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Remembering Parke Snavely

The Saga of the Journey of the Model A from Valyermo to Menlo Park, CA

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Parke stands in front of the USGS Model A Ford
Parke stands in front of the USGS Model A Ford in Valyermo, CA, before driving it to the USGS Pacific Coast office in Menlo Park. Our best guess at publication time is that the trip took place in spring 1966.

Driving a Government Model A Ford from Valyermo to Menlo Park, CA, was one of Parke's favorite services to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Here is some background information about the car: In 1930, the USGS purchased a Model A Ford coupe for $557. Geologist Foster Hewett used it in Death Valley, CA, from 1930 to 1956; then, geologist Levi Noble used it for mapping the Mojave Desert from 1956 to 1965. After Noble's death, the Model A was stored for a time in Valyermo, CA. Parke Snavely, Chief of the Pacific Coast Branch of Regional Geology, Geologic Division, later drove it from Valyermo to the USGS' Pacific Coast office in Menlo Park, CA. In 1974, the car was shipped to the newly opened USGS headquarters in Reston, VA. Here it was displayed, first in the lobby, then outside on the front portico under a building overhang, where it remains today.

Parke describes the journey below. Our best guess at publication time is that it took place in spring 1966.

When Parke went to pick up the Model A at Levi Noble's Valyermo ranch astride the San Andreas Fault on the south side of the Mojave Desert, he found the car stored in a barn. It was missing its wheels, which were stored in the ranch house for safekeeping. Mrs. Noble was reluctant to release the car because she said that Chief Geologist Bill Bradley had said that Levi could keep the car when he left the USGS. She finally was convinced, after reading a letter from Bradley, that the car would end up in a proper setting at the USGS' national headquarters in Reston, VA.

After he retired, Levi used the Model A to map on the ranch when he could not get a driver's license to drive on a public road. On several occasions, he asked Parke to obtain a USGS license for him—Parke had to decline. (As an aside, Levi's personal cars were two Jaguars—one at the ranch and one at the family home in the east.) [For more information about Levi Noble, see Levi Noble: Geologist - USGS Open-File Report 02-422]

Holly Wagner
Holly Wagner, shown here at a get-together of USGS marine scientists in 2002, helped Parke drive the Model A to Menlo Park.

Holly Wagner had accompanied Parke to Valyermo, and after they mounted the tires, put in 5 gallons of gas, and rolled it down an incline to get it started, it ran like a top. The tires looked almost white because of small cactus needles embedded in them. As it turned out, the cactus needles were holding the tires together—one blew up just south of Menlo Park.

The first stop of the trip was at a Shell station in Valyermo for gas and a lube. Never did a car get more TLC than that Model A—including blackening the tires and polishing the body. On the way to Bakersfield, Holly followed in the Jeep Wagoneer to make sure that the Model A had no mishaps. En route, several Federal cars came alongside, and, noting the U.S. Government insignia, the drivers said that it was ridiculous to be using a vehicle that old. They were assured that the old Model A was just beginning to earn its keep.

The second stop of the trip was in Bakersfield, where the International Model A Club was having a meeting. The parking lot of the motel where Parke and Holly spent the night was full of Models A. One of the local judges agreed to rate the USGS vehicle—it rated an 86, on the basis of deductions for parts that were not original. The running board dated the car at late 1930 vintage.

A decision was made to take the back route northward to avoid the main California Highway 99. The car's performance on steep hills was impressive—no downshifting! It perked right along. The trip along the coast range was great fun. However, by the time the Bayshore Highway [U.S. Interstate Highway 101] was reached, it started to rain. The car was equipped with hand-activated windshield wipers—no fun. Near San Jose, with the rain coming down, one tire developed a big balloon and exploded. Fortunately, the spare tire had air, and the Model A arrived in Menlo Park late in the evening intact, just in time to be exhibited with new USGS utility vehicles at a taxpayer "Show and Tell." The Model A was undoubtedly "Best in Class."

Related Sound Waves Stories
Parke D. Snavely, Jr., Emeritus Geologist and Influential Leader of USGS Marine Studies, Passes Away
Dec. 2003 / Jan. 2004
Tribute to Parke by Terry Bruns
Dec. 2003 / Jan. 2004
Tribute to Parke by David Scholl
Dec. 2003 / Jan. 2004

Related Web Sites
Model A Ford Virtual Exhibit
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Levi Noble: Geologist - USGS Open-File Report 02-422
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

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in this issue: Fieldwork Seamount Environments off California

Sediment Transport off South Carolina

Sea Floor off Massachusetts

Research cover story:
Snowy Plover Population Recovery

Ecological Repercussions of Mosquito Control

Outreach St. Petersburg Open House

Pink Sunsets Caused by African Dust

GIS Day: University of South Florida

GIS Day: Woods Hole

Students Visit Woods Hole Scientists

Great American Teach-In: Tampa Bay

Meetings Sustainable Beaches Summit

Mid-Atlantic Offshore Sand Resources

Awards Regional Science Excellence Award

AAPG Award for Presentation Excellence

Staff & Center News Birthday Surprise

Parke Snavely Passes Away

Parke Snavely: The Journey of the Model A

Parke Snavely: Tribute by Terry Bruns

Parke Snavely: Tribute by David Scholl

Publications New Map of Hawai'i Sea Floor

USGS Coral Photograph on GSA Bulletin Cover

Dec. / Jan. Publications List

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