Bud, the goggle-wearing bulldog, was purchased for $15 by Jackson on route while in Idaho
Each of us has hot rod stories about places visited and places yet explored. As with any drive, there's a beginning and an end, but inevitably the real story lies in between. What about our first drive, our first road buddies, the mechanical woes converted into tales of mechanical expertise? Yet, all of our stories pale in comparison to the first drive.
Ever wonder who the first hot rodder was to cross the continent? In their day they wouldn't have been recognized as hot rodders, but there can be no denying the rodding spirit of Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson and Sewall K. Crocker as our early forefathers. (There was a third, Bud the bulldog, and it's reported he enjoyed wearing goggles, but more on man's best friend later.) Beginning with the cowboy spirit of the Old West to the rodder's spirit of today, we are forever and inexorably linked.
These two had the good fortune to experience that first cross-country drive. Technically they mastered the continental crossing in a 1903 Winton touring (topless and no windshield) car with the rear seat removed, making it more closely resemble a roadster, possibly even a two-seat speedster. Whatever it looked like, the fact remains, all of us who have or are about to explore the "blue highways" of America owe at least a small debt of gratitude to the two, no three, of them.
It's been my experience with cross-country treks that before the first twist of the ignition key there's at least a modicum of planning. Not so with our heroes. As the story goes, Dr. Jackson, a 31-year-old retired doctor from Vermont, found himself in San Francisco accepting a $50 bet (May 19, 1903) that he could make the coast-to-coast drive in one of those new horseless carriages in less than 90 days. There's nothing like the male ego, a monetary bet, and a car to work together as the catalyst that marks the passing of an era.
Within the week, Jackson hired Crocker, 22, a bicycle mechanic, to accompany him on the trip that would in many ways follow the route originally traveled by the Lewis and Clark expedition nearly 100 years earlier. I haven't forgotten about Bud, but his contribution to history is still a few days away.
Jackson outfitted his 20hp, 30-mph Winton with a block and tackle and 150 feet of rope, various weapons, and a Kodak camera (clearly one of the early versions). Somewhere on board there must have been food, cooking, and sleeping gear, as both Jackson and Crocker knew there would be little in the way of comfort.
At the turn of the 20th century, a horseless carriage was an unusual if not rare occurrence, and steam or electric was the propellant of choice, not gasoline. Jackson knew he would need gasoline and, surprisingly enough, it was available, although gas stations as we know them weren't to be found. Every town had a general store and it was here that gasoline was available, as farmers used it to power their water pumps and/or other equipment. What was the biggest obstacle to overcome? Well, there may have been dozens of real problems to overcome, but getting lost in a country, still with thousands upon thousands of miles of uncharted lands, proved to be a never-ending concern on their 6,000-plus-mile trip.
Day-to-day mechanical breakdowns, countless flat tires, and many times the block and tackle was the daily tool of choice and by the end of the trip well used. If all of this weren't enough, fledgling car companies Packard and Oldsmobile launched their own factory supported efforts to cross the country that had already been in the planning stages for months. Ironically, during the adventure, Jackson was approached by a representative of the Winton company offering support, but Jackson refused it, believing he had come this far on his own and would make it the remainder of the way on his own.
Copious amounts of resilience coupled with eternal optimism, Jackson showed leadership (and deep pockets) while Crocker went from a bicycle mechanic to resourceful hot rodder in the span of 63 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes. On Sunday, July 26, at 4:30 a.m., Jackson, Crocker, and Bud the bulldog crossed the Harlem River into Manhattan. Oh yes, he won the $50 bet, but reports are Jackson never collected the money.
(Editor's Note: For the "rest of the story" you should read Horatio's Drive by Dayton Duncan or roundup a copy of a PBS documentary by Ken Burns on America's first road trip.)