In Free Air it's 1919 and Miss Claire Boltwood of Brooklyn and her father are on a road trip. They are driving west from Minneapolis to Seattle.
Think about it. Most of the roads are not paved. You have to buy gas in cans from a hardware store. The only mechanic in a small Montana town might be the blacksmith. Claire had to know her engine and how to fix it, how to repair and replace tires, how to drive up steep inclines and, more important, down them (in 2nd gear using both the foot and hand brakes.) The book mentions that the road down the western side of Snoqualmie Pass is paved with loose gravel. The road on the eastern side is just ruts down the mountain.
During their somewhat eventful trip, Claire and her father are rescued when their Gomez-Dep auto gets stuck in the mud by Milt Daggett, a lad from a very small town not far from Gopher Prairie, a location familiar to readers of Sinclair Lewis' next book, Main Street. Milt takes a liking to Claire and decides to make a road trip himself and follow her. He is a mechanic and owns a shop so he can hand it over to be run by his assistant and take off for Seattle.
After a couple of additional saves the Boltwoods come to appreciate the rough, countrified Milt. He has decided to put his mechanical ability to better use and enrolls in the University of Washington to earn a degree in mechanical engineering. But Claire's wealthy suitor from New York and her wealthy friends on Queen Ann Hill don't see what endears Milt to her.
The question is, can a wealthy society girl and a boy from a small town in the midwest with no appreciable education make a go of it?
The book held particular interest for me and it will for the rest of the 22nd Avenue Book Club here in Spokane because so much of the action takes place in Washington. Claire falls in love with the names of the towns and cities of the state and makes a free verse poem of them, from Cle Elum and Humptulips to Walla Walla and Mukilteo. The travelers move quickly through Spokane but they visit and linger in other places like Yakima and eventually Seattle.