By Myra Lee Adams Goff
On May 8, 1914, the New Braunfels Herald’s front page story announced that “a model federal highway was to be built from Austin to San Antonio”. This Federal Post Road was a forerunner to IH 35. The same year that the road was completed in 1916, a young man from Ohio named Joe Sanders arrived in New Braunfels. He would have a huge impact not on the highways but on the backroads of Comal County.
State legislator S.V. Pfeuffer considered this new highway the most important project ever started anywhere in Texas. He believed it would inaugurate an era of road building that would never stop. The old Post Road from Austin to San Antonio had deteriorated badly over the years with some sections having no topping and some sections muddy.. Crossing over the Cibolo Creek was often flooded.
Joe Sanders’ story has to do with roads, automobiles, and tourism. Because of a bout with typhoid fever, a doctor suggested that he move south. Choosing New Braunfels, he brought with him a natural knowledge of the newly invented automobile. He took a job locally with Hippolyt Dittlinger, a local successful businessman.
Around the turn of the century the automobile had made its debut in New Braunfels.The first automobile dealership in town was Walter Gerlich Auto Co. opened in 1912. Gerlich sold Buicks and Model T Fords. By 1916 other auto dealers in town were: Hamilton Zipp selling Hudson and Dodge; Zoeller, Voigt & Bornemann, dealers selling Oakland High Speed Motor Cars; Baetge Auto Cycle Co. selling Willys-Knight autos; D. Stahl & Son selling Studebakers; Gruene Bros. Auto Agency at Goodwin selling Velie and Maxwell cars; C.H. Bruemmer Auto Shop selling Crow & Elkhart and Velie. Source: (Sesquecentennial Minutes, Nuhn and Skoog)
The touring car was the most popular car. It was an open car and the public had the idea that this car was safer. As a touring car, more could be seen on a tour from an open car. Of course, dust was a big problem because early roads were dirt. Traditionally drivers wore long coats and goggles to protect from the dust. They had to scramble to put up the top when it rained. The gas tank was under the front seat and had to be removed to fill the tank. Car lights operated with gas or carbide generators and sometimes kerosene oil lamps. The car had to be cranked to get it started. Flat tires were a big problem.
Now with the highways everyone had access to transportation. The Red Ball bus lines from San Antonio to Austin were nothing more than touring cars that could carry six passengers.
By the 1920s tourist courts popped up along the highways and served as rest stops .By 1927 Texas had 18,728 miles of highways with only 9,271 hard-surfaced. Source (Jasinski)
Back to Joe Sanders. When he arrived in NB in 1916, the circumstances were ripe for his abilities and interests. He loved the highways and roads, the mechanics of the new automobiles,the touring cars, the backroads and the Dittlinger family.
Hippolyt Dittlinger , a very successful businessman, hired Joe to work on all of his cars and be his chauffer. Dittlinger owned three Franklin cars, air-cooled with a wooden frame, the “Cadillac” of the time. Most cars in NB were Model T’s, much more affordable than the Franklin.
Sanders became acquainted with all the roads in Comal County by “touring” the back roads. He often came across motorists who were lost. He decided he would make road signs from wood painted white and lettered with black stencils.The Texas Highway Dept. posted state and federal route signs by 1929 but there were no signs for the backroads.
This was quite an undertaking on Joe’s part and when he was elected commander of the local American Legion, their members helped to install the signs. As if Joe wasn’t busy enough, he designed an illustrated map of these roads showing tourist destinations .This 1933 map listed every road and village and gave mileage between various points. 5,000 copies were made to give away. Other maps followed and he issued a series of editions until his last map in 1960.
With time, more and more roads were constructed in the County and a beautification program during the 1936 Texas Centennial (spearheaded by Mrs. H. Dittlinger) helped the local tourist industry and helped to establish historical markers.
Laurie Jasinski wrote the book “Hill Country Backroads” honoring the accomplishments of her grandfather, Joe Sanders. Her book which includes three maps can be purchased at Sophie’s Shop at the Sophienburg. Jasinski’s book contains much more information than I could ever put in this column. It’s a good read.