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1St Transcontinental Race Via Craters Of The Moon, Idaho

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The “first ever” anything has a certain cachet, and when it comes to aficionados of the old roads, the first ever transcontinental auto [route, trip, round trip, race, woman driver, etc.] holds a special place. Most of us recognize Horatio Jackson's first ever transcontinental auto trip, from San Francisco to New York in 1903. It has been celebrated in the Ken Burns PBS special “Horatio's Trip.” Far fewer will recognize the first ever transcontinental auto race which was between New York and Portland, Oregon.

 

That makes the race all the more interesting to me. Perhaps I am a “world expert” on that race. If not, I most certainly am among the top ten. Of course that is close to the number who even know it happened! But “world expert” none the less! How many of us ever “achieve” that standing.....and so easily?!!!

 

Dwight Huss and Percy Megargel along with mechanics set off from New York in two curved dash Oldsmobiles, each sporting a powerful 7 horse power engine and the old reliable tiller steering. Huss guided “Old Scout” and Megargel, “Old Steady” Their destination was Portland, Oregon in under 44 days!!

 

The 1905 Horseless Age Magazine, among others, reported weekly on the race. (Go to Google Books and search on Huss Oldsmobile. You gotta love Google)

 

“....the drivers....started at 9:25 o'clock Monday morning (May 8, 1905).....from Fifty Ninth street and Seventh avenue, New York.”

 

 

AR1905May8.jpg

 

They were well supported by Oldsmobile, with a reporter and supplies following them along the nearest rail lines. It wasn't until they got “out west” that they had to strike out cross country without their railroad life line.

 

The May 17, 1905 issue of Horseless Age reported they had reached Chicago on May 14, and they published a map of the route. Huss in Old Scout was slightly in the lead.

 

 

AR1905Map.jpg

 

By May 22 they had reached Omaha and they were neck and neck. Huss and Old Scout reached Grand Island, Nebraska on the 27th but Old Steady had fallen through a bridge and was now a day behind.

 

By May 30 Huss had reached Cheyenne, Wyoming, but Megargel was now far behind at Lodge Pole, Nebraska. On June 2 Megargel was 50 miles east of Cheyenne, now over two days behind. Huss and Old Scout in Laramie.

 

 

AR1905ScoutPhotos.jpg

 

 

By June 7th Huss and Old Scout had reached Soda Springs, Idaho. Alas a bridge they planned to cross was out. Following the river bank hoping to find a ford, they pitched into a deep hole, which “seriously strained” the car, but they were able to proceed. It was rumored that Megargel at the tiller of Old Steady had now closed the gap to 100 miles, but later reports say he didn't reach Soda Springs until the 13th.

 

Huss reached Pocatello on the 8th of June, and was piloted out of town on the route to Blackfoot by five men on bicycles. He left Blackfoot on the 9th headed for Areo (actually Arco) 60 miles across the Snake River Desert. (Incidentally, Arco has moved miles in the intervening years, which can throw off tracking their route.) We leave the weekly reports from the Horseless Age here.

 

AR1905ScoutLavaFields.jpg

 

AR1905OverviewMap.jpg

 

They left Blackfoot, Idaho, striking out northward toward old Arco across a barren landscape of sage and buttes which is little changed today. They then curved westward along the Goodale Cutoff of the Oregon Trail, skirting the north side of the massive lava fields we now call the Craters of the Moon. From there they headed toward Hailey with its railroad connection, then to Boise, Idaho,Vale, Oregon, Burns, Paulina, Prineville, Sisters and across the Cascades via the old Santiam Wagon Road, and into Portland.

 

Old Scout with Huss at the tiller won the race. Later Megargel one upped him and wrote a novel, The Lady and the Car (available on Google Books), based on the race, with fictional characters, but mostly accurate descriptions of the route. The whole shebang (translated: “the whole kit and cabootle”) was well covered in auto journals of the day (try Google Books), complete with photos.

 

I knew that the route between the Arco area and Hailey had to follow along the north edge of the vast lava fields of the Craters of the Moon National Monument. The ocean of lava lapped up against hills and the lava is unbelievable;y rough and broken. The only possible roadbed was along the margin where the lava met the hills.

 

In mid September Sheila and I had spent a couple of days at the beach in Oregon and I hankered for some old road dust. So we decided that Sheila could spa out in the resort town of Hailey, Idaho while I drove the old dirt route through the barren lava fields. Poor Sheila, but she was willing to sacrifice so I could do my thing.

