Friday, April 12, 2013

Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip

It was a whim that set Horatio Nelson Jackson of Vermont off on a cross-country automobile trip in 1903. As a recent enthusiast of the 20 horse power Winton automobile he had just purchased, he'd heard enough people say that it could never make it across the country that he decided to prove that, indeed, it could! He was in the University Club in San Francisco when someone bet $50 that a car could not make it from San Francisco to New York in three months. Jackson took the bet, and within four days, he and Seward Crocker, a bicycle mechanic who'd been learning to work on gas-powered engines, left from San Francisco, their supplies filling the back of the car so completely that they had to remove the canvas top to accommodate them all. They christened the Winton Vermont.

With only 150 miles of paved road in the entire United States, the trip was a wild adventure. But Jackson and Crocker were up for it. The rutty roads destroyed a tremendous number of tires and spares were not readily available; auto parts wore out or fell off; they weathered storms -- torrential rain, lightning, thunder -- in a roofless car; mud caked every inch of their car. Early on their cooking gear fell off the car and they didn't know it because the trip was so loud!

Despite tremendous challenges, the Vermont arrived in New York in 63 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes!

The PBS presentation called Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip tells the story, retracing the drive. Using hundreds of the photos that Jackson took along the trip and footage of country paths that looked like terrain the Vermont would have covered, you feel like you were there.

(As a matter of fact, it reminded me of my parent's friend who was the first one to drive a car to Seattle from some distant state. His wife was ill and his son an infant. They had only a tent for shelter at night. He kept my parents spellbound with stories of the perils they faced on that trip --  like having to cross a river by driving over the railroad bridge, hoping and praying that no train came along!)

PBS also has a link with many interesting pages that tell the story. Here you'll find out about the film, the team in the car -- Jackson, Crocker, and Bud, the dog they picked up in Idaho, the car itself, an interactive map of the trip, and additional resources.

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