The physician that helped drive the first automobile on a cross-country road trip across the United States was born today in 1872. Now WE know em

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Horatio Nelson Jackson was born March 25, 1872 as a minister’s son.

Jackson earned his medical degree at the University of Vermont in 1893.

Then in 1899, he married Bertha Wells, the daughter of one of the richest men in Vermont.

Jackson became a wealthy physician in Burlington Vermont.

While he and his wife Bertha were on vacation in San Francisco in the spring of 1903, Jackson became fascinated with the automobile. While on this trip he and his wife began taking driving lessons.

Then on May 18, 1903, while dining at San Francisco’s University Club as a guest, Jackson wagered $50 that a four-wheeled machine could be driven across the country.

Of course at the time of this boast, Jackson did not own a car, had practically no experience driving one, had no maps to follow, and had no idea of how to even refuel the vehicle along the way.

Bertha soon returned home by train, allowing her husband to take his adventure by automobile.

 

Cross-country drive

Having no mechanical experience, Jackson convinced a young mechanic, Sewall K. Crocker, to serve as his travel companion, mechanic, and backup driver.

Crocker suggested that Doctor Jackson buy a Winton car.

Jackson went out and found a slightly used, two-cylinder, 20 hp Winton, which he named the Vermont, after his home state.

They proceeded to load “Vermont” with coats, rubber protective suits, sleeping bags, blankets, canteens, a water bag, an axe, a shovel, a telescope, tools, spare parts, a block and tackle, cans for extra gasoline and oil, a Kodak camera, a rifle, a shotgun, and pistols.

Then on May 23, 1903, Jackson and Crocker set out from San Francisco’s Palace Hotel on their cross-country adventure.

They drove several blocks to the San Francisco-Oakland ferry terminal.

Heeding advice from automobile pioneer Alexander Winton (founder of the Winton Motor Carriage Company, which manufactured Jackson’s car) who had previously attempted the same adventure and failed, Jackson decided to take a more northerly route. He would travel through the Sacramento Valley and along the Oregon Trail that allowed them to avoid the higher passes in the Rocky Mountains.

The Vermont was then transported by ferry from San Francisco to Oakland, however only fifteen miles into their journey, the car blew a tire.

Jackson and Crocker replaced it with the only spare they had, in fact, the only right-sized spare tire they could find in all of San Francisco.

The second night of their journey, they replaced the side lanterns, having discovered on the first night that they were too dim, with a large spotlight mounted on the front of the Vermont.

The duo was assisted in Sacramento by bicyclists who offered them road maps.

Jackson was unable to buy a new tire, but purchased some used inner tubes.

Going north out of Sacramento, the noise of the car covered the fact that the duo’s cooking gear was falling off. They were also given a 108-mile misdirection by a woman so that she could send them to the spot where her family could see an automobile.

The rough trek towards Oregon required them to haul the car across deep streams with the block and tackle. Somewhere along this route, Jackson lost his glasses. They were also forced to pay a $4 ($85.21 in 2005 dollars) toll by an entrepreneur in order to cross his property on a “bad, rocky, mountain road” as Jackson described it.

When their tires blew out they were required to wind rope around the wheels. Jackson did manage to find a telegraph office and wired back to San Francisco for replacement tires to be transported to them along the journey.

Reaching Alturas, California, Jackson and Crocker stopped to wait for the tires. They offered locals rides in the car in exchange for a “wild west show”. When the tires failed to materialize, however, they continued on after a three-day wait.

On June 6, the Vermont broke down, and they had to be towed to a nearby ranch by a cowboy. Crocker made repairs, but a fuel leak caused them to lose all of their available gasoline, and Jackson rented a bicycle to travel 25 miles to Burns, Oregon for fuel. After suffering a flat tire on the bicycle, he returned with four gallons fuel(which Jackson complained cost him “nearly twenty dollars”), and they returned to Burns to fill up.

