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THE FIRST AUTOMOBILE ROAD TRIP
An Adventure From San Francisco to New York
The first great American road trip took place in 1903. It was accomplished by automobile enthusiast Horatio Nelson Jackson and former bicycle racer and gasoline engine mechanic Sewall Crocker. They started their trip in San Francisco and intended to finish in New York City; it was a 4,500-mile journey they bet $50 could be accomplished in under 90 days. HOW IT ALL STARTED Four days prior to the start of his journey on May 23, Jackson found himself in the middle of an argument in San Francisco’s University Club. The debate was over whether the new automobiles steadily appearing in the city were better or worse than horse-drawn carriages. Many people involved spoke against the automobile for its unreliability, but Jackson disagreed. Thus the $50 wager was made. Despite the failure of all previous cross-country automobile trips, Jackson was determined to make a successful journey. With 22-year-old Crocker at his side, Jackson purchased a used 20-horsepower Winton touring car, which he named Vermont in tribute to his home state, for their epic journey. They packed the car with camping gear and cooking supplies and were soon on their way. THE TRIP One of the biggest problems the duo faced was the condition of the roads. While carriages were uncomfortable, they could handle the bumpy ride better than an automobile. However, bumpy roads were far from the only problem they faced. Automobiles at that time were prone to frequent breakdowns, and Vermont was no exception. Fifteen
to be delivered by stagecoach or, if they were lucky enough, a friendly passerby. In one instance, a cowboy lassoed Vermont and towed the car with his horse to a nearby town in Oregon. After traveling for 19 days, they arrived in Idaho. There, hoping to change their luck, Jackson purchased a bull terrier they named Bud. Bud drove with Jackson and Crocker, and they fitted him with goggles to protect his eyes from the dirt. While he probably didn’t improve their luck, Bud did travel with them for the rest of their journey. THE LAST LEG On day 46 of their trip, the trio finally got back on the road after having to wait six days for parts and repairs outside of Rawlins, Wyoming. With more than half the country still ahead of them, they nevertheless maintained their optimism, which was largely fueled by the reception they received across America. Word of their trip spread throughout the country, and many people from the towns and cities they passed through gathered to see Vermont and the trio of travelers for themselves. Larger cities, such as Chicago, welcomed them with automobile dealers as well as city officials, and a convoy led them through the city of Cleveland. Vermont finally rolled into Manhattan, traveling down an empty Fifth Avenue at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 26. The first cross-country automobile trip had been successful. Despite the delays, their road trip only took them 63 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes, leaving them with almost a month left of the 90-day bet. Unfortunately, the journey cost Jackson about $8,000.
miles outside of San Francisco, Jackson and Crocker experienced their first delay of many: a tire blowout.
The trio became national celebrities featured in many of Winton’s advertisements and newspapers across the country. As for Jackson, tried and exhausted after his adventure, he pointed his car toward Vermont on July 30 and began the last part of his journey. The car only had enough life to get Jackson home before its drive chain broke and moved no more.
Making their way through Nevada and up toward Idaho, Jackson and Crocker had many more breakdowns and delays, including a clogged oil line, a broken clutch, wrong turns, and a gas tank leak. With every holdup they faced, the pair was forced to wait for supplies
The Di Bartolomeo Law Office, P.C. 1139 Exchange Street | Astoria, Oregon | 503-325-8600 | www.JoeDiBartolomeo.com
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