We are never bored when we wander. There are always things that capture our attention. It may be something we find beautiful, or educational, or interesting, or simply amusing, like the whacky-quacky characters above. The store caught us by surprise with its large duck and all of its ducklings that represent a multitude of professions and occupations from kings to rabbits. We had a traditional rubber ducky for awhile. It lived beside our bathtub and was occasionally known to go for a dip. I suspect we still have it, packed away for the time being. Do you have a rubber ducky? Are you willing to confess to it? Note the bike reflected in the window. As I said in my last post, it’s hard to take a photo in Amsterdam that doesn’t include one.
Our next major series will be on our Rhine River trip where we will take you along the river, introduce several castles, visit cities like Heidleburg, and make a journey into the Black Forest. But first, I thought it would be fun to take a quick break and catch you up to date on our present journey where Peggy and I will take you into Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Get ready for seeing rock spires instead of church spires and communing with prairie dogs, big horn sheep and buffalo, up close and personal from the safety of our truck.
I first stopped off in Amsterdam in 1967 on my way home from a two year stint of teaching World and African History to high school students in West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Peggy was a high school exchange student in the Netherlands at the time. She made several trips to the city. Imagine if we had bumped into each other!
I’d already visited Athens, Rome, Geneva, and Madrid when I arrived in the city. Only London was left on my whirlwind tour of Europe. In three weeks I was supposed to be in Philadelphia, teaching at a black, inner-city school. But first, I had to fly to California, visit with family, buy a car, and drive back across the country. I also had to check in with my draft board in Placerville. A war was raging in Southeast Asia and it had quotas to meet. It wanted my body.
One might think with all of this that my memories of Amsterdam would be vague, at best. But there was something about the city that captured my imagination. The canals were part of it, but there was also a rich history, buildings with personality, and great food connected to its Dutch/East Asia history. On later trips, I would add its passion for bicycles and liberal policies regarding prostitution and marijuana. The latter two because I felt that their prohibition created a lot more problems than their legalization.
Peggy and I were in Amsterdam this past summer in preparation for our boat trip up the Rhine River. Actually, we had planned the trip two years earlier to celebrate Peggy’s 70th birthday. Our kids and grandkids were joining us. And then covid had hit. We were fortunately able to reschedule it. The fact that our boat left from Amsterdam was a plus. We planned to spend a few days in the city before and after the trip to take advantage of our luck. The photos for today’s post and next Friday’s will focus on our time in the city. Today, I will feature canals, street scenes and bikes. Next Friday will be devoted to the city’s unique buildings and other things we found interesting and fun. Note: Peggy didn’t carry her Canon camera while we were in Amsterdam. She had decided to experiment with her iPhone, examples will be in the next post. 🙂
Amsterdam claims the title of Bicycle Capital of the World. Five minutes in the city is enough to agree. They are everywhere. It wasn’t the case in 1967 when I first visited. Like most other cities in the developed world, automobiles were in ascendance. Communities were being plowed over to make way for freeways. Bikes, people, houses and historic structures were considered impediments to the flow of traffic. Bicycle advocates in Amsterdam fought back in the 70s and government officials listened. It was a battle I also fought in Sacramento City and County where I organized the first county-wide conference of bike advocates to push for bicycle friendly policies on a city and county-wide basis. Bikes had served as my primary form of transportation at UC Berkeley and in Africa. I continued to commute in Sacramento. (My advocacy for bikes and other forms of alternative transportation would eventually lead to the City Traffic Engineer walking out of meetings when I walked in. When I was nominated for the board of the mass transit district, the mayor said ‘over his dead body.’ I probably shouldn’t have been proud of these reactions, but I was. Grin. BTW, I got the nomination.)
For those of you who are keeping track of Peggy’s and my journey, we are now in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Tomorrow we will be in Badlands National Park.
