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Then and now in auto world
by Larry Wilson
Aug 04, 2008 | 587 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As the beautifully restored cars of Hot August Nights begin to grace our streets, it is fitting that we are celebrating the centennial of the Around the World car trip. The car that won that race is housed as part of the permanent collection at our own local National Automobile Museum, located on Lake Street in Reno.

The weathered old car has obviously seen better days – haven’t we all? But all those little dings and scratches should speak volumes as to what that car has been through. We complain and grumble every summer when the seemingly endless orange traffic control cones make their appearance as the season’s road work is performed. The irony is that the old car in question performed her remarkable feat when there weren’t any roads to maintain anywhere, for the most part. In fact, there weren’t many cars on any roads in 1908 to even worry about maintaining any roads. When there were those roads to maintain, there weren’t any orange cones either. As much as we cuss them, the orange cones are an improvement over what they used to use. For all the old-timers in the audience, remember the little, round, black kerosene lanterns they would light at night to signify that roadwork was taking place at a site? Those smelly, sooty old things. Not only couldn’t you see them very well, but they were a mess when they were lit, to boot.

The tires were made of pure rubber, which, if you’re familiar with pure rubber, you’ll know it is softer than the butyl rubber our current tires are constructed with. Thus, they do not hold up to any real abuse of any kind. In the days of our famous racer, you were constantly fixing flat tires. If you see the car in the museum, you’ll see they carried several spare tires just for that reason. Not only that, but the availability of tires in general was non-existent if one was destroyed along the way for whatever reason.

Along the route of the race there were no repair shops. Many people who saw the racer probably had never seen a car before, much less know how to repair it or have spare parts for it. If our cars break down now, we either go buy parts for it and repair it ourselves or have it towed to a repair shop and have it repaired locally. We always marvel at all the jobs that have been spun off as a result of the space program; think how many jobs have been spun from the manufacture of the automobile. Everybody is a shade tree mechanic of some sort or another.

Navigation was another area where the racers would have had problems. The California Automobile Association didn’t exist to provide maps and directions to the racers as they could do today. There probably weren’t any maps even. When the one old guy said, “Go west, young man, go west,” that was probably as much direction as they would get in some areas.

Fuel was another problem. We think we have problems at $4 or $5 a gallon today; try no gas at all. They probably had to bring it in by wagon and have refueling points along the route of the race, which was handy as long as you could get to the refueling point.

We haven’t even talked about other things they had to take with them on the trip. How about clothes, foul weather gear, tents, sleeping blankets, money, guns, matches, toilet paper, etc. ... Come on, you guys have gone on trips, haven’t you? They needed lots of things for themselves and the race car. Go see that old race car at the automobile museum. I know the old Thomas Flyer would appreciate it and while you’re at it, really enjoy all those restored old cars that we’ll see lots of this week during Hot August Nights.

Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. You can contact him at
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