drive must have taken. The Model “T” had a top speed of about 45 mph, and the distance between St. Paul and the Canadian border is something like 300 miles. If they drove straight through, at 40 mph, it would have taken them 7.5 hrs. But given the state of the roads in the 1920s, they wouldn’t likely be near top speed much of the way. So it seems like it would have required more than a single day for the trip. If the trip started in the morning in St. Paul, it may well be that they completed the rally around midday on the next day. But it’s hard to say.
That’s a good start at thinking about the photo. I’d be eager to get more information and thoughts from other people. Some of the next things to look at are:
- Talk to older relative to see if Ted ever mentioned this trip
- Try to determine the exact make and model of the car
- Find out if vehicle registration records for MN are kept anywhere
- Look at newspapers of the time to see if they mention a road rally
- Try to date the photo by getting more info on the University of MN letter sweater shown in the photo
- Look through other photos of Ted’s to see if I can identify his friends
- Take a look at maps of that time, to guess at possible routes/distances