It was George Schuster’s turn to drive as the Thomas Flyer was loaded onto a freighter to be shipped to Valdez, Alaska. The race committee had envisioned the racers making their way from Valdez across Alaska following dog sled trails and frozen ice covered rivers to Nome where they would cross the frozen Bering Strait into Siberia. There was a slight problem. The race committee had made its decision while sitting in Paris without a clue about what driving across Alaska in March would entail! Or whether the Bering Strait would be frozen. None of them had ever been to the remote Territory that America had bought from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million. All they knew was it looked good on a map. Who needs roads?
The Flyer had a substantial lead when it left San Francisco— the three remaining competitors were several states behind still making their way across America. Schuster intended to maintain that lead. He arrived in Valdez with the whole population out to greet him. The Flyer was the first car to make it to the town and most residents had never seen one.
George wasted little time basking in the glow of his new role as driver. He immediately borrowed a horse and sled to check out the beginning of the route. He found it was impossible and concluded that the only way the vehicles could get across Alaska would be if the cars were taken apart and shipped by dog sled. The Great Auto Race would have been turned into an early day Iditarod, which in itself, is an undertaking of massive proportions— even in modern times.
Once again the route was changed. Return to the lower 48, the race committee told Schuster, and ship to Japan on a freighter and then on another one to Vladivostok, Russia. Which he did. The next day, the Flyer team and Flyer were on a boat heading south from Alaska. His challenge when he arrived in Seattle was that the other three cars were now ahead of him on their way to Asia.
The Race Committee decided to award Schuster with an extra 15 days for his lost time in checking out Alaska. The Italian Zust and the French Dion would have to beat him to Paris by two weeks to win the race. The Protos would have to beat him by a month! Lieutenant Koeppen’s car had broken down in Utah and he had shipped it to the West Coast via rail and on to Vladivostok for repairs. Unlike Goddard, he had asked permission. And there was some confusion over the rules. Instead of disqualifying him, the race committee chose to penalize him an extra 15 days for the rail trip and for skipping Japan.
The four competitors met up in Vladivostok where they were confronted by Russian officials who advised them to take the Trans-Siberian Railway to Europe. They would be “met on the road by Chinese brigands, Manchurian tigers, fever, plague, pestilence, famine—to say nothing of the mud after three months of rain, mosquitoes as big as locusts and other similar delights,” the Russians warned. It seems that the owners of the De Dion-Bouton company took them at their word. Or maybe the race appeared unwinnable or too expensive. Whatever the reason, the De Deon was withdrawn. Now there were three competitors: The American Thomas Flyer, the Italian Zust and the German Protos.
The racers apparently avoided the brigands, tigers, fever, plague, pestilence, and famine, but there was plenty of mud— they kept getting stuck. And, I imagine, encountered the locust-sized mosquitoes when they were digging out.
When they reached Europe, they were finally rewarded with a decent road system. The race became a down-to-the-wire sprint between the Americans and the Germans. The Italian Zust was still in Siberia, likely stuck in the mud, some 3,000 miles behind. ER Thomas sent Schuster a telegraph urging him to turn the driving over to Monty Roberts, the race car driver who had driven the Flyer from NYC to Wyoming. “This made me so mad I could have eaten nails,” Schuster would later write. His response at the time would have been more colorful. After everything that he had been through with the Flyer in Siberia, his tense no-thank-you reply to Thomas was that he would be driving the car across the finish line. Period. Which he did.
The Protos had arrived four days earlier. Given the 30 day penalty, it was still 26 days behind the Flyer, however— a fact that really irritated the Kaiser. The Americans rolled into Paris on the evening of July 30 to crowds shouting, “Vive le car Americain!” There was one last challenge. The lights on the Flyer had gone out and Schuster was driving after dark. A policeman stopped the car and threatened to arrest him on the spot. A quick-thinking Parisian threw his bicycle with a light onto the car. The policeman relented and Schuster drove on to the finish line. And fame. He’d even be invited to meet with Teddy Roosevelt on his return.