 

AR1905LavaOcean.jpg

 

AR1905LavaOceanPlants.jpg

 

AR1905LavaLake.jpg

 

Which takes us to the exact ruts followed by Huss and Mergargel and their Oldsmobiles. I stopped at the Craters of the Moon National Monument and the Chief Interpretive Ranger was genuinely interested in the story. He knew that Jackson and Bud had passed this way, but the first ever transcontinental race was news to him. He showed a real interest, and I think he will add the story to his tool box of knowledge to share with others.

 

The modern road (US 20) is built over the lava but the Goodale Cutoff of the Oregon Trail, and the later stage road from Hailey to Blackfoot had to follow along the interface of hills and lava. The photo below shows the old road along the hills (right arrow), and the modern road (left arrow) across the lava fields. So it was self evident that the “ruts” of the 1905 race were along the road that followed the hillside

 

AR1905LavaHills.jpg

 

I wanted to go to the site of Martin, which is not far from park headquarters because Huss had a photo taken in front of the Martin Post Office with the post mistress. The photo below from Google Earth shows Martin from satellite. Note the lava fields that push the road along the edge of the hills.

 

AR1905Martin.jpg

 

When Huss in Old Scout reached Martin at he edge of the great lave beds he stopped for the photo below. I wanted to see if by chance against chance, the old post office building still stood at Martin. But before I tried, I wanted to catch a few shots of the lava fields along US 20.

 

AR1905MotorTalkMartin.jpg

 

When I got to Martin it was difficult to see all the buildings. Today it is a ranch and up for sale (only 1,500,000 greenbacks), and it appears no one has been up the ranch road for some time as weeds have grown fairly tall in front of the gate ( I guess 1.5 million is a deal breaker for a few potential buyers). I didn't want to violate the no trespassing sign, but from the road too many cottonwoods obscure the buildings to make an identification of what might have been the post office.

 

AR1905MartinRanch.jpg

 

I was parked in the original tracks the Oldsmobiles had followed 107 years ago, and in the right spot, but no brass ring. I will never know if the old post office was hidden in the trees along with the other ranch buildings. But I got a few photos.

 

AR1905Ruts.jpg

 

 

I hope to post more of the story latter on as wwe followed the route through Oregon.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

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Splendid! A quite nice telling of both adventures -- that of original race and your own in retracing it. Reading of a major "first ever" that hasn't been over-documented is naturally exciting and getting it from a "world expert" even more so. I imagine your claim of "top ten" is entirely too modest. The old & new photos and the modern maps were put together in such a way as to give us a pretty good feel for this thing. wel done. I'm guessing that you are at least considering calling the ranch owner to see about getting permission to look for the post office.

 

Since the drive involved two identical cars and seems to have had backing from Oldsmobile, I thought it odd that it was considered a competition. In fact, I half way thought that modern folks may have applied the word "race" to something that was really a factory test run or something similar. But looking back at some of the old documentation you mention shows that it was called a race from the beginning. Very interesting.

 

I was saddened when Oldsmobile closed down although I admit I didn't do my share to keep them in business. Stories like this had a very different feel just a few years ago when Olds was the oldest surviving US automobile brand rather than just another statistic.

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Again, I think the 1916 Hudson west to east thence east to west in 10 days probably followed some of the route you've traced out. The Hudson run was from Frisco to New York and back. Some of, particularly thru New York to Chicago most likely followed what eventually became U S 20.

 

Great report - I like reports that put the reader in the passenger seat (however, if you get stuck somewhere I ain't digging!!!! :gavel:

 

Hudsonly,

Alex Burr

Memphis, TN

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Wow! I've been to COTM (twice) and have driven that section of US 20, but I never knew I was so close to early road history. I know it's hard to tell, but it sure looks to me like that peaked roof Post Office building in the old photo could be the building in the Google image that sure looks like it has a peaked roof. Looks also like the track followed by the two Oldses in '05 could have gone around the other side of the hill in the map image (which I assume is Blizzard Mtn.). If so, that would put the route right in front of the building in question.

Since your story and reporting is so good, I hate to nitpick, but the title of the PBS show is "Horatio's Drive". I have it on DVD.

Great adventure--thanks for posting it!

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Denny,

 

First thanks for the thoughtful and cogent comments and reflections on the “race.” Clearly it was not an “all commers” event!! But I recall only one publication that called it an “advertising” contest. Huss reenacted the race in 1931, and was featured in Life Magazine in the 1950's telling the story again.

 

The real draw for me was that I could fix the exact route on “original” dirt. And it was fun bringing the story to the attention of the Monument staff. There is plenty more one could do with this story, but I'm probably not going to pursue it a lot more.

