Bud: American's Original Canine Co-Pilot
by Whitney Wilde
Photos courtesy of Special Collections, University of Vermont
My name is Bud and I’m here to tell you about my great adventure in 1903 with Horatio Nelson Jackson and the very first coast-to-coast trip in this newfangled thing called an automobile.
Newspapers said Jackson stole or rescued me from a dogfight, or that I was a stray who chased him for two miles. Truth was, Jackson had been wishing for a dog since Sacramento, and my “man” had no money to feed me.
It was Friday morning, the twelfth of June,1903, on the outskirts of Caldwell, Idaho. Something red was trying to outrun a cloud of trail dust, and the oddest thing—there were no horses! Closer, we saw two riders in one of those newfangled things: Horatio Nelson Jackson (“Nelson” to his friends), physician and businessman; and Sewall K. Crocker, mechanic and bicycle racer. They were about a third of the way on a cross-country cruise.
My man waved them over, askin’ if they wanted a mascot. They gave him $15.00 and I jumped in. My position was guard and lookout, which I took seriously. The “devil wagon” had no windshield, so Nelson put a pair of goggles on me to keep the alkali dust from stinging my eyes. I loved them goggles and would not begin the day’s drive without them.
Nelson loved to tell stories, so here’s what he told me happened before I joined their pack…
One May evening, Nelson was at the hoity-toity University Club in San Francisco, arguing that the automobile was the future of travel and that horses were the past. It had only been seven years since two bicycle mechanics sold the first “motorwagon,” and there were seven million horses but only 8,000 autos. Someone bet fifty bucks that no one could drive from San Francisco to New York City in less than three months. Nelson accepted the wager and left four days later.
Most folks earned less than $500 a year, so $3,000 was big money. Nelson bought a slightly used 1903 Winton Motor Carriage Company touring car he named the “Vermont,” after his home state. It had a two-cylinder, 20-hp engine, a chain drive, no top, no windshield, and a steering wheel on the right. He hired Sewell K. Crocker as the mechanic.
On May 23, 1903, they ferried across the Bay to Oakland. After 15 miles, they blew a tire and used their only spare. This was a hint of what was to come. Keep in mind, there were no gas stations at the time, and less than 150 miles of paved roads between coasts.
Nelson called the road to Oroville a “compound of ruts, bumps, and thank you ma’ams.” Lost, he and Crocker asked a red-haired woman for directions to Marysville. After many miles, the road dead-ended at a farmhouse. A family came out to stare and tell them to go back the way they came. When they again met the red-haired woman, they asked why she had misdirected them. “I wanted paw, and maw, and my husband to see it. They’ve never seen an automobile,” she replied.
There were steep, rocky trails no auto had ever been on, and boulders were removed from the path by hand. Sharp stones punctured the tires. Stuck in a creek, they swam across and pulled the car over using a block and tackle.
They waited over five days in Alturas, California for supplies to come by stagecoach. Yes, the auto had to rely on horses. Some repairs needed a blacksmith and in them days, there were more blacksmiths than doctors.
Nelson described the 300 miles of desert as “the damndest rough, rocky road.” Once, a cowboy towed the car using his horse and lasso. Another time, they ran into homesteaders in horse-drawn covered wagons. The settlers hid, thinking a train had come off the track.
After I joined them, I became as much of a celebrity as the car, and reporters took my picture. People lined the streets and kids took off school just to see us. In one town, Nelson declared “I have just shook hands with 200 people.”
Almost daily, the “go like hell machine” would break down. Nelson bragged that I was “the one member of our trio who used no profanity on the entire trip." He was the most cheerful, optimistic human I ever met. Nightly, he wrote to his wife Bertha (he called her “Swipes”) that “the worst is over, it’s smooth sailing from here!” It never was.
Mostly, we traveled on dirt tracks meant for horses. Riding in front, I learned how to watch the road ahead and brace myself for every bump and turn.
We pulled into Rock Springs, Wyoming the same day as the circus and folks thought we were just part of the show. After that, we hit mud and it was a constant battle to get unstuck. Forever upbeat, Nelson wrote, “We have had hard luck, but I think it all came at once.”
It was in Wyoming, we heard two other fellas in a Packard had left California for New York. Now we were in a race.
The Vermont had no roof and the thunder and lightning was frightening. Nelson joked that we needed paddles for the wheels and a rudder for the rear of the car. Many times we had to use rope to get unstuck from muddy “buffalo wallows.” Nelson said he’d never worked so hard in all his life.
On July 6, in Archer, Wyoming, we heard that another team in a 1903 Oldsmobile Runabout, left San Francisco. Now it was a three-way race to New York, but we were still ahead.
In Omaha, Nebraska, the Winton Company offered to supply parts, mechanics, and financial support for our trip. Nelson responded, “We have made the trip so far without their assistance and thought that perhaps we greenhorns could do the rest of it.”
Chicago… never see’d such a big city! I wandered off to explore, delaying our departure by four hours, and was so darned glad they waited. While we were there, Nelson told reporters, "We have come to the conclusion that we can run our car over any road that a man can take a team of horses and a wagon, providing we can get traction.”
Cleveland was where our auto was built and there was a big celebration. I stayed with the Vermont to fight off flies and inquisitive newsboys.
In Peekskill, New York, on July 24, we were joined by reporters, Winton Company executives, and “Swipes” so we could all finish the trip together.
Two days later, at 4:30 a.m., we honked our way through the deserted streets of New York City. The trip had taken 63 days, 12 hours, 30 minutes, and 800 gallons of gasoline. We had beaten the other two automobiles. Nelson had lost 20 pounds and spent $8,000 of his own money. All to win a $50 bet, which Nelson never tried to collect.
Afterwards, I went home to Vermont with Nelson and Swipes and happily lived out the rest of my days. We would sometimes take short excursions, but never another great adventure.
Special thanks to Ann Wall, granddaughter of Horatio Nelson Jackson.
For more information, read “Horatio’s Drive” by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, or see the film by the same name.