The win had a significant impact on America. For one, it showed that American automobiles could match the best coming out of Europe at the time. The successful drive across America also proved that the car could become a serious form of transportation, something other than a rich man’s toy. And finally, it created a demand for better roads in America. Asphalt was invented in 1910, and the Lincoln Highway, Americas first cross-country road, was started in 1912.
Schuster was promised a life-long job with the E.R. Thomas company for his role. Unfortunately, the company went out of business in 1912. (Schuster would live on to 99.) When the company went belly up, the Flyer was sold and more or less disappeared. It was granted a second life in 1963 when Bill Harrah of the gaming empire tracked it down for his classic car collection and returned it to its pre-race condition. He even brought Schuster out to verify that it was the Flyer that the won the race. (Schuster recognized some of the on-road repairs he had made.) The Flyer became part of the donation that the Harrah family made to the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada. It was there that I found the vehicle and was inspired to do this series.
My posts are few and far between. Part of the reason is the times. There is just too much happening now between the pandemic, the fires, and the election. As noted before, these are scary times, more scary than any other time in my 77 years. The other is that I love research and the Great Race has me fascinated. Just when I think I have exhausted my resources I find another article or more photos. This time it was 350 photos of the race stored in the Henry Ford Museum, a virtual treasure trove. Most of the photos in today’s post are from the museum.
As the participants rolled out of Nebraska, they experienced their first real taste of the ‘Wild West.’ The unending farmlands of the Midwest gave way to the drier, open lands and vast vistas of Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. The terrain also changed. The flat and rolling plains the automobilists had been driving through across the Great Plains turned to towering mountains and deserts. The Rockies, the Great Basin and Death Valley lay ahead. Towns and cities became farther apart. People fewer. The already poor roads the racers had been following became little more than tracks in the dirt.
The animals also got wilder and bigger. The Zust team claimed they were surrounded by a pack of 50 or so wolves that circled their car yipping with anticipation on a dark and stormy night in Wyoming. Blowing the horn and using the spotlight didn’t discourage the hungry predators. They kept circling closer. It was only when the team broke out their rifles and shot several that the wolves decided that they hadn’t been invited to dinner. Local townspeople gathered up the hides the next day and sold them for the bounty paid by the government. The wolves’ taste for an occasional cow would lead to their eventual eradication in the West.
Not everyone made it to the Rockies. Baron Godard, who had driven another car from Peking to Paris in 1907, met his match in Iowa. Between being bogged down in mud and snow, getting lost, and having serious car problems, he decided to ease his journey west by loading his Moto-Bloc onto a train and shipping it to the coast. “San Francisco, here I come!” It broke the rules.
A photographer caught the Baron loading the Moto-Bloc onto the rail car. “Quit the race, sell the car, and return home,” the manufacturer telegraphed him. The French, who had started with three entries, were down to one. The greater glory of France now depended on G. Bourcier de St. Chaffray driving the French De Dion-Bouton— which is quite a mouthful to say.
The Thomas Flyer team had other ideas about who would win the glory. When they reached Cheyenne, Wyoming, the Flyer was a week ahead of its nearest competitor, the Zust. The De Dion was in third. And the Protos fourth. Given the quality of the vehicle, Monty Robert’s driving ability, and George Schuster’s mechanical talent— not to mention sheer determination— the team had been ahead for most of the race. It was a position they had every intention of keeping. The car was about to lose its driver, however. Monty had other race commitments back east and in Europe. He hoped to rejoin the team when it entered Europe to drive over better roads and, I imagine, harvest the fame of crossing the finish line first. E. Linn Mathewson, a Thomson Flyer car dealer, took over the driving from Cheyenne to Ogden, Utah. Harold Brinker, an auto racer out of Denver, drove the car into San Francisco. Schuster would take over then.
Getting into the spirit of the West, George bought a Colt six-shooter pistol before leaving Cheyenne. Who knew what lurked out in the wilds of Wyoming? Wolves or outlaws, perhaps? Best to be prepared.
