A Thomas advertisement in the September, 1906, Motor Magazine touting the Thomas performance during the 1906 Glidden Tour.
HISTORY DOES REPEAT ITSELF – THE GLIDDEN TOURS!
By: Jeff Mahl
Man had been racing horses for centuries, trying to prove which had the fastest and most capable stead. So it was inevitable when the “horseless-carriage” made the scene, the practice would continue just at a greater speed. As with horse racing, closed circuit automobile racing was becoming fairly common at the turn of the last century. Eventually with more capable automobiles, longer events were possible and that led to the early “tours”. These were often not a head to head race as one might guess, but they were a true test of endurance none the less.
The Glidden Tour was one such event, first organized by Charles Jasper Glidden an associate of Alexander Graham Bell and wealthy telephone syndicate owner from Boston. Charles donated a large silver trophy for the winner. The first tour was held in 1905 covering 870 miles through New York and New Hampshire. The hope was that such tours would bring public attention to the need for new roads. It boasted a field of 34 automobiles, a large number for its day. Drivers would include Percy Pierce, Ransom Olds and Joan Newton Cuneo
Above is a film during the 1905 running of the Glidden tour, when it stopped at Bretton Woods, NH. At the same time the “Climb to the Clouds” the Mount Washington Hill Climb was held. In the film you can see very rare footage of both events.
The 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909 and 1910 Glidden Tours all had Thomas Flyers entered in the field of participants. The rugged Thomas was known for its durability at the turn of the last century, when many people considered “the motor car, after a woman, the most fragile and capricious thing on earth.”
One of the better “roads” encountered in the early Glidden Tours. Motorists encountered all sorts of hazards including wandering farm animals, swollen rivers to ford, and none of the services we take for granted today.
One might ask, how does all this relate to the 1908 New York to Paris Automobile Race often referred to as “The Great Race”? Well, the fabled Thomas Flyer (a 1907 model 35) not only won the New York to Paris Race for the United States Team in a field of 6 International competitors, but the winning driver was George Schuster.
George, the 35 year old Chief Mechanic for the E. R. Thomas Motor Company of Buffalo, NY, also drove Thomas factory automobiles in the 1906, 1907 and 1909 Glidden Tours. He only missed the 1908 tour as he was preoccupied trying to get a Thomas Flyer around the world, all at a time when no automobile had ever driven across the US in winter, much less the 22,000 miles to Paris.
In 1907 the Glidden (sponsored by the AAA – American Automobile Association founded in 1902) was routed from Cleveland to Chicago and back to Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Baltimore, before finishing in New York. George drove Thomas AAA No. 13 which was the Press Car. Reporters included Duncan Corry from the NY American, Russell Field from the Brooklyn Eagle, Tom Sullivan of the Boston Globe, and George Davis. From his memoirs of that event, Great Gramp recalls the start in Cleveland, OH.
“The Press Boys had a 12 gauge cannon which they mounted on our trunk rack which they hoped to have fun with. When following one of the Glidden Tour cars, they would fire a shot and the Tour car driver would stop to examine his tires. This worked several times”!
1907 – In appreciation for his efforts during the Glidden, the Press Corps presented George with a diamond-sapphire and garnet tie stick-pin.
This was one of many stories Great Gramp* would tell of his adventures during the early Glidden Tours. The accounts were not always happy. “Going through towns people would stand by the roadside cheering the Glidden Tourists. In one group a girl of about 17 years old was holding a small terrier that got away from her. The dog leaped directly into the path of No. 13, my Thomas and was crushed.”
Thomas participants in the 1907 Glidden Tour with No. 9, 11 and 13 (Press Car-George Schuster driver)
After the New York finish of the ’07 Glidden all of the Thomas cars parked in front of the H. S. Houpt Thomas dealership at 63rd and Broadway in NYC. As the Thomas automobiles prepared for their return to Buffalo, NY, the question was asked “Who is going to be back at the Buffalo factory first”? The answer was No. 13 with George Schuster at the wheel, who easily won that wager!
George Schuster at the wheel of No. 16, with newspaper men in the 1909 Glidden Tour Press Car
The 1909 Glidden was the first to travel west of the Mississippi River. Glidden organizers were initially reluctant to include any venture past the Mississippi, as the American West was still considered far to “wild” for a Reliability Tour. After intense lobbying by the western cities, it was decided that Indians and buffalo would not be a problem. A “Pathfinder” automobile was dispatched to plan the route, as there were no national roads (the Lincoln Highway was still 4 years in the future), no route markers, and very few all weather roads even in the most advanced areas. The route was then set to cover 2,637 miles in 19 days from Detroit, passing through Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha, Denver, then back to Colorado Springs finishing in Kansas City.
Thirty cars entered the competition with trophies in three classes; the Glidden Trophy for full sized touring cars, the Hower Trophy for runabouts, and the Detroit Trophy for tonneau cars. The scoring was an elaborate points system, with penalties for repairs, damage and late arrivals at destinations. The lowest score was the winner, with two automobiles finishing with perfect scores. The ‘09 Glidden again saw George Schuster at the wheel of Thomas AAA No. 16, which was the Press Car for that event. Portions of the route through Nebraska paralleled the Union Pacific Railroad, the very same route George had taken the year before on his way to Paris during the 1908 Great Race. In the photo (above) George is behind the wheel of #16 with reporters, obviously enjoying his third Glidden Tour!
Route of The Glidden Tour from The Automobile Magazine July 10, 1909 issue.
By 1907, the world was ready for the first trans-continental automobile race. This was a true head to head competition in every sense, crossing Asia and Europe from Peking to Paris. The prize was a magnum of Mumm champagne. Much to the consternation of the French, Italian Prince Borghese won that event driving the Itala. Sponsored by the French newspaper Le Matin, Peking to Paris would become the first “reality” sports competition with thousands of readers following the daily adventure of their favorite teams. This proved to greatly increase circulation for the Parisian newspaper.
Thoughts then turned to something far grander, a spectacular automobile race would be organized around the world! The New York Times became co-sponsor, making this a truly world-wide media event. It was a pipe dream to many, but that didn’t dampen the ambitions of the French in their efforts to regain the coveted world racing title from the Italians. And of course German Kaiser Wilhelm II had plans of his own.
The world stage was now set for a historic and truly epic racing event, but where were the Americans??
You can look back here at all of our coverage of The Glidden Tour on The Old Motor.
Thomas advertisements during the years of 1906-07 detailing the Glidden and the Thomas reliability.
109 Years Later – Glidden Tours are still being held! Plan now to join us for the 2013 Glidden Tour in Chattanooga, TN, September 8-13, 2013.
Friday’s schedule of events includes the grand banquet and will feature Jeff Mahl. Come to enjoy “The Great Gliddens” with firsthand accounts and original photographs of what it was really like for drivers in the early Glidden Tours. For additional information visit: www.GliddenTour.com
*The author is Jeff Mahl, Great Grandson of George Schuster driver of the Thomas Flyer and winner of the 1908 New York to Paris Race. “Great Gramp” would often tell of his adventures during the Glidden Tours and the “Great Race”. Growing up, Jeff had the opportunity to hear these stories first hand from his Great Grandfather, who lived to the age of 99 passing away on July 4, 1972.
For more information, stories and pictures, visit: www.TheGreatAutoRace.com
Copyright 2013 © Jeff Mahl – All rights reserved