- 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
Despairing of making much headway on the old Oregon Trail route along the Platte, they detoured northward in search of higher ground. In this back country one day they encountered an elderly farmer and his wife driving a wagon. Seeing a noisy, muddy apparition bearing down on them, manned by two men and a bull terrier all sinister in driving goggles, the terrified couple scuttled under their wagon until the danger was past. A day short of Omaha, on a good road at last, the front axle snapped. The resourceful Crocker obtained a short length of iron pipe from a farmer, inserted the broken axle ends into it, and secured his jury-rigged repair by hammering in tire irons as wedges. They crept along for twenty miles until they found a blacksmith to weld the axle. On July 12, fifty-one days out of San Francisco, they drove into Omaha. It had taken them twenty days and three major breakdowns to cover the approximately 650 miles from Rawlins, Wyoming. But they sensed that the worst was now over.
Jackson and Crocker were becoming the center of growing attention as news of their adventure spread. “’Beelists’ Stop Here,” one newspaper reported. “From Ocean to Ocean in an Automobile Car,” ran another headline. Crowds collected at every stop, and Bud earned his keep as watchdog to bar souvenir hunters. A young bystander announced that he had ridden sixty-eight miles on horseback just for a glimpse of the machine. “I have seen lots of pictures of ’em,” he said, “but this is the first real live one I ever saw.”
It was probably about this time that Jackson learned that he had professional competition for the transcontinental honors. On June 20 Tom Fetch and Marius Krarup had set out from San Francisco in a factory-backed Packard, and on July 6 a third machine entered the lists, a curved-dash Oldsmobile piloted by L. L. Whitman and Eugene Hammond and sponsored by Ransom Olds. The one-day layover in Omaha was the last such relaxing pause for Jackson and Crocker. From Omaha eastward they were intent on making the best time possible.
Crossing the Missouri at Council Bluffs, they headed due east through Iowa to cross the Mississippi at Davenport on a path approximating modern Route 6. In Illinois they paralleled the tracks of the Chicago & Northwestern. Rain, Jackson reported, was “severe and continuous,” the roads “heavy and muddy,” but at least the bottomless buffalo wallows were a thing of the past. On only the fourth day out of Omaha they reached Chicago. It was their fastest passage so far. A night’s rest and they were again on their way, driving uneventfully through Indiana in a day and a half and on to Toledo, Ohio.
On the afternoon of Monday, July 20, at Elyria, Ohio, the travelers were greeted with open arms by the Winton Company’s advertising manager, Charles B. Shanks. There was no one in the auto business more adept at public relations than Shanks, and sensing a publicity bonanza, he had driven out from Cleveland with two carloads of company brass to greet what he fervently hoped would soon be conquering heroes. The Vermont was convoyed to the Hotel Hollenden, Cleveland’s best, where a large crowd was waiting to raise a cheer. That evening the company threw a testimonial banquet in Jackson and Cracker’s honor. An offer was made to have the Vermont checked over by mechanics at the Winton plant, but the doctor, ever the gentleman sportsman, was not going to jeopardize his amateur standing. The Winton, he said, “will finish without a ‘looking over’ at your factory.”
Early the next morning, July 21, the Pathfinders (as Shanks would label them) set off on the final leg of their epic journey. Barring serious accident, they had no doubt they would make it. Jackson’s ebullient mood was evident in the telegram he sent Shanks a day or so later: “Everything is O.K. but rain is fierce. If it continues will ask you to send paddles for the wheels and rudder for the rear of car. May have to take out navigation papers.”
Having had their fill of mountains, they avoided the Alleghenies and chose instead the longer water-level route through central New York to Albany, then down the Hudson to New York City. East of Buffalo overconfidence nearly did them in. Pelting along in the mud at the Winton’s top speed of twenty miles an hour, they ran into a hidden obstacle with such force that both men, as well as Bud, were pitched headlong out of the car. Amazingly, no one was injured, nor was the Winton seriously damaged in this final mishap of a journey filled with mishaps.
Saturday, July 25, found them hurrying southward along the Hudson to Fishkill, where they were met by a welcoming delegation from Manhattan that included Mrs. Jackson; alerted by wire, she had taken the train from Vermont to be there at the finish. After one last exasperating tire repair, they embarked on the final lap. At four in the morning on Sunday, July 26, the faithful Vermont chugged down Fifth Avenue to the Holland House. The next day’s New York Sun reported that “a mud-becoated automobile found a haven of rest in an uptown storage station last night after the longest motor vehicle journey on record.”