Peggy and I had followed the route of the race in Nebraska from Grand Island to North Platte where we spent the night at Buffalo Bill’s ranch as the Flyer had in 1908. We then continued to follow the route to Ogallala where we detoured to follow the Oregon Trail, which early pioneers had used in the 1840s, 50s and 60s. (Posts coming.) I was eager to check out the route that ancestors on both sides of my family had travelled looking for a better life— either by farming in the Northwest or striking it rich in California. So, we missed Cheyenne. We rejoined the race route for a brief time, however, between Rock Springs and Fort Bridger, Wyoming, when the Oregon Trail dipped south.
Ely, Nevada was the next point where our summer road trip crossed paths with the race route. We passed through the town on our way east when we were following Highway 50, the “Loneliest Road in America.” (Another post.) Ely feels like it is in the middle of nowhere. And it is. It would have felt much more so in 1908. The Flyer had made its way south from Wendover, Utah following what is now Highway 93 (more or less) to Ely and then continued southwest across the Nevada desert following today’s Highway 6 (more or less) to Tonopah.
Along the way, it passed by what would become Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway. Think UFOs. I’ve been interested in flying saucers ever since I saw one in 1969. The participants in the Great Race didn’t report seeing any, however. Darn. (As an aside, I found it interesting that both the Pentagon and Japan’s military have set up task forces in the past couple of months to track UFOs. A little Twilight Zone music might be appropriate here.) But back to the race.
It was in Tonopah and the town of Goldfield 27 miles to the south that we first learned of the Great Race. In fact, we’ve driven the route followed by the Flyer from Tonopah south through Goldfield, the now ghost town of Rhyolite, and across Death Valley many times. I’ve actually ridden my bicycle over most of the route the race followed through Death Valley and on to Bakersfield, California.
When the Flyer was late in arriving in Tonopah, several residents drove out the road to see if there was a problem. They found the Flyer broken down and Schuster sleeping in a bunkhouse. (Another version of the story has him walking toward Tonopah.) He was roused out, given a ride to town, borrowed parts from a Thomas Flyer owned by a local doctor, fixed the car, and arrived to a jubilant welcome. Pretty much the whole town greeted the team.
Cowboys and miners shooting their pistols into the air welcomed them to Goldfield. It was a cast of characters. There is still a cast of characters living there! (And a speed trap.) Crossing Death Valley, the Flyer had to put on balloon tires to get through the deep sand. Stovepipe Wells offered its only water.
The Thompson Flyer rolled into San Francisco on March 24th, the first car to travel across America in the winter. The team was given a hero’s welcome. Factories blew their whistles and cars honked their horns. Its nearest competitor, the Zust, was still 700 miles away. The first phase of the race was over for the Flyer. Schuster was now to become the driver. He was eager to get to Alaska for the next phase of the race.
NEXT POST: Schuster travels to Valdez, Alaska to check out the next section of the race and the route is once again changed. Cars will be shipped to Japan and then on to Vladivostok, Russia where their next challenge will be crossing Mongolia and Siberia.
I ended my first post on the 1908 Great Race from New York City to Paris with the six competitors zooming down Broadway on their way out of New York City as a crowd of 250,000 roared them on. Their original route had already been changed by the organizers. Instead of driving half way across the US and then up though Canada to the Bering Strait, they would work their way across the nation and then take a boat up to Valdez where they would continue the Alaska portion of the race over dog sled trails and ice-covered rivers.
But first they had to get across the US starting in winter, no small task considering no one had ever accomplished it. Roads would be rough to non-existent. There were no maps or gas stations, or asphalt— it had yet to be invented. In some areas the drivers would be forced to drive over railroad tracks, a guaranteed bumpy ride! Remember the ads when automobile manufacturers would show how good the shocks on their cars were by driving down railroad tracks with an egg balanced on a spoon? You would have to fast forward to the 60s and 70s for that level of suspension.
