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In 1905, two Oldsmobiles became the first cars to tour America. There was little noticeable technology under the hood of these cars – the seven-horsepower single-cylinder engines could reach a top speed of 30 miles per hour, and they would tackle some of the world’s toughest “roads”. . country. But behind the wheel of every vehicle was at least one man with a truly absurd name.

The first car was nicknamed “Old Scout”, and it was driven by Dwight B. Huss and Milford Wigle. The other vehicle, called “Old Steady”, was driven by Percey F. Megargel and Barton Stanchfield.

We are presented with all these facts in the first three paragraphs of Coast-to-coast auto races of the early 1900s: three contests that changed the world by Curt McConnell. At this point I had to put the book down and take a moment to pull myself together, because the 12 year old boy in me couldn’t get past the humor of the names. There are few things funnier than the old names from the turn of the 20th century, and the four men who first competed in a cross-country race really topped the humor charts. Megargel. Stanchfield. Wiggle. Huss. Great legends of motor racing.

A bit of that humor has remained throughout McConnell’s book – which meticulously tracks runners’ journeys through local newspaper archives along the route. This particular event was organized by an agent from the United States Department of Agriculture with the aim of promoting the “good roads” program that many in government envisioned.

Essentially, this program indicated that America needed a series of decent quality roads stretching from coast to coast (or at least connecting one city to another) in order to serve all local people to the stuck with rutted roads. Taking part in the event would also be a boon for Oldsmobile; if the cars finished the race it would be a big promotion for the durability of their machines. The winner of the race would earn $ 1,000 (over $ 30,000 today) while the runner-up would keep his car.

As you can imagine, it was not a simple endeavor. In the early 1900s, some major metropolitan areas had impressive city roads, but a significant part of the country had very little other than a path rutted by frequent carriages. If it rained, these “roads” would be washed away and both teams would have to dig out of the mud. There were occasions when they only covered a few miles despite a 14 hour stint. It was a grueling read.

Old Scout was the first car to reach the race’s final destination, Portland, Oregon. He arrived 44 days, 6 hours and 28 minutes after leaving New York. Old Steady arrived seven days later. One of the drivers estimated that the debacle cost Oldsmobile around $ 13,000 (around $ 404,000 today) due to repairs, overnight stays, and money paid to help people along the way.

Huss ended up being a fairly accomplished pilot. It competed in a 200-hour non-stop test in Detroit in 1906, then competed in part of the 1907 Glidden Tour and a three-day Toledo-Columbus-Cleveland reliability race in 1908. It then went on to become production and sales engineer for Hupp Motor Car Company from 1913 until his retirement in 1930. Seven years later he worked at the Ford plant in River Rouge.

Megargel then made a round trip coast to coast in a Reo, although he died young in 1909. Very little is known about what happened to the other two men, Wigle and Stanchfield. .

By the end of the race there was a lot of positive publicity for the Good Roads movement, but it took years for the government to act. Subsequent races, like the New York-Paris race, were contested in the same miserable road conditions, leaving some European drivers outraged by a shocking and heinous event.

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