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1908 New York to Paris Race


George Cole
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13 hours ago, AHa said:

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?

George did have extensive experience with both the '07 and '08 models.  He was the final step in the Thomas "quality control" process.  Before the vehicle left the factory, he would take it for a test run where he would climb Brewer Hill (a brick paved street adjacent to the Buffalo plant) in in high gear.  Then a drive along Delaware Ave., where the new vehicle had to reach 60 mph.  Making these two final tests, he would approve it for sale.

 

The '07 used in the Race was taken right off the factory lot, just days before the start and shipped by rail to NYC.  No special modifications were made, except iron bows and canvass to form a roof (much like a Conestoga wagon) and 2 long wooded planks which rode on the fenders to serve as bridges.

 

As for Monty, Grerat Gramp considered him a very good driver and was sorry to see him go.  Monty left the team in Cheyenne as he had committed to do the '08 Vanderbuilt Cup Race prior to knowing about the NY to Paris event.  E.R. did send a telegram to George suggesting Monty could return to finish the European leg.  Imagine for yourself, after driving 3/4 of the way around the world and enduring for over 5 months what they faced on a daily basis, with Paris just days away George's reaction to such a suggestion.  He threw the telegram to the ground....

 

George did however insist that Monty be a part of the victory celebration upon their return to NYC.  This is the only known rare photo taken at the steps of City Hall with the Flyer and those who made the victory possible.  L-R George MacAdam, Monty Roberts (on the sidewalk), E.R Thomas (at the wheel), George Schuster, and George Miller.  It was there that Great Gramp received a gold Key to NYC (it was real gold in those days) from Mayor McGowan.  From there it was off to see President Teddy Roosevelt who actually sat behind the wheel of the Flyer at his Presidential compound in Sagamore Hill.  The visit included brandy and cigars with Teddy....

NYC-Victory-ER-City-Hall-Steps.jpg

Edited by T Flyer (see edit history)
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1 minute ago, T Flyer said:

George did have extensive experience with both the '07 and '08 models.  He was the final step in the Thomas "quality control" process.  Before the vehicle left the factory, he would have to take it for a test run where he would climb Brewer Hill (a brick paved street adjacent to the Buffalo plant) in in high gear.  Then a drive along Delaware Ave., where the new vehicle had to reach 60 mph.  Making these two final tests, he would approve it for sale.

 

The '07 used in the Race was taken right off the factory lot, just days before the start and shipped by rail to NYC.  No special modifications were made, except iron bows and canvass to form a roof (much like a Conestoga wagon) and 2 long wooded planks which rode on the fenders to serve as bridges.

 

As for Monty, Grerat Gramp considered him a very good driver and was sorry to see him go.  Monty left the team in Cheyenne as he had committed to do the '08 Vanderbuilt Cup Race prior to knowing about the NY to Paris event.  E.R. did send a telegram to George suggesting Monty could return to finish the European leg.  Imagine for yourself, after driving 3/4 of the way around the world and enduring for over 5 months what they faced on a daily basis, with Paris just days away George's reaction to such a suggestion.  He threw the telegram to the ground....

 

George did however insist that Monty be a part of the victory celebration upon their return to NYC.  This is the only known rare photo taken at the steps of City Hall with the Flyer and those who made the victory possible.  R-L George MacAdam, Monty Roberts (on the sidewalk), E.R Thomas (at the wheel), George Schuster, and George Miller.  It was there that Great Gramp received a gold Key to NYC (it was real gold in those days) from Mayor McGowan.  From there it was off to see President Teddy Roosevelt who actually sat behind the wheel of the Flyer at his Presidential compound in Sagamore Hill.  The visit included brandy and cigars with Teddy....

NYC-Victory-ER-City-Hall-Steps.jpg

 

And according to George Schuster's book, the car was an undelivered customer's car which the factory diverted to the race.  It was shipped by rail to the NYC dealership, arriving the morning the race began.  That's where George saw the car for the first time and confirmed it was a 1907.  After arriving in Buffalo for an overnight stop days later, the factory replaced one cylinder which had been giving George problems, and added an additional gas tank to extend it's range.

