by Bruce Cherney (part 3)
As the cars entered in the 1908 Oldsmobile Trophy endurance run
approached Brandon, they had to climb over a steep hill created by the erection of a temporary railway bridge over the Assiniboine River, which “proved to be in a very treacherous state, most of the vehicles slipping and sliding all over the place ...”
The August 22, 1908, Manitoba Free Press described the conditions on the manmade hill as “beyond description, making it necessary for the cars to make the trip up the short sharp approach and down the slide on the other side one at a time.”
The automobiles inched their way up and down the hill “crab fashion,” sometimes travelling “broadside” as they slid from side to side.
One casualty of the hill was J.J. Borebank’s McLaughlin Buick, which lost traction and crashed through a wire fence, nearly ending up in the Assiniboine River. The occupants of the vehicle, Mrs. Borebank and Mr. and Mrs. Higgins, were said to have received a “very bad fright,” but becoming entangled in the “stout” fence wire prevented the vehicle and its occupant from tumbling into the river. When the car finally ended its descent thanks to the fence, it was teetering precariously on the riverbank.
“What the result would have been, had the fence carried away, is too horrible to contemplate, as nothing could have stopped the machine from plunging down the bank into the river,” commented the Free Press reporter on the scene.
Although no name is attributed to the series of articles about the endurance run, the accounts were written by Free Press automotive editor A.C. “Ace” Emmett, who travelled in a Russell automobile entered by the Canada Cycle & Motor Co. The car was driven by M.F. Luke, while C.E. Dingle was also along for the ride. Emmett was a founding member of the Winnipeg Automobile Club and became known as “Mr. Manitoba Motor League” for his 40-year dedication to the goals of the league, including the creation of a better road system in Manitoba.
While climbing the same hill over the temporary bridge, G.A. Mitchell missed a gear, but unlike Borebank avoided trouble by steering his car to the side of the road. He then found the proper lower gear to overcome the incline.
Between 6:30 and 8 p.m., the cars reached Brandon and were put under lock and key in the 10th Street fair building, where they were to be inspected by the judges.
W.C. Power, in the pathfinder car, was the first to arrive in the “Wheat City” at 6:30 p.m. Following closely on “his heels” were the cars owned by W.R. Bawlf, Mrs. S. Nicholson, C.H. Newton, R. Macleod, F. Luke and W.E. Wright. After noting the times of these arrivals, Power went back in his car to the temporary bridge in order to warn the remaining drivers “to negotiate the bridge portion with the utmost caution.”
According to the Free Press summation of the run, “the passengers were divided between the Empire, Imperial and Langham hotels, where a well-provided supper table and the luxuries of a good bed soon made them forget the sliding finish to the day’s run.”
On Sunday, August 16, many of the automobilists awoke from their sleep at 6 o’clock in the morning only to be greeted by a heavy rain. According to the Free Press, “one or two who had been troubled with nightmares full of side slipping cars, turned over and went to sleep again.
“It was a current joke that one man who had a most strenuous time steering his car in the grease, had disturbed his bed fellow by his desperate efforts to steer the bed around a corner during his period of nightmares.”
The more adventurous motorists took to the road to visit the Brandon Experimental Farm, and “were well rewarded for the trip by the beautiful and varied appearance of the great variety of crops either harvested or approaching the ripening stage.”
It was a scheduled one-day stay in the “Wheat City,” so on Monday morning the cars began to depart from the staging point in front of the Imperial Hotel for the return journey to Winnipeg.
The pathfinder vehicle was the first on the road and was given a 10-minute start before car No. 1, a Royal Tourist owned by Bawlf, left at 8:40 a.m. He was followed by A.W. Elliott of Brandon, president of the Manitoba Motor League, who drove a Chatham car, and was accompanied by Brandon Mayor Stephen Emmett Clement and P. Purcell, the editor of the Brandon Sun. Next in order came E.L. Christie of Brandon in “his big Thomas,” with passengers W.M. Clement, Mrs. Christie, Mrs. A.C. Douglas and Mrs. Wilson.
The remaining drivers and passengers left Brandon in the order of the numbers allotted their vehicles at the start of the endurance run in Winnipeg, but the mayor and the vehicle in which he rode left the procession when the Brandon Exhibition grounds were reached.
