The Longest Race

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IN WYOMING THE LAND WAS wide-open, without roads, and cowboys occasionally loped alongside to chat. One night in the Rockies the Zust, losing its traction on the falling snow, slowed to a crawl. Sirtori and his two companions were making what progress they could when they thought they heard children crying in the night. But it couldn’t have been. Within a few minutes they saw forms moving around the car, and as they crept along, they realized that a pack of about fifty wolves was circling the car, and circling ever faster and ever closer. The car couldn’t speed up on the snow or hope to outrun the pack. Sirtori blew the horn, which failed to intimidate the animals. He turned the car’s spotlight on them, without any effect. Then, after stopping the car, he and his teammates sprang to the trunks in the back and took out rifles, which they turned on a few of the wolves. Some of the surviving wolves immediately devoured the dead ones, but others kept circling, so the men blasted away until their ammunition ran out, at which point, luckily, the remaining wolves ran away. It was a perfect story for an Italian to take home from Wyoming, but since it was corroborated by townspeople who went to the scene the next day (to collect pelts for the wolf bounty), it was apparently true.

In Wyoming at the end of March, the De Dion dashed after the Thomas and the Zust, while the others lagged. Bourcier St. Chaffray, heading the De Dion effort, had the spirit of his countryman Tocqueville in him, and along the way he made pointed observations on American society. Many of his comments fell into two categories: Americans were more egalitarian than Europeans, yet they were much more money-mad. No sooner did St. Chaffray note that there is only one class in this country, with no visible difference between rich and poor, than he wondered why the primary interest that little boys had in the New York to Paris race was how much the drivers would get for winning. (Nothing.)

The mileage was carried out like the score of the race, and after a month and a half, the distances covered and the locations were: Thomas Flyer 3,832 (San Francisco); Zust 2,718 (Nevada); De Dion 2,536 (Utah); Protos 2,325 (Wyoming). Baron Godard, in the Moto-Bloc, had become so hopelessly lost in the fields of Marshalltown, Iowa (1,191 miles), that he was out of the race. The Thomas Flyer was so far ahead that even the ship schedules worked out conveniently, bringing it, and it alone, to Valdez, Alaska, for the next stage of the race. Valdez is a port on the southern coast; the plan was to go from there to Fairbanks, which is in the middle of Alaska, give or take two hundred miles, and then due west to Nome, on the west coast. The people of Nome possessed a total of two automobiles, according to a young man who had helped found the city a few years before. The more practical transportation there, and certainly back in Valdez, was the dogsled, driven by “mushers.” In mid-April the Valdez mushers were loading up with assorted merchandise for their first selling trip of the year, buying, for example, crabs, (at five cents apiece) from the local Indians to sell in Fairbanks (for one dollar). They were the big rigs of Alaska, and they were going the same way as the Thomas: north.

 
 

GEORGE SCHUSTER, THE Thomas factory employee who now had taken over driving the Flyer, was a sharp mechanic, but it didn’t require much training to notice that the average dogsled was about half as wide as the average Thomas Flyer and that the route out of Valdez could not be of any use without drastic alterations to the car. It was the crisis of the Great Race, and telegrams flew back and forth between Paris and Alaska and even to San Francisco, where the De Dion and Zust were waiting to board a steamship.

Lieutenant Koeppen was at the time speeding along at a phenomenal rate toward Seattle—which would have been good news except that he was sitting on a train, while the Protos remained in Utah. It was broken, but that is needless to say, and stuck in a snowstorm, but that is needless to say. Of greater interest was that Lieutenant Koeppen was going to Seattle to buy parts and that his Chicago teammate had suddenly diagnosed in himself some medical condition or other that would keep him from continuing in the Protos around the rest of the world. Cables soon flew back and forth between Seattle and Germany.

Directed to skip Alaska, Schuster and the Thomas team loaded their car on the first ship bound for Seattle. Meanwhile St. Chaffray in the De Dion and Sirtori in the Zust had boarded the first ship bound for Japan. And Lieutenant Koeppen had finally figured out, on his trip to Seattle, how to keep the Protos from breaking down so much: He loaded it onto a train. After arriving on the coast, he and the car shipped out for Russia, skipping Japan, which the Race Committee had designated optional. All agreed that the Thomas would retain its fifteen-day lead when the cars collected in Russia and that the Protos would sustain a fifteen-day penalty for taking a shortcut on the train. Still, having broken the trail all along the way, the Thomas found itself following up the rear by the time it finally arrived in Seattle to catch its ship west.