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Lots of interesting info in this thread. I've often wondered, what made the Thomas special? Aside from the historical fact that this specific car and crew car won the race, was the Thomas in any way better suited to the task than the other vehicles involved? Some particular feature(s), or exceptional quality, or...  If the crew hypothetically had their pick of 1908 cars to take around the world, would they have had an obvious better choice than the Thomas? Or was this crew so good that they would have probably won with any other more or less comparable car? 

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Big Beat,

You missed one critical piece of information. It was the Thomas Auto Company that entered the race with one of their cars. The original driver, Monty Roberts, was hired by the owner of Thomas, E. R. Thomas, as a race car driver, George Schuster was his factory quality control supervisor. In other words, an employee of Thomas. At the time of the race they had last years model and this years model to pick from, they chose last years model, the 07, to run in the race. Of the two models, evidently, it was thought to be better.

 

The other contestants were likewise hired by the car company to run their cars in the race. In other words, no individuals chose a car to run; it was car companies that chose to enter one of their cars.

Edited by AHa (see edit history)
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I understand that the company entered the car, of course. And that the events played out the way they played out. My question is more of a "what if".

 

Why did the Thomas team win? Was the car inherently superior in some way, or was it mostly the human factor, or was it just plain chance?

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11 hours ago, Big Beat said:

Why did the Thomas team win? Was the car inherently superior in some way, or was it mostly the human factor, or was it just plain chance?

 

The perception at the start of the Race was that unlikely as it was any would make it to Paris, the vastly "superior European engineering" would be favored to win.  Of course the Flyer would prove that to be the wrong assumption.  As good as the Thomas was (including most powerful of the entries), I think you now know it was the men onboard who made it happen.

 

Great Gramp often said he never knew how far they would make it to Paris, but wherever the Race ended they would be in the lead.  He started every one of the 169 days with that thought in mind, and let nothing get in the way of that goal.

 

Today, in the Automotive Hall of Fame George stands next the Henry Ford and Ransom Olds who did not enter their marques saying driving automobiles around the world couldn't be done.  With a lot of "Yankee ingenuity" and sheer will power George proved America had what it takes to do the impossible...

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  • 1 month later...

Thanks for the great images George!  One thing we all do at the end of each year is to look back.  Sometimes, past history is more inspiring than recent.  Following are a couple of photos of a person who made a difference, blazing a path we take for granted today.  George at age 35 and 92 behind the wheel of the Thomas Flyer.  A fine example of "Yankee Ingenuity" and "Can Do!" attitude, something we could use a lot more of even today....

George-Schuster-WEB.jpg

George1964-WEB.jpg

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5 hours ago, T Flyer said:

Thanks for the great images George!  One thing we all do at the end of each year is to look back.  Sometimes, past history is more inspiring than recent.  Following are a couple of photos of a person who made a difference, blazing a path we take for granted today.  George at age 35 and 92 behind the wheel of the Thomas Flyer.  A fine example of "Yankee Ingenuity" and "Can Do!" attitude, something we could use a lot more of even today....

George-Schuster-WEB.jpg

George1964-WEB.jpg

 

Like I said, I found another stash of on line pictures of the race.  I've already saved them to my hard drive, and will post them here a few at a time to keep this thread going.  I would like to see others contribute to keep it going as well.

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If you have not read the book, you should...

 

A couple of talking points...

   The crew won this race, the Thomas was up to the task, but the crew's perseverance got it to Paris.

   The 1907 car would have a lot more spare parts available over the 08 car, this must have been a consideration since they knew where to find 1907 cars along the route, to "barrow" parts.

   I would have been out when they shoveled snow all day to get 8 miles in NY (I have done this in WI snow storms, but not that far, "dead tired" comes close to how you feel).

   Having spare parts available in the beginning of the race was huge, none of the cars had been tested like this before.

   At the end of the race the question came up if they would ever do it again, the entire crew responded, NEVER!

