Horatio Jackson Drove Across America

Horatio Jackson couldn’t resist the challenge. Many believed the horseless carriage was a passing fad. An auto enthusiast, Jackson sought to prove otherwise. On a fifty-dollar wager, he set out to do what was considered impossible.

The challenge was to make the trip from San Francisco to New York in less than 90 days in the car of his choice. With few roads, no maps to speak of and no gas stations, this was no small undertaking. On May 23, 1903, he started the first cross-country road trip in a slightly used Winton touring car. It was carried by ferry to Oakland, then headed east. The trip was fraught with perils, dilemmas and mishaps. It also had many great surprises. Among them was a dog named Bud.

Excerpt From San Francisco Examiner– May 23, 1903

“From Sea to Sea in a Horseless Carriage”

Dr. H.N. Jackson and S.K. Crocker Will Start this Morning on Automobile Trip They Hope Will End in New York

“An automobile trip across the continent that will be watched with a great deal of interest will start from this city this morning. It will be undertaken by Dr. H. Nelson Jackson of Vermont and S.K. Crocker of Seattle, both of whom are at the Palace ready for the journey. All attempts heretofore to go overland in an automobile have come to grief either through the machines breaking down or because long stretches of sand were encountered through which the horseless carriages could make no headway.”

Following are a few interesting nuggets from America’s first cross-country road trip without a horse.

Nellie Bly Got The Wheels Rolling

 It was a time of record-breaking “firsts” and huge publicity races. Among them, Nellie Bly raced around the world in 1889.  Her mission was to beat Phileas Fogg’s fictional record from Around the World in Eighty Days.  The Jules Verne’s book starts with a wager at a gentleman’s club, just like the one Horatio Jackson made decades later. Elizabeth Bisland set out to beat Nellie Bly in the opposite direction around the world. In 1895, Annie Londonderry bicycled around the world.

Jackson’s wager was made on May 18, 1903. Instead of London, it was in San Francisco ‘s private University Club at the top of Nob Hill. Jackson was a 31-year-old doctor who quit his practice after he got tuberculosis. The bet required him to cross the country in 90 days or less. He wanted to prove that automobiles were the future of the nation.

Horatio Jackson Chose A Winton To Win His $50

With little mechanical experience, Horatio Jackson persuaded mechanic Sewall Crocker as his co-driver on the cross-country trek. Also a bicycle racer, Crocker convinced Jackson to choose the used, 20 horsepower Winton for their journey. With worn wheels, Jackson paid more than the car was worth.

The Winton touring car was the product of what was originally the Winton Bicycle Company. Scottish immigrant Alexander Winton incorporated his Winton Motor Carriage Company in March of 1897. His first two luxury prototypes were built by hand with 10 horsepower, padded seats, leather roofs and gaslights. In May of the same year he set a speed record of 33-plus miles per hour on a horse track in Cleveland, Ohio.

Winton had more than 100 patents involving automobiles and was active in organizations that promoted the fledgling auto industry. Recognizing that racing was a great way to create a buzz, he built a series of “Bullets’ one of which he drove in his famous race against Henry Ford. He raced the others at Daytona Beach, Florida. In May 1901 he crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains in a cross-country trek, but the brutal desert terrain stopped foiled him in Nevada.

Horatio Jackson named his second-hand Winton Vermont after his home state.

A Kodak Camera Was Included In The Pile

Horatio Jackson and Crocker loaded the Vermont with everything you would take on a camping trip and then some. Their gear included everything from sleeping bags and canteens to coats and protective weather gear. They also packed tools and spare parts, gasoline cans and an assortment of firearms.

A Kodak camera also made the final cut.

George Eastman’s first affordable camera sold in 1888. It was a simple box with a fixed-focus lens and one shutter speed. The early Kodak was pre-loaded for 100 photographs. When finished, the budding photographer sent the camera back to the factory where the pictures were processed and the camera reloaded. In essence Kodak had created a “no-brainer.” The Kodak later evolved into the Brownie series.

As part of the Ken Burn’s documentary project on Jackson, PBS.org features a collection of letters Jackson wrote to his wife (Bertha Richardson Wells, whom he called Swipes) and newspaper articles about his journey.

