Home Sweet Home!
By Jeff Mahl:
The voyage to New York was the first real opportunity George Schuster had to consider what had just happened. Six months earlier and just one day before the start of the event, he had been summoned to Times Square to begin a race around the world in the Flyer. Henry Ford and Ransom E. Olds had flatly refused to enter automobiles in the international contest. No horseless carriage had ever crossed the United States in winter let alone circumnavigated the globe. To attempt such a foolhardy journey seemed absurd.
Why, if anyone had any chance of pulling this off, it would certainly be the vastly superior European entries. After all, many thought, the automobile was just a passing fad, a summer amusement for the wealthy. The Farmers Anti-Automobile Society of Pennsylvania even rallied to stop the use of automobiles on trails and roads shared by horses. Automobile “Scorchers” were pulled over by policemen (often on bicycles) for excessive speeds.
- L to R: Full details of the celebration held in New York City when the car and crew arrived back at the starting point of the race, the August 22, 1908 Automobile Topics.
But, in the spring and summer of 1908 the New York to Paris Race made front page news in the New York Times and international periodicals. It seemed that these horseless carriages could carry you across the country or even around the world in any kind of weather. Millions of people, not only here but overseas, were beginning to realize the automobile might just be a reasonable transportation alternative to the horse or steam train.
This new wave of confidence couldn’t have come at a better time for Mr. Ford since he introduced his immortal Model “T” in October of 1908. The mass produced “Tin Lizzie” was to make the automobile affordable for the working man. With it came the demand for better roads and in October of 1913 the Lincoln Highway, spanning the continent from Times Square in New York to San Francisco, was dedicated.
The Flyer and her crew returned to New York on August 15, 1908 as heroes. E.R. Thomas, Schuster, Miller and McAdam met Mayor McGowan at City Hall and Schuster was given the “Key to the City” of New York. The Mayor also informed the party that President Roosevelt wanted to meet the winning Thomas crew.
Arriving at the Sagamore Hill Presidential Compound in Oyster Bay on Long Island, Teddy greeted the Flyer. One of his first questions, “Were you well armed Mr. Schuster?” George politely answered with a summary of their weapons and then pulled his .32 caliber pistol from the jacket pocket where he had carried it since the start of the race. President Roosevelt remarked that it seemed quite adequate and recounted tales about his African safari. He then invited them into the library for brandy and cigars. After a toast, Roosevelt commented that he admired “Americans who did things” he went on to say that “He did not admire the timid, good man who had not the courage of his own convictions”
On January 9, 1910, the New York Times reported “The magnificent trophy offered by Le Matin of Paris and the New York Times was presented at a banquet given last night at the Automobile Club of America to E.R. Thomas, President of the firm which entered the victorious car”. George Schuster and George Miller were seated on either side of Thomas F. Moore, the toastmaster during the ceremony and both unveiled the trophy during it. After Thomas’ acceptance speech, both Schuster and Miller also said a word or two after repeated calls from the diners. The trophy, the largest of it’s kind ever made, stood 8’6” tall and weighed over 1600 pounds. The massive prize was created from materials native to each of the competing nations; green Italian marble, pink French marble and a huge globe of German bronze at the top with the race’s route traced upon it in American silver. It was crowned with an American eagle with wings spread.
The Flyer was arguably one of the most famous cars in the world, but the hand assembled Thomas could not compete in the marketplace against assembly line produced automobiles that cost roughly one fifth as much. The race victory briefly boosted sales for the Company, but mechanical and quality control problems in later models led to sales dropping and the once proud firm was soon in trouble.
The company would go into receivership August 29, 1912. When the company closed, Schuster joined Pierce-Arrow, also located in Buffalo, as Service Superintendent. Pierce had developed a reputation for building an excellent line of trucks which helped to keep their production lines humming. George delivered a shipload of five ton trucks to the French Foreign Legion in Morocco and taught the Legionaries how to drive them. He also spent two years in Singapore developing distribution for Pierce in Asia. Prior to his first retirement in 1936, he opened a Dodge Brothers dealership. Schuster came out of retirement at the start of World War II to guard a war production plant with the same .32 caliber pistol he had shown to President Roosevelt.
Hans Hansen returned to Siberia from Paris, while George MacAdam continued with the New York Times till his passing in 1929. George Miller died in 1937 and Monty Roberts passed away in 1957 at the age of seventy-four. For decades, the fate of the Thomas Flyer racer was uncertain. George Schuster thought it had been scrapped.
In fact the Thomas had survived and ended up in the Southampton Auto Museum on Long Island after noted early collector Henry Austin Clark had found both it and the trophy. Well known collector William F. Harrah of Reno, Nevada, who owned the Harrah’s Auto Museum eventually purchased the the racer from Clark. Later with the help of George Schuster and others and facts known about unique repairs preformed on it during the race, they were able to confirm that it was in fact the race winner. In the last part of the story we will cover Harrah’s restoration of the car to the exact condition that it was in when it arrived in Paris so many years before as the winner.