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1908 New York to Paris Race


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There was a fatality associated with the race.  After traveling over 20,000 miles, the Italian team in the Zust was nearing the Russian border to enter Germany when they passed a boy playing by the roadside.  A horse-drawn cart was approaching from the opposite direction.  The horses were startled by the Zust, bolted, and ran over the boy, killing him.  The cart driver left the scene without stopping.  They wrapped the boy's body in a blanket and furs, and took it to the next town.  The local constable had already been notified of the accident via telegraph, and assumed the foreign motorists were responsible.  The entire team was arrested and booked into a Russian jail, and the Zust was impounded.  They were placed in a large cell with approximately 20 other inmates, none of whom spoke Italian.  The team was devastated.  They had come so far and endured so many hardships, and now were facing the possibility of a very long prison term in Russia.  After further investigation, the constable discovered the Italians were innocent and all charges against them were dropped.  The books did not say what changed his mind...perhaps a witness came forward?  The team was released 3 days later, given their car, and were allowed to continue on to Paris.

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4 hours ago, George Cole said:

The entire team was arrested and booked into a Russian jail, and the Zust was impounded.  They were placed in a large cell with approximately 20 other inmates, none of whom spoke Italian.  The team was devastated.

 

The young Italian lads were also terrified!  Their cellmates included murders, and they feared for their lives.  During their captivity they did not eat, and one of them always remained awake.  It was a witness at the accident scene that came forward during the investigation that led to their release.

 

It is incredible that three of the six starting teams actually made it around the world with their automobiles.  While there were no fatalities among the participants, there were plenty of injuries and numerous cases of serious illness.  Lt. Koeppen of the German Protos, nearly died of "mountain fever" in the Rockies.  He collapsed while walking on a mountain trail looking for help, and was found by a cowboy who took Koeppen to safety.  Great Gramp experienced food poisoning several times.  Dr. Shaw gave him a "first aid kit" in Seattle, likely the very first use of a medical kit designed to be carried on an automobile for passengers.  It contained 24 viles of drug medications, a suture with a small book of instructions.  The vile for dysentery was quickly used up.  George discovered that quickly drinking a pint of the local beverage (whiskey in North America or vodka in Asia), running after the Flyer until he broke a sweat, then falling asleep in Thomas was an effective cure.

 

The 1908 Race was the ultimate test of both men and their machines...

THF151157.jpg

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From the book: Hard Driving, New York to Paris, by Dermont Cole, the Thomas Flyer arrived in San Francisco at least 800 miles ahead of their nearest competitor...or so the crew thought.  Three hours later, the Motobloc showed up.  Once the truth came out that they had taken a train, they were disqualified.  The Motobloc company managers directed Baron Goddard to quit the race, sell the car, and return to France.  The car was sold at auction for $1650 to a Nevada miner.  Simultaneously a lawyer presented an unpaid $600 bill for towing the car in Iowa.  Goddard paid the bill and pocketed the rest of the auction proceeds.  At about the same time, U.S. Customs agents became involved, wanting a 45% import fee/tax on the car's new value of $10,000.  It appears Goddard was able to get out of the U.S. without settling the Custom's debt.  Likewise, bondsmen in New York had given Goddard money toward the race, with the car as collateral.  That debt was left unsettled as well.  It's not clear whether Customs seized the car and destroyed it, or just turned a blind eye.  As far as I know, the Motobloc race car has never surfaced.  

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Goddard was an interesting character. I just finished reading "The Mad Motorists, The great Peking-Paris race of 07" by Allen Andrews.

As presented by Andrews, on one hand Goddard was heroic on the other hand he was a con-man and scoundrel but you couldn't help but like the guy! Which makes his 

performance on the New York to Paris race all the more disappointing.

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Goddard was best described as a "scoundrel" by George.  At the finish of the 1907 Peking to Paris Race, the police arrested him for a trail of debts he had accumulated in that event.  He must have had a good lawyer, as he was released in time to make it to New York for the start of the 1908 NY to Paris Race.  Not much changed in his operation across the US, and Great Gramp felt he deserved his fate....

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All three teams that finished the race claimed they won.  The German Protos team claimed as the race parameters and route was changed to not cross the Bering Sea, the real race began in Vladivostok, and as they arrived in Paris first, were the winners.  They also said the 15-day penalty assessed against them for shipping their car partway across the US was not valid as that was part of the original race plan.  And they felt the Thomas crew was given an unfair advantage of being allowed to drive on the railroad bed, which was not afforded to the other cars in the race.  In German books written about the race years later, the Protos team still claimed they arrived in Paris first as an implication of winning, with no mention of penalty or bonus days.  The Italians in the Zust arrived in Paris over a month after the Thomas.  They said the same thing about the Thomas crew getting an unfair advantage, so they felt both the Thomas and the Protos cars should have been disqualified, just as the French Moto Bloc had been.  That would have left the Zust as the only qualified race car to finish in Paris.  And of course the Thomas crew was finally declared the official race winner after arriving in Paris 4 days after the Protos.  They won because of the 15-day bonus for being 9 days ahead in the race across the US and going to Alaska, and the Protos 15-day penalty. 

