Even before Howard bought his own car in 1932, he and his parents traveled widely around Texas, to visit friends and relatives, and for his mother’s health, which was in serious decline.
After he bought his car, his friends Lindsey Tyson and Truett Vinson joined him on excursions further afield, from Fort Worth to the Rio Grande Valley, and from the East Texas oil fields to New Mexico. His letters to Lovecraft describe much of the geography and history of these places. These are interesting travelogues, and a window into Howard’s life.
The first car
Robert E. Howard bought his first car in 1932. It was a used 1931 Chevrolet.
From a letter that Lindsey Tyson wrote to L. Sprague de Camp dated February 18, 1977, we learn:
Bob, Dr Howard and I went to Arlington Texas in about 1932 and Bob bought a used 1931 model Chevrolet. I drove the car home for him and then taught him to drive; after he learned to drive, he had a lot of fun driving on short trips around the country. I can not understand why Dr. Howard had never taught him anything about driving a car. (And by the way, Bob gave $350.00 for this car, about a year old.)
The car was described as dark green, with a glove compartment, rather than a door pocket. This is where he carried his gun. The ’31 Chevy was purchased second-hand after Lovecraft’s visit to New Orleans during the spring of 1932. Tyson has further provided that it was a Chevrolet Coach; a two-door.
On the misty night of December 29, 1933, when Robert and three friends; Lyndsey Tyson, Dave Lee, and Bill Calhoun were returning home from Brownwood they hit a steel flagpole located in the middle of the street. It was painted gray and did not have a light on it, making it nearly invisible. Lyndsey explained that they had been to Brownwood to see the Golden glove tournament. Lyndsey does not put the blame on Robert but said that it was not because of Bob’s driving, none of them saw the thing before they hit it. They were traveling slowly and none of them were seriously injured. The accident happened in Rising Star, at the intersection of what was then Texas Highway 206 (now Texas 36) and US Highway 283/Texas 23 (now US 183).
In a letter to H.P. Lovecraft Howard describes the accident in detail and more action-filled. One companion was thrown through the windshield, another suffered an injured leg. Howard himself was “driven against the wheel with such terrific force that I crumpled it with my breastbone,” and was gashed across his jaw by a shard of glass, laying bare the bone. “All parties made rapid and uneventful recoveries,” Howard wrote in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft in January 1934:
“The town where the accident occurred helped me pay for having my car repaired, and the flagpole has been removed – though one of their own citizens had to wreck himself on it before that was done. He was hurt more than I was.”
The second car
No records of exactly when Howard upgraded to a new car, but Robert made good money and was able to pay cash for his car. Probably the nicest car in town. Novalyne Price does not mention a new car in her book and she was often with him on rides.
Cross plains had no less than three car dealers in the ’34-’36 period and it is likely that Howard bought the car at the Chevy dealership in Cross Plains.
This was also the car where Robert killed himself. From an interview by Charlotte Laughlin with “Mr. Cross” (presumably James Cross, who managed the Magnolia service station in Cross Plains we get some more information. After the suicide, Mr. Cross was responsible for cleaning the car. He said that the bullet “hit at the edge of the top of the door and glanced off through the glass”. After the cleaning Doctor Howard continued driving the car. Mr. Cross told that the car was a ’35 standard, 4-door Chevy, black. Mr. Cross further said that Howard was a good customer and that he washed and lubricated his car. It was at the Magnolia service station that he got gas and Cross said that Howard “had a courtesy card and didn’t charge”.
From the Cross Plains Review issue for Friday, February 21, 1936, is an article stating that the first driver’s licenses are issued and the first 1936 auto-tag was issued to Nat Williams, superintendent of the local school system. It is then very possible that Robert E. Howard never had either a driver’s license or tag (number plate).
Doctor I. M. Howard's car
Howard’s father also had a car. Chevrolet, 4 doors. They had a pretty good size garage, a place to store things. After Howard’s death, his father kept his own car. He had his bags for going on calls and helping people out. When he died the car was, according to E. Hoffmann Price, left to his nephew, Wallace Howard, who lived near Waco in Mart, Texas.
Howard and his friend Novalyne Price were driving around the country in his car. The pair had several long car rides where they talked during their roughly two-year period when they dated.
Sources, credits and more information:
I am not a scholar and have tried to avoid information I don’t trust or can’t back up. Much of this information is available online. Rob Roehm (Howard History) has done extensive research and I owe much of the information above to his investigations.
- “Robert E. Howard’s Automobiles” – July 10, 2009 by Rob Roehm, amalgamation of information from zines and blog posts. Howard History.
- Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian by Brewster Hudspeth.
- Howard Biography by Rusty Burke.
- Letter to H.P. Lovecraft (page 159 of The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard Volume Three: 1933-1936) circa January 1934
- Letter to H.P. Lovecraft (page 193 of The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard Volume Three: 1933-1936) circa January 1934
- Teaser image and comic strip by Jim & Ruth Keegan from their Two-Gun Bob comic strips.