On June 9, outside of Vale, Oregon, the Vermont ran out of oil. Jackson walked back to the last town to get oil, only to discover eventually that they had been stopped only a short distance outside of Vale. The next day they arrived in Ontario, Oregon, where supplies waited for them.

Somewhere near Caldwell, Idaho, Jackson and Crocker obtained a dog, a Pit Bull named Bud. As it turns out, Jackson had wanted a dog companion since Sacramento.

Bud and Horatio Nelson Jackson on their historic 1903 drive across the US.

Bud and Horatio Nelson Jackson on their historic 1903 drive across the US.

Newspapers at the time gave a variety of stories of how Bud was acquired, including that he was stolen; in a letter to his wife, Nelson said a man sold him the dog for $15 ($383 in 2010 dollars). It turned out that the dusty alkali flats the travelers encountered would bother Bud’s eyes so much (the Winton had neither a roof nor windshield) that Jackson eventually fitted him with a pair of goggles. At one point, Bud drank bad water and became ill, but survived.

At this point, the trio became celebrities. The press came out at every stop to take their picture and conduct interviews. At Mountain Home, Idaho, citizens warned them that the Oregon Trail was not good further east, so Jackson and Crocker veered off their original course along the southern edge of the Sawtooth Mountains. At Hailey, Idaho, Crocker wired the Winton Company for more parts.

On June 16, somewhere in Idaho, Jackson’s coat, containing most of the travelers’ money, fell off and was not found. At their next stop, Jackson had to wire his wife to send them money to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Between June 20 and 21, all three of them got lost in Wyoming, and went without food for 36 hours before finding a sheepherder who gave them a meal of roast lamb and boiled corn. Before reaching Cheyenne, however, the car’s wheel bearings gave out, and Crocker had to talk a farmer into letting them have the wheel bearings of his mowing machine.

The travelers eventually reached Omaha, Nebraska on July 12. From there on, they were able to use a few paved roads, and their trip was much easier. The only mishap happened just east of Buffalo, New York, when the Vermont ran into a hidden obstacle in the road and Jackson, Croker, and Bud were thrown from the car.

Horatio Nelson Jackson, left, mechanic Sewall Crocker and a bulldog named Bud

Horatio Nelson Jackson, left, mechanic Sewall Crocker and a bulldog named Bud

They arrived in New York City on July 26, 1903, sixty-three days, twelve hours, and thirty minutes after commencing their journey in San Francisco, in the first automobile to successfully transit the North American continent.

Their trip expended over 800 gallons of gasoline and cost Jackson over $8,000.

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After leaving New York City Jackson joined his wife and drove home to Vermont. About 15 miles from home his car once again broke down. His two brothers came and offered to help him get going again, each driving his own automobile. Shortly after returning to the road, both of his brothers’ vehicles broke down, and Jackson offered to tow them both with the Winton.

Upon reaching the threshold of Jackson’s garage, the Winton’s drive chain snapped, one of the few original parts never replaced during the entire journey .

American Legion

When World War I broke out, Jackson was considered too old, but he contacted President Theodore Roosevelt (whom he had met at some point in Burlington), and was commissioned an officer.

Following the war, Jackson became one of the founders of the American Legion, and twice ran for Governor of Vermont. He also owned a newspaper, a bank and radio station WCAX (now WVMT).

Ironically, at one point Jackson was ticketed for exceeding the 6 mph speed limit in Burlington.

Today, Jackson’s Winton, the Vermont, is preserved in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, which Jackson gave to them in 1944.

Exhibit at the National Museum of American History recreating H. Nelson Jackson first intercontinental automobile trip in a 1903 Winton touring car, the Vermont

Exhibit at the National Museum of American History recreating H. Nelson Jackson first intercontinental automobile trip in a 1903 Winton touring car, the Vermont

Horatio Nelson Jackson died January 14, 1955.

 Now WE know em

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