After talking to one of our customers about a replacement part for a case, he let us in on what he was planning to use it for. David had created a scale model of Horatio Nelson Jackson, and his famous Winton automobile, and thought our case would be the perfect way to display it. Unfortunately, we were unaware of why Horatio or his Winton were famous, but after a little research, we were blown away we hadn't heard of his unprecedented trip across the United States, and thought you would want to hear the story that David's model car display case tells.
As ubiquitous in American life as they are now, motor vehicles had a rough start gaining popularity in the states early on. Many at the time felt that they were ridiculous novelties to be driven down luxurious boulevards. In a University Club based in San Francisco, one man would stand up against this notion, and defend the automobile and its future
Horatio Nelson Jackson was born in Ontario, Canada to American parents. After living out his childhood in Toronto, he moved back to the states, Vermont specifically, to pursue a medical career. He graduated from the university of Vermont in 1893, and practiced in Brattleboro and Burlington, Vermont. On vacation with his wife in San Francisco in 1903, Horatio stepped into the University Club to engage with the local elite, and was shocked to find them badmouthing the potential of the automobile to revolutionize the way Americans transported themselves.
He saw and opportunity and jumped on it, betting a group of the slanderers 50 dollars (roughly equivalent to $1,300 in 2016) that he could ride an automobile from San Francisco all the way across the country to New York City. He would be the first person to drive an automobile from coast to coast, but at the time of the bet, he was yet to even own a vehicle himself.
A three-month time limit was imposed onto the bet, so Horatio quickly got to work. He convinced a local mechanic, Sewall K Crocker, to help him as an assistant driver, and to fix any issues that would spring up with the car on the journey. Crocker advised that Horatio buy a Winston made car, so he bought a 20 horsepower, two-cylinder model and named it the Vermont. The two spent a few days procuring supplies for the trip, including food, cooking supplies, blankets, canteens, sleeping bags, fishing gear, and several firearms.
Without a gas station every two miles, or even real roads to drive on, this would be a hard-fought journey across the continent, and they needed to be prepared. The pair had 3000 miles to cover in 3 months, and that was only the straight shot. The trip was rerouted north, up the west coast so they could avoid the higher rocky mountain passes by going through the Sacramento valley and along the Oregon trail.
The car was ferried from San Francisco to Oakland, and pointed eastward towards adventure. The first tire popped a whopping 15 miles into the trip, and was replaced with the only spare the pair had managed to find before they left. Bad luck seemed to be the unexpected third partner on the trip, because misfortune was never far behind any progress they made.
Horatio and Sewall stopped in Sacramento for new tires, to leave only with inner tubes instead. Continuing north towards Oregon, two pairs of Horatio's glasses and all of their cooking supplies fell off the car and were lost.
Somewhere in Idaho, the pair found a new traveling companion, a pit bull named bud. There are many stories as to how the canine joined the two on their adventure, including that the dog was stolen, but Horatio wrote in a letter to his wife that he bought Bud from a man for 15$. Bud saw his fair share of hardships on the rest of the trip, including a brief scare for his life after drinking some brackish water.
Shortly after adding Bud to the party, Horatio's coat flew from the car and was never found. The coat, unfortunately, contained all the money that the two had brought to fund their trip. Horatio wired his wife in the next town they reached to send the trio enough money to get home. Until the money arrived, Horatio and Sewall were stranded with no food, and no money to get any more.
They wandered around Wyoming looking for something to eat, until 36 hours after their last scrap of food ran out, they found a sheepherder who treated them to a meal of roast lamb and boiled corn. After receiving the money from Horatio's wife, the Vermont was back on the open road, until the wheel bearings gave out, forcing Sewall to beg a farmer for the bearings off of his lawnmower.
When the group reached Omaha, and a network of paved roads to drive on, the journey smoothed out considerably. The only incident following this transition was a collision with an unidentified object in the street, which sent Horatio, Sewall, and Bud all flying out of the vehicle just east of Buffalo, New York. The trio quickly recovered from the scare and re-boarded the Vermont, consoled by the fact that their long, strange trip was almost over.
After arriving in New York city, 63 days after he had started his journey, Horatio met up with his wife and started the journey home. The Vermont broke down on its way up the coast, but Horatio's two brothers drove down from Burlington to help him get it started again. As Horatio crossed the threshold of his driveway at his home in Burlington, the drive chain of the Vermont snapped, marking one last gasp of bad luck to haunt the trip.
Horatio lived in Burlington with Bud and his wife for the rest of his life, never actually collecting the 50 dollars from the bet he risked his life for. In 1944 he donated the Vermont to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. He died in 1955, after serving in WWI and twice running for mayor of Vermont. Sewall used his new-found fame to try to start a racing league, but died in his home state of Washington.
Horatio and Sewall both exemplify the spirit of adventure that the automobile is so entwined with today. When no one believed in him, Horatio threw fifty dollars on the table on a whim, and embarked on a journey that would forever bind the spirit of adventure to the automobile, and help turn the car into the staple of American living that it is today.
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