THEY SAID IT COULDN’T BE DONE

Everyone who knows who Horatio Nelson Jackson is, please raise your hand. If we were all in a room together and could count the hands, I dare say there would be very few; but Jackson could be legitimately described as one of the pioneers in our industry.

He was a 31 year-old medical doctor from Burlington, Vermont who happened to be visiting San Francisco with his wife in 1903. It is not clear how the subject came up, but in the course of a conversation at San Francisco’s University Club, he bet $50 (about $1200 in today’s currency) that a four wheeled machine could be driven across the United States. So when time came to return to Vermont, Mrs. Jackson took the train, and Dr. Jackson decided to drive. Although he was an automobile enthusiast, no one had ever driven across the country before, and there was a strong opinion among many that the new-fangled automobile was just a fad that would eventually disappear altogether.

But that opinion was not shared by Jackson. He was so convinced that the automobile was a viable means of transportation that he was willing to risk $50 and an unknown amount of time to prove it. Although he was enthusiastic, he had very little driving experience and no mechanical capability at all, so he hired a 22-year old mechanic, Sewell K. Crocker, to accompany him on the journey.

There was also a more basic problem. Jackson didn’t own a car, but after purchasing a 2 cylinder, 20 horsepower 1903 Winton Touring Car, and loading it with supplies and tools, he and Crocker were ready to go. On May 23, 1903, they pulled out of San Francisco. Fifteen miles later they had their first flat tire.

For much of the journey through the West, they followed the Union Pacific Railroad right of way, deciding to take a northern route rather than try to travel through desert country and the high parts of the Rockies. Alexander Winton, the founder of the company that had built Jackson’s car had already failed to cross the Nevada desert in a car similar to Jackson’s. The misadventures of Jackson and Crocker were too numerous to describe in their entirety, but suffice it to say, it was an arduous and challenging journey. One landowner charged them a toll to cross his land. Another time a woman gave them directions that sent them 100 miles out of their way so her relatives could see an automobile. And the list goes on. Breakdowns of course, were a common occurrence, but still they persevered.

On a brighter note, in Idaho they acquired a mascot, a Pit Bull named Bud; and the three of them became instant celebrities in every town they passed through. Also, when they reached Omaha they began to encounter a few paved roads which made the journey far less difficult. Finally, on July 26, 1903, they rolled into Burlington, Vermont, 63 days and 4200 miles after leaving San Francisco.

Transportation affects every man, woman, and child in the country – indeed, the world; but it is so pervasive in our lives that we give it little thought unless something goes wrong. Transportation also is steeped in history and invention, and all of us have heard of pioneers like the Wright Brothers, Robert Fulton, and George Stephenson. We are also very aware of major transportation developments such as the completion of the first transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway system, the invention of the first diesel engine and the steamboat; but we are often unaware of the many individuals who have been true pioneers in the development of the mobility the entire world enjoys today. Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson was one of these.

Written By: Clifford F. Lynch