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America's First Road Trip: How a $50 Bet and a Dog Got a Nation on the Move

Nelson and Bud in the Vermont

by Richard A. Ratay

The very first noteworthy attempt to drive across America started as many ill-advised feats do – on a bet. While visiting Ca in 1903, a 31-year old doctor named Horatio Fitzgibbons accepted a friend’s invitation to join him for a drink at San Francisco’s University Membership.

It’s there, on the cocktail – or even likely several – that Jackson discovered himself in debate with another gentleman on the topic of regardless of whether automobiles, then just beginning to appear on city streets, were merely a passing fad. An enthusiastic admirer of the new gadgets, Jackson passionately contended that cars had been nothing less than the future of transport.

In fact, Jackson strongly asserted, automobiles were already so rugged and reliable he could drive a car clear across the country back to his home within Vermont.

Perhaps to his chagrin, Jackson’utes declaration was instantly challenged and a wager was set: $50, regarding $1200 in today’s money. Jackson wasn’t irritated by the amount; he or she was wealthy. Neither apparently was he or she dissuaded by the fact that he didn’capital t own a car, had barely driven one, or that rarely any roads been around west of the Mississippi River. But he might have regretted having to clarify his bet in order to his young wife the following morning. Instead of joining her spouse on the adventure, she opted to take a train home rather.

Undaunted, Jackson prepared for their epic journey. He or she hired a young mechanic, Sewall Crocker, to serve as his backup driver as well as traveling companion. On Crocker’s advice, Fitzgibbons purchased a two-cylinder, 20-horsepower Winton touring car. With perhaps a contact of inflated optimism, Jackson named the vehicle Vermont, after his home state and the location he hoped to reach.

Together, Jackson and Crocker planned a route heading north along the California coast before proceeding east along the Or Trail. Their aim was to avoid the treacherous Rocky Mountains and cooking deserts of the Southwest which had doomed earlier tries to cross the country through car.

The pair then loaded their Winton with all manner of gear: sleeping-bags, blankets, canteens, overcoats, watertight rubber suits, a water bag, axe, shovel, telescope, tools, spares, cans for extra fuel and oil, gun, shotgun, pistols, and a pulley system they could use to extricate themselves should they become stuck in mud. Last but not least, they bought an Eastman Kodak camera to document their own adventure. On May 23, 1903, Jackson kissed his exasperated wife goodbye and he and Crocker trigger.

Things didn’t start easily. Not even 15 miles into their journey, the duo’s car blew the tire. On the second night, the men realized the Winton’s side lanterns weren’t nearly bright enough in order to light their way after dark, and they were forced to purchase a large spotlight to mount on the front barbeque grill.

Days later, Jackson and Crocker failed to hear their own cooking equipment fall off over the din of the car’s engine. Near Sacramento, the happy couple was given bad directions-on purpose-by a woman because she desired her family to have their first look at an automobile. The detour added 108 miles to their path. In Oregon, the happy couple suffered two more flats. Lacking spares, they wound heavy rope around the tires as a makeshift substitute until they could find new tires.

Not long afterward, they ran out of fuel. Jackson was forced to rent a bicycle and pedal 25 miles to a town to purchase gasoline then ride back again with four large cans strapped to his back. Along the way, the bicycle also blew a tire. All this prior to the twosome had even really left the West Coast behind.

By the time Fitzgibbons and Crocker reached Los angeles, news of their quest was beginning to distribute. Their fame was bolstered by Jackson’utes decision to pick up another traveling companion – a spunky pitbull named Bud.

Bud Portrait

While driving across the arid salt flats associated with Utah, the dog’utes eyes became therefore irritated by dust kicked up through the car’s tires which Jackson had Bud fitted for his own driving goggles. The actual press ate up, turning out to take pictures and carry out interviews with the group of three at every stop. Fitzgibbons, Crocker and Bud became national celebrities.

After reaching Nebraska, the quality of the streets improved and so did the adventurers’ luck. Lastly, on July 26, 1903, after 63 days on the road (and off it), the Vermont and it is exhausted crew rolled onto the streets of New York City, finishing the first successful crossing of the North American continent by automobile.

So, the next time you load up your own SUV, get the kids situated in the back burner with their iPads, and hang off on smoothly paved interstates following a route carefully planned by your GPS navigation system to some distant destination, remember to suggestion your cap to Jackson, Crocker and Bud. After all, they’re the ones who started us all lower this road.

Richard Ratay is the author of the approaching book “Don’t Cause me to feel Pull This Thing Over! An Informal History of the household Road Trip.” Follow him or her on Facebook.

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