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Chicagoland MG Club: Driveline
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  Chicagoland MG Club:Driveline
Cruise to the Rock, Part III

The annual Cruise to the Rock commemorates the Times-Herald Race of 1895. After postponing the Race from November 2, 1895 because only 2 entrants were prepared to run the event, Herman H. Kohlsaat was determined to avoid any further delays. Despite snowfall earlier in the week, the race was to be run without fail on Thanksgiving Day. At 8 pm on Wednesday, the ground was covered by a foot of snow. According to the Times-Herald, a crowd of thousands awaited the start of the race in Jackson Park on Thanksgiving morning, but only six of the eleven entries were able to make it to the starting line, due to the weather, mechanical problems or accidents en route.
Two of the starting vehicles were electric and four were gasoline-powered. The electric cars, the Electrobat of Morris & Salom of Philadelphia and the Sturges of Chicago, were not serious competitors because they had not been able to establish recharging stations along the route and could not be expected to complete the race. Of the gasoline-powered cars, three were Benz vehicles that had been brought from Europe to be entered by H. Mueller & Co. of Decatur, IL, R.H. Macy & Company of New York, and the De La Vergne Refrigerating Machine Company of New York. The third of these Benz-powered cars had won the Paris to Bordeaux race the preceding June that inspired Kohlsaat to organize this race. The fourth gasoline-powered car had been designed and built by J. Frank Duryea, the 25-year-old chief engineer, and only real employee, of the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. Duryea was born in Washburn, Illinois, northeast of Peoria, and grew up on a farm in Stark County. After completing high school, he had followed his older brother Charles to Washington, DC, then to New Jersey, and finally to Springfield Massachusetts, where eventually, between 1894 and 1895, he designed and single-handedly built the vehicle entered in the race. The Times-Herald erroneously referred to the Duryea entry first as being “of German make”, and then as the “result of three years’ inventive effort on the part of Charles E. Duryea of Peoria”. Although Charles had arranged financing and took credit for much of the enterprise, he had returned to Peoria in 1892 to manufacture bicycles, and it was actually Frank’s creativity, skill and persistence that brought the car into being.
Duryea won the draw for the starting order. The report of the umpire who rode in his vehicle reads as follows: “We left the starting point at 8:55 and ran without a stop to the corner of Erie and Rush Streets. Here we broke our steering gear running over a high crossing covered with snow. A wait of fifty-five minutes ensued. From this point to Evanston, we ran without a stop, arriving there at 12:35 o’clock. On the return we were delayed four minutes in Chicago Avenue, Evanston, by a sleigh that tipped over in the street. Continuing, we got to the wrong road on account of the absence of a sign at Lawrence Avenue and Clark Street. We ran down Clark to Diversey Street before discovering our mistake. Then we went up Diversey to Lincoln Avenue, and on Lincoln Avenue to Roscoe Street where we resumed the correct route. I estimated the extra distance traveled at two miles, approximate. While on Diversey near Clark we broke our “sparker” and spent fifty-five minutes repairing it. At 3:10 we resumed the journey. We were delayed fifteen minutes at Drake Avenue and Central Park Boulevard to adjust the machinery and refuel…We finished at 7:18…Our correct time was 7 hours and fifty-three minutes. We covered a distance of 54.36 miles- averaging a little more than seven miles per hour.”
It was Frank Duryea who repaired the vehicle each time that it broke down. When the steering broke, a support vehicle was on hand to locate a blacksmith shop, but the “sparking plug” failed after Duryea had detoured off course, and he was on his own to find a tinsmith to repair the part.
Duryea was overtaken by the Macy Benz when his steering gear broke, but regained the lead at Evanston. The Macy car later collided with a hack (carriage for hire) that would not give it right of way and was eliminated from the race. The De La Vergne car made little progress through the snow at the start of the race and withdrew, and the Mueller Benz was the only other vehicle to finish the race, at 8:53 pm, taking 24 minutes longer than the Duryea to complete the course.
After indoor tests that followed the race, the top prize of $2000 (equivalent to about $45,000 today) was awarded to the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. This victory by a young man from Illinois over established European interests on the snowy streets of Chicago makes a great story. But the true significance of Duryea’s successful showing in the race lies in its influence on attitudes toward these “horseless carriages”. The Duryea “Chicago Car” was a true prototype for the automobiles that followed it and introduced many important mechanical design features. And the Race itself proved publicly that these vehicles were a match for horse-drawn carriages. One could even call this the spark that ignited the American automobile industry.

- Jake and Ann Snyder

The Duryea “Chicago Car”

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