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Joan Cuneo Early Tourist and Race Car Driver Visits Vermont

Joan Newton Cuneo was a well-known early Glidden Tour entrant and racing car driver between 1905 to ’14. Her family helped to develop Holyoke, Massachusetts, into a major industrial city. Cuneo’s grandfather, of one of the Newton Brothers developed the logging industry in Whitingham, Vermont, and she would visit the Brookside Cottage in the adjoining town of Wilmington.

The lead image was shot in Brattleboro, Vermont, (home of The Old Motor) contains a 1909 Model “T” Ford limousine or taxi car stuck in the roadside mud with a Royal Tourist touring car parked in the background.

At about the time Cuneo apparently traveled the challenging road over Hogback Mountain (2,409 feet) from Wilmington to Brattleboro and had her Rainier (second photo below) equipped with detachable rims manufactured by an unknown maker photographed here in town for a publicity shot for the rim maker.

Share with us what you find of interest in the pictures courtesy of the Brattleboro Historical Society. Learn more about Joan N. Cuneo here on The Old Motor and in an article by Kurt Ernst at Hemmings Daily.

27 responses to “Joan Cuneo Early Tourist and Race Car Driver Visits Vermont

    • Hi Gene, never ceases to amaze me, today, we ( not me) drive down 6 lane interstates with all wheel drive, and back then, they had this. I know from experience from my road building days, stay in the middle of an iffy road, you’ll get “sucked in” on the edge everytime, as shown.

  1. The car in back of the Ford is a Royal Tourist (note the radiator neck and the doors on the top of the hood) NOT a Rainier. The second photo is a DIFFERENT car and maybe a Rainier. By the way Rainier is the correct spelling. There was a photo taken of the rear of the Ford at that time ; I have a xerox of it somewhere in my files. Great cars. Best, Ed

  2. There was a feature on Mrs. Cuneo in Country Life in America @1910 and she is working on a car with a round radiator , I’ve always thought it was a Delaunay-Belleville. The search is on and once I find it I’ll forward the photos to David. I’ve always liked that 1909 T Town car in the mud photo, never knew were it was taken until today. Bob

    • Actually, it defines the term…
      I always wonder, how carefully were the shackles, brake rods, wheel bearings etc. cleaned after these mishaps?
      I remember replacing clevises on an old brass/acetylene T, they (old ones) looked like 1cyl. crankshafts, but on the ditch side only 🙂

  3. Once again, David, you have found fabulous photographs! Thank you for sharing. The road over Hogback Mountain can still be challenging for a vintage vehicle. A couple of years ago I drove my ’24 Ford runabout from my home in Keene, NH to Bennington, VT to attend a Hemmings Motor News Cruise-In. Although the roads are ever so much better now than they were in Joan Cuneo’s time, the elevations are essentially the same. Hogback will always generate a bit of concern for any motorist and the long eastward ascent out of Bennington will cause some trepidation. I am proud to state that my plucky little Model T vanquished all of the inclines in high gear.

  4. The detachable rims were called Healy dismountable rims and were described in The Automobile of Jan. 9, 1908 on p.57/58. More photos of the Healy system can be found in the Detroit Public Library automotive archive. By the way, Cuneo didn’t use this system during the 1908 Glidden tour, which she ended with a perfect score. The system doesn’t look too practical to me, indeed!

  5. I have a lot of admiration for women that went into primarily men’s endeavors, especially at this time. You have to wonder , with women like Ms. Cuneo, why it took so long for women to get equal respect ( and it wasn’t that long ago) While it must have been quite a feat to wrestle these early race cars, ( I think lots of women changed their own tires) there’s a woman around this time that get’s an even bigger nod from me. Her name was Luella Bates, ( checked the OM archives and nothing found) and was the test driver for FWD in the late teens. I always wondered how she beat out her male counterparts. Maybe it’s best we don’t know. She is accredited with being the 1st woman truck driver in the US. That, my friends, took guts.

    • Never heard of her too, sorry. But in the collection of the Library of Congress I found a nice photograph of her mounting an FWD-truck. Maybe a good opportunity to give her a tribute?

    • Based on a 1920 newspaper article, FWD hired 150 women during WW1, including Bates, and she stayed on after the others left. FWD would advertise their trucks being easy enough to drive that a woman could do it, which is quite sexist in modern advertising, but explains why she was kept on – they needed a female driver to match the advertising.

  6. WHen the Ford logo on the radiator has wings the car came from the Piquette Ave Plant in Detroit. In the 6 or so years Ford was there, until 1913, they assembled 30,000 cars. A remarkable feat in a 3 story building that was 400 ft long and 56 feet wide. The T was also developed and designed there. The tours of this building are great.

    • 1913 is when Highland Park’s moving assembly line went into service, but production had moved before then. Ford ceased operations at Piquette in October 1910 and sold the plant to Studebaker in January 1911. They had started moving Model T production to Highland Park in early 1910 because demand exceeded Piquette’s capacity.

