Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Ours is a family interested in old cars, s...

Ours is a family interested in old cars, so I’m writing some of the highlights of a speech my husband, Chub Gerard, presented to the Columbia “Corral” of Westerners International 16 years ago.

Horatio Nelson Jackson had a lucrative medical practice in Vermont, so he and his wife escaped the bitter winters by vacationing on the West Coast. While there in 1903, he heard excited talk about automobiling. So he took driving lessons from a young mechanic named Sewell Crocker and decided to buy a car when he returned to Vermont.

In May, the Jacksons were packing to leave San Francisco when the doctor, visiting the fellows at his favorite bar, entered the discussion about automobiles, pro and con. “Well, one thing’s certain,” a man said, “No one will ever travel from here to New York in one of those things.” The doctor and most of the others argued the point. New driver that he was, Horatio Jackson blurted out, “I’ll bet you $50 that even I could do it!” The man accepted his bet!

Jackson spoke without thinking but he was honor bound to stand by his wager. He employed Sewell Crocker, the mechanic and driving teacher, to go along. They selected the sturdy Winton car manufactured in Cleveland. The dealer had received eight two-seat Wintons but all were sold. A banker offered to sell his if the doctor paid the new price --$2,500 -- plus a $500 bonus. Sold!

The doctor’s beautiful Winton Tourer was red with black trim; he named it “The Vermont.” It had a buggy body made of wood and sporty wooden fenders. The comfortable bucket-type seats were of tufted leather. It had no optional equipment such as lights, windshield or overhead protection from rain or blazing sun. Mrs. Jackson returned home, her husband promising to see her within 90 days. She was not so sure!

The Vermont’s steering wheel was on the right-hand side, a tilting one, which made it easier for Jackson to squeeze in when it was his turn to drive. The car had 20 horsepower, two cylinders and chain drive to the rear wheels. It had an angle iron frame and running gear. The engine was mounted crosswise under the seats, and it powered a fly wheel 2 feet in diameter. Two forward speeds and reverse were controlled with foot pedals that stuck up through the floorboard.

Removing the back section made space for sleeping bags, rain gear, cooking utensils, block and tackle, guns, pistols, ax, fishing supplies, spade, cans of water, tire patch kit and jack, tools and enough luggage! One man took a camera.

At 1 p.m. on May 23, 1903, only five days after the wager was made, Jackson and Sewell started east from San Francisco to New York -- with a compass but no map. They carried 12 gallons of gasoline, but no spare tires or tubes. At the end of the second day of dusty driving they rested while having an acetylene gas lamp mounted on The Vermont’s front. On the eighth day they came out of the Sacramento Valley. Then their troubles began.

Of this country’s 2,300,000 miles of roads, only 150 miles were paved and none were paved in rural areas. “Roads” were just faint tracks and ruts left by early wagon trains. Creeks and rivers had to be crossed without bridges. Tires and tubes had to be patched. But Horatio Nelson Jackson and Sewell Crocker were determined men. And, also, there was that $50 bet!

Additional details and several photos are in an article by Stephen W. Sears in the June/July issue of American Heritage, 1980. I’ll continue this story some other Tuesday.

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