(Martin O'Neill/for The Washington post)

Like postcards belatedly delivered, vintage travel books show how a simple diary can endure as a first draft of the American story, reaffirming the value of a quick, postage-stamped note from the road.

“Bakersfield is one of the most western of California towns. Something in the swing of its citizens as they walk along, something in the wide sombreros and high boots, which the visiting cowboys wear, imparts a general breeziness and Western atmosphere.

— Effie Price Gladding

“I shall never look at a steel structure again without giving more credit to the men who spend their waking hours in those [Pittsburgh] hells of heat and smoke.”

— Beatrice Larned Massey

“In San Francisco, I saw for the first time that great California institution, the cafeteria. . . .You enter at one side of the room, taking up napkin, tray, knife, fork, and spoons. . . . Next comes a counter steaming with trays of hot food, and a second counter follows with rows of salads and fruits on ice. It is a great game, this of choosing one’s food.”

— Gladding

In an auto-repair garage, “I found excitement in the workings of a very gorgeous and complicated cash register. It had all sorts of knobs and buttons in every variety of color, and was altogether fascinating! I wonder if anyone ever has opened a store for the mere joy of playing on the cash register. I wanted to set up a shop at once!”

— Emily Post

“No pen can adequately describe [the Badlands]; no brush could do justice to its weird beauty. It looks like what I imagine the bottom of hell must look like.”

— Massey

“The finest thing in San Fernando Valley is the new boulevard, which sweeps through the valley to Los Angeles and is known as the $500,000 boulevard. It’s largely due to the generalship of [H.J. Whitly, known as the Father of Hollywood], who is a Napoleon of real estate.”

— Gladding

“The [Santa Fe, N.M.] sun bakes just as it does in Spain or Northern Africa, and the people all look as silent and dreamy as the town.”

— Post

“Chicagoans love their city . . . as though it were their actual flesh and blood. There is something big, wholesome, and vitalizing out here.”

— Post

“Passing through a hamlet called Smithfield [Mich.], we were attracted by two dainty girls with baskets of goodies. Their mother owned the neighboring farm, and these children were . . . supplying lunches to passersby. [We bought] a quart of fresh blueberries, fresh cake, pie, honey, hard-boiled eggs, tongue sandwiches, hot bread and rolls, a pat of sweet butter, and oh, such homemade pickles, raspberry jam (a pint glass), and a bottle of ice-cold spring water . . . all for $2.10.”

— Massey

“In Virginia, one is everywhere impressed by the richness and luxuriance of the foliage. All along the roadside banks are clumps of hazel bushes, heavy with clusters of nuts in their furry green coats. The chestnut trees are full of fruit. All this is very beautiful, and one’s joy would be undimmed were it not for the traces of the great conflict [Civil War] of 50 years ago.”

— Gladding

“As we approached Carroll [Iowa], we came to a hilltop from which we looked down on a valley of tasseled corn fields. It was exactly like looking down on an immense, shining green rug, with yellow tufts thrown up over its green surface.”

— Gladding

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