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1908 New York to Paris Race


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One question I'm often asked is what was driving like in 1908?  Certainly constant mechanical issues were part of the experience, but the lack of roads was the greatest issue.  A prime reason most automobile owners put their cars in storage for the winter, rather than fight the snow and mud.  In 1913 (just 5 years after the 1908 Race) the Lincoln Highway was opened as the first transcontinental road in the US.

 

Another question is what did the Flyer sound like?

 

Jeff

Thomas-Siberia-Tundra-Mud.jpg

Flyer-Snow.jpg

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Jeff, you speak true words. People now have no concept as to how horrible the road conditions were . Here where I live on long island William K. Vanderbilt tried to correct that with his own $. He bought property starting in western Queens County ( about 25-30 miles out from N.Y. City ) and went east weaving in a crooked line ( as he had to work around property that wasn't for sale) to the approximate center of Suffolk County to the East many miles away. It started in 1907 - was a private roadway you paid to drive on, ( bootleggers loved it as they wouldn't get stopped by the police during the alcohol restricted Depression years) it had banked curves, concrete roadway etc. The history of the Long Island Motor Parkway has been well documented ( and still is look at the website VanderbiltCupRaces) .

Poor road surfaces also influenced the design of cars - it was why for many many decades car fenders were called "mud guards".

Edited by Walt G
typo (see edit history)
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19 hours ago, Paul Dobbin said:

 The story we got was the Ginni Cox Withers borrowed it from Harrah's for the 

 1986 GAR.

I think I'll contact Harrah's and see about borrowing the Thomas for a few weeks of pleasure driving. Who's with me.

 

I noticed the Thomas has blocks between the springs and the front axle to lift it. I wonder how many miles they actually drove the car verses having it pulled, pushed, carried, etc.? The question was not who could drive a car from NY to Paris, the question was who could get a car from NY to Paris by any means possible.

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FWIW, some of the questions on this thread are addressed in this book: "Race of the Century" by Julie M. Fenster, Crown Publishers, New York,2005.

 

I found my copy at Abe Books.com a few years ago, pretty good read. There are quite alot of books out there on the subject.

 

I get the feeling it was a publicity stunt to sell papers that took on a life of its own.

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Walt, you are correct as drivers today think changing a tire is an ordeal...  The next time you get the snowblower out to clear your driveway, consider what drivers faced in 1908.  This audio clip is George (in his own words) describing winter driving at the turn of the last century.

 

As for taking a spin in the Flyer, I think there would be a long list wanting to experience the thrill.  Here's a shot of the 1907 Flyer next to a 2007 Corvette taken in Reno, when the Museum brought the Thomas out as our group journeyed along the original route from NYC to Paris in 2011.  I was climbing out of the Flyer (which led the way from the Museum to the Reno city line), to the Corvette.  I felt like Marty McFly in the movie classic "Back to the Future"!  One hundred years of automotive technology in a single step....

107-Flyer-Corvette.jpg

Edited by T Flyer (see edit history)
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Jeff,

I'm sure you've been given an opportunity to drive the  Thomas? There would be no comparison between driving the Thomas along on paved roads compared to your grandfather's experience. I sometimes like to take my Ford model T across the fields and ditches just to get a feel for the flexibility of the car but also to experience what early driving felt like.

 

Could you share the experience of driving the car with us?

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Have both books on order now, not very expensive from used booksellers in VG condition.

 

ps it appears the Thomas used at least two different sets of spare tires or are these just what was handy. Am surprised how long it took to discover the advantage of high flotation (wide) tires.

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On 10/25/2020 at 8:54 PM, modela28 said:

On page 18, on the morning of the race (Feb. 12, 1908), he went to the Harry S. Houpt Agency (Thomas dealer)  and states, "in the garage I found a shining new gray Thomas Flyer".

The statement above, attributed to George Schuster, obviously does not apply to the race car, which underwent extensive modifications before race day. Whether George had the opportunity to visit the Houpt Agency on race day is questionable; if he did I don't question that he found a shinny new roadster but a new car would be a 1908, not the 07 he drove around the world.