The route taken after leaving Brandon was due south for a considerable distance, with the road laying between two large wheat fields. The surface was smooth, “making this portion of the run the most pleasant we had to this time.”
Besides being a test of their vehicles, the run allowed many of the participants to have a first-time glimpse of southwestern Manitoba’s natural beauty. To their delight, what they discovered was that there was more to the prairie landscape than just vast expanses of bald, flat land. It became a journey into a new visual experience.
“Six miles out of Brandon a wonderful pretty scene met the eye as the cars topped the long rise. On the left a small lake lay in the dip of the valley, looking like a jewel in a setting of green trees. A large farm house on the right surrounded by a beautiful grove of maple, spruce and elm trees denoted the home of some prosperous farmer, whilst the fields of golden grain, in which the reapers were busy, promised a great harvest.”
The two-mile long procession entered the town of Carroll, 32 kilometres from Brandon. A telephone call from Brandon alerted the local residents to their coming, allowing them to gather and greet the cars passing through their community. It was at this stage that Christie and his passengers took their leave and returned to Brandon.
Just over three kilometres from Carroll, the cavalcade reached the home of MLA A.H. Carroll, the “father” of Manitoba Vehicle Act, which made drivers’ licences and vehicle registration mandatory. Carroll was outspoken about the alleged dangers posed by drivers and their vehicles as they travelled the province’s roads.
Carroll told the Manitoba legislature that the act was necessary to protect the public from careless drivers. The Brandon South MLA said the province had been allowing “incapable persons to attempt to run machines so menacing to public safety on the roads and streets, endangering countless lives ...”
Speaking on behalf of a constituent, Carroll said that the farmer, while delivering wheat to an elevator, had his horse team spooked by a motorist. The horses ran off, tipping the farmer’s wagon and spilling a better part of its load onto the road. Carroll said the people in the car didn’t stop to help the farmer but sped off laughing at his plight.
Carroll told the legislature that so many accidents had occurred that “mothers of little children live in daily dread of having their wee sons and daughters brought home hurt or perhaps lifeless through the carelessness, stupidity or even common brutality of (car drivers).”
Despite his criticisms, Carroll said he wasn’t an automobile foe; after all, he intended to purchase a horseless carriage as soon as he raised the necessary funds. Instead, what he objected to was some newcomer in a vehicle driving a “pioneer of the country” off the road.
Whatever his views, Carroll and his wife enthusiastically greeted the automobile “tourists,” serving them refreshments which included “beautiful cream and new homemade bread and butter.”
When addressing his guests, Carroll explained that he had done his best to ensure the new legislation was “fair and equitable.” He mentioned that there had been instances when motorists had not abided by the spirit of the new law. But farmers had found “on the whole” that motorists were willing to accommodate them “in every way possible,” he added.
The MLA’s strong views were obviously well known to his guests. Professor McDermid, speaking on behalf of the Winnipeg Automobile Club, replied, as paraphrased in the Free Press, “that it was the intention of the club to do everything that lay in their power to promote a friendly spirit between motorists and the farmers, and other users of the road, and trusted that they would all realize this fact ...”
McDermid told the MLA that use of the province’s roads required mutual give and take to produce harmony on both sides of the debate.
After leaving Carroll and his wife, the procession made its way over a trestle bridge crossing the Souris River. A sharp hair-pin curve at the foot of the bridge brought them to a short but very steep grade. As had been the case after Carberry, Mitchell in his Olds missed a gear, but managed to regain control of his vehicle and successfully reached the summit enabling him to proceed without further incident.
Still some distance from the bridge, the drivers realized that the pathfinder car was nowhere in sight. They had overshot the junction where they were expected to turn, “necessitating the election of No. 4 Russell, MacLeod’s car, as temporary pathfinder, T. Matheson, of Brandon, acting as guide.”
The motorists retraced the road for about three kilometres, “when a sharp turn east, followed for about another two miles (3.2 kilometres), brought the tourists to the main trail (for much of the route from Winnipeg and return, the drivers followed trails beside railway tracks which farmers had created to deliver grain by wagon to sidings), where signs of the pathfinder were again in evidence, a short run bringing them to Minto, at which town a stop had to be made in order to allow the townspeople to secure a photograph” as a souvenir of the run.
