- Historic Sites
“Ocean To Ocean In An Automobile Car”
The first transcontinental auto trip began with a casual wager and ended sixty-five bone-jarring days later
June/july 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 4
Just beyond Granger, Wyoming, they found the road completely washed out by a recent cloudburst. Unable to get across a deep gully in their path, they backtracked along its course for forty miles or more. The terrain, Jackson recalled, was “like the solidified waves of an angry sea.” Repeatedly they had to use their block and tackle or spread bundles of cut sagebrush to get through muddy bogs. At last, in the vicinity of what is now Fontenelle Reservoir, they struck the Green River and began following it downstream. “Having lost our cooking outfit and provisions,” Jackson remarked (without further elaboration on that critical mishap), “and being in an uninhabited region, we were obliged to go thirty-six hours without food. ” After a day and a half’s travel without sighting a single human being, they stumbled upon a sheepherder and his flock, and were treated to a meal of mutton and canned corn that the travelers pronounced “sumptuous.”
From the town of Green River, Wyoming, they headed toward Rawlins, approximately paralleling today’s Interstate 80. This route took them over the Continental Divide, which they crossed without event and in good time. Indeed, when they pulled into Rawlins on June 23—a month after leaving San Francisco—they could take pride in the fact that, despite detours and complications beyond counting, they had traversed Idaho and half of Wyoming in just eleven days. Whatever elation they may have felt promptly evaporated as they drove from their Rawlins hotel to shelter the car in a nearby livery stable. With a great clattering the Winton’s engine stopped dead.
Upon investigation it was found that the stud bolts securing one of the connecting-rod bearings to the crankshaft had sheared off, sending the rod through the crankcase cover. The probable cause was lubrication failure. The Winton had a drip-feed oiling system, with oil lines leading to its vital parts from a one-quart tank on the dashboard. Unable always to obtain the proper lubricating oil, Jackson and Crocker had resorted to whatever weight oil they could find, and the oil lines became clogged as a result. Jackson hurried to the telegraph office to wire the Winton factory in Cleveland for replacement parts. At least he was comforted that the mishap had occurred where it had, for Rawlins was a stop on the Union Pacific. Five days later they had the new parts installed and were on their way.
East of Rawlins they encountered the Medicine Bow Range, which, Jackson wrote, provided the stiff est mountain-climbing test of the entire journey. The Vermont labored along slowly in low gear through Rattlesnake Canyon and over Elk Mountain. At the Medicine Bow River crossing a storekeeper, eyeing the Winton’s nearly empty fuel tank, gouged them $1.05 a gallon for five gallons of gasoline, some three times the going rate. This is the only instance of price extortion that Jackson mentions; what apparently pained him the most about the incident was that the storekeeper was from Vermont. The doctor’s spirits rose as they bowled along from Laramie to Cheyenne on “our first good road since we left Sacramento Valley.” Cheyenne marked the beginning of the end of mountain country, and to celebrate they laid over for two days, resting and recruiting their gear. “Just watch us now,” Jackson wired his wife in Vermont.
It was an unfortunate prediction. Some eighteen miles east of Cheyenne the Winton shuddered to a stop, ominously familiar noises coming from the engine. The other connecting-rod stud bolts had failed. A Union Pacific work crew made them welcome in its trackside camp while they waited five days for new parts from the Winton factory.
The travelers’ hopes of finding easier going in the Great Plains states faded quickly. “Instead of meeting with the good roads promised,” Jackson wrote, “we found them in a horrible condition, owing to the heavy rains. ” Crossing Nebraska was a particular trial. Repeatedly they were trapped in what the locals descriptively called “buffalo wallows.” Sometimes they were able to rig the block and tackle to a rear wheel hub, turning it into a windlass to haul the Vermont out of the bog under its own power. When all else failed, they went in search of a farmer with a team. On one exceptionally muddy day—in retrospect, probably the worst day of the entire journey—they had to resort to the block and tackle seventeen times. They estimated that day’s progress at sixteen miles.