by Bruce Cherney (part 1)
Stones were his sole weapon, but the man was undaunted and prepared to throw his missiles to prevent the “horseless carriage” from spooking his team of horses. Upon encountering the automobile as it proceeded along Main Street through the village of Austin, he warned the driver to bring the vehicle to a halt or suffer his wrath.
Initially, according to the Portage la Prairie Weekly Herald, those riding in the automobile felt inclined to disregard his warning, but when they observed the stones in the man’s hand and more of the missiles laying on the seat of the horse-drawn implement, they realized it was in their best interest to accede to his request, so they brought their car to a stop at the side of the street. The local man drove his horse team past the auto and made no further threats. The men in the vehicle then continued their journey, sputtering down the street in their gasoline-fuelled jalopy.
While driving a buggy on a high country graded road in the company of a young lady, Rev. Osborne of Forestville had a similar encounter with an automobile. But in this instance, the reverend and his companion were unarmed and unprepared as the automobile bore down toward them. Rev. Osborne calmed his horse as the auto sped past, but three other machines were soon seen advancing at a hasty pace toward the skittish horse.
As the vehicles approached, the reverend and the young lady jumped off from the buggy. While the auto sped by, Rev. Osborne maintained a firm grip on the reins and was able to keep the horse under control.
But their ordeal wasn’t over, as five more automobiles were heading toward their precarious position on the narrow country road. As the vehicles clipped past, the horse reared up in fright and the buggy was upset. Four of the autos speeding by showed no concern for the plight of the two travellers, but the driver of the trailing vehicle stopped and helped the visibly shaken former occupants of the buggy upright their conveyance.
The automobilist left the pair with the jestful warning that they could expect another 80 cars to appear. Heeding the warning, the reverend and his companion beat a hasty retreat home, although to their relief the promised procession of autos failed to make an appearance.
On the return trip of the automobiles, a MacGregor village councillor and a “machine man” (car driver) tried to control a herd of “western horses, while another “well-known machine man was holding the right-of-way, using as a weapon an oak fence post.”
The MacGregor Herald reported the horses got by the autos without incident, “but the teamster reports that the first couple of machines flew past at a great rate of speed, paying no attention whatever to the frantic horses.”
In an era when “motor machines” were rarely seen in rural Manitoba and horse-drawn vehicles were the primary mode of transportation and teams of horses pulled farm implements, it is not surprising that the participants in the first-ever automobile endurance run from Winnipeg to Brandon and back would be regarded as more of a menace on the road than a harbinger of the shape of things to come.
What happened during the 1907 Winnipeg Automobile Club endurance run is reminiscent of the misadventures of the automobilists in the 1969 movie, Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies, a comedy about a turn-of-the-20th-century auto race across Europe to Monte Carlo. In one scene, an angry French farmer fights with a car driver whose vehicle frightened the farmer’s horse, resulting in a hay rack being upset. This movie scene is a near parallel to incidents that periodically occurred during the early years of the Winnipeg to Brandon endurance run. It’s a case of fiction duplicating the reality of the mishaps that occurred throughout the early-1900s, when endurance races were all the rage across North America and Europe.
In Manitoba, the first so-called long-distance auto races were dictated by finicky performance of the rudimentary machines and the nearly impassable roads. The inaugural run of the Winnipeg Automobile Club was only from Winnipeg to Headingly and back, but that was in itself a great adventure as the route was fraught with perils.
The September 5, 1905, Manitoba Free Press, related the first run for the Dunlop Trophy won by Russell MacLeod, who covered the distance in a time of two hours and 9 1/2 minutes. J. McCullough placed second, while W.C. Power came in third. The trophy was donated to the Winnipeg Automobile Club by the Dunlop Tire Company for what was slated to be an annual competition.
“The course was a rough oval,” according to the newspaper, “a little less than twenty-seven miles in circumference. Starting from Silver Heights, it ran north to the C.P.R. tracks, and then turned west to Headingly, returning by the Portage road (Portage Avenue). Parts of the course were in rather bad shape, more particularly the Portage road.”
