In 1912, Fisher came up with a most outrageous idea to promote the advancement of the automobile. He would build a paved highway spanning the country from coast to coast with the completion in time for San Francisco’s 1915 World Fair. He received a check for $300,000 from Goodyear’s Frank Seiberling, $150,000 from the Packard Motor Company, and checks from Thomas Edison, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. The project would be called “The Lincoln Highway.”
Stretching 3,389 miles, America’s first transcontinental highway crossed the Mississippi at Clinton, Iowa, following sections of the Mormon Trail, and up over the Sierra Nevada at the Donner Pass before reaching San Francisco. This great fete brought the automobile to the farthest reaches of the middle of America.
Back in 1908, to bring attention to this new mode of transportation on a world-wide basis, there was an auto race conducted from New York to Paris with a 150 mile ship passage from Nome, Alaska, across the Bering Strait to East Cape, Siberia. The drivers were facing a considerable challenge given the state of automobile technology and lack of road development. Only three of the six contestants completed the course. The winner was the American team driving a 1907 Thomas Flyer.
The race began in Times Square on Feb. 2, 1908. Six cars representing four nations were at the starting point for what would be a 169-day ordeal. Germany, France, Italy and the United States began with the Protus auto representing Germany, the Zust representing Italy, three cars (De Dion-Bouton, Motobloc and Sizair-Naudin) representing France and the Thomas Flyer representing the United States. In many parts of the world no roads existed at all so the teams often resorted to driving on existing train rails for hundreds of miles.
The American Flyer was in the lead crossing the United States, arriving in San Francisco in 41 days. It was the first crossing of the United States by an automobile. The route then took them to Valdez, Alaska, then by ship to Vladivostok, Siberia, where they began the trip across the continents of Asia and Europe. The Germans’ car, driven by Hans Koeppen, had arrived in Paris on July 30, 1908, but they were penalized a total of 30 days for not going to Alaska and for shipping the Protus part way by rail. The Thomas Flyer also arrived on July 30, 1908, and was declared the winner. The Italians arrived later in September 1908. The winning Thomas Flyer is in the National Automobile Museum.
This race established the reliability of the auto and changed it from an object of amusement for the wealthy to the primary means of transportation. The improvement of roads and the transcontinental roads made travel more enjoyable.
There are still some of these earlier cars driven, mostly on the weekends and appearing in car show events in Seguin.
Starcke Furniture has a 1907 “Little Giant” truck that Hilmar Starcke purchased in 1912 that they use in their advertising. The truck was built by the Chicago Pneumatic Company, which also produced the “Little Giant” model D Jitney delivery truck in 1912. The engines were built by Chicago Pneumatic Company between 1907 and 1917 for mid-sized trucks that could be used as platforms for commercial delivery, eight-passenger buses, fire trucks, and mining.
The Starcke’s chain-driven truck was built specifically for delivery purposes and was purchased by Hilmar when he was attending a furniture manufacturing conference in Chicago in 1912 and delivered by train. Hilmer Starcke sold the truck to Afred Koebig who in turn sold it to the Starcke Furniture Store, still owned by descendants of Hilmar Starcke.
The Seguin Fire Department has a 1916 American La France fire truck in its museum that was the first motorized fire truck in the fire department. The fire department also has a 1922 La France pumper truck that was still used into the 1960s and is used in parades … when they can get it started.
Today, we have cars that park themselves and Uber is test driving vehicles in congested traffic without the touch of a human hand. Sensors warn us if a car is beside us in traffic and automatically start applying the brake if the car in front of us suddenly slows down.
Seguin and the world have come a long way since the days of the first electric car or the Toledo Steamer were being driven along Austin Street.