 

The story goes that George was asked just 24 hrs before the race to join the team.

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5 hours ago, padgett said:

and can run on the same fuel.

Actually, not in this case. Evidently the Corvette was running on Propane. I guess the Thomas could be converted to run on Propane. I hear the gas in 1908 was closer to Kerosene than gas.

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Interesting questions, and as for the Corvette it is designed to run on 6 fuels (including propane, butane, gasoline, diesel, benzene, kerosene).  While in Russia, we even ran it on pure Vodka getting better mileage than on gasoline.  We tasted the Vodka prior to pouring it into the tank, to be sure it was suitable for the car...

 

The 1907 Thomas Model 35 was selected right off the Buffalo factory lot (brand new), with no special preparation as the other competitors had done.  It was shipped by rail to NYC, and stored at the Houpt dealership until the start on FEB 12.  The Thomas boasted 60hp and cost $4000 (approx. $100,000 today).  The Flyer engine still stands as the largest auto production 4cyl engine ever built, at 571.3 cu. inch (9.3 liters).

 

The question as to what is it like to be with the Flyer?  I was very fortunate over the years to drive and ride in it, as well as meet Bill Harrah on several occasions.  Bill and Great Gramp became good friends, beyond their shared interest in the Thomas.  Bill as many of you know, was a real gentleman and came to Springville to visit George especially in his later years.

 

I've also told the story of the Race from the driver's seat of the Flyer at several events including the Amelia Coucours, and the HCCA 75th Anniversary celebration.  Sharing the epic adventure just as I heard it growing up from Great Gramp, while at the wheel of the Thomas is as exciting for me as it is for the audience!  Mention was made above that this story takes on a "life of its own", and everyone in the room could feel it....

!16-Jeff-Mahl-With-Thomas-Flyer-300dpi.jpg

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Nice to see you here Jeff, hope you’re doing well.  I met you and your friends when you came over to visit the Zust on your Alaska trip years ago.  Would you mind telling the story of the details about the car that enabled your grandfather to admit to himself that Harrahs Thomas was indeed the Great Race Thomas?  The subject came up in another thread here a few weeks ago and I couldn’t remember exactly what you had told us but I believe it had something to do with initials or markings under a seat?  

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I'll jump in here, sorry Jeff, but it is reported here and the similar thread tracking  now on the old motor site that it was the initials of a guy carved into the body, and a repair on the frame that convinced George Schuster of the authenticity of the car. Before seeing these two things, George could not believe the car had survived.

 

I didn't know cars could run on Vodka. Good to know, good to know.

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Three items convinced Great Gramp of the authenticity in the rusting hulk Bill Harrah had acquired.  As the Harrah crew disassembled the Flyer piece by piece George noticed three things.  A crack in the frame he repaired in Siberia with a chunk of Trans-Siberian locomotive iron.  The iron was gone, but the holes he had hand drilled to attach the fish-plate remained in the frame.  The initials "MB" which George saw carved by the carpenter in the wooden seat frame, as the 4th seat was installed for the NYT reporter.  The original Flyer configuration was 3 seats.  "MB" stood for Minnie Byers, the carpenter's girlfriend.  The final evidence was the clutch repair Great Gramp made just south of Moscow.  George at that point told Bill it was the car he drove to victory for the US.  You can imagine Bill's reaction upon hearing that confirmation!

 

The attention to detail in the authentic restoration is remarkable, and considered one of the most complex ever done.  Bill even had Walt Disney artist complete the final stages, carving initials in the refinished work to match photos taken in Paris. The mud you see today on the spokes is Disney mud...

 

The HVA video does a great job in showing more about the restoration process.  

