Velie Conquers Grand Canyon!

The outstanding Stuhr Museum in Grand Island, Nebraska, doesn’t have a large collection of antique cars (they are dedicated to the Prairie Pioneer after all) but they do have a few tucked away in the back of the farm implement building.  Sitting among the mostly Fords and Chevrolets you will find this jewel, a 1922 Velie Model 58 Roadster:

It is well known that Velie started as a buggy company with John Deere money.  The founder, Willard Lamb Velie, was the grandson of John Deere himself.  For a time, the Velie was even marketed through John Deere dealerships.

1913 Velie advertisement

You may not be so familiar with a man named Harry Lord of Lord Motor Car Company, a Velie dealership in Los Angeles.  Lord wanted to set a new automobile record at a time when it was all the rage to do so, and he decided to use the Velie’s ruggedness and durability to achieve it.  The year was 1921, and Lord’s goal was to conquer the Grand Canyon with a Velie by driving from the rim to the Colorado River, and then back out again, with no road and no assistance.

He rounded up a crew of three employees and grabbed a new “Velie Six” off the salesroom floor.  One paper reported that it was a Model 34, and that means it would have had a 6-cylinder, 37-hp engine and a 112″ wheelbase. They loaded the stock Velie with enough camping and camera equipment so that the total weight carried was over 1600 pounds, and set off for Arizona.  Once they arrived and announced their intentions, they were warned by both Forest Rangers and native guides that certain destruction awaited anyone foolish enough to try to drive into the canyon.

Lord was said to be “wise in the matter of publicity,” however, so turning back was not an option and they began a treacherous, twisting, 19-mile descent.  They drove through deep sand and rough terrain strewn with rocks and boulders.  According to Velie advertisements, “There were long stretches where moment by moment the life of the party hung on the dependability of the steering gear and brakes-where the slighted slip would have precipitated car and occupants into ugly, jagged chasms thousands of feet below.” That may be a bit of hyperbole, but they also reported that there were many times where two wheels of the car rested on boulders and the opposite two wheels were in the air.  In spite of all the obstacles, the team made it to the Colorado River, not stopping until the front tires were wet.  Then Lord’s crew turned around and made the trip back out, all under their own power. 

The Velie at the Colorado River

I should interject here that newspaper reports probably failed to give credit where credit was due.  I wondered if it was possible to drive into the canyon today and discovered that it is possible using the Diamond Creek Road on the Hualapai Indian Reservation.  And guess what?  It is also a 19-mile trip that starts at Peach Springs, the same place that Lord used as a starting point.  Since native guides were briefly mentioned in the papers, I think it likely that one of them pointed Lord to an existing trail on the Reservation. 

It was still quite a feat for the Velie, however, and there is no doubt that it made a great story.  That 1921 automobile endured all the punishment the trip had to offer without needing repairs of any kind and without puncturing what must have been great tires, Miller geared-to-the-road cord tires.  Lord and his crew also swore they didn’t even need to add a drop of water to the radiator before climbing back out of the canyon and driving the Velie right back to L.A.

Velie and crew overlooking Yaki Point (quite a ways from where they actually drove down).

If you want to recreate the Velie’s trip into the canyon, I am told you can do so after paying a per person fee of around $26 to the Hualapai Tribe.  It is still a dirt road with water obstacles so a modern SUV is recommended over a ’21 Velie (but I guess it all depends on what kind of story you want to be able to tell).


“Down the Grand Canyon to the Floor of the Colorado.”  The Los Angeles Times, 17 April 1921, Part VI, p. 1.

D.W. Semple, “With the Autoists.” Los Angeles Herald, 11 October 1909, p. 12.

“Makes a Daring Automobile Trip.” The Washington Post, 5 June 1921, p. 23.

“To The Floor of Grand Canyon.” San Bernadino Daily Sun, 24 April 1921, Sec. 3, p. 1.

Velie. Advertisement. Gibson City Courier, 8 August 1913, p. 2.

Velie. Advertisement. The Caledonian Record, 28 May 1921.

Velie. Advertisement. The La Crosse Republican, 2 June 1921.

3 Replies to “Velie Conquers Grand Canyon!”

  1. I love stories like this. I am very interested in the Velie car/John Deere connection. I have an early John Deere tractor with what is believed to be a Velie car front axel part attachment. Could someone take some close up pictures of both left and right front axel steering setups for comparison. The front axel on your 1922 Velie looks very similar but the pictures I’ve seen are a bit grainy . Any and all help is appreciated. Thanks. Don Frei

    1. This Velie sits at Stuhr Museum in Grand Island, Nebraska. Next time we are there, we can definitely snap some more pics for you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *