In 1903 George A Wyman rode, pushed, pulled, carried and ultimately pedalled his 1902 1¼hp California from San Francisco to New York City. It was the first powered transcontinental crossing and clearly ranks as one of the greatest long-distance rides of all time. Here, in Wyman’s own words, is the story of his 50-day odyssey.
Across America on a Motor Bicycle
Part I. Over The Sierras And Through The Snow Sheds
LITTLE MORE THAN three miles constituted the first day’s travel of my journey across the American continent. It is just three miles from the corner of Market and Kearney streets, San Francisco, to the boat that steams to Vailejo, California, and, leaving the corner formed by those streets at 2:30 o’clock on the bright afternoon of May 16, less than two hours later I had passed through the Golden Gate and was in Vallejo and aboard the ‘Ark’, or houseboat of my friends, Mr and Mrs. Brerton, which was anchored there. I slept aboard the ‘Ark'” that night. At 7:20 o’clock the next morning I said goodbye to my hospitable hosts and to the Pacific, and turned my face toward the ocean that laps the further shore of America. I at once began to go up in the world. I knew I would go higher; also I knew my mount. I was traveling familiar ground. During the previous summer I had made the journey on a California motor bicycle to Reno, Nevada, and knew that crossing the Sierras, even when helped by a motor, was not exactly a path of roses. But it was that tour, nevertheless, that fired me with desire to attempt this longer journey–to become the first motorcyclist to ride from ocean to ocean.
For thirteen miles out of Vallejo the road was a succession of land waves; one steep hill succeeded by another, but the motor was working like clockwork and covered the distance in but a few moments over the hour, and in the face of a wind the force of which was constantly increasing. The further I went the harder blew the wind. Finally it actually blew the motor to a standstill–I promptly dismounted and broke off the muffler. The added power proved equal to the emergency, and the wind ceased to worry. My next dismount was rather sudden. While going well and with no thought of the road I ran full tilt into a patch of sand. I landed ungracefully, but unharmed, ten feet away. The fall, however, broke my cyclometer and also cracked the glass of the oil cup in the motor–damage which the plentiful use of tyre tape at least temporarily repaired. Entering the splendid farming country of the Sacramento Valley, it is easy to imagine this the garden spot of the world. Magnificent farms, well-kept vineyards and a profusion of peach, pear, and almond orchards line the road; and that scene so common to Californians’ eyes and so odd to visitors’–great gangs of pigtailed Chinese at work with the rake and hoe–is everywhere observable.
At Davisville, 59 miles from Vallejo, those always genial and well meaning prevaricators, the natives, informed me that the road to Sacramento, which point I had set as the day’s destination, was in good shape: and though I knew that in many places the Sacramento River, swollen by the melting snow of the Sierras, had, as is the case each year, overflowed its banks. I trustingly believed them. Alas! for human faith. Eight miles from Davisville the road lost itself in the overflowing river. The water was too deep to navigate on a motor bicycle or any other bicycle, so I faced about and retraced the road for four miles, or until I reached the railroad tracks.
The river and its tributaries, and for several miles the lowlands, are spanned by trestlework, on which the rails are laid. The crossties of the roadbed proper are not laid with punctilious exactitude, nor are the intervalling spaces leveled or smoothed. They make uncomfortable and wearying walking: they make bicycle riding of any sort dangerous when it is not absolutely impossible. On the trestles themselves the ties are laid sufficiently close together to make them rideable–rather ‘choppy’ riding, it is true, but much faster and less tiresome than trundling. I walked the road-bed; I ‘bumped it’ across the trestles and that night, the 17th, I slept in Sacramento, a day’s journey of 82 miles and slept soundly.
It was late when I awoke, and almost noon when I left the beautiful capital of the Golden State. The Sierras and a desolate country were ahead, and I made preparations accordingly. Sacramento’s but 15 feet above sea level; the summit of the range is 7,015 feet. Three and a half miles east of Sacramento the high trestle bridge spanning the main stream of the American River has to be crossed, and from this bridge is obtained a magnificent view of the snow-capped Sierras, “the great barrier that separates the fertile valleys and glorious climate of California from the bleak and barren sagebrush plains, rugged mountains, and forbidding wastes of sand and alkali that, from the summit of the Sierras, stretch away to the eastward for over a thousand miles”. The view from the American River bridge is imposing, encompassing the whole foothill country, which “rolls in broken, irregular billows of forest crowned hill and charming vale, upward and onward to the east; gradually growing more rugged, rocky, and immense, the hills changing to mountains, the vales to canyons until they terminate in bald, hoary peaks whose white, rugged pinnacles seem to penetrate the sky, and stand out in ghostly, shadowy outline against the azure depths of space beyond”.
A few miles from Sacramento is the land of sheep. The country for miles around is a country of splendid sheep ranches, and the woolly animals and the sombreroed ranchmen are everywhere. Speeding around a bend in the road I came almost precipitately upon an immense drove which was being driven to Nevada. While the herders swore, the sheep scurried in every direction, fairly piling on top of each other in their eagerness to get out of my path. The timid, bleating creatures even wedged solidly in places. As they were headed in the same direction I was going, it took some time to worry through the drove.
The pastoral aspect of the sheep country gradually gave way to a more rugged landscape, huge boulders dotting the earth and suggesting the approach to the Sierras. At Rocklin the lower foothills are encountered: the stone beneath the surface of the ground makes a firm roadbed and affords stretches of excellent going. Beyond the foothills the country is rough and steep and stony and redolent of the days of ’49. It was here and hereabouts that the gold finds were made and where the rush and ‘gold fever’ were fiercest. Desolation now rules, and only heaps of gravel, water ditches, and abandoned shafts remain to give colour to the marvellous narratives of the ‘oldest inhabitants’ that remain. The steep grades also remain, and the little motor was compelled to work for its ‘mixture’. It ‘chugged’ like a panting being up the mountains, and from Auburn to Colfax–60 miles from Sacramento–where I halted for the night, the help of the pedals was necessary.
When I left Colfax on the morning of May 19, the motor was working grandly, and though the going was up, up, up it carried me along without any effort for nearly 10 miles. Then it overheated, and I had to ‘nurse’ it with oil every three or four miles. It recovered itself during luncheon at Emigrants’ Gap, and I prepared for the snow that had been in sight for hours and that the atmosphere told me was not now far ahead. But between the Gap and the snow there was six miles of the vilest road that mortal ever dignified by the term. Then I struck the snow, and as promptly I hurried for the shelter of the snow sheds, without which there would be no travel across continent by the northern route. The snow lies 10, 15, and 20-feet deep on the mountain sides, and ever and anon the deep boom or muffled thud of tremendous slides of ‘the beautiful’ as it pitches into the dark deep canyons or falls with terrific force upon the sheds conveys the grimmest suggestions.
The sheds wind around the mountain sides, their roofs built aslant that the avalanches of snow and rock hurled from above may glide harmlessly into the chasm below. Stations, section houses, and all else pertaining to the railways are, of course, built in the dripping and gloomy, but friendly, shelter of these sheds, where daylight penetrates only at the short breaks where the railway tracks span a deep gulch or ravine.
To ride a motor bicycle through the sheds is impossible. I walked, of course, dragging my machine over the ties for 18 miles by cyclometer measurement. I was 7 hours in the sheds. It was 15 feet under the snow. That night I slept at Summit, 7,015 feet above the sea, having ridden–or walked–54 miles during the day. The next day, May 20, promised more pleasure, or, rather, I fancied that it did so, l knew that I could go no higher and with dark, damp, dismal snow sheds and the miles of wearying walking behind me, and a long downgrade before me, my fancy had painted a pleasant picture of, if not smooth, then easy sailing. When I sought my motor bicycle in the morning the picture received its first blur. My can of lubricating oil was missing. The magnificent view that the tip top the mountains afforded lost its charms. I had eyes not even for Donner Lake, the ‘gem of the Sierras’, nestling like a great, lost diamond in its setting of fleecy snow and tall, gaunt pines.
Oil such as I required was not to be had on the snowbound summit nor in the untamed country ahead, and oil I must have–or walk, and walk far. I knew that my supply was in its place just after emerging from the snow sheds the night before, and I reckoned therefore that the now prized can had dropped off in the snow, and I was determined to hunt for it. I trudged back a mile and a half. Not an inch of ground or snow escaped search; and when at last a dark object met my gaze I fairly bounded toward it. It was my oil! I think I now know at least a thrill of the joy experienced by the traveller on the desert who discovers an unsuspected pool.
The oil, however was not of immediate aid. It did not help me get through the dark, damp, dismal tunnel, 1,700 feet long, that afforded the only means of egress from Summit. I walked through that, of course, and emerging, continued to walk, or rather, I tried to walk. Where the road should have been was a wide expanse of snow–deep snow. As there was nothing else to do, I plunged into it and floundered, waded, walked, slipped, and slid to the head of Donner Lake. It took me an hour to cover the short distance. At the Lake the road cleared and to Truckee, 10 miles down the canyon, was in excellent condition for this season of the year. The grade drops 2,400 feet in the 10 miles, and but for the intelligent Truckee citizens I would have bidden good-bye to the Golden State long before I finally did so.
The best and shortest road to Reno? The intelligent citizens, several of them agreed on the route, and I followed their directions. The result: Nearly two hours later and after riding 21 miles, I reached Bovo–six miles by rail from Truckee. After that experience I asked no further information, but sought the crossties, and although they shook me up not a little, I made fair time to Verdi–14 miles. Verdi is the first town in Nevada and about 40 miles from the summit of the Sierras. Looking backward the snow-covered peaks are plainly visible, but one is not many miles across the State line before he realizes that California and Nevada, though they adjoin, are as unlike as regards soil, topography, climate, and all else as two countries between which an ocean rolls.
Nevada is truly the ‘Sage Brush State’. The scrubby plant marks its approach, and in front, behind, to the right, to the left, on the plains, the hills, everywhere, there is sage brush. It is almost the only evidence of vegetation, and as I left the crossties and travelled the main road, the dull green of the plant had grown monotonous long before I reached Reno, once the throbbing pivot of the gold-seeking hordes attracted by the wealth of the Comstock lodes, located in the mountains in the distance. That most of Reno’s glory has departed did not affect my rest that night.
Part II. Over The Great Deserts To The Rocky Mountains
Waking in Reno, Nevada, on a May day morning, the 21st of the Month, I found snow falling thickly and the ground unfit for riding. Considering that I was only about 250 miles on my journey from San Francisco, I heaved a sigh that was almost a moan as I realized that I was to meet delay so soon. I had slept in a hotel–a good one as hotels go in this country–and, after a very satisfactory breakfast, I looked about for something to beguile the time away. I was in hard luck because I do not gamble, drink, smoke, or chew. The old time picturesqueness of Reno has departed, but it is still a town of the West, western, and a man of no habits is at a discount in it. There is plenty of opportunity for drinking and gambling about, but for little else. I killed some time profitably by overhauling my machine, and after dinner I concluded to get under way.
It was a quarter past two in the afternoon when I left Reno and I had lost a good eight hours of riding time. The snow had ceased falling, but the skies were still overcast and the ground very wet as I set forth toward Wadsworth and the great Nevada desert. For about 18 miles the road was fair, and then it began to get sandy. Sand in Nevada means stuff in which you sink up to your ankles every time you attempt to take a step. To further enliven matters it began to rain. Every now and then I had to dismount and walk for a stretch of a quarter of a mile. Several times the soft sand threw me because I did not respect it enough to dismount in time. A bicycle with a six horsepower motor could not get through such sand. The wheel just swings out from under, and the faster you try to go the worse it is. Walking and riding, I managed, however, to make the 36 miles from Reno to Wadsworth in four hours and there I pitched camp for the night.
It is well to put in a word of warning and explanation right here: When mention is made of the places at which I stopped and through which I passed it must not be imagined that they are all cities, or towns, or villages, or hamlets, or anything in the nature of civilized settlements. The majority of them are nothing of the sort. They are just places and it seems a waste of good English to call them that. It is to be remembered that I started out determined to follow the line of the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railroads as far east as Omaha, because it is the direct route. The road runs almost in a straight line across the great alkali desert between the mountain summits. To have gone around the desert, through the mountains to the north would have meant traveling many hundreds of miles more, and I would of a certainty have been lost many times, for there are nothing but trails to follow and often not any visible trail.
If you take a map of the Union Pacific Railroad you will see the line of it studded with names as closely as they can be printed. and if you have not crossed the continent you will very naturally be deluded into thinking of them as villages at least. These are the ‘places’ through which I passed, or, rather past which I rode, for I was riding right on the tracks most of the way. They are localities arbitrarily created by the railroad. Many of them are nothing more than names given by the railroad officials to designate a sidetracking junction, and when you reach it all you see is the sidetrack and a signpost put there by the railroad; other places bearing names are mere telegraph stations, or eating stations for passenger trains, while still others are what are known as stations. These places all exist because of the railroad. It is to be remembered that it is a single track road all the way from Omaha to San Francisco, and therefore there is need of sidetracking at frequent intervals. This means telegraph houses or sheds for the operators, and in order to issue instructions definitely all places must be named. There are the section hands and their foremen–they make a place for themselves and it gets a name and a position on the map, even though there is only the house of the foreman and a couple of others for the laborers, as is often the case.
The divisions are places where the freight and passenger trains change engines. Quite often they are something of places, with from 200 to 5,000 population. There, two or three hotels will be found, several saloons, and a couple of stores. The stranger marvels to find a community even of this size in such a God-forsaken country. He wonders why anyone lives there, but if he is wise he does not ask any such question, for even though the wildest days have passed, it is a hot-blooded country still, where fingers are heavy and guns have hair triggers. At the division settlements in the heart of these wildernesses there is a great deal of home pride, and the traveller can get along best by praising the place he is in and ‘knocking’ the nearest neighboring settlement. These settlements are supported partly by the money that is circulated by the railroad employees, the passengers who stop for meals and the ranchmen who come into the valley of the desert ‘to town’ to get mail, ship goods and have a good time. These division towns are the rendezvous of the polyglot labourers on the railroad sections and the sportive cowboy alike, and as these elements don’t mix any more than oil and water, there are some ‘hot times in the old town’ occasionally. The reason why there is no more trouble than there is ‘shooting up the town’ is that wily sheriffs ’round up’ the ranchmen when they strike town. Then it’s a case of “Now, boys, let me have your guns we don’t want any trouble, and I’ll take care of your shooters–let’s be reasonable .” The boys are reasonable and as the sheriff treats all alike, they hand over their shooting irons and they are tagged by the sheriff with the owner’s name and kept by him till the spree is over. Occasionally, though, the men get to drinking and the fun begins before the sheriff is aware there is a party in town.
Wadsworth is one of these division settlements and I took a snapshot of it that gives a fair idea of the place. Like many railroad towns of the sort, it will soon become only a memory, for the Southern Pacific shops there now are to be removed to Reno and this will practically wipe out the town, which now has a population of perhaps 3,000. It is ever thus with the settlements in this region–here today and gone tomorrow. New places spring up in a week, and by the time some traveller has seen them and described them some shift of railroad interests has caused them be deserted villages and the next traveller cannot at all rely on finding things as described by his predecessor.
At Wadsworth I found lodgings at a hotel patronized by railroad men, and got some luscious strawberries for supper. I left Wadsworth at 7 o’clock on the morning of May 22 and, leaving it, said farewell to the Truckee River, and what few vestiges of trees and grass there were in this part of Nevada. Out of Wadsworth I was facing the great desert; the plains of alkali that sifts down from the mountains on each side, and which are barren of everything except sagebrush. As I stand before mounting and gaze across that parched, dull-gray waste of sand, alkali and rocks, with the spots of gray-green sagebrush, and think of parting from the Truckee River, which seemed so trivial a water course before, a pang of regret shoots through me. I know I shall miss the gurgling stream, and there is a sinking of the spirits that cannot be overcome as I face the leaden-hued skies and sands so unutterably dreary. Almost one can, in fancy, see the sign of “leave hope behind all who venture here.” This is the Forty Mile Desert of Nevada that was so dreaded by the immigrants in the days when the prairie schooner, the bronco, and the mule were the only conveyances used by man to cross it. Many perished in this desert from want, and many more from the attacks of the then hostile Indians. The old overland trail is what I was following. It is what the railroad follows, and in many places the rails have been laid directly over the old wagon tracks. At times the old trail runs right alongside of the rails, and now and then it swings off for a few hundred yards, a quarter or a half mile maybe, only to wind back again to where the surveyors kept to a straight line for the railroad and removed the rocks and sand dunes that the prairie schooners digressed to avoid.
I walked the first mile out of Wadsworth pushing the motor bicycle and pausing every 10 feet to take a ******e. Then I took to the railroad. I bumped along over the ties for 20 miles and then reached Massie, a telegraph station with a water tank for the train and section hands. The water for these tanks is hauled in water cars from Wadsworth. At Wadsworth I had taken the precaution of adding a water bottle to my equipment, and here I mixed it with good water. I had hardly got to riding again before I got my first puncture of the trip, and it was a beauty. It was a hole into which you could stick your finger. It was no laughing matter at the time, yet there was something bizarre about the incident that now causes me to smile, for that cut was made by a fragment of a beer bottle. Imagine it if you please–I am in the middle of the Forty Mile Desert with a wild waste of sand and sagebrush bounding the horizon from every point of view, and, save the lonely telegraph shanty, there is not a sign of human life about. So far as the outlook is concerned, I and the telegraph operators are the sole inhabitants of a globe of sand, and yet I get my tire cut by a piece of beer bottle bearing a choice Milwaukee label.
It rather adds to the grotesqueness of the situation when I recall the appearance of the ground alongside the railroad track in that unholy desert, where countless men and animals have perished after being crazed by thirst. All along the tracks the ground is strewn with beer bottles that have been tossed from the car windows as the trains sped by. Now and then one of the flying bottles struck a tie or a fellow waif and broke, but most of them landed on the sand or brush and lie there intact. I could have gathered enough of these unbroken glass beer flagons to have started a good sized bottling establishment, and, in spite of the gloom caused by my puncture. I could not help thinking what a veritable paradise this same deadly wilderness would be to some city junkman. In this land of the ‘Terrible Thirst’ an habitual beer drinker surely would be turned into a raving lunatic by this sight.
It took the biggest plug I had, one with a mushroom two inches in diameter, to fix that cut, and a yard of tire tape to bind it properly. Fifteen miles from Massie I passed a section gang’s settlement called Upsal; 12 miles further I passed the great metropolis known as Brown’s, consisting of one house and a signpost. All about there was the same interminable landscape of sickish drab and dirt-white sand and gray-green sagebrush and I was steadily bumping over the railroad ties, now between the rails and again on the outside of them, according to the depth and levelness of the sand. So far as signs of life other than my own were concerned I might have been a pre-Adamite soul wandering in the void world before the work of creation began; but the railroad was there to testify to the presence of man prior to me. And with that before me, I imagine myself to be the last of the race, who by some strange freak has escaped the blight that caused the end of the world and had been left alone on the dead planet, over which I was now coursing in search of a habitable spot.
Perhaps you can picture the cheerfulness of the place that inspired such fancies in my mind; imaginings of this sort are the legitimate offspring of the desert. One finds it hard to picture in the mind what meadows and pastureland, brooks and trees are like. It is not strange that men go mad in a waste of sand so broad that to the eye it is as limitless as the sky, so dead that one feels a thrill of relief at the sight of a lizard or a swooping vulture: the wonder is that any man can see it and afterward be sane. One or two vultures were all the flying I saw in this section in all my long, lonely bouncing over the ties. Lizards and coyotes were more plentiful–the dirty, grayish horned lizard of the desert–and while it seemed slightly to lessen the weirdness of the place to see even those forms of life, my feelings of revulsion toward the lizard, the buzzard, and the coyote was augmented by a new touch of contempt for them because they would live in such a place. Sometimes the mountain ranges to north and south that enclose the desert were visible, looking in the afternoon like a rough-edged ribbon of turquoise blue stretched, like a dado, taut against a leathern sky. More often there was visible only the sand and the dome of the sky above it, now coppery, greenish, black, gray or mottled blue, but always sullen, vicious-looking, and never calmly beautiful, for even the skies do not smile on the face of that void place.
If any of those who read this ever have ridden in one of the bowls made of slats that are known as cycle whirls, a very fair idea can be formed by them of what bouncing over railroad ties on a cycle is like unto. I have ridden an ordinary bicycle in a cycle whirl and know that it is similar in the sensation it affords to that of cycling over the ties. Before I had traveled half of the desert I was having trouble with my inner organs, and violent pains in the region of the kidneys compelled occasional dismounts and rests. In the whole stretch between Wadsworth and Lovelock’s, 63 miles, I was riding the railroad with the exception of 8 or 10 miles, I found the sand in the trail alongside hard enough to be ridden over. My education as a tie-pounder included a little trick of crossing culverts of which I became quite proud, for it was not easy; failure would have meant a plunge downward of from 10 to 50 ft. These culverts are mere cuts in the sand under the railroad, to let the water escape without washing out the roadbed. Rainstorms in the desert came up in a minute and they are cloudbursts. The whole country is flooded for an hour and the water races through these culverts like mountain torrents, water soaks into the sand so rapidly though, that half an hour after rain has ceased to fall, the drains and the surrounding country look as if there never had been a shower. I was caught in these showers a couple of times. The drains under the railroad are 30 to 40 feet wide, and across them is a big beam that runs along-side the iron rails, The space between the rail and the beam about seven inches. If I had been riding between the rails I steered the wheels into this space, and by keeping the outside pedal straight up would skip across without hitting either rail or beam. If I had been riding outside the rails I rode across the drain margin of ties projecting outside the beams keeping the inside pedal high.
Sixteen miles east of Brown’s I reached Lovelock’s and the Forty Mile Desert had been crossed. I don’t know who named it but he had a poor sense of justice to deprive the desert of any part or due in distance when he gave it the Forty Mile title. It is 63 miles on the straight rails from the station at Wadsworth to that at Lovelock’s and the green growth of the town does not encroach upon the 63 miles of desert for more the 8 or 9 miles. l am speaking by railroad statistics now, for I lost my cyclometer between Reno and Wadsworth, and could not tell what my mileage was. This was the second cyclometer, the first having been bounced off the bridge over the Sacramento. I bought a third one at Lovelock’s, but I had learned by this time to depend upon the timetable of the Southern Pacific for my guide as to distance and knowledge of where I was. They kept wearing out from handling, but I got new ones at the stations. Of course, I travelled many miles more than is covered by the railroad, because of the detours I made on the roads, but on account of my luck with cyclometers I never will know what my actual mileage was. In relation to the railroad timetables, they are handy for other information besides that of locality and distance, and this is the altitude. It must not be imagined by those unacquainted with the country of the deserts that because they are spoken of as alkali plains that they lie in a flat lowland.
From Sacramento to Summit I was steadily rising as I have told in a previous installment of my story. The elevation at Summit being 7,017 feet. From Summit eastward there is a gradual drop, but the altitude is still high compared with sea-level prairies At Reno the elevation is 4,497 feet; at Wadsworth it is 4,085 feet; at Upsal, 4,247 feet, and at Lovelock’s, 3,977 feet. This may help to give some idea of the dips and rises of the desert. It is all comparatively high ground. and I quickly took on the color of a mulatto riding through it.
Lovelock’s is much like an oasis, for while the Forty Mile Desert of Nevada ends there, to the east of it is the Great American Desert of Utah, and eastward beyond that is again the Red Desert of Wyoming, and I learned that the worst is not always over when the alkali wastes of Nevada have been crossed. This oasis of Lovelock’s is about 20 miles across, and there is some excellent farming land on it. It is quite a place, but I reached it in the middle of the afternoon, and did not stop, except to get some gasoline and a cyclometer. I pushed on through Lovelock’s to Humboldt, 33 miles beyond for my overnight stop. This made my mileage for the day 96 miles, most of it over the railroad ties. I want no more such days as that was. For 10 miles out of Lovelock’s I managed to follow the road, but then it got too sandy, and I went back to my old friends the railroad ties and bounced into Humboldt on them at 6pm. Humboldt is a pretty place. You are convinced of that when you look at the surrounding country, which is desert waste. All there is of Humboldt is housing for the station agent, telegraph operator and keeper of the restaurant for the passengers. The house has a false front, and it is really a gabled structure, and climbing up the ladder to my room, I banged my head on the sloping roof. The land immediately about the house has been cultivated by strenuous attention, and the transplanted trees that grow before the front door of this town are a source of great pride to the proprietor. I think it is because of the trees that he charges 50 cents a meal. The prevailing prices for meals in this country are 25 and 35 cents, the former price being the most common charge.
The people in that country did not get up early enough to suit me, and I left Humboldt at 5:40am without breakfast. I struck sandy going at once, and took to the everlasting crossties and kept on them nearly all the way to Winnemucca, 45 miles from Humboldt. Seven miles west of Winnemucca I came to a stretch where I could see the place in the distance, and I left the railroad to take what I thought to be a shortcut over a trail that runs along an old watercourse, diverging gradually from the railroad. This is where I made a sad mistake A 10-mule team could not haul a buggy through the sand there, and after going 3 miles and getting half a mile away from the railroad tracks, I got stuck in the sand hopelessly. I found that the trail did not lead to Winnemucca anyhow. It took me an hour to push the bicycle by hand back again to the tracks across the sand hills. When I wanted to rest, though, the sand was useful, for the bicycle stood alone, and once I took a snapshot of it while it was thus set in the sand.
This is the place where the automobiles that try to cross the continent come to grief. If they get to Winnemucca they have a chance of getting through. In the struggle with the bicycle, I lost my revolver and my wrench through a hole in my pocket, and I lost an hour looking for them, but I found them in the sand. I wouldn’t have lost that revolver for a great deal. It furnished me with all the fun I had in my loneliness. I did not have any occasion to draw it in self-defense, but I practised my marksmanship with it on coyotes–they pronounce it ki-o-tee out here, with the accent on the first syllable. It is a long .38 that I carry, and a remarkably good shooter. I could hit a coyote with it at 200 yards, and left several carcasses of them in the desert. There is a bounty paid for their hides, but I did not have time to skin them and collect the money. The buzzards–it is against the law to shoot them and I let them alone. In the greener spots of the country I had shots at rabbits and doves, and I guess I could have had a bagful of game every day if I had looked for it.
Winnemucca, a cattle town is quite a place. I got some gasoline there, and put a plug of food in my stomach, which had been without breakfast. At noon I started for Battle Mountain, 63 miles away. The first 10 miles out I found the road fairly good, but then I had to take to the tracks again. For about 4 miles I had the best bit of time between the tracks that I had between the tracks since I left Frisco. Then I had to walk for 6 miles because the sand lay in ridges between the ties. They are laying a new stretch of road along there, and after my walk I came to a place where I ran the motor at top speed for 10 miles. Then my handlebar broke while I was going full-tilt, and I had a close call from striking my head on the rail. I missed it by a few inches. After a walk of a mile I reached a boxcar camp and got a lineman to help me improvise a bar out of a piece of hardwood, which we bound on with tarred twine. I made as good a job of it as possible, for it is a poor country for bicycle supplies, and I realized that I would not be able to get a pair of new bars until I got to Ogden, nearly 400 miles beyond. In spite of my troubles I reached Battle Mountain at 7:15 p.m, having made 109 miles for the day.
Battle Mountain is somewhat of a historic spot, in a bit of fertile farming land that is about 40 miles across. It is said that they reap more grain and hay to the acre there than anywhere else in the State. I had been gradually ascending since leaving Humboldt. Battle Mountain has an elevation of 4,511 feet. It was near there that there was a great Mormon massacre. Going out of the town, toward the east, one can see upon the mountain the cross that marks the ‘Maiden’s Grave’. The town itself is the usual frontier settlement–a store and several saloons. I put up at the house of a Mrs. Brady, and, to tell the whole truth, I went to bed thoroughly disgusted with my bargain. I felt as if I was a fool for attempting to cross the continent on a motor bicycle. I was tired of sand and sagebrush and railroad ties. My back ached, and I fell asleep feeling as if I did not care whether I ever reported to The Motorcycle Magazine in New York or not.
In the morning it was different, and I was as determined as ever to finish the task, and was eager to be off. It is a mighty bilious country, this Nevada of ours, but they feed you well. Indeed, all through the real West I got better living for the same money than I did as I worked East. I left the Battle Mountain at 7am, and found hard going. It had rained over night. The mud on the road blocked the wheels and I went to the railroad. That was just as bad, the roadbed being of dirt instead of gravel. After a walk of 10 miles, I managed to drive the motor along slowly. I swore on that stretch that I would not ride a bicycle through Nevada again for $5,000. The only way to travel there is in an airship, and then I believe it would somehow give out and strand the vessel. I made 36 miles in 5 hours and stopped for lunch at Palisade, a telegraph station in the canyon.
I had little more than got started again when I got caught in a thunderstorm, and in less than a minute I was as wet as if I had fallen in the river. After the shower the mud was so sticky that I had to stop every 30 yards and scrape off the wheel in order to let it turn around. A lovely country; yes! I thought at times I would have to let the motor stay in the mud and hunt up a wagon to haul it and me to the next place giving an imitation of civilization. When I was almost ready to give up I struck a stretch of gravel roadbed, and got a rest for awhile. A little further on I had to walk through the mud again. I finally got to Carlin at 7pm, having made 58 miles after the hardest day of work I had yet had. I turned a fire hose on the motorcycle at Carlin in order to soften the mud so that I could wipe it off. This was on May 24, a memorable day, and I was a week out from Sacramento. Carlin is a division town in a canyon, It’s surveyed elevation is 4,807 feet, but the place is a liberal dispenser of ‘Old Scratch’. That’s what the whiskey is called out there. When the natives drink plenty of ‘Old Scratch’ the elevation of the town rises to unsurveyable heights. Like most of the other settlements of the region, gambling is one of the chief industries.
Wells is a division town of about 200 population, with the biggest hotel I had seen since leaving Reno. The dining room there for railroad passengers would have seated the whole population of the place. They feed largely for 50 cents a meal, and I never left anything on the dishes. Riding over the ties must have jolted my food down to my boots; I was always empty, and I doubt if any restaurant made anything on me, even the high priced ones, where they charge 50 cents a meal. Mentioning prices, the highest figure for a meal I saw posted was 75 cents, but this was on a very nicely graduated scale of prices, one calculated to fit the different sorts of eaters and give satisfaction all around. This high price was on a board nailed on the outside wall of a dugout at a section station. The sign read:
Meal 25 cents
Square meal 50 cents
Gorge 75 cents
I am afraid that if all the restaurants had such a schedule and lived up to it I would have paid 75 cents apiece for all my meals. At Wells I had to tighten up the spokes of the wheels on my motor-cycle, as I often did at other places. Pounding over the ties was a terrible strain on the bicycle. I marvelled every day that it stood it so well. It is well I knew better than to congratulate myself when over the Forty Mile Desert. That was only a sort of initiation for me. The Great American Desert, which stretches from Elko, Nevada, to Kelton, Utah, is nearly 200 miles across, or 5 times as big as the first one. I struck the alkali sand of the Great American Desert going out of Wells, and for three miles found a stretch hard enough to ride on. Then I walked for two miles, and went over the railroad, where I found fair tie-pounding. I was interested in this part of the desert to find that the picturesque old prairie schooner of the Forty-niners, who traveled this overland trail, is not extinct. I passed quite a few of them at different times. Most of them carried parties of farmer families who were moving from one section of the country to another, and several were occupied by gypsies, or rovers, as the natives call the Romany people.
This day, between Wells and Terrace, May 26, I had two experiences more interesting to read about than to pass through. It is rather high altitude there, the elevation at Wells being 5,628 feet, and at Fenelon, the name of a side switch without a house near it, 20 miles east, the elevation is 6,154 feet. There was a heavy frost on the ground in the morning when I left Wells at 6 o’clock, as, indeed, there was nearly every morning during that week. It was bitter cold, and before I had gone 20 miles my ears were severely frosted. There was no snow to rub on them though, and I had to doctor them the best I could with water first and then lubricating oil. In the afternoon of the same day it grew very hot, and my ears got badly sunburned, in common with my face. That gives an idea of the climate of the country.
The other experience of the day was not so painful; it would commonly be considered a treat: but it was a distinct shock to me because, not being in condition to use my wits properly, I did not understand. I was about 70 miles east from Wells, near Tacoma, and riding on the finest stretch of trail that I had struck in several hundred miles, when I saw coming toward me in the distance one of the Conestoga wagons drawn by a team of horses with two men walking along beside the horses. I was somewhat doubtful about the road I was following, afraid it would lead me too far from the railroad, and I was delighted to meet with someone who could tell me where the road led. As the wagon approached it was lost to sight behind a bunch of sagebrush in a turn of the road. I kept riding toward it, and when I got to the spot there was nothing there. The desert was all about, devoid of any human being except myself, and there was no place behind a cliff or any hollow of the land where a team and wagon could disappear. I was dumb with amazement, and dismounted in a daze, wondering if the sun had affected my head. My mind could not have been working clearly, for I never thought of its being a mirage, as I afterward knew it to be, I was afraid I was losing my mind, and went on silently with a feeling of dread. The stretch of road was of red gravel, and lasted 10 miles beyond the mirage. I covered it in 30 minutes. Then it began to rain, and I got back to the track and rode into Terrace, Utah, at 7:30pm. having covered 98 miles during the day of 13 hours.
Terrace, where I stopped overnight on May 26, is in Utah, and is another division of some size. It is the biggest eating station on the Southern Pacific road between San Francisco and Ogden. I crossed the line between Nevada and Utah when I was about 30 miles out of Welk, and at Terrace was about three-fourths of the way through the Great American Desert. Around this place I saw the greatest collection of dugouts and log houses built of railroad ties that I had yet seen. Such dwellings are common on the outskirts of the division towns and in the settlements of section hands, but one sees only two or three at a time ordinarily, while at Terrace there is a swarm of them. For the dugouts the owners dig cellars about four feet deep and build up, crib-like, four feet above the ground, giving the interior one or two rooms eight feet in height. Foreigners mostly live in these and the tie houses, which are simply log shanties made of cross ties, and plastered up with adobe mud. Sometimes Indians of the blanket variety occupy these dugouts, but more often the aborigine stragglers from the reservations occupy tepees on the outskirts of the towns, if these places of a couple of dozen houses can be called towns.
While I saw plenty of Indians on my trip, I did not have any adventures with them. I did not have time to work up adventures: enough came without seeking; besides, the Indians I saw are not of the adventurous sort. They are a lazy, dirty lot that sulk about while their squaws work in the eating houses and elsewhere to get money for extra tobacco for the bucks. The only time I spoke to an Indian during my trip was to ask a slouching fellow about a route and I could not understand his reply enough to derive any satisfaction. So that settles the Indian matter, for I don’t propose to manufacture any dime-novel incident just for the sake of adding colour.
It rained the night I stopped in Terrace, and, starting the next morning at 5:10 o’clock, I had to walk for several miles along the tracks; then I struck the desert, and found that the rain had left the sand hard enough to make good riding. It was an uneventful day, and I made 104 miles, the road winding along the northern shore of the Great Salt Lake, of which I caught frequent glimpses. I stopped 19 miles west of Ogden because it began to rain–I put up at a section house, that of the foreman of the gang, and he gave me a bed for the night. The railroad furnishes these section houses for the men, and I found them more comfy than I expected. There were no carpets, but the bed had a springy wire bottom, a good mattress and fine sheets. The hands do not fare like the foreman, though: they huddle together a dozen in a house in the other two buildings that constitute the ‘place’. The place where I stopped is down on the time table as Zenda, but I was no prisoner there, and there was no romance to the situation. l am glad the foreman took me in, for a section gang is a motley lot, a regular cocktail of nationalities, and full of fighting qualities. At some of the places I passed I saw Chinamen at work on the railroads, and this was a new thing to me accustomed, as I am, to the pigtails of the Pacific coast. It is not often that John engages himself in such arduous and un-remunerative labor. The next morning the ground was so wet that I walked half the way to Ogden.
According to the railroad survey, Ogden, Utah is 833 miles from San Francisco. I rode on the railroad track fully half the way. What distance I actually covered getting there I cannot say with preciseness owing to having lost my cyclometers, but while there I took a map, and, summing up my detours, I figured it out that I had ridden very nearly 100 miles more than the distance by rail, or about 925 miles. At Ogden I found a pair of new tires and a gallon of lubricating oil waiting for me at the express office. They came from San Francisco, and the charges on the tires were $2.75 and on the oil $1.50–I put on one new tire and expressed the other, with the oil, to myself at Omaha. I got to Ogden at 11am, May 28, and spent the day there. I got a new pair of handlebars and put some new spokes in my wheels. While there I met up with SC Higgins, who has the other motorcycle in that city of 15,000 inhabitants. I met him at the store of LL. Becraft–the pioneer cyclist of Ogden and the proprietor of a large bicycle store there. I spent the evening with Mr. Higgins and slept at his house, in response to a pressing invitation.
III. Over The Great Divide To The Prairies
At Ogden, Utah, where I arrived after traveling 925 miles, I had 10 new spokes to put in to replace those that were snapped by pounding over railroad ties. As I had ridden 400 miles with a stick for a bar, I got also a new handlebar and I put on a new belt rim and one new tire, shipping my extra tire and oil and other stuff on to Omaha. This was on May 28, and I left Ogden on the 29th at 6:10am. SC Higgins, who had been my host overnight, rode out of the city with me on his motor bicycle for three or four miles in order that I might not take the wrong road. He is a genuine enthusiast, although well past 40 years of age, I should judge, and he took the liveliest sort of interest in my trip and the success of my undertaking. Mr Higgins is a machinist, and several years ago he made a motor bicycle for himself. Now he rides an Indian.
It may be said that I splashed out of Ogden. That is the way it comes to me as I now recall it. It had rained for three weeks before I arrived there. The roads in all directions were muddy and the streams swollen. I was now entering the Rockies, and almost as soon as I got out of Ogden I began to encounter mountain streams, which I had to wade across. They were composed largely of melted snow water and were icy cold. At the first one I stopped, removed my foot gearing, took off my leggings, rolled up my trousers, and splashed across barefooted, and, except that the water was too cold, I rather enjoyed it. After going a mile I came to another stream and repeated the undressing performance. I did not enjoy it so much this time. Then the streams began to come along two or three to the mile, and I quit the undressing part and waded across with my shoes and all on. Sometimes the water was knee deep and a couple of times my motor got more cooling than it wanted and I had a job starting it again. In the forenoon of that day I waded more than a dozen of these mountain streams. It is a well watered country this, and it abounds in orchards and farming lands cultivated by Mormon industry. The streams I crossed were racing toward the Weber River as it ran through the Weber Canyon, which extends 140 miles southeast to Granger.
I am following the wagon road now, and 12 miles out of Ogden I enter the Weber Canyon. Turning to the left, I find myself walled-in by the grand granite walls of the canyon that tower upward to the clouds, and I come abruptly upon Devil’s Gate, where the waters of the river fall from a great height and thrash around a sharp bend that has been obstructed for ages by a helter-skelter fall of great blocks of stone from above. It is a seething cauldron of water that rushes with insane, frothing fury around or over the obstructions, and one is impressed with the idea that the name is an apt one.
A little further on I passed the Devil’s Slide, another place well named, where the rocks rise in two perpendicular walls, hardly five yards apart, from the floor of the canyon to the mountain summit. It looks as if the stone had been sawed away by man, so sheer are the sides. But these are only a couple of the many wonderful and grandly picturesque phenomena of nature that I encounter from here on for many miles. It is a beautiful country, and the scenes shift from wild and rugged natural grandeurs in the narrow parts of the canyon to pastoral loveliness in the places where the mountain pass broadens and the small but fertile and splendidly kept farms of Mormon settlers are found here and there where the sides slopes to the river. As I go on toward Echo City, 40 miles from Ogden, I get out of the narrow part of the canyon and tilled land becomes more common.
Every one from 50 miles around was bound for Echo City or Evanston on that day, May 29, to see President Roosevelt, whose train stopped in passing long enough for him to make a speech at all the towns of any size. For this reason there was an unusual amount of travel on the roads, and I was repeatedly forced so far over to the side that I had to dismount to escape an upset. The farmers seemed to think I had no right on the road when they wanted to use it, and several swore as they called to me to get out of the way. One man abused me roundly, and told me I ought to get off the road altogether with my damned ‘bisickle’. I did an indiscreet thing in answering him in kind, and he pulled up his team with the intention of getting off and horsewhipping me or to get a steady position to take a pot shot at me with a revolver. I don’t know which–I didn’t stop to learn. I let out my motor and quickly got around a bend in the road out of sight, and kept going, so that he did not see me again. I felt that tempers are too uncertain in that part of the country to risk a row with a native. I was alone in the land of the Mormons, and they are famed for the way they stick to one of their clan.
I reached Echo City, a railroad settlement of about 200 persons, and, after eating, pushed right on toward Evanston. East of Echo City the canyon narrows again, and here it is known as Echo Gorge. I had my fill of it, and the echoes of my ride through it lasted for days. The roads were in frightful condition owing to three rainy weeks. In many places it was harder traveling on them than over my friends the railroad ties. In the 80 miles that I rode–it is 76 by railroad–between Ogden and Evanston on this day of grace my insides were shaken together like a barrelful of eggs rolling down a mountainside. My shaking-up was received in going uphill, though, for I found by consulting my guide that I had climbed 2,400 feet that day, the elevation at Ogden being 4,301 feet and at Evanston 6,759 feet. At night my back felt as if some good husky man with a club had used it on me heavily. The new belt rim that I had put on in the morning got shot full of holes that day by being punched against sharp rocks at the roadside. It is a strenuous country, and must have been plenty pleasing to the President. I had little chance to revel in the magnificent scenery, but I knew about the Pulpit Rock from which Brigham Young delivered a Sunday sermon during the pilgrimage of the Mormons to their settlement at Salt Lake City, and I had a glance at it as I rode away from Echo City.
Sixteen miles east from my luncheon stop I passed the towering sandstone bluffs, with turreted tops naturally formed, that are known as Castle Rocks, and lend their name to a railroad station of the Union Pacific there. If any one got off there, though, you would surely have a spell of wondering what they were going to do, for there is no village of any sort. The day was nice enough so far as temperature was concerned, but the story of what had been in the recent past was told to me just before I got into Evanston by the sight of thousands of sheep carcasses strewn on the hillsides and even right along the sides of the road. They had been killed by snow and hailstorms, only a few days before.