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3 minutes ago, T Flyer said:

Three items convinced Great Gramp of the authenticity in the rusting hulk Bill Harrah had acquired.  As the Harrah crew disassembled the Flyer piece by piece George noticed three things.  A crack in the frame he repaired in Siberia with a chunk of Trans-Siberian locomotive iron.  The iron was gone, but the holes he had hand drilled to attach the fish-plate remained in the frame.  The initials "MB" which George saw carved by the carpenter in the wooden seat frame, as the 4th seat was installed for the NYT reporter.  The original Flyer configuration was 3 seats.  "MB" stood for Minnie Byers, the carpenter's girlfriend.  The final evidence was the clutch repair Great Gramp made just south of Moscow.  George at that point told Bill it was the car he drove to victory for the US.  You can imagine Bill's reaction upon hearing that confirmation!

 

The attention to detail in the authentic restoration is remarkable, and considered one of the most complex ever done.  Bill even had Walt Disney artist complete the final stages, carving initials in the refinished work to match photos taken in Paris. The mud you see today on the spokes is Disney mud...

 

The HVA video does a great job in showing more about the restoration process.  

Jeff,

 

From what I understood in the book, the frame was repaired 'in the field,' rather than in a shop.  That would have entailed hand-drilling multiple holes in the frame and the piece of railroad angle iron used for the repair.  Is this correct?

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Some more about the Zust on Vancouver Island. The story about it being found in Seton Portage is wrong.  I don't know where I got it, but it is definitely not true.  However, it is the car that was in the race and it did finish it.  The Thomas arrived in Paris on July 30, 1908.  The Zust arrived 48 days later.

 

 The London Daily Mail had contracted with a Zust crew member to send them regular updates on their progress.  It had been agreed that the Zust would go to England for a time to be displayed at the London Zust dealer.  Following that, as the car was being driven to the Folkestone ferry, it broke down.  While being loaded on a train to go for repairs, it caught fire and the back half of the body and the rear wheels were destroyed.  This is why the wheels on the restored car are different.  The car was sent back to Milan where it received a new body which would explain the different cowl lights.

 

Early in 1910 It was sold to O. B. Perry, a minnig engineer and General Manager of the Yukon Gold Company in Dawson City, Yukon Territory.  Yukon Gold was owned by the Guggenheim family of New York.  It arrived in August and for a time was the only car in Dawson City.  It was in use at least until 1913, but from then until the middle 1950's when Buck Rogers found it, little is known about it.  When Buck found it the frame was broken.  He brought it to Vancouver where it sat in his garage for many years with nothing done to it  

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6 hours ago, T Flyer said:

... Sharing the epic adventure just as I heard it growing up from Great Gramp, while at the wheel of the Thomas is as exciting for me as it is for the audience!  Mention was made above that this story takes on a "life of its own", and everyone in the room could feel it....

 

Jeff,

Thank you so much for all you have done to keep your Great Grandfather's remarkable story alive! Fifty years ago, when I was in grade school I purchased "The Race Around the World" by Robert Jackson. I think I have pretty much worn that little book out - Its still a cherished part of my collection.

 

Your Great Grandfather and the entire Flyer crew have always been hero's to me.

 

Best regards,

Terry Harper

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That’s correct, the Zust was found in Dawson City.  It is speculated that there was a connection between the Guggenheim family who owned  a mining company in Dawson and also owner of the New York Times who was a sponsor of the race, was able to acquire the vehicle believing that since it made it around the world that it would be a good vehicle for the poor roads in Dawson.  Of course the car would have been wore right out by the time it made it up there, with people not understanding that it wasn’t necessarily the car that made it, rather the determination of the men who got it there.

Metallurgic testing of the engine bearings during the restoration confirmed the story documented by Scarfoglio in 1909 of pouring their own bearings from melted rifle bullets during a breakdown in Siberia.  It’s also important to note that the Zust team had been imprisoned during the race which slowed them down considerably.  There are reports of many instances when they each pulled each other out when stuck in mud or snow.  They were all winners.

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"I didn't know cars could run on Vodka" not what we get here, would need to be over 190 proof (might run on less but questionable power). Suspect you could get something in Kentucky that would work.