Horatio Jackson’s letter to Bertha | July 20, 1903

“Monday Eve.
Darling Swipes:
While I think of it I want you to order two full sets more of the Kodak pictures & have one set sent to Mrs. B. D. Crocker Tacoma, Wash. Keep the other set for me & bring all pictures & photos to N.Y. when you come to meet me there – that is if you care to come.”

A Be-goggled Dog Named Bud Rode Shotgun

Somewhere in Idaho, they added a third member to their party. He was a bull terrier they named Bud. They soon realized that Bud was highly sensitive to the dusty roads, so they outfitted him a pair of goggles.

According to Horatio Jackson and Crocker, Bud would not start a day until his goggles were in place. Along the journey, he became adept at bracing himself for bumps in the road. They also said he was the perfect companion and the only member of the trio who never resorted to using profanity when the going got rough.

Horatio’s letter to Bertha | June 12, 1903

“We left Caldwell at eight o’clock and after running a few miles out of town I found that I had forgotten my coat. On our way back we were stopped by a man and asked if I didn’t want a dog for a mascot. As I had been trying to steal one we were glad to get him so accepted the present (consideration $15.00). So Bud is now with us.

We stopped at Nampa and had lunch at the Dewey Hotel. Here we were advised to change our course a little and take the left hand road of the R. R. One old fellow said keep to the left road. This we did the result being that we ran across the desert to Swanton Falls a distance, out of our way, 38 miles. We returned and took supper with the section hand. Got onto the right road again and reached Orchid at eleven o’clock. Here we slept under our carriage. We only made 45 miles in our direct route.”

Cars Were Few And Roads Even Fewer

In 1903, cars were a luxury item that only a few could own. Cars were driven mostly in cities where roads were reasonably paved for horse-drawn carriages. Since cars had not been driven across country there were still few paved roads outside the city centers. America was also largely unmapped. Of the roads that were paved, most were not yet named or numbered. Navigation was as much a treasure hunt as a science.

Hartford Automobile enthusiast Charles Howard Gillette started the Automobile Blue Book, A Guide For Bikers and Road Travelers in 1901. But it was not entirely reliable.

Even when Alice Huyler Ramsey launched her trailblazing all-girl road trip on a rainy day, June 9, 1909, the book was rife with inaccuracies.

At one point, for example, the book said drivers should turn left at a “yellow house and barn.” The farmer, who was not a fan of automobiles, had painted his house green.

Back in 1903, Jackson, Crocker and Bud had even more troubles on the road.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

The short answer to that question is ‘everything.’ To name a few:

-They blew a tire only 15 miles into the journey. Jackson was unable to buy a new tire, but purchased some used inner tubes. Down the road, they tied rope to the wheels. At one point they ordered tires (among other parts) but had to wait for delivery.

Thanks to the Vermont’s noise factor, they were unaware that they lost their cooking gear outside Sacramento. This was just one of many items lost along the road. Among them were Jackson’s glasses—at least twice.

At one point they were sent out of their way by 100 miles. A woman lied so her family could get their first glimpse of a horseless carriage.

In Oregon, they not only broke down, they lost all their fuel. Crocker rode 25 miles on a rented bicycle to get fuel. He had a flat along the way.

On July 12, 1903 they finally reached Omaha, Nebraska. From that point on, they managed to drive a few paved roads and the trip became easier going.

The three companions were launched from the open Winton when they hit something in the road near Buffalo, New York. Fortunately, no one was hurt beyond repair and they continued their journey.

Horatio Jackson Raced Over The Finish Line

When Nellie Bly’s trip was announced on the morning of her departure, Elizabeth Bisland was sent in the opposite direction by a rival publication to beat Bly at her own race. Similarly, once it looked like the triumphant trio would make their destination, other companies decided to join in the fun.

A Packard and an Oldsmobile left San Francisco. Like Bly, Jackson was racing not only time –he was racing against competitors.

Like Bly, Horatio Jackson, Sewall Crocker and Bud bested both time and their competitors. They drove into New York City at 4 a.m. on July 26, 1903. Their time clocked in at 63 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes from the moment they left San Francisco. The trio became the first to successfully drive across  North America.

Horatio Jackson estimated that it had cost him approximately $8000 to win his $50 bet.

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