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Winners of legendary auto event conquered every Nevada challenge they encountered.
How fitting that some of George Schuster’s most challenging hours during his journey across the world were spent in Nevada. After all, this is the Wild West, and where else would it be more appropriate for an American hero to have to borrow a horse in order to solve a crisis?
On March 19, 37 days into the 1908 New York to Paris Great Automobile Race, that is the predicament Schuster and his companions—among them George Miller and Charles Duprez—found themselves in. Having already driven thousands of miles west (Schuster joined the team in Buffalo, New York and replaced Montague Roberts as driver and captain in Cheyenne, Wyoming), the American team had gained a sizeable lead on their French, German, and Italian competitors. It was a lead they held onto until their ride to victory in Paris on July 30.
The going was tough in Nevada, much as it had been from the onset, when the racers immediately battled heavy snowdrifts across the eastern U.S. Now, the Americans’ 1907 Thomas Flyer car sat crippled in a muddy creek bed some 50 miles east of Tonopah. While the men tried to cross a stream not far from Twin Springs Ranch, six teeth broke from the Flyer’s drive pinion and the transmission cracked under the strain of an intense uphill climb. It was nearly dark when the men learned the extent of the damage.
Even if it was on four legs, Schuster was determined to continue. He hired a horse for $20 from a Twin Springs rancher and set off to Tonopah, where he hoped to find the necessary repair parts. After more than five hours of nightriding, during which Schuster was all but guessing his way, the horse was exhausted and Schuster was forced to lay up for the night. He came to a nearly empty ranch house—most of the occupants had gone to Tonopah earlier that day in anticipation of team America’s arrival. When Schuster knocked on the door, the woman who answered told him he wasn’t welcome inside, but he could feed his horse in the corral and sleep in the lean-to.
Schuster was awakened a short time later by four men, one of them W.W. Booth, editor of the Tonopah Bonanza. They were sent to look for the American team (legend has it at least one of them was frustrated, muttering, “Where did that crazy driver go?”). The five men crammed into a Simplex car, owned by Malcolm Macdonald, and headed for Tonopah, where Schuster was able to obtain the parts he needed from a local doctor’s Flyer. It took Schuster and Miller six hours to resurrect their ride and by the time they drove it to Tonopah, it was 11 p.m. on March 20. A little more than 24 hours had passed since a Twin Springs rancher warned them of the risky stream crossing that proved to be a major bump in the road to Paris.
There were many such frustrations for the American racers in an adventure that spanned three continents, 22,000 miles, and 169 days (the headaches in Nevada alone would have caused sane men to give up). They arrived in Nevada on March 17 near the northeastern tip of the state. Moving west from Utah, they passed through Montello traveling along the railroad. Having originally planned to go through Carson City and Reno, they were forced to turn south from Cobre, where they spent the night, due to reports of 20 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada.
Just after the team departed Ely on the evening of March 18, all four wheels became stuck in a mudhole near Lane City. A six-mule team and wagon happened by, and the driver helped pull them out. A few hours down the road and within sight of the Veteran Mines buildings, the car became entrenched again, this time in a bog. After spending the night in the miners’ quarters, the men used horses to free their car from the muck.
The Americans also had run-ins with wild Nevada—bands of wild horses stampeded at the sight of the Flyer, especially around Ely. Referring to the hundreds of miles of isolation on their southwestward route that roughly followed what is now U.S. 6, Schuster wrote, “The only excitement came when we startled a long-legged jackrabbit…Our efforts to drop one with a shot were unavailing. They were too fast.”
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the Americans’ route across Nevada was the rousing ovations they received from towns along the way. A crowd greeted the men when they chugged into Riepetown late on the night of March 18. Even upon arriving just before midnight in Tonopah on March 20, “Everybody in town waited up and rang fire bells,” Schuster wrote. The next day, they landed in Goldfield, “where there was a riotous welcome with cowboys and miners firing pistols.”
The glorious receptions were not reserved exclusively for the American racers. The Italians arrived in Ely on March 26 to the shouts and applause of several hundred spectators. After the Flyer had come and gone, a 1908 Goldfield Daily Tribune article read, “The Italian, French, and German autos, in the order of their arrival here, [should] be accorded the same welcome as was given the American crew.” The Italians of Goldfield made red, white, and green flags and waved them as the Italian competitors drove through town.
That same enthusiasm returned to Tonopah and Goldfield 100 years later. On March 22, 2008, participants in a centennial celebration dressed in period costume and gathered for reenactment photos. “It was a highly festive mood,” says Jeanne Sharp Howerton, a Las Vegas resident who was there. “The crowd was jovial, the Nevada Old-Time Fiddlers were playing, kind of like you’d expect it was back then. There was quite a crowd in the streets.” The events were especially nostalgic for Howerton, who grew up 50 miles north of Twin Springs Ranch on Blue Eagle Ranch, where Schuster and company passed through 100 years ago.
In many ways, that is the beauty of Nevada—not only is it a state rich in history, it’s a state that still gets excited about its history.
TONOPAH: 100 YEARS LATER
The Nevada Boomtown Committee and Goldfield Historical Society commemorated the 100-year anniversary of the 1908 New York to Paris Great Automobile Race on March 22. Tonopah photographer Jim Galli snapped this reenactment photo (left) at the same location in which George Schuster and the American team were captured on March 20, 1908.
“I used a 1908 Eastman Improved No. 2 camera,” Galli says. “I chose an 1895 Rochester Optical Company lens of 15-1/2-inch focal length because it has an angle of view nearly identical to what was used for the 1908 photo.” The car in the reenactment photo is a 1910 Cadillac owned by Tonopah’s John Campbell.
Visit Galli’s Web site for more information: tonopahpictures.Ocatch.com
1908 GREAT RACE
The Great Automobile Race began on February 12, 1908, and ended more than five months later on July 30. Sponsored by The New York Times and Le Matin, a Paris newspaper, it was decided that there would be a race from New York to Paris, even before the first cross-country highway (Lincoln) was conceived in 1913. The competitors: France, Italy, Germany, and the United States. George Schuster drove the American team to victory.
THE LONGEST AUTO RACE CENTENNIAL
The Longest Auto Race Centennial will begin in New York City on October 18, 2008, and finish in San Francisco on November 8. Participants will be making a stop in Ely on November 2, Tonopah on November 3, and Goldfield on November 4, among other Nevada stops. For additional details, visit longestautoracecent.com.
TODAY IN TONOPAH
In Tonopah, you can see a mural on the downtown Mizpah Annex building on Main Street. The mural (at right), by Lee Bowerman, depicts the Tonopah arrival of George Schuster’s crew in their 1907 Thomas Flyer on March 20, 1908. tonopahnevada.com, 775-482-6336
TODAY IN RENO
In Reno, the 1907 Thomas Flyer, the winning car in the 1908 Great Race, is on display at the National Automobile Museum (The Harrah Collection). Bill Harrah brought it to Reno in 1964. A special exhibit, which lasts until January 5, features interactive displays, a race timeline, and 12 oil paintings by Reno artist Bob Cinkel.
The World Race 2011 starts in New York on April 14, 2011, and will end in Paris. The route retraces much of the same terrain covered in 2008.