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I think it would be unwise to under appreciate the quality of the cars involved. According to a U tube show I watched this afternoon, the Thomas was driven the last leg of the race with no breakdowns. It was an impossible journey with men who didn't give up and cars that held up their side. I don't believe the running gear of the Thomas gave any more trouble than clutch problems. The 1907 Thomas was a well built car. I'm going  to run down to the Thomas dealership tomorrow and order me a new 1907 Flyer. The next question is: Why did Thomas go bankrupt when other high end companies did not?

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Great cars need great designers and engineers but the company needs a great business manager who rarely receives any credit.

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Ok, question, in one of the videos of the car online, the Reno guy opens the door of a little box attached to the dash of the car inside the cockpit. Inside this box is something spinning on a vertical axis. Any ideas what this could be? 

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In 2004 we went on the 2004 VMCCA Downeast Nickel Tour hosted on Acadia island near Bar Harbor Maine.

On of the stops was the Seal Cove Auto Musem, owned by Richard Paine, the son of the founder of Paine Webber.

Richard had 3 early Thomas Flyers on display.  I'm not sure of the years of these, they may be newer than 1907.

They sure look better then the Great Race car, that if it was taken off the show room floor for the race, had a lot of

work done in the street before they started the race.   Richard died not long after that a some cars were sold off to

fund the Foudation to keep the museum going.   By far the best brass car collection I've ever seen.SealCoveAutoMuseum.thumb.jpg.c3354f55fe2fd8d5ad09f21435141b12.jpg

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Good to hear from my friends in Vancouver.  The Zust was often called the "Children's Car" by the other competitors, but the young Italian lads (teens and early 20's) proved their worth by coming in third at Paris.  None of the 3 French teams made it past Vladivostok.

 

As for the E.R. Thomas Company, their success contributed to their failure.  With the victory in Paris, they were world famous, but the US Flyer success in July proved to be one of the best things that could have happened for Henry's launch of the Model T in October 1908.  That victory dispelled many lingering doubts about the "horseless carriage", and with an alternative at roughly 1/10 the price of custom built automobiles the Thomas company went from record sales to bankruptcy.

 

Great Gramp walked up the Buffalo street and took a position with the Pierce Arrow.  He opened Asia sales in Shanghai with Pierce trucks primarily destined for the British army.  He then took a ship load of Pierce trucks to Morocco bound for the French Foreign Legion.  George often said it was the Pierce truck sales that kept them going in the later years.  They were seen as far better than those of other manufacturers...

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Great Thread and great posts. Thanks to all who have posted. I tried to buy the Schuster Book on Amazon. I did find a copy for a reasonable price, but after putting it my cart and continuing to browse by the time I went to complete the purchase it was already sold. I am thinking it might have gone to someone reading this very thread also. All the other available were too costly to consider. I did end up with the two books in the attached photo and I look forward to reading them when I finish reading some other automotive books that I bought first.

 

fullsizeoutput_69a9.jpeg

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This is the reference I have. Even signed! Unfortunately not by George Schuster! Tom Mahoney signed it. The John Day Co. Copywrite 1966

img20201029_20072380.thumb.jpg.5182fa95676b4fd7bb0587eef9203995.jpg

George recounts the many, many adjustments and repairs undertaken during the trip. Starting out with bent radius rods and constant chain drive adjustments going through New York state in deep snow. The first major change on route was to replace a bad cylinder at the Buffalo factory and the low slung front axle with a straight unit to keep down the plowing effect in snow.

I would like to see the "utterly misleading Factory Booklet about the Around the World car extoling the virtues of that Thomas that it left out all the troubles they had with the car. "was never in a repair shop" and none of the valves were ground or replaced: not a spark plug was changed nor were the crankshaft bearings changed or adjusted" 

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It's a fabulous story and I'm glad it's being brought back to the surface here. The input directly from Jeff is very welcome too. I recall some time ago he and I were discussing how much if any memorabilia has survived from the event itself. It would have been difficult for participants to accumulate many souvenirs along the way, but aside from photos and postcards taken by accompanying press is anyone aware of any other artifacts? 

