The story starts on May 23, 1903, in San Francisco when Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson and Sewall Crocker climbed into the front seat a of second-hand cherry-red Winton touring car and set out for New York City. The trip started as a $50 bar bet. Jackson, who had little experience with automobiles, was challenged on his statement that an automobile could make it coast-to-coast in 90 days. He took the bet, bought the car, and hired Crocker to go along with him as a driver and mechanic.
There were no road maps back then. There were barely roads. Only about 150 miles of pavement existed in the country, all of that within city limits.
The old saw about someone having more money than sense might have applied to Jackson. This was a spur-of-the-moment adventure that should have ended in disaster. Instead, it became a string of small disasters, flat tires, broken parts, and gasoline shortages, that piled up to make a success.
I found only one mention of the trip in an Idaho newspaper while it was taking place. There was a brief story on the front page of the Montpelier Examiner on Friday, June, 19, 1903. Headlined “A Curiosity for this City,” the short piece focused more on the fact the Winton was the first automobile to appear in Montpelier than the trip itself.
Nelson didn’t start getting much newspaper coverage until he had made it a little further east. By the time he hit Chicago on July 17, he got a grand reception from city officials. Publicity for the stunt built with a stop in Cleveland, where the Winton had been built. Outside of Buffalo all three riders were thrown out of the car in a little accident, but none were hurt.
Three? Nelson, of course, and Crocker… And Bud. It seems that when the humans left Caldwell, Idaho on June 12, Nelson discovered he’d left his coat behind at the hotel. They went back to get it and encountered a man with a bull dog along the way. The man suggested that they really needed a mascot for their trip. Nelson had been looking for one, so paid the man $15 and got Bud to climb aboard.
Bud became the star of the trip because, well, dog. And dog with driving goggles. The dust could be irritating on the eyes when you were speeding along at 15 or 20 MPH with no windshield. Bud didn’t seem to mind the goggles and he loved riding in the car.
The two guys and a dog rolled into New York City at 4:30 in the morning Sunday, July 26, 63 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes after leaving San Francisco. Nelson reportedly never did bother to collect on his bet. He spent $8,000 making himself and his dog famous. A 1903 Winton, along with a depiction of Nelson and Bud the dog tells the story of the first cross-county auto trip at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.
Ken Burns did a series for PBS on the adventure, called Horatio’s Drive in 2003, which can found on YouTube.