No mention is made about the automobiles used in the race, but in 1905 any such machines were decidedly unreliable. As a result, simply completing the distance was a great feat.
On May 23, 1903, the Winnipeg Telegram listed the 19 vehicles then in Winnipeg. According to the article, McCullough owned a gasoline runabout and Power owned a light gasoline touring car. MacLeod, the winner of the first Dunlop Trophy, is not listed among the vehicle owners.
In 1904, the automobile was a rarity on Winnipeg streets. As such, there were constant battles for the right-of-way between “Willie the chauffeur” and “Tommie Horseman,” which was emphasized in a court case reported in the June 9 Telegram. During the trial, horsemen claimed the “noisy autos frightened their horses, and have caused them no end of inconvenience.” The horsemen said the “choo-choo” of automobiles made many horses bolt in fear.
The court case was precipitated by a car owned by Fred Grundy parked in front of his Vaughan Street home. Grundy had covered his automobile with a white tarp to protect it from the rain. Two policemen said the white apparition caused their horses to shy, while rig drivers reported their horses had also been spooked.
Magistrate Thomas Daly agreed with Grundy that his stationary vehicle was not an obstruction to traffic, but still found Grundy guilty and fined him $1, citing the white cover as the sole cause of the trouble.
In 1906, the second annual Dunlop road race was held, but this time around the return trip was from Winnipeg to Stonewall. At the first annual meeting of the Winnipeg Automobile Club on September 21, the executive announced that J.H. Anderson, driving a two-seat 40-hp Columbia automobile with a tonneau (a removable two-
passenger rear seat or a fixed-in-place rear seat which was covered when not in use), was officially the winner of the race.
The trophy was received on Anderson’s behalf by MacLeod, the winner of the previous year’s race. McLeod outlined the events of the race, including the serious accident involving James “Jimmy” Boswell, which he said did not have a bearing on the race’s outcome as alleged by others.
Boswell, one of the city’s better known athletes and an avid car racer, was seriously hurt near Stonewall when his vehicle overturned.
The 1906 race began at the Happyland amusement park (between Portage Avenue and the Assiniboine River in the vicinity of today’s Garfield and Sherburn streets) on Labour Day, September 4, at about 10:30 a.m., with cars leaving at two-minute intervals.
There were nine entrants in the race, which the September 4, 1906, Winnipeg Telegram listed as: W.C. Power, who drove a Russell (manufactured in Toronto by the Russell Motor Company); W.R. Bawlf, who drove a Darracq; J.H. Anderson, who owned a Columbia (at the time, a car noted for its record-breaking runs from Chicago to New York); J.H. McCullough in his Cadillac; the Dominion Automobile Co.’s entry was a Russell; J.M. Dade, who drove a Rambler (a brand name used by the Thomas B. Jeffrey Company between 1900 and 1914); R. MacLeod in his Cadillac; C. Brown, who drove a Marion (a car built in Marion, Indianapolis, Indiana between 1904-15); and Boswell, who drove a Cadillac. Apparently, three drivers slated to enter the race withdrew — L. Grussey (Cadillac), T.O. McKay (four-cylinder Ford), and J. Gibson (Cadillac).
Power had originally intended to enter two cars in the race. In addition to a four-cylinder Russell, a two-cylinder Ford (the Model N produced by Ford from 1906 to 1907 which sold for US $600) is listed as an entry by Power in the run-up to the race. On race day, the Ford was replaced by a Russell listed as the entrant for the Dominion Automobile Co., 362 Portage Ave., which Power managed. The name of the driver of the vehicle was not provided in newspaper accounts of the Stonewall run.
According to a next-day report in the Free Press, “Jimmy Boswell was driving well, and had worked up from seventh position to fourth on the return trip to Winnipeg. When four miles out from the turn he encountered a bit of winding road (six kilometres south of Stonewall) through the bush. It was somewhat rough, but with careful handling was not considered dangerous. On one of the turns he came to grief.