It was 8:35pm. when I reached Evanston in Wyoming, just across the State line from Utah, and, although this is a town of something over 2,000 persons, with half a dozen hotels, the place was crowded with visitors. Every cowboy, ranchman, farmer and miner for many miles around had been there to hear the President speak in the afternoon, and at night food was at famine prices and sleeping accommodations simply not to be had. I was not wanted anywhere and I felt the slight in the difference between welcome given to the President and to me keenly. After trying at a couple of hotels and boarding houses I made up my mind that I would have to sit it out. Chairs however, were at a premium, and I stood and watched a poker game at the hotel until midnight; and then strolled over to the railroad station where I found a chair, and in that I bunked, sore as a stone bruise until morning, leaving the town at 6:20 o’clock.
After riding about six miles that day I bumped into a rut and the stem of my handlebars snapped, but there was about an inch of the stem left, and I hammered it down with my wrench into the head tube and managed to make it do. This repair lasted to Chicago. I took to the railroad leaving Evanston, as there has been a new section built there, cutting off some distance and leading through a newly completed tunnel at Altamont, 13 miles from Evanston. It was early morning when I reached the tunnel. It is a mile and a half long. A train passed me and through the tunnel just before I got to it. It takes half an hour for the smoke to get out of the tunnel after a train passes through. I sat down to wait at the station and got to talking to an operator. He calmly informed me that several other trains would be along before long, and that it would not be safe for me to go through the tunnel for hours. Such luck! The only thing for me to do was to follow the trail over the summit through which the tunnel runs. This I did, walking and pushing my bicycle. I ascended 300 feet in less than half a mile. I rode down on the other side using both hand brake and the coaster brake.
I forsook the railroad after this and followed the road through Spring Valley and Carter to Granger, riding past the famed buttes, or table mountains of the Bad Lands. Bad they are, too. Even the road was marshy and muddy with clayey, sticky mud that just hugged my tires and coaxed them to stay with it. I was going down-grade now from Altamont to Granger. It is a great country at Carter, where altitude is 6,507 feet; it is a wonderful sight to see the buttes with seashells on their sides marking the high water mark of a prehistoric flood. Only it is a pity the water would not dry up entirely and give a bicycle a chance. I covered 85 miles on this day and it was one more like the three preceding days. An idea of climbing can be gained by stating that at Evanston the elevation is 6,759 feet, at Altamont 7.395 feet, and at Granger 6,279 feet. There were more round stones the size of baseballs on that piece of trail over the Altamont summit than ever I saw before in my life. At times they all seemed to be rolling around in an effort to get under my tires. If ever I travel through Nevada. Utah and Wyoming again on a bicycle it will be with a railroad track attachment. The telegraph operators at the lonely stations in the deserts have them to travel on back and forth from their homes to their offices. Putting the flanged guide wheels of the attachment on one rail the wheels of the bicycle are kept strictly in place on the opposite rail, and splendid time can be made. With such an attachment and a motor bicycle one could follow the railroad and make 150 miles a day, rain, snow or sunshine.
Leaving Granger, which is a division town of about 200 people and has one hotel, at 6:30 o’clock in the morning, I found the road to Marston terribly rocky, and I returned to my old love the crossties, after going half the distance, or about six miles. At Marston I found the old stage road to Green River and many portions of this are gravelly and fine. Green River is quite a place with a population of about 1,500, but I did not stop there. I pushed on past the famous castellated rocks to Rock Springs, 45 miles from Granger, and, arriving there at 11:45, I stopped for dinner. You always eat dinner in the middle of the day in this part of our glorious country, and if you get up with the sun and bump on a motorcycle over the hallways of the Rocky Mountains, you are ready for dinner at 12 o’clock sharp, and before. At Rock Springs the country begins to look upward again, the elevation there being 6,260 feet, 200 feet more than at Green River. From Rock Springs on, except for one drop of 500 feet from Creston to Rawlins and Fort Steele, there is a steady rise to the summit, about half way between Laramie and Cheyenne. There the elevation is a cool 8,590 feet.
Rock Springs, where I had dinner, is in the district of the Union Pacific Company’s coal mines. It is memorable for labor troubles and murders of Chinamen. I had the ends of my driving belt sewed at Rock Springs, and set out again past Point of Rocks, 25 miles east to Bitter Creek. East of Point of Rocks the road is fairly level, but it is of alkali sand, and when I went over it, it was so badly cut up that in some places I had to walk.
Bitter Creek might well be called Bitter Disappointment. I do not mean the stream of water that the road follows, but the station of the same name. It is one of those places which well illustrates what I have said about the folly of taking the map as a guide in this country. About one-third of the ‘places’ on the map are mere groups of section houses, while a third of the remainder are just sidetracking places, with the switch that the train hands shift themselves, and a signboard. Bitter Creek belongs to the former class. The ‘hotel’ there is an old boxcar. Yet, if you take a standard atlas you will find the name of Bitter Creek printed in big letters among a lot of other ‘places’ in smaller type. The big type, which leads you to think it must be quite a place, means only that the railroad stops there. The ‘places’ in smaller type are mere sidetracking points. The boxcar is fitted up as a restaurant and reminds one faintly of the all-night hasheries on wheels that are found in the streets of big cities. The boxcar restaurant at Bitter Creek, however, has none of the gaudiness of the coffee wagons. Still, I got a very good meal there. When I cast about for a place to sleep it was different, but I finally found a bed in a section house. This experience was one of the inevitable ones of transcontinental touring. It was 7:15 o’clock when I reached Bitter Creek Station and it is 69 miles from there to Rawlins, the first place where I could have obtained good accommodations.
After having breakfast in the boxcar restaurant, I left Bitter Creek for Rawlins. In this stretch, about 20 miles from Bitter Creek, I crossed my third desert, the Red Desert of Wyoming. It takes its name from the soil of calcareous clay that is fiery red, and the only products of which are rocks and sagebrush, and they will grow anywhere. There is a Red Desert Station on the map, but there is nothing there but a telegraph office, and the same is true of Wamsutter and Creston, the succeeding names on the map. I took a snapshot of the road in the desert near Bitter Creek and wrote on the film: “Who wouldn’t leave home for this?” East of Red Desert the road improved considerably, and from Wamsutter to Creston it was really fine.
It was along this fine stretch, just before reaching Creston, that I came to the Great Divide and took a picture of the signpost, which marks the ridgeline of the great American watershed. Standing there and facing the north, all the streams on your left flow to the west and all those on the right side flow toward the east, the waters of the former eventually finding their way to the Pacific, and the latter to the Mississippi River. This is the backbone of the continent and it is duly impressive to stand there and gaze at the official sign. It does not mark the exact middle of the continent though, as some have mistakenly thought. It is about 1,100 miles east of San Francisco. I had rather expected to find the Continental Divide, if I did come across it, on the summit of a mountain, in a very rough piece of country, but it is in a broad pass of the Rockies, that seems more like a plain than a mountain, although a commanding view is obtainable from there. To the north are the Green Febris and Seminole chains of mountains, and further, in the northwest is the Wind River range, and beyond that again the Shoshone range, while to the south are the Sierra Madres; all escalloping the horizon with their rugged peaks, here green, there shrouded in a purplish veil, and far away showing only a hazy gray of outline. One realizes that he is in the Rockies positively enough.
From Creston to Rawlins there is nearly 30 miles of downgrade, and, as it is a fairly good highway of gravel, I made lively time over it. After leaving Creston there come Cherokee and Daly’s ranch before you get to Rawlins, and it was between these places, both mere railroad points, that I got the picture of the abandoned prairie schooner that was printed in The Motorcycle Magazine. Rawlins, where I stopped only for gasoline, is a town of some size, having more than 2,000 population. From there the country becomes rolling again, and after passing Fort Fred Steele, I began to ascend once more. It is a great sheep ranch country all through here now from Rawlins. At Fort Steele there is nothing left but the ruins of abandoned houses. I now follow the old immigrant trail that winds across the River Platte and am fast approaching the Laramie Plains, over which my route lies to the Laramie Mountains. Beyond Fort Steele I enter White Horse Canyon, which got its name, so the story goes, from an Englishman, one of the sort known in the West as ‘remittance men’, who drank too much ‘Old Scratch’ and, mounted on a white horse, rode over the precipice and landed on the rocks 200 feet below.
At 6:10pm I reached Walcott, a ‘jerkwater’ settlement, composed of two saloons, a store and a railroad station. It is made important. though, by the fact that two stage lines come in there. The hotels at places of the sort are generally clean, and they are kept more or less peaceable by the policy of reserving an out-building for the slumbers of the ‘drunks’, so I concluded to tarry. I found some interest in automobiles here, and, after inspecting my machine, the natives fell to discussing the feasibility of running automobiles on the stage lines, instead of the old Concord coaches, drawn by six horses, that are now used.
One of the stage drivers said that if anyone would build an automobile that would carry 12 or 14 persons and run through sand six inches deep he would pay from $3,000 to $5,000 for it. I told him to wait awhile. After supper I mended my broken spokes with telegraph wire and entertained quite a group of spectators, who watched the job with open curiosity. I find a variable reception in this country to my statement that I have journeyed from San Francisco and am bound for New York. A great many do not believe me, and smile as if amused by an impromptu yarn. There is another class, though, that of the old settlers, the real mountaineers who have had adventures of all sorts in the mountains and the wilderness. These men are surprised at nothing, and they rather nettle me by accepting me and my motor bicycle and my statement with utmost stolidity as if the feat was commonplace. For awhile I thought that this class, too, were unbelievers, but later I learned that as a rule they are the only ones who do believe me, because they are men who believe anything possible in the way of overland journeying.
From Walcott, which I left at 630am, it is uphill travelling eastward all the way to Laramie. I passed through the mining town of Hanna, peopled mostly by Finns and Negroes, and past the railroad stations of Edson, Dana, Allen and Medicine Bow. At the place last named I ripped out some more spokes, and after fixing up the damage temporarily, I took to the railroad and followed it, in preference to the road, into Laramie. This was the first place that I really felt enthusiastic from the time I left the coast. Laramie is a big, fine place of nearly 10,000 and is in the greenest country I had seen since I left Sacramento. That is how it struck me, and I felt glad to be there. It seemed as if it was a place where someone lived and where folks could live.
It is a fertile country all around there, given over largely to sheep and cattle ranching, and has a natural, civilized look that I did not find anywhere in Nevada, and only in little touches in Utah between big stretches of wilderness. I saw some of the finest baldface, big-horn cattle there that the country produces. This is where ‘Bill’ Nye appeared on the horizon of humor, I believe, when he was ‘sticking tape’ for the Laramie Boomerang. I recalled this and could understand that a man might be a humorist living in such a place. I could not revel in the delights of Laramie as I would have liked, for I had troubles of my own to attend to. It was 7:05pm when I got there, and I hunted up the bicycle shop of Elmer Lovejoy. He furnished me with five new spokes and placed his shop at my disposal, for I preferred from the first to do all the repairing to the motorcycle myself.
Up in the air was the programme from Laramie–almost straight up it seemed to me at times, so steep was the road. They told me in the town that by leaving the railroad and taking the road over the ridge I would save 20 miles. Maybe I did. I went over the ‘ridge’ anyway. I climbed steadily for 8 miles, and when I reached the summit I was at the highest point I touched In my entire trip, and higher up than I ever was in my life before. The altitude at the top is 8,590 feet. Going up I followed a narrow trail full of stones and sharp twists around boulders and the best guide I had to keep from going wrong was the hoof-prints of the ‘presidential party’ that had gone over the summit the day before. It would have been easy to have lost the trail had it not been for the hoof-prints, but I followed them and knew that I was right, for the President’s party had a guide. At the summit is a flagstaff, put there by a survey party I believe, and someone in the Presidential party had hoisted a handkerchief on it the day before. Then, before I left I rested myself by putting this inscription on the pole: “GA Wyman, June 4, 1903, 11:30am–First motorcyclist to cross the Rockies, going from San Francisco to New York.”
While I was on this summit it clouded up and began to thunder ominously. I had no more than started on the descent than it began to rain in torrents. The water just dropped from the clouds as if they were great lakes with the bottoms dropping out; in one minute I looked as if I had been fished out of a river. There was no place to seek shelter either, not even a small tree, for the mountaintop is ‘bald’, so I had to keep going. After running down about three miles my belt would not take hold and I had to get off and walk. So long as I was on the ridge where the ground was all rocks it was not so bad, but when I began to get down to the lower-lying land my trouble settled upon me in earnest. Down at the bottom I struck gumbo mud, and it stuck me. Gumbo is the mud they use in plastering the crevices of log louses. It has the consistency of stale mucilage and when dry is as hard as flint. It sticks better than most friends and puts mucilage to shame. When you step in it on a grassy spot and lift your foot the grass comes up by the roots. My wheel stood alone in the gumbo whenever I wanted to rest, and that was pretty often. Every time I shoved the bicycle ahead a length I had to clean the mud off the wheels before they would turn over again. I kept this up until finally I reached a place where I could not move the bicycle another foot. It sunk into the gluey muck so that I could not shove it either forward or backward. I found that it had taken me two hours to travel half a mile, and I could not see New York looming in front of me with any particular prominence. In fact, I could not see a sign of any settlement or human habitation anywhere, and I was in a quandary what to do. I had set out to travel to the Atlantic coast with my motor bicycle, and thus far I had done so, though I had done some walking, I did not like to part with the machine right there, for in the long run, the walking would be worse than the riding. I finally left the bicycle sticking bolt upright in its bed of gumbo mud and set out to find a place where someone lived. This move led me to a pleasant experience–the hospitality of the Wyoming ranchers.
After walking two miles I came to a ranch house, and I was lucky to find it for there is not another house within seven miles The young man I met there immediately hooked up a team of horses and went back with me and pulled the wheel out of the mud-hole. When I got to the house my rescuer, who was RC Schrader, of Isaly Station, Wyoming lent me a hose, and with the aid of a stream of water and a stick, I got the machine fairly clean after an hour of hard work. Mr Schrader was a hearty host. I had eaten nothing since an early breakfast, and it was then 5pm. He made me stop and eat, and then, as I insisted on pushing along, he showed me the way to the railroad track. I was glad to see the ties again. It was about 20 miles to Cheyenne, and I walked most of the way, arriving there at 10:30pm.
