First Transcontinental Car Race Sputtered Through Wyoming
America's first coast-to-coast automobile road was across the road that would later become the Lincoln Highway. At the time it was just a series of a dirt roads it stretched from New York City to San Francisco. Not long after it was someone decided to race it.
There was no such thing as a speed limit back then. No matter. The automobile was not all that fast. Still, it was fast enough and the road was rough enough to cause injury or death in the event of a crash. One of the cars, Old Scout was even cautioned for speeding. On good stretches, the cars could actually go as fast as 15 miles an hour in some places.
Th automobile of choice was the 7-horsepower Curved Dash. This style of automobile was rugged for its time and Dash the first to motor across the Oregon Trail.
The race was a publicity contest. The first prize would be one thousand dollars. That was big money in those days.
According to Wyoming Tales and Trails, James W. Abbott, who organized the race said, "[The] important purpose was to bring vividly to public attention a clearer knowledge about all phases of existing transcontinental highways."
The race began in the East, in New York City on May 8. The trip was estimated to only take 30 days. Boy were they ever wrong. It rained every day for three weeks. Almost 1000 miles of the trip became nothing but became muddy ruts. There was a lot of getting out and pushing.
No signs. Not gas stations. Their best guide was to keep alongside the Union Pacific Rail Road tracks.
In the Midwest and West they were blocked by herds of animals, mostly cattle and hogs rather than the buffalo encountered by the wagon trains.
Finally the cars arrived in Wyoming reaching Cheyenne 11 days behind schedule.
Old Scout took an early lead and held onto it. The two Runabouts began meeting numerous covered wagons still using the trail.
Wyoming, was not an easy state for the drivers. One of them later wrote, ‘we drove 18 hours, forded five streams and made a total of 11 miles.’
If the trail was dry the ruts were so deep. They would have to dig with shovels to keep from bottoming out. Rocky stretches were worse. One set of tires was worn out every 90 miles.
Traveling across Wyoming they followed the historic route up the Platte and the Sweetwater, and along the trail over the Continental Divide at South Pass. Now they were onto the Pacific side of the country.
Worse than ruts in the roads were the prairie dog towns. One driver wrote: ‘…about every five miles we would strike one of these dog villages, comprised of from two to five hundred mounds. The dogs would congregate on the tops of their houses until Old Steady would be almost upon them, when they would scamper down into the regions below.’
Eventually, Old Scout made it to the finish line. The 30 day trip took 44 days. By then there were only three cars left in the race and they decided that they were so far behind they might as well take their time finishing. But at least they finished.