“Beyond Boswell and his assistant, Bert Wells, there was no person present at the time of the accident, so that it is difficult to tell exactly what happened, for though Wells was not seriously hurt, he is unable to tell what took place.”
A later investigation of the road showed that Boswell may have been travelling too fast when he cornered sharply, resulting in the rear wheels skidding and then striking a rock, launching the car into the air. When the Cadillac came down, it struck a boulder, tossing the car over. “From the position in which it was lying, it must have almost up-ended.”
Wells later said the sharp turn was unexpected. He remembered being jarred and then flying through the air. When he came to, he found Boswell pinned under the vehicle, apparently lifeless. That’s when Jack McCullough pulled up in his Columbia and helped free the unconscious man, who was a partner with him in an automobile, bicycle and skate shop called McCullough and Boswell. Newspaper advertisements in 1906 mention that their shop was at a garage in the Granite Curling Club, corner of Ellice and Hargrave, and that they were the “sole agents” for Cadillac (Henry M. Leland formed the Cadillac Motor Company in 1902) and Darracq (Alexandre Darracq, a successful French automobile designer, built his first car in 1896) automobiles. A 1907 advertisement added Royal Tourist automobiles manufactured in Cleveland, Ohio, to their sole agents’ list.
As well, they sold a variety of used cars such as a Ford, two Oldsmobiles (developed by Ransom Eli Olds), a Winton (the Winton Motor Carriage Company was a pioneer United States automobile manufacturer based in Cleveland, Ohio), a Northern (a runabout built by the Northern Manufacturing Company in Detroit, Michigan), and a REO (a car and company named after the initials of Ransom Eli Olds).
While McCullough was at a nearby farmhouse seeking aid, Anderson came upon the accident scene, loaded Boswell into his car’s tonneau — the only automobile with a tonneau in the race — “and with the two men supporting him (Boswell) the race for Winnipeg and medical aid was begun.”
Anderson didn’t spare his car, reaching Winnipeg with such haste that he actually beat the times of the eight other entrants and won the race, finishing with a time of one hour, 46 minutes and 48 seconds. Only three of the cars finished the race in a reasonable time, as most succumbed to accidents or breakdowns.
Boswell was taken to his home and examined by two doctors. He had suffered a heavy blow to his forehead which resulted in a deep gash. It was also feared he had injured his spine.
Boswell’s injuries in 1906 came after he had “snapped” a bone in his neck during a rugby scrimmage while playing for the Winnipeg Rowing Club against St. John’s in 1904. The injury ended his sports career, which included being an American championship rower (senior eights, Worchester, Massachusetts, 1903) and a Canadian championship bicycle racer (national champion in tandem with George Riddle in 1898).
A March 22, 1941, article in the Winnipeg Tribune related how Boswell was a fixture at the old Amphitheatre Arena (just west of Osborne Street near the Assiniboine River, which for years was the city’s main hockey venue), where he sharpened skates and did odd jobs.
In the article, his brother-in-law Charlie Johnstone said Boswell had “entered a fool automobile race (in 1906) without telling any of us. There was an accident ... — and for two weeks he lay on a bed, half dead, half alive.”
But Boswell survived his harrowing experience, and passed away years later on Sunday, September 3, 1944, at age 70.
When Boswell’s car was turned over for examination at the 1906 accident scene, the damage found included a wooden seat smashed to “matchwood,” the steering wheel sheared off, and the steering column bent forward. It was believed Boswell was trapped by the column and so, unlike Wells, had not been thrown clear of the vehicle. Despite the damage, the car’s engine was intact and started when the hand crank was turned (electric ignition systems were a later innovation). As a result, the car was returned to Winnipeg under its own power.
Prior to the accident, McCullough had led for much of the race, “and even after Boswell had been loaded into Anderson’s car he again captured the lead, but the feed pipe from his tank broke, stopping him. However he borrowed a little gasoline from a passing machine and finished third” (Free Press, September 4). McCullough was said to have the fastest car in the race, but lost considerable time when he was forced to make frequent stops to deal with engine troubles.