About an hour after I left the Schrader farm it began to rain and kept it up till I was within two miles of Cheyenne. When I reached there I was a sight for men and dogs. I was mud and tatter from head to feet. A colony of tramps would have been justified in repudiating me, for my face had been washed in streaks and the mud remaining on it was arranged as fantastically as the war paint of an Indian buck. My shirt is splashed with mud, too, and I miss my vest because I could remove it and make a better front in the town, I have missed that waistcoat all the afternoon, for there was snow mingled with the rain and I was cold: but I took off he vest, a light, fancy affair, some time before reaching Laramie and threw it away because I took a notion it was a hoodoo.
With my coat torn in several places and one sleeve of it hanging by a thread, my leggings hanging in shreds, no waistcoat on, dripping wet and splashed with mud all over, I checked my bicycle at the baggage room of the railroad station and set out to find a room in Cheyenne. “All full” was the word I got at the first hotel, and at the next it was the same. After I had tried three and been refused, I was satisfied that it was my appearance that was the reason. To make the matter worse, I discovered that my big ‘.38’ revolver had worn a hole in my pocket and was sticking through so that it showed plainly between the torn part of my coat. I must have looked like a ‘bad man’ from the wilds that night, and, realizing this, I made it a point to tell my story in explanation, after I had been refused accommodations at the hotels.
After visiting a couple of boarding houses and being turned away I finally found a woman who kept furnished rooms, who eyed me suspiciously and said she had no room, but would fix me up a cot. She listened to my story and finally fixed me up a nice room, and I stayed there two nights. The next morning I washed and pinned up my rags as best I could and went out to replenish my wardrobe. I must indeed have been a tough-looking specimen the night before, because the first place I went into in the morning, a furnishing store, the dog growled at me savagely and disputed my entrance until called off by his owner. It rained hard all day, and I remained in Cheyenne. while there I weighed myself and found that I was 12 pounds under my normal weight, the scales tipping at 141 pounds.
I spent most of the day cleaning and fixing my wheel. Again, I aimed a hose on it, and after that I had to use a scraper and brushes before I could get down to work with a rag. I worked in the bicycle shop of GD Pratt while there, and he extended me every courtesy. It was raining a little when I left Cheyenne, and the roads were too heavy to ride, I took to the railroad again, and the railroad ties were not much better than the road. For 43 miles I had to pedal. If you ever went for a ride on a tandem and took your best girl, or some other fellow’s best girl, and she was a heavyweight, and about 30 miles from home she gave out and you had to do all the pushing to get home you have a slight idea how I felt pushing the motor over the railroad ties.
I got to Egbert at 12:45 and had dinner at the section house there. It is downhill all the way now; I have turned my back upon the Rockies and their grandeur and am nearing the great prairie lands. I can see Elk Mountain which, with its snow-capped peak, is a landmark for hundreds of miles around and in spite of the troubles I have had in the rocky country, I feel somewhat regretful at leaving it. I do not know what troubles the prairies hold for me, and I shall miss the inspiration of the mountain air, the gorgeous view, and the coyotes and the glimpses of antelope that I caught a couple of times back near Laramie. One new sight I do have is that of prairie dogs, and as they sit beside their holes and yelp at me I take several pot shots at them. They dodge into their burrows so quickly that you cannot tell whether you hit them or not: even when shot through the head or heart these creatures dodge into their holes to die.
It began to rain when I had gone a mile and a half from the station house, and, remembering my last experience with the rain and the gumbo mud, I turned back and waited at the telegraph operating room until the middle of the afternoon, when the rain slackened. I got to Pine Bluffs on the state line between Wyoming and Nebraska, at 4:40pm. To furnish an idea of how rapidly I have come down it may be mentioned that at Pine Bluffs the elevation is 5,038 feet, and this is only 90 miles from the summit, where the elevation is 8,590 feet–a drop of 3,500 feet in less than 100 miles.
During my first few miles of travel in the state of Nebraska I was nearly killed by a freight train. l was riding alongside the track, close to the outer rail, where the dirt over the ties is level, and a strong wind was blowing in my face, so that I did not hear the rumble of the train. Suddenly I heard the loud shriek of the whistle right in my ears. I looked back and the train was not more than 10 yards away. I just had time to shoot down the embankment, which, luckily, was only about four feet high at that place when the train ran past me. As it was, the engineer had whistled ‘down brakes’ and was scared himself. It is fortunate that I was not riding between the tracks at the time, or I would have surely had to sacrifice my bicycle to escape with my life. If it had been a fast passenger train and got that close to me, it would have hit me before I got out of the way. This was worse than the mountains, for nothing that happened there came so near to causing heart failure.
I got to Kimball, 65 miles from Cheyenne at 6:50 p.m. They told me there that the roads are good when it is not raining. I had to take their word for it, and conclude that I still carry some sort of a hoodoo with me, in spite of having shed my fancy waistcoat, for when I get into a region of good roads it rains and spoils them, and when it doesn’t rain I am in a district where the roads are never good.
On Sunday morning, June 7, I left Kimball, Nebraska, and made the biggest day’s run that I scored west of the Mississippi. It is a fine, grain-growing country that I rode through from Kimball, which is a prosperous town. For the first 12 miles the country was rolling and the roads sandy. After that I found good hard roads all the way to Sidney, 35 miles from Kimball, and I made it in just three hours, reaching Sidney at 10:15. When I rode into the place, which is a division town, I passed as tough a bunch of citizens as I met all through the West. They were young fellows loafing on a corner, and they tossed all manner of taunting comment at me, as if inviting trouble. I kept on my way without replying, which was wise, but not easy to do. After getting some gasoline I left at 10:30 and had no trouble making Chappell at 12:15, where I had dinner. I started again at 1:07pm and quickly found that the good road was at an end. It became so bad, in fact, that I took to the railroad and rode the ties most of the way into Ogallala, 114 miles from Kimball. Of this distance I made the first 65 miles in five hours, and had I had as good going in the afternoon as I had in the morning, I would have made 140 miles.
It began to rain shortly before I got to Ogallala, and I had to pedal over the last 15 miles. Of the 114 miles I made this day, 46 were ridden in the State of Colorado, for the railroad and road both put in a bend from Chappell southward to get to the South Platte River at Julesburg, Colorado and then the road follows the river valley back again into Nebraska; so that 46 miles was all of Colorado I saw. I found one good stretch of road five miles long in the 46 and this was a relief from the railroad ties so I blessed it and took a snapshot of it for a Colorado souvenir. Ogallala is only a ‘little jerkwater station’ as they say in this country, but it was nightfall when I reached there, and it was raining hard, so I put up there for the night.
It is now the time of the heavy rains, cloudbursts and freshets that devastated so much of the Western country during the month of June. It is my luck to be right in the particular great basin where the waters flow most copiously. At Ogallala, Nebraska I was told that there had been nothing but rain there for the last two weeks. The roads were in terrible condition, I know, when I left there at 6:45 o’clock, on the morning of June 8. After 10 miles of heavy going through the mud, I struck sand, and then took to the railroad track once more. After going six miles over the ties it began to rain so hard that I had to get off and walk three miles to the station at Paxton. There I waited for three hours until it stopped raining, and set out again at 12:30 o’clock. From there it is just 31 miles to North Platte, and as the sun had come out I returned to the road. I found it good in places and sandy in spots. There was one stretch, two miles long, so sandy that I had to walk it. It was like being back again in the deserts. I got gasoline at North Platte and pushed on 16 miles to MaxweIl, which made 70 miles for the day’s travel.
Maxwell is a little bit of a place, and I had to take accommodation in a room that had three beds in it. A couple of surveyors were in one of the other beds, and at midnight, a commercial traveler was ushered in and given the third bed. I was fortunate in having a bed to myself at all the small places, for ‘doubling up’ is quite the common thing where accommodations are limited. One more cyclometer was sacrificed on the ride from Ogallala to Maxwell, snapped off when I had a fall on the road. I do not mention falls as a rule, as it would make the story one long monotony of falling off and getting on again. Ruts, sand, sticks, stones–all threw me dozens of times. Somewhere in Emerson I remember a passage about the strenuous soul who is indomitable and “the more falls he gets moves faster on”. I would like to see me try that across the Rockies. I didn’t move faster after my falls. The stones out that way are hard.
I left Maxwell at 7:15am on June 9 and followed the road for the first eight miles. Then it got so sandy that I took to the railroad. I remained on the tracks for 12 miles and then tried the road again. After an hour on it, the mud began to be so thick that riding was impossible and I then returned to the railroad and stuck to it until I reached Lexington, where I had dinner. When I emerged from the dining room it was raining so hard that it would have been folly to have attempted to ride. My batteries required attention, and by chance I met JS Bancroft, who has the most complete bicycle and automobile repairing station that I saw between Cheyenne and Omaha. Mr. Bancroft stopped when he saw me at work on the batteries and invited me to his store He is a motor bicycle rider, using a 2½hp Columbia.
I lost an afternoon in Lexington, but it stopped raining at 5pm and I went over to the railroad and made a run of 20 miles in an hour and a half to Elm Creek, where I had supper. I was anxious to make all the mileage I could, so after supper I started again, and by 8:20pm I had ridden 16 miles more and was at Kearney, where I put up for the night. I had a fall and broke my ammeter in this last stretch. I had the same experience with my watch back in Nevada. A note in my diary, made at Kearney reads: “There are some of the greatest pace followers of their size in the world in this region. A bunch tacked on to me back at Ogallala, and for two days I have been unable to shake them. It looks as if they will stay with me all the way into New York. The natives call them gnats. They bite like hornets.”
The roads were still impassible going out of Kearney, and I followed the railroad tracks to Grand Island, and even then I had to walk over several short stretches where it was sandy, and every half mile I had to dismount for the crossing of the wagon road, the highway being in such vile condition that its dirt was piled upon the tracks so that I could not ride through it. In the 11miles between Grand Island and Chapman, where I stopped for dinner, I broke six spokes. I rode, with the rear wheel thus weakened, over the ties 10 miles to Central City, where I stopped for repairs. I left Central City at 4:45 and rode 44 miles to Columbus, arriving there at 8:25pm. This made 108 miles for the day and I felt satisfied. On this day again I narrowly escaped being lifted from the roadbed by an engine pilot. It was a fast mail train this time. I was riding along outside the rail, where the space between the rail and edge of the embankment was only six inches, and I could not look around without danger of banging into the rail or slipping over the edge. I did not hear the train until the whistle sounded, when the engine was within 100 feet of me. I just went down that embankment as if I had been pushed.
I left Columbus, Nebraska at 7:40am. My start was later than usual because I had to wait to get gasoline. They do not keep it in the stores there, but a wagon goes around in the morning to the various houses and supplies what they want for the day. I had to take to the railroad once more from the outset. After going 28 miles over the ties I noticed that the roads looked better and I rode on them for the rest of the day, stopping at Fremont for dinner and arriving at Omaha at 5:30pm.
At Omaha I feel that my self-imposed task was as good as accommodated. The roughest and most trying part of the country has been crossed, and I have traveled more than 2,000 miles of the total distance. I have reached the great waters of the Missouri; the promised land of the East, where I hope to find good roads, lies ahead of me. My anticipations of what lies before me are bright.
IV. Through The Valleys Of The Two Great Rivers To Chicago
Although it was evening when I reached Omaha, Nebraska, on June 11, I at once hunted up the largest bicycle store and repair shop I could find in the city–that of Louis Flescher, 1622 Capitol Avenue–and began putting my machine in trim for the last 1,600 miles of my trip. I found that six new spokes were needed and, after putting them in and truing up the wheels, I put on a new belt rim to replace the old one, which had been literally chewed up by the rocks along the road. It looked, in fact, as if it might have been a rail on the manger of a cribbing horse. Also, I put on the second one of the pair of tires that I got at Ogden and soldered up a small leak in the gasoline tank. Knowing that from that time on I would be able to get almost anything I needed, I decided to remove my carrier, with its extra gasoline tank and tools, and ship them to Chicago. I kept only a pump, a tire repair outfit, a wrench, a spark plug and my lubricating oil. All this was not done at night. It took me until 1:30 o’clock the next day to finish my work, and then I had lunch.
It was three o’clock on June 12 when I left Omaha. The streets of that city are fine, many of them having vitrified brick pavement. It might have been all imagination, or the exhilaration I felt at leaving the deserts and the Rockies behind me, but the bicycle seemed to skim the earth like a swallow as I started for the steel bridge across the Missouri River to Council Bluffs, Iowa. The carrier and its freight made the load lighter, and the fine pavement had much to do with it, but the difference seemed greater than could be accounted for by these things. At the time it seemed to me as if I was having the finest ride of my lifetime. Unwitting, I cheated the toll collector at the bridge and crossed over into Iowa without paying anything. I was going at a smart pace when I reached the bridge and had gone along on it some distance when I heard a man shouting to me. I learned afterward that he was the toll collector. I glanced back and saw him waving his arm excitedly, but at the time I thought he was expostulating because I was riding between the tracks, so I kept on and, as far as l am aware he did not undertake to pursue me or have me stopped.
At Council Bluffs I made the acquaintance of Mr Smith, of the Nebraska Cycle Company, who has traveled all over the country. He sent the barometer of my new-born confidence and enthusiasm down. From what he told me of the roads and the condition in which I would find them at that time, after all the rainy weather, I about made up my mind that I would have to ride on the railroad ties all the way to Chicago. Perhaps it was the effect of what he said that led me to explore Council Bluffs to a greater extent than I had any other place through which I passed, though, truth to tell, there was not opportunity for exploring in more than a very few, most of my stops west of Omaha having been at places that could be seen at one glance–‘tout ensemble’, as the Frenchmen say. The brick pavement of the Council Bluffs streets is superior to anything I ever saw before and I have seen some fine roads in Australia and other countries. It is laid with such scientific method and such consummate art that you might think you were riding on a board floor when rolling over it.
