Finding a path
From Ocean to Ocean on an endurance race
On June 1, New York City Mayor George McClellan, son of the Civil War general, had fired one shot in the air from a golden pistol. The vehicles that arrived in Goodland, two Fords, a Shawmut, an Acme and an Italia, had left New York City June 1. They struggled for 10 days to reach Goodland. Many of the roads they had traveled had never seen an automobile.
The Fords arrived Goodland (PDF) at 11:30 a.m. Friday, June 11, 1909. The drivers were plastered in mud. The paint on their wheels had been worn off. The tires’ rubber was gone. The Ford teams were clad in rubber with only their faces showing, but their faces were nearly covered as well.
In the same edition as the newspaper reported the cars’ arrival, it said that Sherman County had received six inches of rain in seven days. “Residents of Sherman County who settled here in 1885 and 1886 cannot remember … such copious rains as have fallen here within the last 10 days,” the edition said. The rain had caused widespread flooding.
Because the men were so filthy, mechanic William Hargraves took a garden hose and sprayed the men clean of road filth. Then the Ford crew members went to Roth’s Restaurant. While the Ford crew was eating lunch, the Shawmut car parked in front of the restaurant. The 60-horsepower Shawmut arrived at 12:10 p.m., but stayed only a short time. The Acme showed up on Saturday, still competing, but hopelessly behind.
The Italia reached Goodland a week later, The Republic said (PDF).
The Ford had some built-in advantages. It was lightweight. The crew could lift a stuck vehicle out of the obstacle themselves. The other, much heavier cars, had to find a horse, block and tackle to haul them out. And the cars got stuck a lot. American roads were notoriously bad. Only seven percent of the roads were classified as “improved”. The rest were simply dirt tracks. The Fords also benefited from their dealer network. The dealers scouted ahead for the best route and they provided mechanic services. The Shawmut network was rarely seen past New York State.
Ford No. 2 comes in first
After 23 days on the road, Ford No. 2’s driver Bert Scott and mechanic C.J. Smith pulled into Seattle at 12:55 p.m. Ford Motor Company President Henry Ford and Seattle Ford dealer R.P. Rice followed behind them. Ford was jubilant, the “happiest man in Seattle.” Scott and Smith were near collapse. Shawmut’s car finished 17 hours later. Ford No. 1 had been forced to replace an axle in Snoqualmie Pass on the final stage east of Seattle and was therefore disqualified. That team came in the next day, with Ford and Rice as escort. The Acme finished a week later. The Itala dropped out in Denver June 23.
Shawmut sues, wins race, but goes bankrupt
Ford made the victory the centerpiece of its marketing campaign. (PDF). However, five months later, the Automobile Club of America’s Contest Committee decided to disqualify Ford No. 2. They found that Ford No. 2 had received a new engine in Weiser, Idaho. Therefore, the committee declared Shawmut the winner. The company’s belated victory never made the headlines and the company went bankrupt shortly thereafter.
Reenactment races come to Goodland
In 2009, Model T owners celebrated the original race by driving it themselves. The organizational committee placed a plaque at the place where the photographer took the Fords’ picture. Some of the 2009 drivers are returning for the 110th anniversary in 2019.