McCullough was at the forefront of Winnipeg car racing, having won the initial auto race held in the city in 1904 during the Dominion Exhibition at the Winnipeg Industrial Exhibition grounds, which were located immediately north of the CPR rail yards in the city’s North End. Over the two-mile course, McCullough was timed at three minutes 20 and a half seconds. George Erzinger came in second, trailing McCullough by 15 seconds. According to the August 6, 1904, Free Press, Erzinger beat out Powers by a mere four inches at the finish line.
In the 1906 Stonewall run, W. Bawlf, driving a 16-hp Darracq, finished second, a minute and 12 seconds behind Anderson, while McCullough was a minute and a half behind the second-place finisher. Bawlf made the turn first at Stonewall “and had a good lead on his nearest rival, the big yellow Columbia (driven by McCullough), when he had a breakdown and lost about eight minutes” (Telegram, September 4, 1906).
There is no question that automobiles and tests of their capabilities were gaining popularity in Winnipeg as the 20th century progressed. The individuality of automobile ownership challenged the general concept of existing transportation such as mass transit via streetcars, and the rule of horse and buggy which had remained virtually unchanged for decades. Caring for a horse was labour intensive and accommodations and feed were costly in an urban environment.
The advent of the exhaust-belching automobile in the early 1900s and the attractiveness of the personal freedom it provided was the onset of the irrevocable change that was evolving in the way people got from point A to B.
In anticipation of the time when bungalows with two-car garages would thrive along cul-de-sacs due to the influence of the automobile, an article in the July 7, 1906, Free Press, by “E.J.,” predicted that cars “will be one of the most popular features of city travel, and the desire to get to the outskirts will be even more pronounced and more in evidence than it is to-day ...
“Still autoists are looked upon generally as the favored few ..., although it is open to anyone to hire a touring car and penetrate the country beyond the far-outlying districts that are fast being upbuilt by homes of beauty, and enterprise and peopled by happy men and buxom women of very diverse nationalities.”
Although the predictions contained in the article were years in the future, the writer was able to accurately foresee the impact the automobile would eventually have in shaping suburbia.
But when the article was written, cars were still a novelty and a plaything of the more affluent segment of Winnipeg society. It remained for Henry Ford in the coming years to improve the assembly line for car manufacturing and make the automobile affordable to the masses.
Automobiles of the era typically required the presence of a driver and “assistant,” who was expected to manipulate throttles as well as have some mechanical expertise. By 1906, the asistant rode in the vehicle beside the driver, but in the first races, cars hurtled down a track with the assistant hanging on for dear life to the side of a car while perched on a running board. Perhaps the most famous photo demonstrating how this daredevil feat was accomplished is of Henry Ford at the controls of his 1901 Sweepstake racer while his assistant, Ed “Spider” Huff, hangs on to the left-hand side of the vehicle. Huff’s role was to control some of the numerous throttles on the vehicle, a task Ford could not perform on his own.
Ford’s 26-hp two-cylinder automobile averaged 46 mph over the 10 laps of the one-mile oval track at Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and defeated the 70-hp Bullet driven by car-building competitor Alexander Winton. It was Ford’s first and only race, but the $1,000 grand prize later came in quite handy when he established a new auto company to replace his financially-troubled Detroit Motor Company. With the prestige Ford earned from his victory, he was able to attract enough investors to help him fund the creation of the Ford Motor Company in 1903.
In an era when anyone who bought a car could take control of the vehicle without the benefit of a driver’s licence, a 1904 journey from Winnipeg to Stonewall provides an excellent example of how operating an automobile then involved a steep learning curve. In June, “a party of prominent Winnipeg citizens” ended up coming to a stop 10 kilometres north of Stonewall when on the return trip to Winnipeg. Apparently, one member of the party mistook the gas tank opening for the radiator opening, and put water in the tank. With water in the gas tank causing the engine to sputter, it took the men 10 hours to finally reach their destination.
According to the Telegram, three of the party were “now willing to pay for mechanical lessons to be given to the fourth by a practical automobilist.”
(Next week: part 2)