 

 

I absolutely agree all the cars that finished should have been considered the winners.  In the day, this trip was like going to the moon, it forever changed the perception of the automobile's capability.

 

Schuster absolutely felt the Thomas was the winner in every facet of the car being superior to the competition.  But this race was only partially about the car, if it was only about the car, they could have just used a track and counted off the miles.

 

 

The Longest Auto Race: George Schuster, Tom Mahoney: Amazon.com: Books

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Going thru collections of my grandfather, I recently found & read Geo. Schuster's book... signed by him.

 

Great story.... I had seen a few photos of George in my gramps collection but did not know who he was... now I have to dig thru stuff to find them.

 

In later years, Schuster lived in Springville, NY, about 60 miles from my gramps.. my brother said that he drove gramps to Springville...I wonder if that was to meet Mr. Schuster and had him autograph his book

 

Sandy Rose

Arlington, TX

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Another tip from Schuster's book, they would stop at fire stations and have them "power wash" the Thomas to get the mud off.  They started doing the washing so they could work on the car, he also mentioned sometimes the wheels would be disks of mud.

 

In Alice Ramsey's book about her 1909 US crossing Alice described extensively how many times they put on, and took off chains.  Basically if the road was wet the chains went on, and the speed went down to a crawl.  She said the mud was so slippery the car was uncontrollable.  As soon as the road dried out they would take the chains off, it sounded like hundreds of times.  Another great read.

 

Alice Ramsey's Historic Transcontinental Road Trip | WNYC News | WNYC    51YiFB6DBKL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Edited by Graham Man (see edit history)
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Yes, sort of, they would have had repair links and lock links, keeping them tight is a big problem, we use tensioners today.  In the Alice book she said they had spare chains they were repairing all the time.  A loose chain can tear off a fender quickly or worse.  Even today 35mph is about the speed limit with chains.  Weed chains started in 1904.  Interesting bottom picture...

 

Progress is fine, but it's gone on for too long.: Vanished Tool Makers: Weed  Chain Tire Grip Company, Bridgeport, Connecticut     1907 OLD MAGAZINE PRINT AD, WEED AUTOMOBILE TIRE CHAIN GRIPS, ANYWHERE ANYTIME!

 

 

 

image.thumb.png.98d11c90b5fc59e2385b147b86002b1c.png  

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This is an interesting picture of the Thomas Flyer being driven by a woman, with 3 women passengers.  Writing on it states it was taken in Valdez, Alaska, on 9 April, 1909.  Was this part of a post-race promotional tour to Alaska where the cars were supposed to race but never did?  And what's with the contingent of women?  Were they trying to demonstrate that this was not just a man's car?

1759128_original.jpg

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Graham's mention of Weed Chain was a significant part of their success.  Invented in Canastota, NY by Harry Weed, they made it possible to navigate when faced with no snow plows or even roads across much of the world.  There is a museum in Canastota which features the Flyer and her crew when they passed through town on February 14, 1908.

 

As for the ladies aboard the Flyer, that was a photo op for the wives of local dignitaries.  The Thomas never made it off the pier when it was offloaded from the S.S. Santa Clara on April 8.  The first automobile in the Alaskan territory was no match for the snow up to 12 feet deep.  The destination was to have been Nome, Alaska for the drive across Bering Strait.  To this day, you still can't drive an automobile from Anchorage to Nome (even in summer)!  And no automobile has ever driven across the frozen Bering Strait...

Weed-Chain-Endorsement.jpg

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31 minutes ago, T Flyer said:

 

As for the ladies aboard the Flyer, that was a photo op for the wives of local dignitaries.  The Thomas never made it off the pier when it was offloaded from the S.S. Santa Clara on April 8.  The first automobile in the Alaskan territory was no match for the snow up to 12 feet deep.  The destination was to have been Nome, Alaska for the drive across Bering Strait.  To this day, you still can't drive an automobile from Anchorage to Nome (even in summer)!  And no automobile has ever driven across the frozen Bering Strait...

