Rear-view Mirror

Wendy Monk picks out some interesting historic items from FMM’s photo archives, some with a story, others without. This month we look at the recollections of a Dodge(y) tea salesman in the mid-1920s…

Back in December 1925, a gentleman by the name of Fred McCullough was employed by Johannesburg-based agents Montague Simpson to promote the sale of Mazawattee Tea – ‘the most luscious tea in the world’. He was instructed to drive with a fellow salesman on an advertising campaign in the Eastern Orange Free State, North-Eastern Cape and Border regions, and the vehicle assigned to him was a 1924 Dodge Brothers Model 116 Screenside Delivery Vehicle, similar to the Special Series Tourer owned and used by his family for a number of years.

Amongst all the advertising paraphernalia loaded into the vehicle were some 15×4-inch (380×100 mm) tin plates worded “Please close the gate and use Mazawattee Tea”, and as many roads of the time passed through farmlands, one was boldly affixed to every gate that they passed through… After three weeks of criss-crossing all the roads in the EOFS as far across to the Lesotho (then Basutoland) border, the pair motored across to Bloemfontein to replenish their stocks that had been railed down from Jo’burg, and to stay over for Christmas.

From Bloem they travelled to Aliwal North, arriving on December 31, where a friend of Fred, who worked at the local Dodge agent, invited them to a New Year’s Eve party. However, a letter from their employers collected from the Post Office instructed them to proceed to East London immediately, but they did not want to miss the party. Thankfully, the Dodge was already loaded so they opted to leave the next morning. Then trouble struck. There were a dozen or so railway crossings between Sterkstroom and Queenstown and on one of them the vehicle’s right-rear spring broke. The local Dodge agent kindly opened up his workshop and fitted a new spring in time to allow the salesmen to reach EL that evening.

A carnival was to be held in the city during the following week, so the pair set about decorating the vehicle to take part, using the Mazawattee trademark of a young girl taking tea with her grandmother as the theme. After the carnival, Roy and his colleague then covered the Border area, picking up a puncture between Grahamstown and King William’s Town. Returning to EL to replenish stocks again, they then retraced their journey, passing thorough Cathcart and Queenstown to Elliott, over the Barkly Pass to New England and Lady Grey, all of which was interspersed with some really rough secondary ‘roads’ that necessitated the use of chains to pull the Dodge through.

The journey home passed through Molteno and onwards to Bloemfontein and then Kroonstad. The trip lasted three months during which the Dodge covered over 5 000 kilometres with only the broken spring and two punctures along the way. Fred carried out a couple of oil changes and once a fortnight did grease nipple servicing and checked parts that needed routine adjustment. Overall, the Dodge performed exceptionally well and Fred’s story gives a fascinating insight into the life of a travelling salesman almost 95 years ago.

Rodney Norton’s photos show Fred with the 1924 Dodge Brothers Model 16 Screenside Delivery, the vehicle on display at the East London Carnival in January 1926, and the McCullough family with their Dodge Brothers Special Series Tourer.