  7. From what I’ve read, Ms. Cuneo did not live a happy life. Many of her accomplishments went unrecognized, as women were not accepted , even banned, as race car drivers. She faced an unsurmountable rift from some male counterparts, and a failed marriage, she escaped it all, and moved to Ontonagon, Michigan . If you’ve ever been there, it’s about as far away as you can get. She died with little, if any, recognition .

    • Wikipedia has a large article on Mrs. Cuneo and though probably written by a Women’s Studies Prof. it is entertaining
      and comprehensive. She was born into wealth and had two children. She did what she pleased and though her rich
      husband had eyes for a show girl, Mrs. Cuneo ended up with her childhood sweetheart. She should have stayed with
      White Steamers for race cars. When the steam pressure was increased 2 1/2 times, they vanquished most gas cars. It
      would also relieve her from cranking that 50HP Rainier! Though banished to Ontonagon, Michigan, her death at around 58 was announced in the NY Times. She was well known in her day, but old car history is a hard sale today!

      • Actually it was written by a historian, with a specialty in 19th and 20th century US and European history; me…
        I have some cred as a racing scholar and recently spoke at the IMRRC in Watkins Glen on Mrs. Cuneo.
        I am not a particular fan of Women’s Studies.
        Elsa Nystrom PhD
        White went the way of other steam cars as the public chose gas over steam or electric cars. White cars were also very heavy tho sturdy.

        • I appreciate your passion for sharing a great American Automotive personality with us. As a humble school teacher, I would ask the children who their favorite hero was. The silence was deafening. Mrs. Cuneo is an inspirational person who met goals that only the best with lots of fortune could meet. More kids need a lady like this in their life.

          As penance for my Women’s Studies speculation, I will purchase your book. I own a 1915 White 4-45 gas touring (4,785 lb. aluminum bodied 4 cylinder). White steamers were as close to an auto-
          matic car as could be , after a short firing process. It was reliable, as Mr. White proved by sending a large convoy of steamers loaded with items needed by San Francisco Earthquake survivors in 1906. He started out from L.A. Around 1908, White sent it’s head engineer to France to find the best engine for their purposes. One thousand Delahaye engines were purchased and installed in Whites. I believe that the cost of producing the precision parts as well as the requirements for
          operating a steam car in winter, changed their minds about continued production.

          You are probably familiar with White’s Whistling Billy, a steam racer that ruled the best gas cars.
          After awhile it was hard to find gas cars that would race it. It cracked up and its power plant ended
          up in a riverboat.

          Keep on lighting the way! Somebody has to do it!

          • Tony,
            Sorry for bristling at your comment. Women who write about auto racing are thin on the ground and often are forced to prove their knowledge before they are accepted by their male cohorts.
            Hope you do read my book, I spend 4 years doing the research, met her descendants on both sides, and visited Ontonagon in the process. Would love to ride in your steam car, have seen Jay Leno’s on TV. He has a model similar to Joan’s. During her New York life, Joan owned at least 18 cars, but we have not been able to trace any of them.
            Best,
            Elsa

  8. While her death in Ontonagon went largely un-noticed, she did receive quite a bit of recognition until women were banned from organized racing in 1909, and even afterwards. She was a great fan favorite when she drove on the Glidden Tours, won many awards in New Orleans in 1909, etc. She was absolutely fearless, which probably would have gotten her killed eventually if women had not been banned. How did I miss that picture, David, after spending 4 years mining the newspapers for articles and photos of Joan when writing Mad for Speed, the Racing Life of Joan Newton Cuneo?
    My favorite photo of her was taken in 1909 when she was driving in a hill climb, from the Detroit Library.
    Some news: a photo of Joan from my book will be part of the Nation of Speed Exhibition at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Just sent off the scan.

  9. The fact that the Ford is a livery car operated by a professional who STILL couldn’t keep it out of the ditch is testament to how awful driving condition really were. (Or maybe he was texting and not paying attention!)

  10. We can thank Mr. Kelsey, — of Kelsey – Hayes, — for standardizing demountable – steel rims with the famous “Kelsey’s Nuts”, & Metal Falloe Bands — to attach a separate: steel rim, tube & tire Assembly (A.K.A: “a spare tire”) “Off & On in minutes, instead of hours”! “Clincher Rims”were no picnic! Edwin W.

  11. Elsa:

    Thanks for weighing in on this discussion. From what I am reading, a few more folks on this forum should be buying your book. It told Cuneo’s story very well, BTW.

    Best,
    Ronald Sieber

  12. The road appears to be about three cars wide and looks to have a dry, smooth, hard surface. I wonder why the driver ended up off the road, and why was the side of the road so soft so as to allow the wheel to sink so deep into it.

    • Maybe they were racing, it did happen a lot back then. The Tourist might have been hogging the road and the Ford went to pass and landed in the soft shoulder. Or steering broke, from the accounts left by drivers of the time, breakdowns were common Or maybe he was distracted.

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