It had been my design when I started to take the more southerly route from Omaha, by way of Kansas City and St Louis to Chicago, because I understood that, although the distance is greater, I would find better riding by so doing. When I came along, however, all that country was under water, one might say, so I decided to follow the route of the Northwestern Railroad past Ames, from which a spur of the road runs south to Des Moines. For the credit of the country, I hope the southerly route is better than the one I followed. On the whole, Iowa gave me as much vile traveling as any State that I crossed. I left Council Bluffs at 6:30am on June 13, and, in spite of what Mr Smith had told me, I felt glad to know that I had crossed the Missouri, for, with the ‘Big Muddy’ at my back, my journey was two-thirds over. I started on the roadway and followed it nearly 40 miles to Woodbine.
The June floods had preceded me surely enough and the roads were so muddy that I could hardly force the bicycle along. I took a snapshot of my bicycle in one place where it was kept upright by the mud. Where the roadbed was not muddy it had dried with deep ruts and ‘thank you, ma’ams’ in it. I frequently had to get off and walk for short stretches, wading through the mud or getting over the ruts. I had gone about 10 miles from Council Bluffs, riding and walking alternately, when I got off to foot it past a bad piece, and discovered that the jolting over the rough places had loosened the bundle in which I had my tools and parts and they were all gone. I did not care to leave my bicycle by the roadside for any tramp or small boy who might come along to fool with, so I trundled it along back with me hunting in the mud for my lost tools. I do not believe in profanity, but my unbelief in this respect was greatly helped by the experience. In the course of two miles I recovered everything except the pump connection and a small bundle of battery wire.
After regaining my tools and starting to ride again I had not gone a mile before I ran into a rut and the machine slewed and hurled me into a slough of mud about 10 feet away. The mud along that part of the world is of the gumbo variety, that sticks like glue when it is moist and dries as hard and solid as bricks. I held quite a good-sized tract of Iowa real estate when I arose, but I reflected that it was better to have landed in a soft spot than it would have been to have struck a place where the flinty ruts were sticking up five inches like cleavers with ragged edges. This philosophical reflection served to modify my exclamations at the time, and I went on carrying the mud as a badge of membership in the grand order of hoboes, to which I felt at this time that I belonged. Nor was the mud, both wet and dry, the sum of my troubles. It was a rolling country, with plenty of farms about through which I was traveling, and I met quite a number of wagons. Motor vehicles of any sort are not common enough thereabouts as yet for the horses to be unafraid of them. Eight out of ten horses I met wanted to climb a telegraph pole or leap the fence at the sight and sound of my harmless little vehicle, and the farmers used language that would make a pirate blush. I was frankly expecting any one of them to pull a gun and take a shot at me during all my 40 miles on the road that forenoon.
One experience of the road that day, in which I tried to play the part of a gallant, mud-covered though I was, but succeeded only in becoming unpopular and ridiculous, occurred when I met a buggy containing a couple of Old-Maid ladies past the bloom of youth. At an eighth of a mile away or more, the animal they were driving began to cavort and show insane alarm. The women screamed, and I dismounted as quickly as I could, and laid the bicycle down in the gully at the roadside. One of the women got out and tried to lead the animal. He did not lead very well, either, and I approached, intending to take him by the bridle, quiet him and then let the lady return to the seat and remain there while I led the refractory brute. Usually I get along well with horses, but this one went crazy when I got near him. He acted like a rocking horse, standing first on his hind legs and then on his front ones, and kicking out in the rear to the accompanying screams of the women. I supposed I smelled motory or looked it. At any rate, he would not be quiet as long as I tried to hold him, and I had to shamefacedly retire from view and let the spinster return to his head.
I felt foolish, and must have looked it, for the woman in the carriage glared at me with manifest contempt and indignation while her partner in single blessedness led their good steed forward. The beast did a hornpipe as he passed the place where my bicycle lay in the gully, and the last I saw of him he was ambling along and shying every 10 yards after both women were again in the buggy. I started on my journey again, wondering if they bred fool horses especially for old maids in that region.
About 20 miles from Omaha, at Lovelands, I took a picture of an orchard and field still under water from the rains. This was not the only place of the sort by a great deal, but it gives an idea of how the country suffered and how I suffered. At Woodbine I concluded to take to the railroad tracks to escape the affectionate hugging of the gumbo mud and the objurflabons of the farmers, a number of whom told me I “ought to keep that thing off the road altogether”. I went on the tracks of the Northwestern, and had not ridden far before I was ‘ordered off’ by a section boss. This was the first time this thing happened to me, but it was not the last time. The railroad waves in and between the bluffs there, so that there is hardly a straightaway stretch a hundred yards long, and it is because of the danger due to the many sharp curves that no one is allowed on the tracks.
After making a detour through the fields I returned to the tracks, but I was chased off a second time, and then I shifted my route over to the tracks of the Illinois Central about 50 feet the other side of the Northwestern rails, and I had no more trouble with the section bosses. I reached Denison at 8pm after covering only 75 miles in 13½ hours. I found a comfortable commercial hotel, with modern improvements, at Denison, and had it not been for the roads I would have thought I was well out of the wilderness. I had to have my driving belt sewed again that night, and it was midnight before I went to bed.
I started from Denison at 8am, taking to the railroad. After going five miles the roadbed became so bad that I could not ride, and I sought the highway. This did not help me much, for I was able to ride only a little way at a time, and then walk anywhere from 100 yards to a mile. My coaster brake, which had begun to give me trouble the day before, became on this day a coaster broke. The threads of the axle were stripped, and, while the brake would not work, the coaster worked overtime, so that I could not start the bicycle by pedaling; I had to run it along and then hop on. This day, July 14, was the hottest I had yet encountered. My clothing was drenched with perspiration, and it was hard to decide whether it was easier and cooler walking or riding.
I hated the task of dismounting every half mile, walking in the gumbo mud and pulling my feet out at each step as if I was breaking them away from the hold of a rubber rope: yet when I was walking it seemed about as easy to keep at it as to start the motor by running along with it and jumping on, knowing that I was apt to fall immediately, as I did several times because of the ruts, and knowing also that if I did not fall as soon as I mounted that I was likely to be compelled to dismount after going 500 yards. One fall that I got through performing this stunt of running with the bicycle and jumping aboard on the rutty road nearly laid me up–I fell and struck my knee so hard that I had to sit down and nurse my strength for a quarter of an hour. My leg was lame for a couple of days. It was all I could do to keep going, and had the blow been a little harder I would have been crippled.
It may be tiresome to react about the hard luck passages of my trip but it is less tiresome than enduring them, and they all come back to me so vividly that the story would seem incomplete without some of these mishaps. At best, the hard knocks pale in description and I try to state them mildly. In actual fact, some of them were sources of real agony. It was not a sentimental journey at any stage, nor a humorous one, and often I was too sadly used up to perceive what humor there might have been in a situation, though usually I am not slow in catching any glint of humor there may be abroad. I must have appeared comical at many times, but unfortunately we have not been blessed by the gods with the gift ‘to see ourselves as others see us’, and so missed many a laugh and smile at my own appearance. A part of the aggravation of this hot day was due to the remarks of those I met on the road:
“What’s the trouble?”
“Motor busted, eh?”
These were some of the queries and comments I had hurled at me as I floundered along through the mud. Sometimes the remarks were uttered from sincere solicitude, sometimes from mere curiosity, and occasionally from a desire to ridicule.
“Why don’t you ride?” was several times asked by persons who really did not understand why a motor bicycle could not go through anything. There is, in fact, a great deal of ignorance still remaining among the farmer folk as to the limitations of a bicycle. They seem sometimes to think that it must be able to skim on the surface of sand and mud, run through water, or on a telegraph wire, or anywhere; yet on the other hand there is great incredulity as to the ability of anyone going any great distance. The worst taunt I got while walking and pushing the bicycle came from a grizzled farmer old enough to be more polite to strangers. He called out: “Hey, young fella! Is it any easier walkin’ in that gumbo when yer push one o’ them things along-side?” The paradoxical ideas of the farmers about my bicycle were revealed in the evening when I arrived at a small place called Ogden after covering 76 miles. While I was talking about my trip and telling of the troubles of the daunting journey there were several expressions of disbelief in my story of having come from San Francisco, and I was told that I couldn’t get to Chicago with a “little thing like that”. At almost the same a man solemnly asked me why I didn’t avoid all the bad going by riding on the steel rail, he having no doubt of the ability of a me to ride right along on a rail without any attachment.
At Ogden I found a blacksmith, and had him cut a new thread on my rear axle, and we wedged the lock-nut of the coaster on with pieces of brass so that it would act properly. Ogden is in a fine farming district on rolling land, and going out of the place there it fine view across the mountains. I had a good chance to look around, for it was 11:30 o’clock before I got my coaster brake fixed so that I could start. I rode 11 miles on the road to Boone, a town with model asphalted streets, and there I had luncheon, after which I sought the railroad tracks. After a while I met a section foreman, in the person of a big Swede, who ordered me off the track bed. No amount of blarney would persuade him even to let me continue to a crossroad. I must get off the railroad property right then and there. The harshness of this edict became apparent when I had to climb through a barbed wire fence, drag my motor cycle after me and then walk with it for half a mile through a grain field before I reached a road. The prospect of being caught by the farmer while I was in the act of trampling down his grain did not add to my cheerfulness of mind during this enforced detour.
Shortly after I got started at riding on the road again my wheel twisted in a rut and I fell in a heap with the machine. In this fall I broke my cyclometer, the fourth one smashed since leaving San Francisco. I had been thoroughly subdued by my two days’ experience with the Iowa gumbo, and I did not swear over this mishap. I was taking everything with becoming humility by this time, and my most fervent hope was simply that it would not rain until I got safely out of the country. Fortunately it had not rained since I left Council Bluffs and the mud I was encountering was simply that left over from the flooding storms of the previous week. I knew that if it rained before I got out of the region I would be laid up for days, for the roads get so bad during a rain that horses cannot make their way along them. Horses have been stuck in the roads out that way so badly that it was necessary to hoist them out with tackle.
After my fall I returned to the railroad tracks, determined to take a chance with the section hands in preference to the chances of the road. I had no more difficulty with the railroad men and eventually reached Marshalltown at 7pm with 71 miles to my credit for the day. By following the railroad tracks I missed passing through Des Moines, which is on a spur of the road down from Ames. At Ames I stopped and got a new screw for my carburetor valve, which was damaged by the same fall that broke my cyclometer. At Marshalltown I registered at a hotel run by a widow and her sons. After supper I gave my belt a lacing and went to bed.
With my nerve fortified by a resolve to brazen it out with the section hands on the railroad, and a stock of interesting stories arranged in mind for their benefit, I left Marshalltown at 7am on July 16, and proceeded to the tracks of the Northwestern. Imagine a man so anxious to ride a bicycle over railroad ties that he would lie awake at night planning how to prevaricate to the section men! My luck in the gentle art of telling fairy stories was variable. Some passed me on with a doubtful look, but others were rude enough to refuse me credence and order me back to the highway. Although I was east of there, I was like the man going to Omaha, who persistently returned after being put off the railroad train. Some section bosses and trackwalkers I went past, others I went around, and by using road and rail bed alternately I kept making headway.
In this section of the country I saw more Indians than I did in all that portion of the country west of the Missouri. There is a reservation at Tama, Iowa, through which place I passed and most of the Indians I saw were from there. They were tame redskins given to the wearing of shirts and coats and trousers, and to agricultural pursuits. In fact, one sees few blanket Indians in this locality. Once, while I was on the road, I tried to get a snapshot of one of the parties of Indians that I met in wagons. There was a squaw in the party, and she yowled like a coyote when I pointed the camera at her and made haste to cover herself with a blanket, for most of the Indians have not gotten over the superstition that, like the man’s watch in the photograph gallery, their soul is taken in any picture of them. This squaw waved her arms and threw herself about so that I thought she would fall. I persevered, however, and got a snapshot although it was an unsatisfactory one, because, after all, it shows only the Indian lady seated in the wagon with a blanket over her head.
Five miles from Cedar Rapids my batteries got so weak that my motor began to miss and finally gave out. When I tried to pedal the clumsily repaired coaster brake it broke again and I had to walk into Cedar Rapids. The rapids, which I passed as I entered the city, were pretty, but I, plodding along and pushing my bicycle envied, their rapidity more than their beauty. I traveled about 77 miles this day, though the distance by rail from Marshalltown to Cedar Rapids Is only 69 miles.
When I reached Cedar Rapids my bicycle needed attention more seriously than at any previous time, and this was not to be wondered at, for it had carried me more than 2,300 miles. I went to a bicycle store on Second Avenue where I soldered the loose sprocket lock nut on to the hub. My handlebars were cracked near the head, where holes are drilled for the wires, so I brazed a piece of reinforcing onto them. Leaving Cedar Rapids, I found the roads still muddy, and, as the country is of rolling character, I sought the railroad, but I found the bed so strewn with sharp rocks that I returned to the wagon road. Why I did not get lost several times In this country I do not know. The telegraph poles branched off at every crossroad, and it was simply a toss-up to decide which was the line of poles to follow.
The roads were a little better east of Cedar Rapids, which itself has splendid roads, but they were still wet and in places sandy. Darkness overtook me before I reached Clinton, and, being afraid of smashing into something, I walked the last few miles into that place, arriving at 9pm after having covered 85 miles. At Clinton I was nearing Chicago, within 150 miles of it, and on the morning of June 18, when I left Clinton, Iowa, at 6:30am, I hoped to reach it before noon on the following day.
Shortly after leaving Dixon, about two miles, I crossed the ‘Father of Waters’ and was at last east of the Mississippi and into Illinois, where I was told at the start I never would get with my motor bicycle. The roads improved at once after crossing the great river, though I had some difficulty finding the correct one going out of Fulton, Illinois. The country in general also improved. The soil was darker and more fertile looking, and the farms had a thriving look about them that was superior to anything I had seen since leaving Sacramento. I chose the road on the north side of the Rock River and remained on that side until I crossed the river at Dixon.
