Uncle John's Endlessly Engrossing Bathroom Reader

Uncle John's Endlessly Engrossing Bathroom Reader by Bathroom Readers’ Institute Read Free Book Online

Book: Uncle John's Endlessly Engrossing Bathroom Reader by Bathroom Readers’ Institute Read Free Book Online
Authors: Bathroom Readers’ Institute
newfangled machines (and their drivers) against the toughest conditions possible on a course stretching around the world, with a sizable cash prize to the winner, say, $1,000. Then call it “The Great Race”…and cross your fingers.

    It’s hard to comprehend the hold automobiles had on the public imagination at the turn of the 20th century. A similar frenzy of technological one-upmanship occurred during the race to the moon in the 1960s, as industrial nations competed fiercely to be considered the most modern and up-to-date technologically. When it came to cars, there had a been a few rally-style road races before 1908—most notably a Peking-to-Paris auto race in 1907, but nothing on a truly global scale. So the New York Times and the French newspaper Le Matin combined to organize a bigger, better competition designed to be the ultimate test of man and machine. Starting in New York City, the racers would cross the continental United States and the Alaskan territory, take a ferry across the Bering Strait, then drive from Vladivostok across Siberia to Paris—a trek of 22,000 miles.
    Few paved roads existed anywhere at that time, and much of the planned route crossed vast roadless areas. And with few gas
stations in existence, just completing the course would require every ounce of stamina and ingenuity on the part of the car and the driver, but the winner would own indisputable bragging rights to the claim of Best Car in the World.

    To the cheers of a crowd of 250,000 people, six cars representing four nations pulled out of New York’s Times Square on February 12, 1908, to begin the great adventure. France had three cars: a De Dion-Bouton, a Motobloc, and a Sizaire-Naudin. Germany was represented by a Protos, and Italy by a Zust. All but the American entry—a stock off-the-line Thomas Flyer driven by George Schuster—were custom built for the competition. (The Thomas was a last-minute entry because the sponsors couldn’t bear the thought of a race of this magnitude not having an American representative.) All but the 1-cylinder Sizaire-Naudin had 4-cylinder engines ranging from 30–60 horsepower; the fastest, the Protos, could get up to 70 mph. The cars were heavy, boxy things, with open cockpits and no windshields (glass was considered too dangerous). Each team consisted of a principal driver, a relief driv-er /mechanic, and an assistant, usually a reporter who would travel with the team and send stories from the road via telegraph.

    Immediately upon leaving Manhattan, the cars drove into a fierce snowstorm that claimed the Sizaire-Naudin as the race’s first victim. The 15-horsepower French two-seater broke down in Peek-skill, New York, and was forced to quit. It had gone a mere 44 miles. Snow dogged the remaining cars all the way to Chicago, slowing their progress to a snail’s pace. It took the Thomas Flyer eight hours to travel four miles in Indiana, and then only with horses breaking the trail in front of the car.
    After Chicago, the cars headed across the Great Plains in subzero temperatures. To keep warm, the French Motobloc team rerouted heat from the engine into the cab (an innovation that found its way into future cars) but to no avail: The Motobloc had to quit the race in Iowa. Meanwhile, the winter weather had turned the plains to mud, which stuck to the chassis of the cars, adding hundreds of pounds of weight to each vehicle. Teams took
to stopping at fire stations in every town they passed for a highpressure rinse.
    Unable to find usable roads across Nebraska, the drivers took to “riding the rails,” straddling railroad tracks and bouncing along, tie to tie, for hundreds of miles. (Blowouts were frequent.) A Union Pacific conductor rode along with the American team to alert them to oncoming trains. In especially bad weather, one team member would straddle the radiator with a lantern and peer ahead of the car.
    When there

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