- 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
The elapsed time for this automotive odyssey was sixty-three days and fifteen hours. The second half of the journey, east from Omaha, had been made in just twelve days. Subtracting layover time for rest and repairs, the Pathfinders were on the road some forty-six days. The distance they covered cannot be calculated with precision, but it was probably between forty-two hundred and forty-five hundred miles, averaging out to ninety-odd miles for each day of travel. Jackson later estimated his total cost for the trip, including the purchase of the car and Crocker’s salary as well as all their expenses, at $8,000—or $7,950, assuming that his drinking companions back at San Francisco’s University Club paid off their sporting wager.
As a transcontinental record the feat lasted barely three weeks, for the Fetch-Krarup factory-backed Packard that had set off on June 20 sliced three days off their mark. (The Whitman-Hammond Merry Oldsmobile also reached New York, but it took it seventy-four days.) In succeeding years the record was lowered repeatedly as auto makers competed for the publicity laurels. By 1910 a Reo had the mark down to a little over ten and a half days.
But in an adventure that would have challenged the inventiveness of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout, Horatio Nelson Jackson and Sewall Crocker were the first, and secure in the record books. Their uncommercial amateurism and cheerful enthusiasm add a special luster to the achievement. They did what no one else had ever done before, and it appears that they had a good time doing it.
Winton’s Charles Shanks certainly had a good time publicizing their journey. His large display ad in Motor World , for example, trumpeted “the recent triumph of our standard, regular model 20-horse power Touring Car” as “without parallel in American automobile history.” Company ads soon bore the slogan “Winton is King, Long Live the King. ” Shanks also pounced joyfully on the charge, apparently first circulated by Packard driver Tom Fetch, that the trip was a hoax, that Jackson and Crocker had put their car aboard a train to bypass the worst terrain and had then used a second car after the first one suffered a fatal breakdown. Shanks filled the automotive press with ads emblazoned in large type, “$25,000 Reward!!!”—$10,000 from the Winton Company and $15,000 put up by Dr. Jackson—for “the slightest evidence” to support such “malicious stories.” No one came forward to claim the reward, and Shanks had himself a second publicity coup.
As for the Pathfinders, they relaxed for several days after their arrival in New York and then climbed aboard the sturdy Winton for the journey home to Vermont. In the doctor’s hometown of Burlington, the town constable stopped them and levied a fine of five dollars and costs for exceeding the local six-mile-an-hour speed limit.
The Vermont rests today in the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of History and Technology, to which it was donated by Dr. Jackson in 1944, eleven years before his death at age eighty-two. It has been faithfully restored and is again resplendent in a finish of “Winton red.” Were it to be put to the challenge once more, running flat out on modern Interstates, it might make it from San Francisco to New York in thirteen days—assuming that anyone wanted to bet on it.