In the fall of
1911 when automobiles were still a novelty and paved roads a luxury of the
future, a stouthearted band of goggle-eyed, linen-dustered
"tourists"—including me—set forth on what was known as a Glidden Tour.
Our car, a Stevens-Duryea, contained my father, a highly competitive-minded man
at all times, now a dedicated pioneer hellbent on proving the make of car he
was driving the best on the road; my mother, a quiet, competent little woman,
who was wise enough to let Dad believe that neither Barney Old-field nor Ralph
De Palma would stand a turtle's chance against him; and a Mr. Young, who had
been sent along by the Stevens-Duryea factory as a spare driver. And of course
there was I, a child of 10.
These tours, in a
loose sort of way, could be classified as races. Each type of car was required
to maintain a given rate of speed in order to turn in a "perfect score"
over a specified course, in this case, between New York City and Jacksonville.
Apparently the rate of speed was determined by snob appeal and the price of the
car. Since my father's car was one of a team of three Stevens-Duryeas, his
average was set at 20 miles per hour. This put him in the top echelon, a
distinction in which he took unusual delight.
Twenty miles per
hour may not sound like a burdensome requirement today, even taking into
consideration the era of this particular "race," but it included all
time-outs, and that was the kicker! A day seldom passed without at least one
puncture or blowout, engine trouble of one kind or another, or a broken spring
that had been pounded to pieces by the rough roads and mountain water breaks.
There was also the inevitable leak, which would develop periodically in a
different part of this new and miraculous mechanism known as the
The weather was
an equally determining factor in each day's progress. On rainy days we skidded
and swished through the mud, frequently having to be pulled by mule power or
pushed by manpower from hub-deep ruts or the ever-hospitable ditches on both
sides of roads.
It started to
rain as we drove through Gettysburg, Pa., and it continued until we slid into
South Carolina, three days and two nights later. Under the small, smooth-tread
tires of those days, the narrow, winding clay roads through the mountains of
Virginia and North Carolina were treacherous even when dry; wet, they were
reminiscent of the whirling disk at an amusement park which is designed to
dislodge its load and send it scurrying. The gullies bordering these slimy
pathways were fringed with cars, poised at an angle of 45�, their drivers
patiently waiting to be rescued by friends or a farmer and his team of
Had it not been
for the services of the kind, and occasionally enterprising, farmers and
mountaineers who kept fires burning, both to designate and to illuminate our
route after dark, and an ample supply of mules at each of the 10 unbridged
streams we had to ford, only the three Stevens-Duryeas and two of the Pierce
Arrows would have reached Jacksonville at all: they were the only cars on the
tour with sufficient umph to plow through water up to their engine
splashed past some less fortunate fellow travelers, held in the grip of a
swollen creek, my father would rear back and look as if he had singlehandedly
parted the waters of the Red Sea for our unimpeded passing. If, by chance, the
victims happened to be in a Maxwell, his day was a rip-roaring success.
From the very
onset of the tour Dad and the three Maxwell drivers became archenemies.
"They're all professional mechanics," he argued, "and have no
business in a gentlemen's race."
Day by day, as
their sturdy little cars chugged along, always managing to ease across the
daily finish line within their required 16-miles-per-hour average, his enmity
toward them increased. The sparks really began to fly the day one of our
teammates was trying to make up the time he had lost changing two tires in a
pouring rain, and the little Maxwells refused to concede the middle of a slick,
muddy road to the faster car. When a penalty of 10 points was assessed against
the delayed Stevens-Duryea, Dad charged in.