Problems began immediately. The one-cylinder, small French Sizaire-Naudin dropped out of the race on the first day at mile 96 with a broken differential. The remaining five vehicles soon found themselves plowing through two feet or more of snow in a blizzard. Except in cities, no handy-dandy horse drawn snow plows were around to clear roads. George Schuster, the mechanic for the Thomas Flyer, walked ahead of his vehicle poking a stick into the snow to measure its depth. Or maybe he was looking for the road!
The slow progress came to a dead halt in Dismal Hollow outside of Auburn, New York. The name alone suggests a horror-story-level disaster. The cars became hopelessly bogged down as night approached. Fortunately, horses hired by the Italian Zust team came to the rescue of the automobilists, as they were known then, and pulled them out.
At first, the teams worked together, taking turns at leading. That didn’t last long. It was a race, after all. You can imagine how the Americans, or the Germans or the Italians reacted when the driver of the French de Dion, St. Chaffray, ordered them, “When you wish to go ahead to a city, you ask me.” Right.
The Europeans were soon complaining that the Americans had unfair advantages. When the Thomas Flyer had a problem, dozen of patriotic volunteers jumped in to eagerly help out for free. When the European cars hit a glitch, they had to pay. “They even charge us to sleep on the ground,” one of the drivers whined. A more legitimate complaint in terms of the race outcome was that the railroad and trolley companies favored the Flyer in allowing track usage. Out West, the Union Pacific even scheduled the Flyer to use its tracks like it would a train.
My sense is that the great advantage the Flyer had was George Schuster, however. For one, he had the ability to fix any problem the car had. Each night he would tune the engine and work on whatever else was needed to get the car ready for the next day. The competition complained to the race committee that Schuster had rebuilt the whole car. Possibly. But the complaint was rejected. One of the nightly chores that all of the car mechanics performed was draining the radiator so it wouldn’t freeze. Anti-freeze had been developed but it was used in making bombs, not protecting cars on cold nights
Schuster’s support in keeping the vehicle operating went far beyond his mechanical abilities, however. If someone had to walk 10 miles in a freezing weather to get gas or a part, he did it. If the car needed rescuing from a snow drift or was stuck in a gully, he figured out how to free it. He was dedicated to doing whatever it took to keep the Flyer running.
I suspect a fair amount of money exchanged hands when the racers reached Chicago. Many felt that the cars would be lucky to get out of New York and even E.R. Thomas, the manufacturer of the Flyer, never expected his vehicle would get beyond the Windy City. T. Walter Williams, the New York Times reporter assigned to the Thomas Flyer, bailed out when the cars arrived in Chicago. “It’s insanity” he proclaimed. And it was. But all five cars made it to Chicago and continued on. Snow continued to plague the drivers as they made their way across the Midwest. And when they finally got through the snow, they were faced with hub-deep mud. Lots of it. Tensions soared.
When the De Dion got stuck in a snowbank and Hans Hendricks Hansen, who claimed he had piloted a Viking Ship to the North Pole solo, couldn’t get it out, St. Chaffray exploded. The men decided a duel was in order and went scrambling to find their pistols. Fortunately, they were buried deep in the gear and St. Chaffray had time to decide that it would be better to fire Hansen than to kill him— or be killed by him. Hansen joined the Thomas Flyer, pledged allegiance to the American flag it flew, and swore that he could walk to Paris faster than St. Chaffray could drive there.
Our recent 8,000-mile journey around the US was bound to cross the route of the Great Race. It happened in Nebraska as we followed US 30 along the South Platte River. The racers had been following what would become Highway 30 through Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. We joined the highway in Kearny and followed it on to North Platte where we stayed at Buffalo Bill’s ranch. Signs along the road proudly proclaimed it had been part of the Oregon Trail and the Lincoln Highway, America’s first transcontinental highway. Before that, it had served as a major path for Native Americans and mountain men. When the route had passed through Omaha on entering Nebraska, the Flyer team met Buffalo Bill who had invited them to stay at his ranch on the North Platte.
Peggy and I are now back at home in Oregon after our ten week 8,000 mile road trip around the US in our small RV. It was weird out there in the Age of Coronavirus— but interesting. As much as possible, we stayed off of freeways and traveled by backroads, many of them significant to America’s history. One such road we followed was a portion of US 30 across Nebraska following the South Platte River. The route was once a path for Native Americans and mountain men. Later, it became a section of the Oregon Trail that pioneers and gold seekers followed in the mid-1800s on their way west in search of wealth or a new life. In 1913, it became part of America’s first transcontinental road, the Lincoln Highway.
I was excited to learn that it was also a section of route that the 1908 Great Automobile Race from New York City to Paris followed through Nebraska. I had first developed an interest in the race when I learned about it in the remote Nevada towns of Tonopah and Goldfield where it had been the biggest thing to happen to them since the discovery of gold. My interest was peaked considerably last summer when I found America’s original entry, the Thomas Flyer, in the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada. Since then I have read several articles on the race and discovered a treasure trove of photos from the Library of Congress. It’s a story that has been told many times but is worth retelling, which I will do over my next 3-4 posts. I figure it will serve as a kick-off for my posts on our road trip!
It was cold and windy in New York City on Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12, 1908. The quarter of a million people lined up along Broadway were bundled up in their warmest clothes as they waited anxiously for the starter’s gun that would kick off a 22,000-mile (35,405 kilometer) race over land and sea from New York to Paris. It was a challenge involving men and autos that had never been undertaken before— and still goes unmatched.
The route, as planned, would take drivers across the US, through Canada into Alaska, across the Bering Strait, over Siberia and then through Russia and Europe to Paris. By starting in February, the organizers hoped that the rivers and dog sled trails in Alaska as well as the Bering Strait would still be frozen so the racers could use them as roads.
The New York Times and the Paris newspaper Le Matin were sponsoring the race. The winner was to receive a 1400-pound trophy (not quite something for your mantle), and undying fame. Thirteen cars had been entered but only six made it to the starting line: three from France, one from Germany, one from Italy and one from the US. The US had come close to not having an entry at all. The pioneers of America’s nascent automobile industry didn’t think the race was doable. Or possibly they didn’t want to compete against the better-known European car makers and risk defeat. I suspect the latter.
The ER Thomas Motor company out of Buffalo, NY came to the rescue a week before the event. It diverted a deluxe $4,000 Thomas Flyer that was meant to be sold in Boston. It was a stock, 60-horsepower touring car. Modifications were minimal. Three extra gas tanks were added to give the Flyer a capacity of 125 gallons. There would be no convenient gas stations along the way. You went to a hardware store, filled a bucket up from a metal barrel and poured it into your tank— if you could find gas.
Holes were cut in the floorboards to allow heat from the engine to provide some warmth. Long boards were attached to the side to aid in getting the car out of snow and mud. A covered wagon-like top had been jury-rigged to fit over the top and provide protection from snow, hail and rain. It was soon abandoned— full speed ahead and damn the weather! The Flyer, like all of the other vehicles was loaded down with chains, ropes, spare parts and tools. Each vehicle would travel with its own mechanic.
Thomas called his lead mechanic and road tester, George Schuster, the day before the race and asked him to go along. George knew how to handle adversity. He had been raised in a family with 21 kids. More to the point, he could fix almost anything on the spot, an early day Macgyver. Still, it’s hard to fathom being asked to participate in such an epic event less than 24-hours before it starts. It takes me that long to prepare for a weekend get-a-way!
Here’s how I imagine the phone call going:
“Um, Hi George, this is ER, can you spare a moment?”
“Sure Boss, what’s up?”
