Oregon Trails: Car Stunts

By Ron Brown

ASHLAND, Ore. — For almost as long as there have been automobiles, there have been automobile advertisements and nobody seems to do more of it than local dealers, who often go out of their way to get your attention.

When the Hudson Motor Car Company, makers of the Essex, told dealers to stage demonstration car promotions in 1929, Armstrong Motors of Medford went to new heights, you might say. On June 25th, with photographers and witnesses tagging along, and Armstrong Vice President Hugo Lange at the wheel, a stock Essex challenger, right off the showroom floor became the first car to drive to the top of Lower Table Rock! There wasn’t much more than a trail through the poison oak and Manzanita then.

“It was a steep grade. 30-some percent in some places, I believe. And it was a tough haul-up. It took them a total running time of 35 minutes. But it took longer in actuality. I think they had to dig themselves out in spots,” says Former SOHS Historian Bill Alley.

Once on top, Lange drove the Essex to the rim of the Basalt Cliff. There were, of course, pictures taken, and Horace Bromley, and the COPCO cameraman took 16-millimeter movies. Unfortunately, that video has been lost in the decades since. It’s hard to tell how many cars the stunt sold, but it was hyped as, “The Greatest Test of Motor Stamina Ever Accomplished In Southern Oregon!”

It was 20 years later that a Grants Pass man attempted what was clearly a tougher test of man and machine. Don Haynes, a 39-year old former sailor and truck driver, had himself welded into a new Kaiser automobile for what was billed as a 14-month long drive to each of the then-48 states, without getting out of the car!

“Supposedly some rancher made him a bet, in a bar, which he couldn’t stay in a car for a year. And he was ‘under employed’, and he said, ‘sure!’ But I think the truth lies more in that he cut a deal with the Kaiser car company as a promotional stunt,” explains Ashland Historian George Kramer.

So, while working at a Grants Pass gas station, Haynes and some friends removed the seats and installed a portable toilet and other amenities. He apparently chose the Kaiser for its comfort and durability. Haynes had just a bucket seat, but it was roomy. And with his family in Ashland, his big sendoff from the Plaza was highly touted in the Ashland Tidings on Saturday, February 19th, 1949. The paper announced that Life Magazine and Fox Movietone News was there. Some 2,500 people were also there to wish him well. As he drove away, the paper noted that Haynes waved through the chrome bars across the windows and yelled to the crowd, “I’ll put Ashland on the map. Don’t worry.”

“I can’t imagine he truly was locked in a car for, y’know, 10 months! But he’s got bars on the window, you know. And, and all of that, but it was an odd kind of gee-whiz story to begin with,” says Kramer.

Newspapers in the Rogue Valley and around the country followed the story for weeks. The Tidings called Haynes’ trip as the “Craziest Stunt of The Year”, and referred to him as “Ashland’s Most Popular Screwball”, “Ashland’s Honored Screwball”, and “Ashland’s Emissary of Goodwill and Strange Actions.”

But after a few months on the road, doing appearances at Kaiser dealerships, and meeting governors and other dignitaries, he learned his wife was in labor with their second child. So Haynes raced back to Ashland, to the Old Winburn Hospital.

“One of the odder elements of this story, a local lumber company brought it’s fork lift over and they picked the car up to the second floor window of the hospital so that this wife could show him his son! Ha, ha!” said Kramer.

When he went home for a rest, he stayed in the car, sleeping in the garage! Apparently Haynes did not quite finish the trip. But some stories say when radio and TV personality Art Linkletter got wind of the stunt, he convinced Haynes to ask for pajamas from each governor of each state he visited. Haynes later attempted a similar stunt for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, but little was heard from him after that.

We don’t seem to know much of what eventually happened to Don Haynes, the publicity stuck with him for some time, and he kept popping up over the years, performing similar stunts. We don’t know if he really ever made it to every state in the country.

“He’s just sort of this interesting guy that kind of has this connection to Southern Oregon, and kind of keeps re-appearing. It’s very strange,” remarks Kramer.

Kaiser Motors made cars automobiles from 1945 to 1953. In 1953 Kaiser merged with Willy’s Overland to eventually become Jeep Corporation in 1963. The “Kaiser” was made in four models; the company also made the “Henry-J”, and similar model, the “Allstate”, which was sold by Sears. They also made “Willys”, “Jeep”, and the “Darrin”, the first production fiberglass sports cars in the U.S.