Between Minto and Boissevain, C.H. Newton’s car came to a sudden halt when an engine connecting rod had seized up. Newton’s car was left behind to await the arrival of the repair car bringing up the rear, its designated position throughout the endurance run.
The other drivers reached Boissevain in time for lunch at 12:35 p.m., after which they proceeded to Killarney where they were meet by a committee made up of acting-mayor A.G. Hay. prominent citizens R.W. Compton and A.W. Nelles, and local MLA George Lawrence.
According to local folklore, Killarney was named in 1883 by the Irish-born surveyor John Sidney O’Brien, who was celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by tossing back a bottle of “Good Irish” whiskey along the shore of then-called Oak Lake. While in his cups, he began to sadly recall the town and lake in his native County Kerry, Ireland. In a melancholy state, O’Brien poured a wee bit of whiskey into the lake and rechristened it Killarney, the name the lake and town is known by today. The town of Killarney was incorporated in 1906, just two years prior to the arrival of the automobilists.
The citizens of Killarney invited all the endurance run entrants for a trip on the lake, which was readily accepted. “The cars were formed into procession and, accompanied by the reception committee, proceeded to the lake side, where the Killarney ladies’ band greeted their arrival with the strains of the beautiful old Irish melody ‘Killarney.’”
After their voyage on the lake, the motorist again took to the trail, passing quickly through Holmfield and Clearwater en route to Crystal City, where a stop was made to allow the pathfinder car to get ahead of the vehicles.
At Pilot Mound, another reception committee had been formed comprised of Mayor Ferguson, MLA J.B. Baird and town councillors. The ladies of Pilot Mound then presented Edna Wicker, who rode in the first car to reach the town, a bouquet of flowers.
By this time, the many stops in the towns of southwestern Manitoba had caused a considerable delay, and when the cars left Pilot Mound, darkness had set in, necessitating “the lighting up of the big gas headlights for the run to La Rivière. The entrance to the last named community was via a long climb by a steep hill followed by a bridge at the base where the pathfinder car sat with its “searchlights” shining on the approach to the bridge. Loose wooden planks on the bridge alerted the townsfolk to the presence of the vehicles. Despite the late hour, the local residents started a huge bonfire to light the “stiff climb” on the other side of the town.
“The scene from the hill top will be remembered for a long time,” according to Free Press writer Emmett, “the searchlights of each car as it made the ascent, throwing a strong ray of light that brought prominently into view the beautiful trees lining the roadway, whilst the long line of lights on the cars waiting to make the ascent formed a beautiful picture with the leaping flames from the huge bonfire as that touch to add to the general effect.”
It was at the foot of the outward bound hill that Newton, his car repaired over a four-hour period, rejoined the procession. After cresting the hill, the cars proceeded on their eastward trek toward Manitou, where the travellers were scheduled to stay the night.
A casualty on this leg of the journey was the Oldsmobile owned by C.A. Walker, which lost a wheel due to excessive speed when taking a corner, according to the newspaper report. It was necessary to send to Winnipeg for a new wheel in order for the Olds to continue its journey.
The cars began arriving at Manitou at 11 p.m. and the motorists were treated to the same warm welcome earlier experienced at other communities along the route. In fact, only a handful of those involved in the endurance run could find accommodations in the local hotel, resulting in the remainder relying upon the goodwill of local residents who offered their homes as overnight billets.
Before they could retire for the evening, the excursionist stored their cars in a makeshift garage at the Manitou skating rink, where the judges began their inspection of the vehicles.
The next morning a late start at 10 a.m. was made “in order to allow the ladies an opportunity of getting a good night’s sleep,” and the judges to conclude their inspections.
The next leg was a 32-kilometre run to Carman where lunch was scheduled.
Along the way, some became enthralled by a large old-time sod stable. Although in a state of decay, its fascination was as a reminder of pioneer days when cattle were accommodated in such structures throughout the province. The relic distracted the drivers and passengers from the road and when they unexpectedly encountered a gully a short distance ahead it amused the more attentive excursionists to observe them “bumping the bump.”
“The writer was as badly bitten as any of them, going into the air for several feet and finally landing back in his seat with the impression that something was missing from his spinal column.”
After the brief lunch at Carman, the drivers and their passengers set off for Elm Creek, where another brief stop was made to hear Professor McDermid provide final instructions for the procession’s entry into Winnipeg.