Terry

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43 minutes ago, dibarlaw said:

This is the reference I have. Even signed! Unfortunately not by George Schuster! Tom Mahoney signed it. The John Day Co. Copywrite 1966

img20201029_20072380.thumb.jpg.5182fa95676b4fd7bb0587eef9203995.jpg

George recounts the many, many adjustments and repairs undertaken during the trip. Starting out with bent radius rods and constant chain drive adjustments going through New York state in deep snow. The first major change on route was to replace a bad cylinder at the Buffalo factory and the low slung front axle with a straight unit to keep down the plowing effect in snow.

I would like to see the "utterly misleading Factory Booklet about the Around the World car extoling the virtues of that Thomas that it left out all the troubles they had with the car. "was never in a repair shop" and none of the valves were ground or replaced: not a spark plug was changed nor were the crankshaft bearings changed or adjusted" 

That is the book that was in our middle school library.  I probably held the record for signing it out the most.

 

Craig

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More interesting questions!  As to the number of known remaining Thomas, that number stands at approximately 50.  Harold Coker at one point led the list with 8 in his personal collection.  He said always favored the Thomas marque as his wife Lill's maiden name was Thomas.  Corky even built an outstanding replica, which was used in the 75th AACA Anniversary Celebration in Louisville.

 

I do recall great conversations with Terry, and the lack of souvenirs was due largely to space and weight considerations aboard the Flyer.  At an overloaded 5,000 pounds, anything that was not needed to keep the car running was tossed.  That included two of the passengers (MacAdam the NYT reporter and Hansen) who were transferred to a train in Russia, as Miller and George tried to catch up with the Germans.  However, Great Gramp did keep items he used on the Race.  Several have been on exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum including the Medical Kit Dr. Shaw gave him in Seattle, the brass compass and hand made sextant he used to navigate around the globe.  He also kept the map he purchased in Vladivostok, the only one they had to transit Asia and Europe as well as the daily log of locations and events he carried in his pocket.  George did bring home a silk dress from Japan for his wife Rose...

Henry-Ford-Exhibit.jpg

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On 10/25/2020 at 2:04 PM, Graham Man said:

I am surprised to see the car on a two wheel trailer?  I assumed the early cars were built like tanks and weighed about the same?  I thought the Thomas would crush that trailer?

 

Now that looks like an adventure, leaving Buffalo NY.   Can you imagine even just riding along?

 

image.thumb.png.71491fd364c3dcf5c795851e03b14719.png

Notice the auxiliary fuel tank on the side of the Thomas?  That must be 30 gallons? no tank on the restored car.

 

This Car Matters; the Thomas Flyer

 

Link to the HVA story

 

Apparently the 1907 Thomas, Model 36, weighed in at about 1451 kg or about 3100 pounds, dry and unloaded. Apparently with all the stuff for the Race, tipped the scale about 5,000lbs.

Fully loaded, I would trust a two wheel trailer. How about our triple axle trailers?
https://www.carfolio.com/thomas-flyer-model-36-60-hp-204457?car=204457

 

IMG_4633.JPG

Anvil 1.jpg

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Important to note, the actual "Race weight" of the Flyer was much heavier than published specs., with 35 gals. of extra fuel, extra tires, jacks, tools, planks, food, water plus 4 passengers with their luggage.  Great Gramp estimated the gross weight exceeded 5,000 pounds on many occasions.  You can imagine the problems associated with a vehicle of this weight on balloon tires, when there were no roads.  Add the pounding the vehicle and crew took, when straddling the rails to ride on railroad ties (which were un-ballasted in those days).  George lost count of the dozens of tires he had to replace along the route, or the near train collisions when changing tires on the rails.....

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It has been suggested recently that a Thomas Registry might be a good idea.  Since the marque is relatively rare in terms of limited production compared with some other surviving brands, it might become an important resource in the future.  Any thoughts?

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