 

Alex,

 

Those Hudsons got just about everywhere!

 

MGA707

 

I took some telephotos shots of buildings through the trees, but couldn't see well enough to match photos. The building you refer to was out of sight, so I can't speculate as to a match there.

 

The Monument's Chief Interpretive Ranger (Ted) was very interested in the story. He even followed me out the door as I was leaving to add a few more comments.......a really nice guy and a credit to the Monument. We tried to match the hill in the background of the shot with Huss and Old Scout but failed. It would probably take a day of looking to make the match.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

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You did some great archaeology there, Dave. It's truly too bad that Martin is private property today and you couldn't go in. -JIm

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This topic prompted me to dig out an Oldsmobile history I have to find out more about the 1905 NY to Portland race. The book is titled "Setting the Pace" and was published in 1996 to commemorate the then-upcoming Olds centennial in 1997. How sad that Olds would be 'thrown under the bus' by GM less than a decade later. But I digress...

The book did not disappoint. Several pages and a lot of photos are devoted to the event.

I'm sure that Dave, world expert that he is, knows all of this, but I did not. The race was held to promote road construction in America, and was timed to coincide with the Good Roads Association meeting in Portland that year. Oldsmobile did indeed contribute financially to the race, to the tune of just slightly more than $4,000.00!

What I found interesting was that by 1905 the five-year-old Curved Dash model was something of an anachronism, although it would continue in production for another two years. Olds had already introduced some other models that were much more 1905-modern, both in looks and in features. I surmise, though, that it's light weight, high ground clearance, and relative simplicity made it a better choice for a transcontinental race over absolutely horrible roads.

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It was pretty optimistic of a self identified world expert to hope that the old wooden post office still stood from 1905. Ranchers tend to repurpose buildings. The log cabin my father was born in in 1908 is now a hen house. ( I throw that in to show that even world experts have humble roots.)

 

Jim called my adventure “archeology” and that is what it is, digging up something (like his Michigan Road) that is buried in history.

 

Denny hinted that I was overestimating the number of “world's experts” on the race when I said ten. Bro, the art is to know more and more about less and less until you are unrivaled in your field of expertise. I feel like I have reached that pinnacle! I can't compete with Denny for frequency or breadth, but when it comes to esoteric, I rule!

 

Mga707 dug into his archives and noted that the curved dash Olds was not state of the art in 1905. Which does raise the question of why promote an antiquated model? And they did because I have seen magazine ads for the curved dash runabout published during the race.

 

Frankly those things looked like a real “horseless buggy.” Perhaps it was the simplicity of the mechanism, and the high clearance and short wheel base was well suited to the roads, as he noted.

 

The race was well documented in photographs. You can find them scattered through those now popular local history photo books that are being published for every town and village (I love 'em). The organizers of the race offered some very nice cash prizes for the best photos, so a lot were taken.

 

I want to follow the old road in Oregon between Ontario and Burns one of these days, but I am also thinking of doing more research on a GMC milk truck driven over the National Parks Highway in about 1915, immediately after the route was “blazed.”. It was a double transcontinental, which may make it the first ever double transcontinental truck run. Talk about esoteric! And it was done with a man and his wife and four year old daughter. Gotta be a first. Eat your heart out, Denny.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

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All -

It has been some time since I have commented or posted, but I visit regularly, and I am really enjoying this thread and the commentary. I love finding "original dirt", and I think that is the perfect term to apply to it. And I can relate. I have done much the same thing throughout Wyoming and Utah with New York-Paris. Keep posting.

Thanks.

Bob.

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Dave,

 

Great report! I've been through CotM a few times on various road trips and know exactly where you are referring to on your maps. Now I have even more information with which to amaze my traveling companion(s) next time I go through that area.

 

I commend you on your restraint. I know had I traveled that far, and gotten so close to confirming my hypothesis, I would have been tempted to take a look at the property for sale, you know, as a potential buyer.

 

Roadhound

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Dave,

 

I commend you on your restraint. I know had I traveled that far, and gotten so close to confirming my hypothesis, I would have been tempted to take a look at the property for sale, you know, as a potential buyer.

 

Roadhound

 

Rick,

 

Right.....I could say I was scouting properties for a rich guy from the Bay area B);) !

 

Dave

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All -

It has been some time since I have commented or posted, but I visit regularly, and I am really enjoying this thread and the commentary. I love finding "original dirt", and I think that is the perfect term to apply to it. And I can relate. I have done much the same thing throughout Wyoming and Utah with New York-Paris. Keep posting.