Following the speech, the vehicles proceeded to Starbuck, “where sheaves of wheat were secured with which to decorate the cars and give Winnipeggers some idea of the harvest.”
The excursion run entered Winnipeg via the new subdivision of Crescentwood, travelled through Fort Rouge, and then over the Osborne Bridge to Broadway to Kennedy Street and finally drove down Portage Avenue to the Free Press office “where the most successful undertaking ever promoted by the automobile club came to a close at 7:35 p.m.” on Tuesday, August 17.
In fact, it wasn’t really the end of the 1908 Winnipeg Automobile Club endurance run. Following the run, judges H.M. Blecher, George Matheson and Professor D.W. McDermid announced that four of the vehicles had finished with perfect scores, necessitating a tie-breaker and delaying a final decision on the outcome of the run for nearly three weeks.
Penalties were assessed to cars for any work done at a rate of two points per minute, while no penalty was given for tire repairs unless such repairs took over two hours. Passengers in the cars were permitted to help with tire repairs. Each evening of the run and at its completion, the car owners were required to hand in a report to the judges.
On August 22, the Free Press’’ Emmett speculated on the outcome of the endurance run. The writer reported more than half the cars had completed the Brandon run with “what was to all intents and purposes a perfect record (based on ‘adjustments,’ i.e, repairs, undertaken along the route), although some of them lost a point or two on brake adjustments or the loss of some little part that would not cause actual delay on the road, but is yet necessary to penalize for, in order that the proper fitting of these parts may be shown to be an absolute necessity in order to obtain the perfect score.”
A few of the minor point deductions included the fitting of a nut without a cotter pin to prevent the loss of the nut as the vehicle rattled and shook down the less-than-ideal roads along the route.
Immediately after the endurance run, it was reported by the newspaper that the judges had determined that W.E. Wright’s Russell, car No. 7, had not stopped for any “troubles of any description” so had a perfect score. The only stop for Mrs. S. Nicholson’s Packard, car No. 2, was to repair a tire puncture, but that didn’t detract from a perfect score. Car No. 10, the McLaughlin Company’s Buick, didn’t make any stops, but the car finished the run with a loose emergency brake, which was also not regarded by the newspaper as a good reason to prevent the vehicle from being awarded a perfect score. During the “perfect run” of the Canada Cycle & Motor Co. Russell, car No. 6, the only stop was to tighten a loose ground wire.
Other “perfect scores” were awarded to Manitoba Minister of Public Works Robert Roger’s car No. 16 Packard, its only stop being due to tire troubles, and R. McLeod in his Cadillac had the minor trouble of a front broken spring hanger. The Cadillac had only returned to Winnipeg on the day of the endurance tour, having just completed a run to Chicago and entered the contest without any “adjustments” being made to the vehicle due to the time constraint.
Sweatman’s McLaughlin-Buick was said to have lost points as a result of a “missing spring clip and some minor points not affecting running.”
The newspaper predicted that the Oldsmobile Trophy would eventually be awarded to Mrs. S. Nicholson for the second time, “as the tire trouble met on the second day’s run does not count against the car, and therefore has a perfect score as far as the judges are concerned.”
Another possible first-place finisher was W.E. Wright’s Russell, which completed the run without a “hitch” of any consequence.
The decision was reached to stage a run to Portage la Prairie and back in order to break the tie. To ensure an impartial outcome, a new set of judges — McLeod, Newman, Matheson and McDermid — was announced.
According to the original judgement addressed to W.E. Wright, secretary of the Winnipeg Automobile Club: “After careful consideration of the daily card reports, and examination and testing of the cars at Brandon and Winnipeg, we find that the cars owned by E. Nicholson, W.E. Wright, Hon. Robert Rogers and Joseph Maw all finished with a perfect score of 1,000 points.”
In an interview with the Toronto Sunday World (published September 13), Power, while visiting the Ontario city, claimed Wright’s Russell should not have been awarded a perfect score as it lost three points on the second day of the run. A letter written to the Free Press by an individual calling himself “Fair Play,” published in the September 19 edition of the newspaper, pointed out the “glaring untruthfulness of the statement,” which was made “apparent by the judges placing it in the perfect score class.”
(Next week: part 4)