Early Adventures with the Automobile
September 27, 2005 2:40 PM   Subscribe

"We can run our car over any road that a man can take a team of horses and a wagon, providing we can get traction."
In 1903, to settle a $50 bet, Horatio Nelson Jackson became the first person to drive (and push) a car (a used Winton touring car, which had no roof or windshield) across the United States, accompanied by mechanic Sewall Crocker and Bud the bulldog. There were no gas stations, and there was less than 150 miles of paved road in the country. They blew a tire 15 miles into the trip and replaced it with their only spare.

Jackson's trip inspired others. In 1909, Alice Ramsey, accompanied by three female passengers, became the first woman to drive (and pull, and push) a car across the country. In 1915, Anita King, "The Paramount Girl," became the first woman to drive across the country solo. "Her only companions will be a rifle and a six shooter." And in 2003, Peter Kesling repeated Jackson's trip, in a 1903 Winton.
posted by kirkaracha (18 comments total)
Made a great PBS special a few years ago, too.
posted by fixedgear at 2:41 PM on September 27, 2005

Ken Burns' Horatio's Drive.
posted by ericb at 2:45 PM on September 27, 2005

Fantastic post, kirkaracha. Astounding. Inspired by Wikipedia's featured article today (Anita King)?
posted by Plutor at 2:46 PM on September 27, 2005

Yep, I saw the article about her and did some digging.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:54 PM on September 27, 2005

Don't forget Theodore Dreiser's 1916 Hoosier Holiday.
posted by billysumday at 3:02 PM on September 27, 2005

Er, sorry, guess Dreiser's trip wasn't exactly cross-country. But it was in an old car!
posted by billysumday at 3:03 PM on September 27, 2005

Horatio's Drive is a fun movie with lots of good pix of the adorable bulldog. Fun fact: the Winston that they drove was named The Vermont from the state that Jackson lived in, and where his trip actually ended, if not officially.
posted by jessamyn at 3:48 PM on September 27, 2005

Is there a long version of this anywhere? Would love to spend a few hours or more reading a travelogue.
posted by rolypolyman at 3:56 PM on September 27, 2005

The hook for me was that Sewall Crocker , the mechanic, was a former professional bike racer.
posted by fixedgear at 4:01 PM on September 27, 2005

As a Brit whos watched Gumball 3000 footage - I really want to drive the US coast to coast in as short a time as I can.

I just did 370 miles from the South West corner of England to the heart of the North West in 5 1/2 hours (including a petrol stop in the middle and some 40 mph road works)
posted by 13twelve at 4:12 PM on September 27, 2005

I have this antique "Pennsylvania Road Guide" from 1925 that has 80 pages of trip itineraries. The thing is that they don't mention any specific roads, they just list town names in between you and your destination. So to go from one city to another, you had to look up the first town in-between and find the sign pointing to that first town and then drive to it. Then when you got to that town, you had to find the sign (or ask directions) for the next town on the list. Repeat until you end up at the destination city. It must have taken forever to get anywhere. We're pretty spoiled by being able just to jump on route 80 and drive.
posted by octothorpe at 4:49 PM on September 27, 2005

Another problem was that cars were so novel that people would give wrong directions so their relatives could see the car.

Jackson's drive was part of an unoffical, asynchronous competition that included teams from Packard and Oldsmobile.

The rivalry between Packard and Winton goes back to 1898, when Winton was largest U.S. producer of automobiles. James Ward Packard bought a car, apparently one of the first lemons, from Alexander Winton, and Winton said "well if you are so smart, maybe you can build a better machine yourself!" Packard produced 213 cars in 1903, compared to 850 for Winton.

Alexander Winton had tried a transcontinental trip in 1901, but had to quit after three days due to getting stuck in the sand. Packard didn't believe the story of Jackson happening to get drunk and make his bet two weeks before Packard was scheduled to make an attempt, and accused Jackson of cheating by taking the car on trains for part of the trip.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:28 PM on September 27, 2005

The Ken Burns special was good. I love hearing about roadtrips. It has always somewhat amazed me how different parts of the country (US) and world view a roadtrip. Where I now live it is considered a drive to travel 60 miles. More than 100 miles away almost calls for an overnighter. In my native Texas, it is not at all unusual for folks to drive 400 and 500+ regularly. In fact, in some parts of Texas, for a person to go to where there is anything to do at all requires a 6 hour roadtrip.
posted by shockingbluamp at 6:04 PM on September 27, 2005

13twelve, route 50 goes from coast to coast. It wouldn't be very fast, but might make for an interesting trip.
posted by shoepal at 6:23 PM on September 27, 2005

And Texas takes for fuckever to cross!
posted by shoepal at 6:24 PM on September 27, 2005

As a Brit whos watched Gumball 3000 footage - I really want to drive the US coast to coast in as short a time as I can.

The only question I have about this is if you can lose your license for behaviour in another country. I'd be willing to pay the fines, so long as I could still legally drive once I got back home.
posted by I Love Tacos at 9:07 PM on September 27, 2005

Kikaracha, thanks for the background to the story, and for introducing Packard.
Having just been to the Brussels museum of the automobile last week, my old attraction to the Packard cars burns again.
The most beautiful, sleekest beasts.
Check out the red 1931 Packard Phaeton.
posted by Laotic at 8:00 AM on September 28, 2005

Texans living in El Paso are closer to Los Angeles, California than to fellow Texans in Texarkana and in turn Texarkana is closer to Chicago, Illinois than to El Paso.
posted by bjgeiger at 5:16 PM on September 28, 2005

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