Thanks.

Bob.

 

 

Bob,

 

Good to see you posting! Your race is the genuine article.

 

Isn't it great to stand by yourself in old tracks in the vastness of an unchanged landscape and conger up the scene 100 years ago? You “own” it. Nothing at all like Disneyland.

 

Not to get too philosophical but one huge benefit of understanding the history of a place and event, as you do, is that you can recreate it in your mind's eye as you stand there....you only need yourself and the head on your shoulders.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

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Dave -

Absolutely! I have done that very thing many, many times. One thing that really rings my bell is to have an original photo from 100 years ago (or a good copy of one) in hand and stand on the exact spot where it was taken. It is like looking back in time. Very, very cool.

Bob.

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I want to follow the old road in Oregon between Ontario and Burns one of these days, but I am also thinking of doing more research on a GMC milk truck driven over the National Parks Highway in about 1915, immediately after the route was “blazed.”. It was a double transcontinental, which may make it the first ever double transcontinental truck run. Talk about esoteric! And it was done with a man and his wife and four year old daughter. Gotta be a first. Eat your heart out, Denny.

I am indeed envious but I am also curious. Of course, I'm eager for your trip report but I'd also like to know just how many "double transcontinental truck run"s it was the first of. If possible, limit your answer to those involving milk trucks and four year old daughters.

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I am indeed envious but I am also curious. Of course, I'm eager for your trip report but I'd also like to know just how many "double transcontinental truck run"s it was the first of. If possible, limit your answer to those involving milk trucks and four year old daughters.

 

 

First, I want to compliment you on your Perryville report on your blog. Nice work, and maybe a new camera (I think I see some HDR and tone mapping)

 

As for milk truck double transcontinentals, I'm thinking that sometimes the first is the best, and others just give up trying. How do you top a truck carrying over a ton of Carnation canned milk, distributed along the route by a sweet four year old?

 

Truthfully, GMC made a big deal of it, featuring it in several different ads in the period. I would report on it sooner than later but the only detailed account I can find is in a private library, or in a booklet for sale on ABE for $300. My interest is increased by the fact it is on “my” National Parks Highway, but not yet to the tune of $300.

 

The “back story” on some of these adventures is fun. For example, in the 1905 race on the desert road between Blackfoot and old Arco, there was a ranch owned by “Big Jim” Murray. Big Jim was a frontiersman, trapper, etc according to Megargel in his novel “Lady and the Car.” Megargel was the driver of Old Steady, did more reporting than Huss (maybe that aided Huss to win the race), and later wrote the novel based on the race.

 

I wondered where the ranch was because it had been a stop in the race. Megargel places it between Big Butte and Middle Butte. You would think Big Jim would get some press at the time, but I didn't find any. Then I got lucky and found a story from 1963 in the Idaho Statesman Centennial edition written by Big Jim's daughter or granddaughter.

 

It seems Big Jim ran a stage station and carried the mail. She places the ranch at the base of Big (Southern) Butte, on the west side. Apparently the ranch sat on the Butte/ Blaine county line, providing a safe haven for ne'er-do-wells the sheriff might prefer to take back to the county seat! At the time of the 1905 race (which she doesn't mention), big freight wagons and emigrant groups were the main source of traffic, but she also tells of a “gypsy” caravan stealing a dog from the ranch.

 

There is some sign of development in Google Earth at a site on the county line, which might have been the Murray ranch, but I probably will never know. Arco lacks a historical society where I might have found a map, and I didn't make it to Blackfoot.

 

One other back story. Megargel almost immediately on return east took a Reo on a double transcontinental run. That is another story, but he and his mechanic came very near death on the return leg, when they were caught in a snow storm near Flagstaff. They were down to eating squirrel, and burning the last of their gasoline for warmth, when a rescue party spotted the smoke and saved them. There would have been no novel to describe the 1905 race had they perished.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

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Thanks for the compliment. My current primary camera, a Nikon D5100, is over a year old but I am doing a bit more post processing these days. Mostly just canned automatic stuff. Definitely no HDR and, as far as I know, no tone mapping. However, your HDR reference did remind me of a question which, rather than take this thread any further off course, I've put in a new General Topic

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Denny,

 

You have always had a good eye for the interesting photo, so I'm glad you are taking the time to do more post processing. The Perrysville photos are top notch. The saturation made me think maybe some tone mapping or HDR, maybe just adjusted curves....no matter, they are excellent and fun to view. I replied to your question, mostly without answering it, but in many words.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

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