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Car History - Get a Horse!   Part 6: Early Cross-Country Touring

By Carl Burgess Glasscock

Revised by Jeremy Wilson

At any rate, New York did not rush to order Wintons. The Scot put his machine on a freight train and shipped it back to Cleve­land. He had demonstrated to his own satisfaction, if not to the satisfaction of the United States, that cross-country touring was possible, if not practical.

He built four more cars in the following winter, and sold them. The Winton factory expanded, and flourished for some years. The Winton car is still known by name to almost every American whose interest in automobiles reaches back to the first decade of this century. Roy D. Chapin, then a youth of twenty-one, was the next man to reveal what an automobile could do in the way of surmount­ing the roads of the day between city and distant city. Chapin drove one of the first curved dash Oldsmobile runabouts from Detroit to New York in the autumn of 1901.

He made the trip, some two-hundred miles longer than Winton’s trip, in seven and one-half days. His miles per hour must have been nearly twice Winton’s speed, but even so they averaged only approximately five, in time elapsed from start to finish. Taking out time for repairs, getting pulled out of mudholes, and the little sleep he permitted himself, Chapin’s Oldsmobile runabout may have averaged ten miles per hour, actual driving speed.

He did not succeed in winning the good will of farmers, mule-drivers, and villagers en route, but he did gain far more favorable publicity for the Oldsmobile than Winton had gained for the Winton car. This, perhaps, was due to the fact that he had the prestige of the Olds Motor Works behind him. The Olds organ­ization was being operated by men so young that thirty-five years later some of them were still prominent in the automotive indus­try. They had the youthful energy, ideas and enthusiasm neces­sary to the successful launching of a business which was not at all popular in 1900.

So when Ransom E. Olds asked Roy Chapin if he could drive one of the newly created Olds runabouts from Detroit to New York for exhibition in the second New York Automobile Show, and for the nation-wide publicity which such a stunt might earn, Chapin promptly decided that he could.

Young Chapin’s enthusiasm for automobiles had been so in­spired by his first glimpse of an automobile running under its own power that he had quit college and begged Olds for a job. Asked what he could do, he said he was a pretty fair amateur photog­rapher. Very well, he could have a job taking pictures around the factory for publicity purposes, and putting in eight or ten addi­tional hours each day making himself generally useful--for $35 a month. One phase of the “generally useful” activity was to file down rough gear castings by hand to make them fit. That might be cited as evidence of the total lack of precision manufacture in the first days of automobile production.

The young man proved himself such an artist with a file that soon he was permitted to go back to the factory at night with John Maxwell to put the finishing touches on the day’s production of one car, test it, and wheel it onto the platform for shipment the next day. Frequently “the next day” was the same day on which Chapin and Maxwell returned to work only three or four hours after they had left it. Those days were separated from one an­other not so much by night as by the narrow margin of time be­tween the completion of one car and the starting of another.

John Maxwell was a competent mechanic who had helped the Apperson brothers build the first Haynes car in their shop at Kokomo to the specifications and under the direction of Elwood Haynes. He had been brought to the Olds Motor Works more by his interest in the possibility of building automobiles on a quan­tity-production schedule of one car a day than by any noteworthy wage. Later he was to produce his own car, the Maxwell, which is still a treasured memory with many thousands of Americans past twenty-five years of age. More of that in its place.

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