 

The book Hard Racing by Dermont Cole also stated that George Schuster felt he could have beaten the Protos to Paris if the Thomas factory had quickly shipped a transmission to him when he requested it.  Instead, days were lost making temporary repairs.  And then when it broke beyond repair, searching for it and once found, hauling it by horse cart to where the car sat disabled. The Protos only beat the Thomas to Paris by 4 days.

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Unfortunately the race was not run equally by each team.  Rarely the point is made that the Americans drove on the railbeds and through tunnels where the competition had to go the hard way. Everyone just likes to talk about how far ahead the Thomas was.  They sure as hell should have been after stopping at the factory for improvements, something no other group did.  No wonder the other teams cried foul.

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This just supports my latest revelation of life. It's a shame it takes a lifetime to learn the important stuff. It seems there is no such thing as empirical truth. I love Pilate's words to Jesus, "What is truth," because everybody has a different definition. The Protos team says, "The truth is we won." The Zust team says, "I beg your pardon, but we won the race." And of course the Thomas team believed they had won the race. All three teams brand of truth was correct for them. It is interesting to see the same thing being played out today. Isn't being first the definition of winning? But if you take into account the cheating. But if you take into account the cheating of one, do you not have to take into account the cheating of all.

 

As far as I'm concerned, anybody who could get a car from NY to Paris in 1908 through the winter by a northerly route deserved equal credit for winning. After all, what did they win? There was no pot of gold at the end of the race. Basically the winner got bragging rights. Or am I wrong? My brand of truth is just as valid as the next guy's.

Edited by AHa (see edit history)
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"once found" could say the Thomas had an unfair advantage( copyright Penske) of a dealer network across the US. Book says the Thomas dealer essentially stole a transmission from a customer's car.

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And the Italian team had to wait for replacement gears for their transmission after an American farmer sabatoged their efforts by dumping a handful of nails into the gearbox while the team was asleep.  Several miles down the road from the “kind” patriotic farmer who let them sleep in his barn they discovered the damage.  The new gearset had to be hand riveted to the carrier at the roadside.  The documented story in Scarfoglios book and the fact that the Zust found in Dawson City by Buck Rogers in 1950s had one set of factory riveted gears and one set clearly done as a repair, along with other documented repairs found on the car proved the provenance of the car.

Imagine dealing with problems like these in the middle of nowhere trying to telegram for parts and have them shipped to you and repair it with what you have on hand, coaxing the beast around the world, having to pour your own bearings from rifle bullets, getting thrown in prison before finally getting to Paris only to have people call you losers.  Not in my book.  The perseverance of all men involved was nothing short of amazing.

Edited by Modeleh (see edit history)
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I don't understand what made them keep going in the face of the obstacles they encountered. These teams were not running along together, where they could see each other, were they? They didn't have anything to race against. It would seem prudent to give up and go home at a thousand points along the way, or maybe it would be harder to quit than to keep going. I don't know. After having some farmer fill my transmission with nails, I would certainly be tempted to say, to hell with this! These men were certainly cut from different cloth.

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George was quick to point out that claims of any advantage the American Team might have had crossing the US, were offset by advantages the Germans and Italians had crossing Europe.  As for the 15 day Alaska penalty, that was part of the original route.  The only reason it was changed is that the Flyer actually went to Alaska to discover it was impassable.  The other teams did not take the time and effort to do that, so the penalty was just.

 

It's hard for us to imagine with the virtually instant 24/7 news of today, that keeping track of each team in 1908 was nearly impossible.  Newspapers were days behind and often the accounts were inaccurate.  As to the win, the Germans did claim victory when they arrived in Paris on July 26.  However, the French knew who really won when the Americans arrived on the 30th.

 

I think the win was validated 110 years later.  On our way to Paris in 2011, we stopped at the Deutches Museum in Munich Germany.  There we were greeted by Ruprecht v Siemens former CEO of Siemens International.  The Siemens company acquired the original Protos when they bought the Protos company in 1909, and they still own it.  I asked Ruprecht why the Protos featured exhibit had a wall sized image of the Flyer crossing a rail line outside of Chicago as part of the display?  He said quite assuredly that it was only fitting as the Americans won the Race....

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T Flyer,

Most of what I know about the race, I learned reading numerous books and articles thirty to fifty years ago. I have always been fascinated by this incredible challenge met with such resolve. I really enjoy reading your additional comments and insights shared here with us.