Persons of whom I made inquiry at Dixon advised me that the best thing I could do was to take the old Chicago stage road. I did so, and that road will be ever memorable to me, for on it my troubles broke out afresh. I rode from Dixon, which Is 99 miles from Chicago, south-east about 45 miles to Earlville, and then rode north-east about 25 miles toward Aurora. A great part of the road was so poor that I wished I had stayed on the railroad, and I learned afterward that I might have ridden on roads much nearer the tracks. Still, other parts of the road were good and I made fair time. I was getting near Aurora when the crank of my motor broke. This was the most serious accident that had happened to me, and it meant trouble. There was no possible way of repairing the damage. so, like the steamer that breaks its engine and hoists sail, I resorted to the pedals, and mighty glad I was that I had fixed the coaster brake at Cedar Rapids, so that I could pedal and did not have to walk. I pedaled about 10 miles before nightfall, and then put up at a little store at a crossroads, where they gave me accommodation for the night. I was on fine stone roads by this time, and only 25 miles from Chicago. I pedaled into the Windy City in five-and-a-half hours the next day, June 19. As may be imagined, I was tired after pedaling 25 miles, and not only physically weary but I was mentally dejected because of the accident to my motor. On the outskirts of the city I sat down on the curb to rest and meditate, and I was aroused by a local rider who, fancying I was in trouble, stopped to offer assistance.
Once I was fairly in Chicago I sought to get a new motor crank but found there was none to be had, so I telegraphed to San Francisco for one. The motor crank was the last thing that was expected to break. I had parts of every sort excepting that one along with me, and these were unused, while the one thing I could not replace was the one that broke. This showed that one never can tell what to expect in a cross-country journey of this sort.
After telegraphing for the motor crank I knew I would have to lay up in Chicago for a while, so I went out to engage lodgings. I found a nice-looking boarding house, and chose it in preference to a hotel. I engaged board for four days. When I made a light in the room, however, I found I had company–insects in the bed as big as canary birds. At least they looked that big to me. I hastily decamped with my few belongings and walked the streets for three hours, feeling timid about making another attempt to get accommodations. I was thoroughly disgusted with Chicago from that time on. I eventually went to a hotel where everything was all right, but my dislike of Chicago increased during the five days of my stay there. It rained nearly every day, and the soot from the soft coal smoke nearly strangled me, after my being accustomed to the pure air of the mountains.
The things that impressed me most in Chicago were the way that the inhabitants ran about the streets as if they were lost or going to a fire, and the number of drunken men and women in the streets. I never saw so much drunkenness In my life anywhere before. I went to some of the theatres, but my impression of the city was not helped by that. I simply abhorred the place. It was not until the morning of this day, June 23, that I got my new motor crank by express, and it took me nearly all day to fit it and get the engine together again. I lost no time in getting away from the Windy City. I did not want to stop there one hour longer than I was obliged to do. I left there that same evening.
Part V. Along The Shores Of The Great Lakes And Down The Hudson To New York
With the Windy City at my back I felt as if I would ‘blow in’ to New York in a week or so. The worst roads I knew must surely be behind me and, with better highways, I calculated that I would have no more trouble with my motor bicycle. I reckoned without thought of the cumulative effects of the continuous battering that the machine was receiving. It has proven itself a wonderfully staunch steed, but no vehicle could stand what I imposed upon the 90-pound vehicle, nor should any be expected to do so. Before I got through with my trip I had, as will he seen, a vivid personal experience that put me into thorough sympathy with the Deacon and his one-horse shay.
As I have said, I did not want to remain in Chicago one minute longer than was necessary and accordingly I left there at 5:30pm on June23 and made my way to Kensington, 23 miles east. In the morning I ordered and paid for some gasoline. What I got was a vile mixture of gasoline and something that was much like linseed oil. I believe it was that, but I did not discover the imposition until after I had started and I did not go back. A man who will sell such stuff has no conscience. Only a club will appeal to him, and I had no time to waste in fighting. I simply went on and made the best of it till I could get fresh gasoline elsewhere.
The roads were heavy from recent rains when left I Kensington at 6:45am and here in the smooth and ‘built-up’ East I had to resort to the trick I learned in the deserts of Nevada and Utah: I took to the railroad track, and rode 20 miles along the ties to the lake. I saved a considerable distance by following the railroad, and as I was seasoned to such riding, the bouncing did not hurt so much as the thought that I was having the same sort of traveling east of Chicago that I had west of Omaha. Well, it is a big country to build up and supply with good roads. Anyone who has made such a trip as I made can appreciate this in a fullness that others cannot. When this country is eventually built up with good roads it will be truly great and wonderful.
I left the railroad at Porter, Indiana and got onto a road with a good rock bed which lasted for several miles. The rains, which had so severely damaged the roads, had not hurt the crops much, so far as I could see. It was all a ‘ranching country’, as we say in the West, farming they call it in the East, through which I was passing at this stage, and it looked flourishing. I reached La Porte at noon and lunched there, having made 55 miles in the forenoon. I had been keeping company with a smell like that of burning paint all the morning. It came from the mixture that I was exploding in the motor. I got fresh gasoline at La Porte, and at least had an honest smell for my money after that. I passed through Goshen at 5pm and reached Ligonier, where I stopped for the night, at 6:30pm. The roads began to get better after I left La Porte, and the last 19 miles of this day’s run were made in an hour and 10 minutes.
I thought that when I got east of Chicago folks would know what a motor bicycle is, but it was not so. In every place through which I passed I left behind a gaping lot of natives, who ran out into the street to stare after me. When I reached Ligonier I rode through the main street and by mistake went past the hotel where I wanted to stop. When I turned and rode back the streets looked as though there was a circus in town. All the shopkeepers were out on the side-walks to see the motor bicycle, and small boys were as thick as flies in a country restaurant. When I dismounted in front of the hotel the crowd became so big and the curiosity so great that I deemed it best to take the bicycle inside. The boys manifested a desire to pull it apart to see how it was made. There was really more curiosity about my motor bicycle in the eastern towns than in the wilds of the Sierras. The mountaineers are surprised at nothing, and seemed to have caught from the Indians the self-containment that disdains to manifest the slightest curiosity. Although when spoken to about it, the Westerners would frankly admit they never saw such a machine before, yet they turned toward me on my first appearance stolid countenances with which they gazed at the sky and the surrounding landscape.
This day, when I reached Ligonier, June 24, I had made 130 miles. At 8am on June 25 I left Ligonier and struck out over a sand road through a rolling and fertile farming country to Wawaka, where I came to a stone road and had good riding to Kendallville. East of that place, to Bitler, the going was a good second to what I had in Iowa, which was the worst of anywhere that there were roads. Between Butler and Edgerton, after having ridden 48 miles from Ligonier, I crossed the state line into Ohio. The road improved some then, but it was very bad in places all the way to Swanton, at which place I resorted to the railroad for more comfort and fewer dismounts. I rode nine miles to Holland along the tracks, but the railroad bed was a poor one and about as rough riding as the road so I returned to the highway and found a six-mile stretch of good road south to Miami. By taking this road I made a shortcut that saved me 15 miles, and did not therefore, see Toledo. I arrived at Perrysburg, Ohio. at 7pm with 126 miles to my credit for the day.
The price of gasoline continued to decrease as I got East. In the morning of that day at Ligonier I had paid 10 cents for half a gallon; at Butler I got the same quantity for 8 cents, and at Swanton the price was 7 cents. The table board did not improve, however. For me, with my vigorous Western appetite, the bounteous supply of plain food served by the little hotels in the Rocky Mountain country was much more satisfactory than anything I got East. The meals out in Nevada and Wyoming were much better than anything I got in Illinois, Indiana or Ohio at the same price.
Everywhere I stopped during this part of my trip a crowd gathered about me and my motorcycle, although neither the machine nor my self had any sign on telling our mission. Whenever I told someone in a crowd I had come from San Francisco there was at first open incredulity. The word was passed along and they winked to one another while staring impudently at me. At this stage of my journey I had with me, however, a copy of the June issue of The Motorcycle Magazine with the story of my start from the coast and a picture. This convinced the doubters and immediately my bicycle became the subject of unbounded curiosity, while I was the target of Gatling-gun fire of questions that it was impossible to answer satisfactorily. The consequence was I became more particular when and where I took the trouble to convince people of my feat.
About this time I began to feel the effects of my five days’ rest in Chicago. That length of time led to my growing tender, and I was more saddle-sore at Perrysburg that night than at anytime before. I felt then as if I would have to finish with a hot water bag on the saddle.
From Perrysburg I got a 7 o’clock start, but soon discovered that I did not have any more lubricating oil than enough to last for 30 miles. By economising I managed to reach Tremont where I got some oil at a machine shop. It was so thick that I had to heat it before it would run, but it was better than nothing. After leaving Fremont the roads began to grow very poor. There had been several days of rain on them just before I came along and as they were simply dirt roads for repeated stretches of 10 miles or more the mud was deep and wide.
Near Amherst, about 30 miles west of Cleveland, I got my first reminder of the one-horse story and a foretaste of what was in store for me. The truss on the front forks of my bicycle broke. When I stopped to remove the remains of it I found that it had crystallized so that it was like a piece of old rusty iron. It broke in several places like a stick of rotten wood. That was the effect of the terrible pounding the machine had received over the railroad ties It occurred to me at the time that the whole machine must have suffered similarly, but it did not show signs of disintegrating at the time, and I concluded it would carry me to New York. After leaving Elyria, 25 miles from Cleveland, I struck a good side-path that continued for 20 miles. It was only six inches wide in places, but those few inches spelled salvation for me because the road was so heavy with sand that if I had not had the path to ride I would have had to have walked for long stretches. Just out of Elyria I met an automobile, and it was having a hard time of it. It was all the engine could do to keep it moving. The last five miles into Cleveland I went over the best roads I ever had ridden on anywhere in my life.
It was 7pm when I reached Cleveland. and my first move was to hunt up an automobile station in order to get some oil. At the Oldsmobile branch I found what I wanted and they gave me enough to last for 300 miles, all I cared to carry, in fact. They took a lively interest in me and my bicycle and examined my motor carefully. Like everyone else, though, they had to he shown the photographs of my start from San Francisco before fully accepting my statement that I had come from California. My distance for this day, to Cleveland, was 121 miles, and I used five quarts of gasoline.
It was on the day I left Cleveland, June 27, that my troubles began to come thick and fast. I started from Cleveland at 10am and had gone only a mile when the lacing holes in my driving belt gave way and I had to stop and re-lace. For the first five miles the road was fine, and then I came to a stretch where the road was being rebuilt and I had to walk for a mile and a half. After that I had a plank road for six miles, and then it was sandy for 30 miles, all the way to Geneva. From there to Couneaut, 22 miles, the road was good in places, with occasional stretches of clay and sand, through which it was hard going. It was a dreary day of travel through a pretty farming country where the ranchers seemed to be as heavy-witted as the cattle.
The belt broke five times during the afternoon, and the last time I fixed it I laced It with two inches of space between the ends in order to make it reach. I passed through town after town where I wondered what the people did for recreation. There was nothing for them to do after their day’s work but to walk around the block and then go to bed. One thing I noticed is that it is a poor country for shoemakers for nearly everyone I saw, men, women and children, were barefooted. It was plain that much of the country I saw was settled by immigrant farmers from Germany and other parts of Europe. I made only 75 miles this day. When I arrived in Conneaut. I got a piece of belting at a bicycle store and spliced my troublesome piece of driving leather. Then I discovered that the screws in the crankcase of the motor were all loose, so I put in some white lead and tightened them. It was so late by this time that I concluded to remain at Conneaut that night.
My hoodoo was with me all the next day. I left Conneaut at 7:30am, and before I had gone quite 10 miles the oil began to leak out of the crankcase, although I had done my best to make it tight and seal it with white lead the night before. The belt again gave out and I had my own profane troubles with these two defects all day. First it was the oil, and then the belt, and I became so disgusted before noon that I felt like shooting the whole machine full of holes and deserting it.
This was my first visit to Pennsylvania–for I been riding in the little 50-mile strip of the Keystone Stare that borders on Lake Erie ever since leaving Conneaut–and I can say that all my Pennsylvania experiences were hard ones. The roads were fairly good and for most of the way I rode on footpaths at the side of the road. The view from the road with the luxuriant verdure-clad bluffs on one side and the horizon-bounded expanse of the great lake on the other side was as magnificent as I had seen. It reminded me of the good old Pacific.
By afternoon I had crossed the Pennsylvania strip and at last was in New York state. It seemed as if I was nearing home then, but it is a big state, and I came to realize the truth of the song that “it’s a blanked long walk to the *** Rialto in New York”. I didn’t have to walk, but walking would have been easier than the way I traveled from the western boundary of the Empire State to the metropolis. It was on the afternoon of June 28 that I entered the state, and it was eight days later before I got to the confines of the great city.
I had hoped to reach Buffalo on the day I left Conneaut but was still 25 miles from the Queen City when my troubles climaxed by the breaking of a fork side. The crystallization resulting from the continuous pounding was telling again. I walked two miles to Angola, and there sought a telegraph office, and wired Chicago for a pair of new forks. I learned that I would not be able to get a pair there for two days, because they would have to go first to Buffalo and then be reshipped to Angola. I therefore determined to get the forks repaired there if possible, and make them do till I got to Buffalo. It is a fortunate thing that I was not riding fast or going downhill when the fork side broke. I was told that automobiles and motor bicycles frequently traveled the road that I took from Chicago to New York, but the behavior of the natives belied it. People all came running out of the houses when I passed, and they stared as if they never had seen a motor bicycle before.
I spent two hours in a repair shop in Angola the next morning, June 29, and at the end of that time the repairer pronounced the forks mended sufficiently to carry me through to New York. I did not feel as confident about this as the repairman did. I got to Buffalo by 11 o’clock, and after a visit to the post office, I rode out to the ER Thomas automobile and motor bicycle factory. There I met Mr FR Thomas for the first time, and I must pay a tribute to his generous hospitality, which I shall always remember. His kindness was all the more magnanimous when it is remembered that I was riding the product of a rival maker. The first thing Mr Thomas did was to send my bicycle inside and have it seen to that it was supplied with oil and gasoline. Then he learned that my forks were in bad shape, and he ordered men to get to work and make a new pair for it and finish them at night. The men worked in the factory until 9 o’clock that night on my forks, and had them ready for me to make an early start in the morning. For all this Mr. Thomas. would not accept payment. In the meantime he showed me through his factory, and then lent me an Auto-Bi, on which I took a trip about the city.