“I know this is short notice but could you show up in New York City tomorrow morning and go along on this 22,000-mile automobile race between New York and Paris? It shouldn’t take much more than six months but it’s going to be a tough trip. No one has ever driven across the US in winter. Heck, only 12 people have driven across it in summer. Who knows what the conditions will be like in Alaska and Siberia? You might want to carry a gun. One thing is for sure, there aren’t many paved roads and, in some areas, there won’t be any roads at all— or maps. You may have to drive down the railroad tracks or follow pioneer trails. I expect there will be lots of breakdowns for you to fix. We’ve even scheduled from eight p.m. to midnight each night for you to work on the Flyer and get it ready for the next day. It starts at five. Oh, and one more thing, I’ve asked Monty Roberts to drive. You know Monty, he’s something of a media hound and will take all of the credit but I am sure he will appreciate your ability to keep the car running. My love to your wife and kids. See you tomorrow.”
The European entries included a De Dion, Moto-Bloc, and Sizaire-Naudin from France. Germany was represented by a Protos and Italy by a Zust. If these names sound unfamiliar to you, it’s because none of them are around today, nor have they been for decades. Their builders had only been in the automobile business for a few years and horses were still considered a more reliable means of travel. The cars were assembled the old-fashioned way, by hand, piece by piece. Henry Ford had yet to invent the assembly line.
Considerable national pride was involved in the race. For example, 600 workers had been pulled together to work on the German Protos under the encouragement of Kaiser Wilhelm II. There was nothing stock about the vehicle. The Kaiser wanted to win for the greater glory of Germany and to promote German industry. I read in one account that Teddy Roosevelt, who was President at the time, also pressured American automobile manufacturers to participate. It’s hard to imagine a race starting in New York and crossing the country without US participation. Given Roosevelt’s personality, he probably would have been ‘biting at the bit’ to drive had he not been President.
As you might imagine, an international cast of characters and adventurers had assembled to drive and maintain the vehicles. I’ve already introduced Roberts who was in it for the fame. But he was also one of the few Americans who had actually trained for the 13-year-old sport of auto racing. The driver of the French Moto-Bloc, Charles Godard, had participated in the similar but considerably shorter Peking to Paris race the year before. It had been the first time he had ever driven a car. The driver of the German Protos seemed a bit more prosaic to me. Hans Koeppen was an aristocratic lieutenant in the German Army who hoped his participation would bag him a promotion to captain.
Antonio Scarfoglio, a 21-year-old Italian poet and journalist, was part of the Zust team. His father, a prominent Italian newspaper editor, had refused to let him go until Antonio had threatened to take a motorboat across the Atlantic, a much more dangerous adventure. The driver of the French De Dion, G. Bourcier de St. Chaffray, knew a bit about just how dangerous. He had once organized a motorboat race from Marseille to Algiers where every boat sank. The captain of his team, the Norwegian Hans Hendrick, had been more successful at sea. His claim to fame was having piloted a Viking boat to the North Pole. Solo.
The drivers were lined up and eager to go at 11:00 AM. George B. McClellan Jr., son of the prominent Civil War general and then mayor of NYC had been given the honor of starting the race. But he was late. The Mayor was rarely on time. At 11:15, Colgate Hoyt, a railroad financier, grabbed the gold-plated gun and shot it into the air. The race was on!
So, here’s a serious question: With all of the beautiful art in Florence, why in the world would we spend our time rubbing the nose of a pig?
I’ll be brief. We were told if we rubbed the nose of the pig, or the snout of the boar if you prefer, we would come back to Florence. Considering we had six hours to explore everything Florence had to offer, we looked on our nose polishing efforts as a guarantee of a return trip.
Il Porcellino, or Little Pig, as he is known, was sculpted way back in 1612 and was based on an original marble pig of Greek origin dating back to who knows when. The present pig is a copy of the copy. You can tell by his shiny nose that lots of people share our desire to come back to Florence. Apparently rubbing his snout for a return trip dates back to the 1700s.
Little Pig is housed in an attractive marketplace that was built by Cosimo de’ Medici between 1547-1551. Bad merchants, who had the misfortune of going bankrupt, were spanked here before being sent off to prison. I couldn’t find a description on what the spanking entailed.