Thank you.

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Each of the three teams that made it to Paris overcame unbelievable obstacles in an automobile Race around the globe that has never been equaled.  Nearly 6 months of pure endurance and determination tested these men to their limits, and often beyond.  In sharing this epic story with groups, especially younger audiences I always try to leave them with one central thought.

 

Today, some people get the notion that if Google doesn't have the answer, there is no answer.  After hearing the story I hope they realize that we all have the ability these men displayed, even if it's buried somewhere pretty deep within us.  We have to remember that anything is possible if we try hard enough, and never ever give up when faced with a challenge.

 

I think that's what makes the saga so appealing to both men and women.  As Paul Harvey would say;  "You now know the rest of the story"....

 

PS: You might enjoy a photo of Ruprecht v. Siemens with the Protos at the Deutches National Transportation Museum in Munich

Munich-Protos.jpg

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On 11/19/2020 at 2:03 PM, AHa said:

I don't understand what made them keep going in the face of the obstacles they encountered. These teams were not running along together, where they could see each other, were they? They didn't have anything to race against. It would seem prudent to give up and go home at a thousand points along the way, or maybe it would be harder to quit than to keep going. I don't know. After having some farmer fill my transmission with nails, I would certainly be tempted to say, to hell with this! These men were certainly cut from different cloth.

If I remember correctly, they didn't claim the farmer put nails in their transmission until several months after they finished the race, leaving doubt about what might have or have not happened.

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On 10/24/2020 at 4:47 PM, Terry Bond said:

Its a fascinating story, and if you ever get to see Jeff Mahl's presentation, it's not to be missed.  Jeff is the Great Grandson of George Schuster.  I saw the presentation for the first time in 2010 as part of the AACA 75th Anniversary celebration in Louisville. He was in a Thomas Flyer from Harold Coker's collection and it seemed like we were witnessing history directly from the source.

One thing that's always puzzled me as a collector of automobilia, as significant an event as it was, there does not seem to be a tremendous number of artifacts remaining except for several written accounts and postcards.  The photo included here shows Jeff with the original car.

Terry

Jeff Mahl.jpg

Terry,

 

I was there for that presentation and I agree that it was a great presentation.  Truth be told, I thought the car was a replica owned by Corky Coker and the whereabouts of the original car was unknown.

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There are very few 1907 Thomas models in existence.  One example is in the Stahl Museum 1907 Thomas Flyer , which at the time was referred to as the "Gentlemen's Model".  George always considered the '07 models superior to the '08, with the latter which "leaked like a sieve".  He was delighted to see the '07 Flyer Model 35 waiting for him at the starting line in Times Square!

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18 hours ago, ex98thdrill said:

Terry,

 

I was there for that presentation and I agree that it was a great presentation.  Truth be told, I thought the car was a replica owned by Corky Coker and the whereabouts of the original car was unknown.

 

The AACA 75th Anniversary Celebration was an amazing event in Louisville, and West Peterson did an excellent job in covering the story:  Antique Automobile October 2010 - AACA 75th Jubilee

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Interesting that there are conflicting reports about who and why the '07 model was chosen. Monty Roberts specifically states that he chose the car due to his prior experience racing it. There is a newspaper clipping saying that E.R. Thomas himself picked the car. Since Roberts was the official factory designated driver I would tend to believe his account. 

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I don't see a conflict. Monty Roberts chose the 1907 because he had prior experience with it. E.R. Thomas also picked the 07 to be used in the race and George was ecstatic they chose the 1907 car to race. George, evidently, knew nothing about the race up until the night before when he was chosen as the mechanic and told to pack a bag and high tail it to town. Everything seems consistent. My question is; it is made to sound like the 1908 cars were an option for the race, but they basically chose last years model, AND there just happened to be one setting on the showroom floor close by the starting position. I understand E.R.'s involvement in the race was very last minute but it all seems very much planned. It doesn't seem reasonable to me, looking back 100 years later, that they would have 1907 models laying around in 1908. The question is; was this a car Monty had raced in 07 and was it being stored at this dealership. If I was starting out in a round the world race, I'd prefer to use a proven car.

 

The question really is did Thomas introduce the 1907 cars in the summer of 06, making the summer of 07 the introduction of the 08 cars. Thus when the race began in December of 08, the showrooms would have had 08 cars. Depending on Thomas' production and sales, it is reasonable a high volume dealer might have any left over cars. I guess we can't know such particulars at this late stage but Monty Robert's' comment is intriguing.

 

Monty Roberts seems to be vilified because he quit the race but there are reports E.R. called him back to race in France, a race E.R. thought he could win, while nobody believed anybody could finish the NY to Paris. This made George the sacrificial lamb and perhaps added to his resolve to finish the race. I guess its all speculation but, boy, ain't we's having fun!

