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We Have it Easy Today

Modern vehicles coddle their drivers with electronic ‘nannies,’ creature comforts that were unimaginable a few years ago and virtually trouble-free motoring. Not too many years ago an extended trip by automobile involved a great deal of preparation and the packing of emergency repair items. When is the last time a modern driver had a flat tire that had to be addressed on the roadside? Fixing a flat used to involve patching an inner-tube, after removing the punctured inflatable from the tire by the application of a pair of tire-irons and a mallet. Today a flat tire is confronted with a call to the motor club, or at worst, the removal of the offending tire and wheel and the installation of the spare tire.

Clara E. Sipprell was a world renowned photographer. In her day, Clara captured the images of some of the world’s luminaries including: Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, the great American poet Robert Frost, the royal family of Sweden, Igor Stanislavsky, Pearl Buck, Albert Schweitzer, Dag Hammerskold and many more. Aunt Clara wasn’t really my aunt, but she was part of my family for so many years that my siblings and I thought of her in that manner. She loved fast, open cars, corncob pipes and strong drink. Clara’s automobile adventures were legendary, photographic safaris they might be called today.

She would fill her touring car with equipment, cameras in the boot and tripods strapped to the sides and then set out on a trek across the USA or along the Croatian coast or on the Trans-Siberian Highway. She recorded these adventures on photographic plates, the subjects being most often the interesting people she encountered, but sometimes just the scenery. She used no artificial lighting, made only contact prints with no enlargement and did all of her own processing.

Clara often said that the trip was the important part of her travels, not the destination. She truly loved to drive. Once while traveling across the USA, she was speeding through Georgia and the local police hauled her into a rural courtroom to face the judge. She and the judge got on famously and she was let off with a warning. On the return trip she detoured back through the little country town so she could continue her conversation with “his honor.” She liked people almost as much as driving.

I imagine that Clara wouldn’t like the motoring as much today what with superhighways and the total reliability of vehicles. Part of the adventure of traveling in her day was a little bit of uncertainty.

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