I left Buffalo at 5:20am, determined, if possible, to get to New York by July 2 and join in the endurance run to Worcester that started on the third. After I had gone 10 miles the lacing holes in the belt broke away again. I then put on the old original belt with which I had started from San Francisco and which I had removed at Chicago but still carried with me. Everything went finely for the next few miles, and then the connecting rod of the motor broke. Everything seemed to me to be going to pieces. There was nothing for it then but to pedal, and I churned away for five miles into Batavia. It was only 9am when I got there, and it took until 3:30pm to get the repairs made so that I could start again. It went all right until I was 12 miles from Rochester, and then the valves got to working so poorly that I could not make more than five miles an hour with it. I managed to reach a cycle store in Rochester, and there I went to work, intending to get it fixed and ride half the night to make up for lost time. It was of no use. I worked until 11pm and then gave it up until morning. I realized then that the motor and bicycle were suffering from crystallization. There were no flaws or defects of any sort in the parts that were breaking. They were just giving out all at once, like the Deacon’s famous shay that lasted him so well and so long and was not weaker in any one part than in another.
In spite of all my troubles I had made 80 miles that day, and I still had hopes of being in New York in time for the fireworks. It took until 11:30 o’clock the next day, July I, to get the motor working, and then I started from Rochester with CO Green, superintendent of the Regas Company, and WL Stoneburn, the bookkeeper, riding with me as an escort. They accompanied me 20 miles to Fairport over roads so muddy as to be nearly impassible. Not far from Fairport, when I was alone again, the hoodoo asserted itself. First the connecting rod worked loose, and soon after the belt ends gave way. I lost as little time as possible, however, and at night I reached Cayuga, with the satisfaction of having covered 70 miles during the short day.
I left Cayuga at 8am and took my troubles with me. The batteries were growing weak; first the eyelets of the belt broke and then the lacing; next the crank axle got out of true, and every time it struck, the belt broke. I had these troubles all day. Toward night the belt broke five times in one mile. I got some new batteries at Syracuse, but after going two miles on them they would not yield a spark, so I went back and returned them, and after a search I managed to get some good batteries. The fates seemed in a conspiracy to prevent my getting to New York before July 4. The motor was getting in such shape that I realized I would be lucky if I could finish with it at all. To add to my troubles these two days from Rochester, July 1 and 2, were terribly hot and I was nearly prostrated by the heat. I managed to make 65 miles and get to Canastota by 9:30 p.m. on the second, but as that was the day I had hoped to be in the metropolis, I did not go to bed in any
At 7am on July 3 I started from Canastota, determined to get to Albany, at least, that day. I had trouble from the start. I re-laced the belt seven times during the forenoon, and then I spliced it with a new piece at Little Falls. I was still 40 miles from Albany when my
handlebars broke off on one side. I had been there a couple of times before during the trip, and it did not take me long to lash a stick across the steering stem. Soon after, the piston began to squeak, and I discovered that the rings on it were worn out. Oil was of no avail, and I rode on with the squeak for company. Six miles from Albany, while I was on the towpath, the rear tire blew out There was a hole in it that would admit a hand. I walked into Albany. Some of the remarks I made to myself as I walked were not fit for quoting to a Sunday school class. My distance that day was 135 miles. This was to be my last day of big mileage though.
All the way through New York state I used the cycle path without a licence. It was not until after my trip ended that I knew I had been violating the law.
On the Fourth of July my first move in the morning was to a bicycle store where I got a new tyre and put in 14 new spokes, and then took the motor apart. The piston rings were worn pretty thin but looked as if they would still give service, so at 2:30pm I started from Albany. Four miles out, I gave it up. The motor would not explode as it should. I went back to the bicycle store in Albany and worked on the problem there until night. Then I went to see the fireworks and forget about it.
As I could not make the motor work, I concluded on the morning of July 5 to make myself work. I started to pedal in to New York. That last 150 miles down the Hudson from Albany is a part of my trip of which I will always have a vivid recollection. I had seen some hills before, but the motor climbed them for me. In the hills along the Hudson, I had to climb and push the motor along. They seemed steeper than the Rocky Mountains. This I will say, though: from the time I left the Pacific coast I saw no grander scenery than that along the Hudson River. While other sights were not up to expectation, the scenery of the Hudson was far beyond it.
So enthusiastic was I that I pedalled along all night on July 5. It was a long, dreary and strenuous ride, but I was well seasoned by this time and fit to do a mule’s work. After riding two days and a night under leg power, or rather over it, I reached New York in the middle of the afternoon on July 6. I made frequent stops to rest and I attracted more than a little attention but I was too tired to care. I can smile now as I recall the sight I was with my overalls on, my face and hands black as a mulatto’s, my coat torn and dirty, a big piece of wood tied on with rope where my handlebars should be, and the belt hanging loose from the crankshaft. I was told that I was “picturesque” by a country reporter named Josh who captured me for an interview a little way up the Hudson, and who kept me talking while the photographer worked his camera, but to my ideal, I was too dirty to be picturesque. At any rate, I was too tired then to care. All I wanted was a hot bath and a bed. But before I got these I had to telephone to The Motorcycle Magazine to learn where to go and wait to have more cameras pointed at me before being escorted to my hostelry. Of all the sleep I had during my trip, none was more profound, or sweeter than the one I had that night of July 6 at the Herald Square Hotel, just 50 days after I left San Francisco for my ride across the continent on my motor bicycle.
While I slept at the Herald Square Hotel, my ride really ended at the New York Motor Cycle Club’s rooms, No 1904 Broadway. It was there I left the faithful little machine that had carried me some 3,800 miles. What was the exact distance I never will be able to tell, because, as previously related, after breaking four cyclometers I ceased to bother with the mileage.
Compared with the first cycling journey across the continent, that of Thomas Stevens in 1882, the first effort of the motor bicycle does not suffer. Mr. Stevens required 103½ days to ride from San Francisco to Boston; my journey was completed in 50 days. While the idea of establishing a record was no part of my purpose, it is worthy of remark that none of the three powerful automobiles that have since crossed the continent have come near to equalling my time. With the experience gained and with a more powerful machine–the one I used was of but 1¼hp– I feel confident that the journey from ocean to ocean can be made in 30 days without particularly strenuous effort. With a railway attachment, such as is in common use by bicyclists in the West, and which would permit the use of rails across the deserts of Nevada, it will be possible to more than realize the 30 days’ estimate.
While it is true that my forks broke and the motor crank axle also gave way, these are unusual accidents; nearly all of my other troubles were minor ones, the belt being a most prolific source. But, as a whole, the motor behaved splendidly and performed its work well under many trying conditions. Its failure at Albany was really the only occasion when it gave me serious concern. Subsequent examination proved that the inlet valve had in some way become jammed so as to be immovable, at least with the means at my command. Between fear of breaking something and anxiety to reach New York, I possibly did not take the chances at making a strenuous repair that under other circumstances I would have taken. Save the forks, the bicycle also stood up well. The wonder is that it stood up at all, so terrific and so frequent was the pounding it received in the many miles of cross-tie travel. The saddle, too, deserves praise. Despite its many drenchings and mud, and the heat of the desert, and the banging of the railroad ties, it did not stretch or sag the fractional part of an inch, and reached New York in as good condition as when it left San Francisco.
The November 1903 issue of The Motorcycle Magazine included an appreciation of Wyman’s extraordinary feat:
It is doubtful if even those motorcyclists who have followed the story of George A Wyman’s trip across the continent, form San Francisco to New York, which was concluded in The Motorcycle Magazine last month, appreciate fully how exceptionally excellent a performance it was. Now that the narrative has been completed and a review of the whole trip can be taken, it stands out in its entirety as a supreme triumph for the motor bicycle. It was not only the most notable long distance record by a motorcycle, but also it was the greatest long trip made in this country by any sort of a motor vehicle. This is a fact to which attention was not called by Wyman in his story and it is one that should be emphasized. In fact, Wyman’s story was altogether too modest throughout.
No motor vehicle, other than Wyman’s motor bicycle, has made the trip across the American continent within 50 days. Several automobiles, large and small, carrying a couple of men, have made the trip across the continent since Wyman showed the way, but none has done it in so short a time as he did, so that he has the credit not only of being the first to bring a motor vehicle across the continent, but also for holding the best record time for the performance.
In calculating Wyman’s time as 50 days the time was taken from the day he left San Francisco until that on which he reached New York, and in this injustice was done, because Wyman let San Francisco lat in the afternoon on May 16, and simply crossed the bay to Vallejo, where he stayed the night. He arrived in New York City early in the afternoon on July 6, and so his total time, counting the morning of May 17, when he left Vallejo, was only 49 days, and even then no allowance is made for nearly half a day on July 6 that he was in New York City. This is, of course, the total elapsed time. The time lost by Wyman when he was not riding sums up to 11 days, making his net riding time 38 days, and there were circumstances particularly extenuating about his loss of time. The records of the automobilists who have since made the trip from ocean to ocean are not only poorer than those of Wyman, but are much poorer. Dr HN Jackson, who was the first to make the trip in an automobile, was 63 days in doing it. He left San Francisco on May 23 and arrive in New York July 25. He had a car of 20hp. ET Fetch, with a 12hp automobile, took 61 days for the trip, leaving San Francisco June 20 and reaching New York August 21. LL Whitman, the third and, up to date, the last to perform the journey, required 73 days with a runabout of 5hp.
Wyman had a bicycle weighing only 90 pounds with a motor on it of 1¼ rated horsepower. When he lost time by laying-to during a storm it was more excusable than in the case of men with a motor many times more powerful on a car built high enough to carry the rider through ordinarily small floods dryshod, and strong enough to resist the wrenching caused by the corduroy roads of the West. Another feature of Wyman’s feat that adds greatly to the credit of it is that he was alone. Through all the dreary deserts and mountain fastnesses, he had no companion to cheer and encourage him; no one to join in the laugh and jest that reduces the apparent magnitude of the obstacles; no one to help him pull his machine out of the mud, or lift it over boulders. Moreover, he had no shelter from the sun and rain and wind, as had all the others, in the form of big umbrellas, and he could not wear a long rubber coat as could those who rode in the automobiles. He had no one to help him make a repair or an adjustment. When his ears were frozen, as the were one morning in May, he could not turn over the operation of his bicycle to a companion and give attention to himself. He had to dismount, and as his vehicle was one that would not stand alone, and there was not a post of building near against which to lean it, he had to carefully shut off his motor, find a suitable place, and carefully lay it down. He was alone, utterly, drearily alone, with the solitude of the deserts and the mountains and all the strenuousness of his undertaking constantly confronting him.
While the automobiles had some advantage in being better able to withstand the racking strain of rough roads because of greater weight, and better able to push through sandy and muddy stretches because of higher horsepower, the advantages of the motorcycle over the four-wheelers were many and manifest. Being a single-tracking vehicle it had a wider range of variation in picking the best part of the roads, or trails, and could often find fair going at the edge of a muddy highway, where the four-wheelers had no choice but to force the wheels, on one side at least, through the heavy going. Again, it was possible for Wyman to lift his vehicle bodily from the ground and also to take to the railroad and ride between the ties or over then, which he did for about half the distance travelled. His greatest delay was that of five days, when he waited at Chicago for a motor crankshaft to be received from San Francisco. This should not have happened, for there was an agency for the motor bicycle Wyman was using in Chicago, and he reasonably expected to be able to get any part he wanted there.
The contrast between the trip of the motor bicycle and those made by the automobiles stands out sharply when it is remembered what expedients were frequently resorted to by the operators of the four-wheeled cars. One carried a block and tackle and resorted to its use repeatedly. The drivers put on big canvas flaps over the tires, or laid canvas strips for the wheels by hand over the desert sand in order to make headway in the desert. Time and time again they were obliged to call upon men with horses to help them out of the mud or sand holes. One of them was followed halfway across the continent by a factory expert, who used the railroad trains to go from town to town and thus remain within call when help or repairs were required.
Wyman had help only once during his whole trip, that time being when he was mired near Laramie. The adaptability to circumstances of the man with a motor bicycle was shown when Wyman, driven from the tracks of one railroad, moved a hundred feet to one side and ‘toted’ his bicycle. At another time, when driven from the tracks, he walked through a big grain field a mile or two to the highway. Such things were impossible for the four-wheelers.
On the whole, Wyman’s ride and the record he made is one that seems to demonstrate the superiority of the motor bicycle over any other style of vehicle for courier services. Wyman’s bicycle gave out utterly as a motor vehicle at Albany, and he finished by pedalling into New York, travelling over the steep hills of the Hudson River shore. This would not have been possible for any of those who made the trip in automobiles. Had their vehicles given out, as Wyman’s did, their trip would have been ended there.
It is when the availability of the motor bicycle and the automobile for military service are considered and compared that Wyman’s performance stands out in the most superior way. Even when his motor was giving trouble and he was travelling at his slowest rate, he was doing better than a horse could have done, and his average daily headway was much better than that of any of the big cars. Great value attaches to the trip because of the data and suggestions it affords to military authorities. There in no reason why Wyman should not have had an extra motor crankshaft with him. He could have carried a complete supply of new parts much easier than an automobile could. Allowing that under military conditions it would have been possible to have obtained parts along the road, as all the automobiles did, he still would have had an advantage, because it takes less time to make a repair on a bicycle than on a four-wheeled motor vehicle.
It would seem that in time of war when railroads are not available that two men, each on a light motor bicycle, would be the best possible dispatch bearers. If there were two on the errand time would be saved because of the assistance one could give to the other in making repairs, and because they would make pace turn and turn about. In case of serious mishap to either man there would be the other to on on, and if one bicycle was seriously damaged the other could continue, while if both cycles were much damaged the probability is that by tearing one apart to patch the other it could be made fit to complete the journey.
It is not often these days, even during war, that such a long and strenuous journey would be required of any man and vehicle. Wyman’s record stands, however, as a demonstration of what is possible under extremely unusual circumstances. The demonstration teaches also that much better time will be possible with the experiences of the first attempt to guide. In whatever way the Wyman trip is viewed, it must be conceded to be a triumphant demonstration of the practicability and many sidedness of the motor bicycle as well as an everlasting credit to the plucky young man who performed the feat.