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2 hours ago, T Flyer said:

"leaked like a sieve".

George's comment, posted above by his grandson, makes it sound like George had experience with the 08 models prior to the 08 race. As I understand it, George served as a test driver for Thomas before the race. It makes sense then that the 08 cars were available to race in December of 08. This supports the idea they used last years model to run the race. Depending on when the 08 models came out, and again, this comment makes it sound like George had extensive experience with the 08 models, the race was held deep in the 08 model year. Again, where did they find an 07 car?

 

Again, once the tooling had been swapped over to  next year's model, there would be no more production of last years model. Where and how did they come up with a 1907 to run in the 1908 race?

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Anecdotally, 09 was the official beginning of model T Ford production but there were cars produced in the 08 year. Some people try to identify these 08 introduced cars as 08 Ford model Ts while officially, there are no 08 Model Ts. In the Northern states, winter depressed sales, so it made sense to introduce next years model during the summer months. I should say, I don't know this for sure, but this is my story and I'm sticking to it.

Edited by AHa (see edit history)
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Found this on the Internet so must be right:

"The automotive model year started back in the teens. Farmers would harvest their crops and sell them every fall, and that's when they had enough cash in their pockets to go out and buy a car. "

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I think in many cases new models were put on the market when they were ready to be. Buicks and Dodges of the teens were aimed at the rural market and I believe were made ready for the summer agricultural shows.

 

The Standard Catalog says the D series Buicks were introduced in August 1916. The various new Dodge models in the teens, and through to the end of the four cylinder models,  appear to have been introduced in July of each year.

 

I think the concept of the annual model change was a 1920s GM thing - read Alfred Sloan.

 

Looking at some of the info in The Standard Catalog there seems to have been no set pattern.

 

I know that in the late 1920s Studebaker made things difficult for modern restorers by introducing new models at random times through the season.

 

As far as later years the new model introductions were in October(??). My 1965 Pontiac had its block cast in late July 1964 and was assembled in the first week of September 1964. Unfortunately I forgot to ask the original purchaser, when I contacted him back in the 1980s, just when he actually bought it, and I don't have  any relevant paperwork.

 

 

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Studebaker also drove modern hobbyists crazy in the mid to late '1910s. In 1915, in June, Studebaker introduced what they called their "1916" model cars. This particular series was only manufactured for about seven months. On December 28 1915, Studebaker introduced the next series of updated models, which had been in the manufacturing process for a couple weeks. So, NONE of the cars said to be 1916 models were actually manufactured in 1916! In January of 1917, Studebaker announced going with a "series" model designation. Which they only did for about three years.

A lot of other manufacturers (including I have been told, Reo and Hudson) also brought out the '16 models early due to the European war.

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2 hours ago, AHa said:

I don't see a conflict. Monty Roberts chose the 1907 because he had prior experience with it. E.R. Thomas also picked the 07 to be used in the race and George was ecstatic they chose the 1907 car to race. George, evidently, knew nothing about the race up until the night before when he was chosen as the mechanic and told to pack a bag and high tail it to town. Everything seems consistent. My question is; it is made to sound like the 1908 cars were an option for the race, but they basically chose last years model, AND there just happened to be one setting on the showroom floor close by the starting position. I understand E.R.'s involvement in the race was very last minute but it all seems very much planned. It doesn't seem reasonable to me, looking back 100 years later, that they would have 1907 models laying around in 1908. The question is; was this a car Monty had raced in 07 and was it being stored at this dealership. If I was starting out in a round the world race, I'd prefer to use a proven car.

 

The question really is did Thomas introduce the 1907 cars in the summer of 06, making the summer of 07 the introduction of the 08 cars. Thus when the race began in December of 08, the showrooms would have had 08 cars. Depending on Thomas' production and sales, it is reasonable a high volume dealer might have any left over cars. I guess we can't know such particulars at this late stage but Monty Robert's' comment is intriguing.

 

Monty Roberts seems to be vilified because he quit the race but there are reports E.R. called him back to race in France, a race E.R. thought he could win, while nobody believed anybody could finish the NY to Paris. This made George the sacrificial lamb and perhaps added to his resolve to finish the race. I guess its all speculation but, boy, ain't we's having fun!

 

Interesting viewpoint since I got the impression that both men individually took credit for the choice of cars. Your point about Monty Roberts being vilified is very true; however, there is no question in my mind that Shuster accomplished a monumental feat. I have pictures of Roberts in Paris at the conclusion of the race in a Thomas accompanied by Houpt. 

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From a marketting standpoint, using an '07 updated to look like an '08 makes a lot of sense. After all it was in inventory particularly if the '08s were only out for a few weeks. Were they called '07 and '08s back then or just model number/letters ?

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