By Linda Cole
In the early 1900s, less than 150 miles of paved roads could be found on the American landscape. Most roads were little more than unmarked bumpy dirt paths that were largely impassable after a rain storm. If you really wanted to get from one place to another, the train was your best option. Cars were still a new innovation in 1903, and most people thought this “horseless carriage” was a passing fad. However, a man named Horatio Jackson saw the automobile as a grand invention that would change the current mode of transportation. Accepting a challenge to drive a car across America, Jackson, along with his mechanic and Bud the dog, would become the first to make a coast-to-coast trip in a car.
Dr. Jackson, a 31 year old Vermont native, had retired from his medical practice at the turn of the century due to a mild bout with tuberculosis. His wife was the daughter of one of the richest men in Vermont, so money wasn’t an issue. Jackson would eventually go on to serve with distinction in World War I, help establish the American Legion, own the first radio station in Burlington, and become a successful businessman and newspaper publisher. But in 1903, his focus was on the first cross country car trip to win a bet.
Because of his health issues, Jackson wasn’t comfortable staying in Vermont during the winter, so he and his wife spent the winter in San Francisco. On May 18, he was having some drinks with friends and discussing the pros and cons of the automobile. Sometime during the conversation, he was challenged to drive from coast to coast in under 90 days, with a bet of $50 to demonstrate that he really did believe cars were the “next big thing.” (That $50 bet today would be around $1200). Jackson was quick to accept the challenge, and vowed to win the bet to prove everyone wrong.
According to the terms of the wager, Jackson could take a mechanic with him who would also be a co-driver. He chose 22 year old Sewall Crocker, who worked in a gasoline engine factory. Crocker was given the task of choosing the car they would drive. It was a cherry-red 1903 2-cylinder twenty-horsepower Winston touring car made by the Winston Motor Carriage Company. Jackson christened the car “Vermont.”
The men packed the car with sleeping bags, cooking gear, fishing tackle, an ax, pistol, spade, extra tools, items needed to keep the car going over any terrain, and extra water and gas. There were no gas stations along the way in those days. Their plan was to follow basic maps used by cyclists and ask strangers to point out directions. They left San Francisco on May 23, embarking on what would turn out to be a very frustrating and difficult journey to New York City.
Jackson wanted to take a small dog with them, but as they departed San Francisco he was still looking for a canine companion. A Bull Terrier pup joined the men in Idaho 19 days later. After leaving a hotel in Caldwell, Idaho Jackson discovered he had left his coat behind. On the way back to retrieve it, a man stopped them and offered to sell them his dog for $15. Jackson jumped at the offer and named the pup Bud.
The car had no top, so to keep dust and debris from flying into the dog’s eyes, Jackson took a pair of goggles and revamped them to fit Bud’s head. Bud proudly wore them the entire trip. Of course, a dog wearing goggles and riding in the front seat of a car drew attention everywhere they went. In fact, the dog attracted as much attention as the new fangled vehicle. Bud quickly became a favorite of reporters and was featured in many news photos.
On July 26, the car limped into Manhattan after 63 days on the road. Jackson won his $50 bet, but spent $8,000 for food, lodging, supplies, replacement parts, gas and the price of the car. Averaging 71 miles a day, the trio experienced many breakdowns, got stuck in mud far too often, were tossed from the car riding over rough terrain, were constantly covered in dust, fought the weather, and Bud got sick drinking bad water. According to Jackson, Bud was “the only one who used no profanity for the entire trip.”
The road trip grabbed the nation’s attention, gave a boost to the auto industry, and proved it was possible to travel America by car. Bud spent the rest of his days with Jackson and his wife in Vermont – unaware that he was famous for being the first dog to cross America in a car.
Read more articles by Linda Cole