NEXT POST: A teaser from our present journey around North America in Quivera, our 22-foot RV.
The two-hour trip to Florence from the Port of Livorno and the two-hour trip back seriously sucked up what little time we had to enjoy the legendary Renaissance city. Our first act upon arrival was to plot out our plan of attack, which we did over café lattes and scrumptious Italian pastries. Why suffer? I really, really hate to eliminate treasures, however. Florence is where the birth of the Renaissance took place and is chock full of art.
The Uffizi Gallery alone, with its world-class art including masterpieces by Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, would take up half out time. Beyond that we plotted out a walk that would take us to the Duomo Basilica and then back to Santo Croce Basilica, where we were to catch our bus. Sadly, I crossed off the Accademia Gallery, which includes Michelangelo’s original David.
But not to worry… there was a magnificent copy of David in front of the Uffizi Gallery in Piazza della Signoria. It was in this square, BTW, that the infamous priest Savonarola (1452-98) held his ‘Bonfire of Vanities’ and encouraged the good citizens of Florence to bring their art treasures and books to be burned. Somewhat ironically, Savonarola, who was quite vain in his own way, was also burned in the square.
NEXT POST: A fascinating pig that people can’t keep their hands off of.
After visiting St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Peggy and I travelled on to Florence where we were awed by the Duomo and Santa Croce churches, which we found even more beautiful than the Basilica. These two churches are the focus of my re-post today from our 2015 trip to Europe and are part of my armchair travel in the age of Coronavirus series.
Note: Peggy and I are off on another adventure. This time we will be exploring the back roads of America. Carefully. Covid-19 continues to rage across the country. We have our face masks along and enough sanitizer to bathe in. Even Bone and Eeyore are wearing their face masks! I apologize for not reading posts and comments the past few days but will catch up. One challenge of remote America is the lack of good Internet service. Yesterday, for example, I was in the middle of the Nevada desert on “America’s Loneliest Road” following the route of the Pony Express. I have several more posts in my Adventure Travel series and will then start my Backroad series. Peggy, Eeyore and Bone say hi and urge you to be safe! –Curt
There are at least three reasons for visiting Florence’s Cathedral, commonly known as the Duomo. First is the Church itself, second is the magnificent bell tower, which stands next to the church, and third is the octagonal-shaped Baptistery, which stands in front.
The dome of Duomo was one of the great works of the Renaissance. (The church had been waiting since the Middle Ages for its top.) Filippo Brunelleschi, who built the dome, first studied the ancient Pantheon in Rome. Like so much of the Renaissance, the dome represented a return to, or a rebirth of, the Greek and Roman cultures that had thrived 1000 years earlier before the Dark Ages had arrived along with the Barbarian hordes.
The 270-foot tall Campanile or Giotto’s Tower, which is located next to the Duomo, was actually completed 100 years before Brunelleschi put his finishing touches on the church. Many consider the bell tower to be among the most beautiful in Europe.
The Baptistery features Ghiberti’s bronze doors. Michelangelo believed these gates were so beautiful they could have served as “the Gates of Paradise.”
The Basilica of Santa Croce, a 14th Century Franciscan church, also had some great doors but is better known for the people buried inside including Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Rossini and Galileo. As we stood in front of the church admiring its doors, a man sent bubbles floating into the sky.
NEXT POST: Exploring a tiny bit of Florence’s art.
We added Rome’s ancient Forum to our walk-about where we visited the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. I’m still tired! Today concludes the Rome section of my adventure travel series from posts I did in 2015. Next up will be Florence.
At the height of the Roman Empire, around 100 CE, Rome ruled from England to the Persian Gulf. The Mediterranean Sea was considered a Roman pond. The Forum, located next to the Colosseum, was the site of Rome’s government. Julius Caesar was killed here on the Ides of March, after which Mark Anthony gave his famous speech: “Friends, Romans and Countrymen, lend me your ears.” The following photos are from the Forum.