 

Yes, but the script on the picture is dated 1909, a year after the car arrived in Valdez for the 1908 race.  Either the picture is dated incorrectly, or the car was taken back there a year later.

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AND, the car is definitely off the pier and where did the 12' of snow go!

This picture must be from 1908 as the fender board is total length and as we all know, by the time the car made it to Paris, there were only short pieces over the wheels. When the car reappeared at the Long Island Museum, years later, it still had the short boards. It certainly doesn't appear the long boards were ever replaced.

Edited by AHa (see edit history)
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If you look at an enlargement of the pier photo, you'll see that it's 08 with the APR 9 script quite different.  The Flyer has not been back to Alaska since the day it first landed there in 1908.  When Great Gramp asked the Wells Fargo agent Dan Kennedy what the trail was like to Fairbanks, Dan replied he had never seen an auto before and didn't know what they were capable of?  He took George out on the trail in a sleigh, and you can see what happened to the sleigh.  Imagine the 5,000+ pound Flyer on narrow balloon tires.  George then telegraphed to Race headquarters in NYC that he could get across Alaska with the Thomas by taking it apart into 600 pound sections, then dog sledding it to Siberia.  They would have to use 2 dog sleds in tandem for the frame.  There he would reassemble the Flyer and drive on to the Eiffel Tower.  That's "Yankee Ingenuity"!

 

The cost to get it just to Fairbanks, $10,000 (approx. $250,000 in today's dollars).  They had no idea what it would then cost to get to Nome, and across Bering Strait.  The committee said return to Seattle, and ship the car to Japan. The Thomas and her crew were the only Team to make it to Alaska...

 

Alaska-Hores-Sleigh.jpg

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23 minutes ago, AHa said:

AND, the car is definitely off the pier and where did the 12' of snow go!

 

Those are the warehouses at the foot of the pier.  As for the 12' of snow, look over the hood of the Flyer...  The short planks are what was left of the long ones, after a ship's carpenter fabricated sail canvas to replace the leather fenders installed in Buffalo.  Those had been taken by the crew of S.S. Shawmut to make new soles for their sandals...

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George's life philosophy certainly was amazing. Instead of just saying it's impossible to drive from Anchorage across the Bearing Straight. He presented a possible solution, albeit totally unreasonable. I'm guessing if they had said, Do it, George would have taken the car apart, put it on sleds, and took off.

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Agree, the legend appears to be from before the race had been won. Also suspect the year may have been added afterwards, font is quite different. (best I can do from the image).

 

 

thomas.jpg

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The picture above of the 1916 NJ license plate brings to mind the story of the Flyer license.  Beginning in 1903, New York State started to require vehicle numeric identification. Prior to that time, the state would allow the owners’ initials to be displayed. However, that was difficult to control, so NY began to issue numbers. For several years it was the responsibility of the owners to fabricate their own plates using the state numbers. Leather was commonly used, as well as wood or metal backing.

 

In this case, the plate for the E.R. Thomas Motor Company of Buffalo included the numeric 16490 with MFG (designating manufacturer) was issued by the state. The Thomas factory crew then crafted the leather plate and hand painted "16290MFG" just prior to the Flyer being shipped to Times Square for the start of the race.  At that time, New York was one of the first states with a specific color requirement of black on a white background.

 

Issued to the E.R. Thomas Motor Company of Buffalo, New York, the plate was carried around the world to victory for the United States in the 1908 New York to Paris Race. Unfortunately, the original plate has not yet been located. My hope is that with the story being told, someone reading it may have additional information on this particular plate?  The exhibited leather plate was recreated for the 2008 Centennial of the 1908 New York to Paris Race. New York State’s decision to feature the leather plate in the new $20M WNY Welcome Center located in Grand Island NY, is a fitting tribute to the leading role the Buffalo area and it's only world champion The Thomas Flyer played in early automotive history.

 

Thomas-License-Plate.jpg

WNY-Welcome-Center.jpg

Edited by T Flyer (see edit history)
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