From October to December 1918, I served Aimee Semple McPherson as her personal stenographer, and accompanied her and her family on her famous Transcontinental Gospel Car Tour.
Very few women would have dared travel like this, but “Sister,” as we called her, was unlike any other woman. Her reputation preceded her, and as we crossed the mighty Mississippi River, residents in Hannibal, Mo., seemed eager to receive the tracts and Bridal Call magazines we offered.
It was November, and we encountered more than our share of severe storms, with washed out roads and dangerous driving conditions. Even when the roads were passable, our itinerary was subject to change by other conditions that were completely out of our control.
Such an occasion delayed our scheduled meetings in Oklahoma. The influenza breakout had spread to the Midwest, and all public meetings in cities and townships were canceled to avoid the spread of the sickness. When officials determined that it was safe to gather in large groups again, we made our way to Tulsa, where Sister was well known and her visit highly anticipated. Though we had been cleared to proceed, getting there was not easy.
Well-meaning residents of Oologah, Okla., warned us that the main road to Tulsa was impassible due to flooding. However, their alternate route proved worse, and at one point we could not see the road for the mud and flowing deluge. We discussed the method we might employ to swim the car through to the other side. Fortunately, no such measures were necessary, and we eventually made dry land again.
Oil fields and cotton patches became a common sight; being of East Coast origin, I had never witnessed such scenery. When we arrived in Stroud, Okla., at 4:20 p.m. on Dec. 2, saints lined the street, welcoming us. They had heard Sister would conduct meetings and came from all around the region to greet us. These people in the Oklahoma meetings were so hungry to know the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
God performed another miracle for our traveling party while in Tulsa. Sister’s mother nearly succumbed to a serious illness. Her fervent prayer was to be delivered so that we could minister on multiple Indian reservations ahead of us on our itinerary. God answered her prayer in a mighty way.
We had traveled 3,820 miles when we arrived in Conway, Texas, where we bought candy and handed out magazines and tracts. A mother and daughter we met there wished we could stay and hold meetings, but Sister explained that winter was setting in, making our progress unpredictable. We must press on.
A few days later, on Dec. 8, we found ourselves 10 miles east of Santa Rosa, N.M., and once again got stuck in the mud. The hour was late, and we had little ability to free the vehicle, so we decided to spend the night inside the car. If ever there was a time when we were tired and dirty and needed help, it was now.
Two young people appeared at the car and greeted us like old friends. They took us to their home to be rested, fed and refreshed, and insisted we stay overnight. It was a single room mud hut, and everyone slept on the floor: men, women, children and babies.
Sister told me the Lord had allowed it for some good, and the next morning, I discovered just how much so. Our hosts worked to get the car out of the mud, and with gratitude in our hearts, we thanked them and made our way about noon into Santa Rosa proper.
Onward, we climbed mountains unlike anything I had known. We encountered snow at 6,000 feet at Encino, N.M., and residents claimed it was the worst of the season. Still, we drove.
Sister said we were like a babe in its father’s arms on this trip, helpless in ourselves and dependent on Him in every way. He must have wanted us to make this journey because at every turn, He supplied our need. Ever more so where everything was so barren that even a fence or rabbit or cow looked neighborly to us.
On Dec. 12 near Socorro, N.M., the Lord gave us an opportunity to bless a motorist who was stranded beside the way. Snow once again had forced us to detour, but before we did, we offered a ride to the driver. We carried him as far as Magdalena before we made our way through the high mountains and unusual cliffs headed for the southern route in hopes of avoiding additional foul weather in the north.
A local sheriff in Phoenix was concerned about a single car traveling for two days across the expansive desert. He encouraged us to tarry in his fine city until a group of travelers could make the trek together. In fact, one fine gentleman drove our car, giving Sister a well-deserved rest at the wheel.
We ferried the car across the Colorado River, crossing from Arizona into California, just a few days from our final destination. When we arrived in the nice town of Needles, Calif., to stay the night, we discovered our journey so far had encompassed 5,267 miles.
Such was the case in extended measure after we arrived in Los Angeles at 2 p.m. on Dec. 21. We were impressed by the dramatic mountain peaks and refreshing ocean beaches. Fragrance in the air each morning reminded me I was now living in the land of orange trees, roses and palms.
The duration of our coast-to-coast tour was three days shy of two months. In total, we drove some 6,000 miles and shared the gospel message with thousands, sometimes with a printed tract and at other times in fine tabernacles. Sister McPherson prayed for the sick and saw people filled with the Holy Spirit.
Never did I think God would use me, a young woman from Worcester, Mass., to be a handmaiden for the National Pentecostal Evangelist, typing by firelight to help share the truth of God’s Word.
This is Part 2 of a two-part feature.