Alexander Winton’s Odyssey

Alexander Winton’s Odyssey

In this final chapter of this series we join Alexander Winton in the deserts of Nevada on his ill-fated attempt to be the first person to drive from coast to coast. This series was a reprint of articles published in 1901 by Scientific American.

But a kind providence was with us during the storm, and the lightening kept off. Getting up the Wadsworth sand hill, we cut sage brush and kept piling up in front of all four wheels to give them something to hold to and prevent slipping and burrowing in the soft sand until the machine was buried to the axles and it became necessary to use block, tackle and shovels to pull up to the surface. Got to the top at last, but found no improvement in sand conditions.

It was the hardest kind of work to make the slightest progress, but at 5:45 in the evening halted at Desert Station, a place inhabited by D.H. Gates, section boss, his wife, Train Dispatcher Howard (his office, cook house, etc., were all combined in a box car which had been set out on a short siding), and a dozen Japanese section hands.

Passed the night comfortably, and when the road was taken next morning (May 29( at 6 o’clock, the sun was shining and Mr. Gates predicted no rain for the day.

We found the roads somewhat improved and on and on we went through that vast country of magnificent distances. We were in the country where rattlesnakes were thickest, near Pyramid Rock, of which one writer says: “This rock pyramid is alleged to be the home of rattlesnakes so numerous as to defy extermination.”

When out of the machine and walking around bunches of sage brush care was exercised in keeping out of striking range of these venomous reptiles. Mr. Winton has tail end rattles as trophies, but I was so anxious to get close enough to kill the snakes and cut off their tails.

That day we plunged through four unbridged streams, and in one place where a bad washout had occurred, it became necessary for us to build a bridge before the machine would “take the ditch.” We lugged railroad ties – many ties from a pile close to the railroad tracks some distance away. And they were heavier than five-pound boxes of chocolate, but we finally got enough and bumped the machine through and on its way.

Mill City was reached shortly before 5 o’clock. The Southern Pacific agent there said we could never get to Winnemucca (thirty miles to the east) that night because of the sand hills; the quicksand would bury us, he said. Another man who came up discussed the sand proposition with Mr. Winton and told him that there would be only one way in which “that there thang” could get through this thirty miles stretch of quicksand. “How?” asked Mr. Winton. “Load her on a flat car and be pulled to Winnemucca.”

“Not on your life,” retorted the lucky automobilist; into the carriage I jumped, he pulled the lever and off we went. The course led up a hill, but there was enough bottom to the sand to give the wheels a purchase and from the hill summit we forged down into the valley where the country was comparatively level.   Nothing in sight but sage brush and sand, sand and sage brush.

Two miles of it were covered. Progress was slow, the sand became deeper and deeper as we progressed. At last the carriage stopped, the driving wheels sped on and cut deep deep into the bottomless sand. We used block and tackle, go the machine from its hole, and tried again. Same result. Tied more ropes around wheels with the hope that the corrugation would give them sufficient purchase in the sand. Result: wheels cut deeper in less time than before.

It was a condition never encountered by an automobilist in the history of the industry. We were in soft, shifting quicksand where power counted as nothing. We were face to face with a condition the like of which cannot be imagine – one must be in it, fight with it, be conquered buy it, before a full and complete realization of what it actually is will dawn upon the mind.

Mr. Winton said, “Do you know what we are up against here? I told the Plain Dealer that I would put this enterprise through if it were possible. Right here we are met by the impossible. Under present conditions no automobile can go through this quicksand.”  I suggested loading the machine and sending it by freight to Winnemucca.

“No, sir,” he flashed back emphatically. “If we can’t do it on our own power this expedition ends right here, and I go back with a knowledge of conditions and an experience such as no automobilist in this or other country has gained.”

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