Everyone who knows who Horatio Nelson Jackson is, please raise your hand. If we had the visual capability to count the hands, I dare say there would be very few; but Jackson could be legitimately described as one of the pioneers in our industry.
In 1903, Jackson was a 31-year-old medical doctor from Burlington, Vt., who happened to be visiting San Francisco with his wife. It's not clear how the subject came up, but in the course of a conversation at San Francisco's University Club, he bet $50 (about $1,200 in today's currency) that a four-wheeled machine could be driven across the United States. So when it came time to return to Vermont, Mrs. Jackson took the train, and Dr. Jackson decided to drive. Although he was an automobile enthusiast, no one had ever driven across the country before, and most were of the opinion that the new-fangled automobile was just a fad and would eventually disappear from the scene altogether.
But that opinion was not shared by Jackson. He was so convinced that the automobile was a viable means of transportation that he was willing to risk $50 and an unknown amount of time to prove it. Yet for all his enthusiasm, he had very little driving experience and no mechanical capability, so he hired a 22-year-old mechanic, Sewall K. Crocker, to accompany him on the journey.
There was also a more basic problem. Jackson didn't own a car, but after purchasing a two-cylinder, 20-horsepower 1903 Winton Touring Car and loading it with supplies and tools, he and Crocker were ready to go. On May 23, 1903, they pulled out of San Francisco. Fifteen miles later, they had their first flat tire.
For much of the journey through the West, they followed the Union Pacific Railroad right of way, deciding to take a northern route rather than try to travel through desert country and the highest parts of the Rockies. Alexander Winton, the founder of the company that had built Jackson's car, had already failed to cross the Nevada desert in a car similar to Jackson's.
Their misadventures during the trip were too numerous to describe here, but suffice it to say, it was an arduous and challenging journey. One landowner charged them a toll to cross his land. Another time, a woman gave them directions that sent them 100 miles out of their way so her relatives could see an automobile. And the list goes on. Breakdowns, of course, were a common occurrence, but still Jackson and Crocker persevered.
On a brighter note, in Idaho they acquired a mascot, a pit bull named Bud, and the three of them became instant celebrities in every town they passed through. Also, when they reached Omaha, Neb., they began to encounter a few paved roads, which made travel much easier. Finally, on July 26, 1903, they rolled into Burlington 63 days and 4,200 miles after leaving San Francisco.
Transportation affects every man, woman, and child in the country—indeed, the world; but we tend to give it little thought unless something goes wrong. Transportation is also steeped in history and invention, although many are familiar with only the broad-brush picture. We are all aware of major transportation developments such as the completion of the first transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway system, and the invention of the first diesel engine and the steamboat. We've all heard of pioneers like the Wright Brothers, Robert Fulton, and George Stephenson. But we are often unaware of the many other individuals who were true pioneers in the development of the mobility the entire world enjoys today. Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson was one of these.