I was interested in seeing Horatio’s Drive, a Ken Burns documentary on PBS, when it came out, but my TV viewing time being extremely limited, I simply didn’t get around to it until last week. Which means this will be old news to some of you. But not to all.
The early automobile was viewed as a rich man’s toy. Many thought it was a passing fad. There were enthusiasts, however, who saw the motor car as the future of transportation. Horatio Nelson Jackson was one of them.
In 1903, Dr. Jackson bet some other gentlemen $50 that he could drive from San Francisco to New York City in less than 90 days.
This was plain crazy, and I’ll tell you why. He barely knew how to drive and he’d never owned a car. The one thing you could rely on early autos for was breaking down. Even going short distances, tires blew out, engines blew up, and parts fell off or broke. Constantly. And this happened on smooth roads—which existed only in metropolitan areas. Dr. Jackson was proposing to drive across the country—where, in many places, the roads barely accommodated a horse and wagon--and where rivers and streams didn't always have bridges spanning them. There were no auto parts stores or gas stations. Broken parts had to be repaired by one’s trusty mechanic, or rebuilt by the local blacksmith (ah, irony) or ordered from the factory and sent on by train.
|Horatio's Drive DVD|
The PBS site offers the story summary as well as a map and pictures. You can also find a story summary on Wikipedia. The actual car, and other artifacts, are at the Smithsonian, along with info about the trip. But the film is well worth watching, for a sense of the man's vibrant, optimistic personality, as so wonderfully voiced in his letters to his wife.
Dr. Jackson brought along a camera, and his photos capture the world he, his driving partner Sewall Crocker, and the bulldog Bud traveled through . . . a world their journey changed irrevocably.
Top left from Motor, 1903
Below right from Amazon
Below left from Wikimedia commons