Thursday, March 24, 2016

Navigating Across Wyoming

George Wyman was navigating across southern Wyoming following the Union Pacific "Transcontinental Railroad."   Wyman rode along the wagon trail that followed the railroad tracks after having breakfast at the Bitter Creek boxcar restaurant that Monday morning, June 1, 1903.

At any point along the way he knew were he was and how far it was to the next bit of civilization.  Wyman carried with him a map and the UPRR Official List, Officers, Stations and Agents, Table of Distances traveler's guide.  This publication, listed in table form, contained all the points along the Transcontinental Railrail from Ogden, UT to Omaha, NE along with distances and elevations from San Francisco.  The Central Pacific RR version covered San Francisco to Ogden.  See this CPRR Official List, 1884 example)

He crossed the Red Desert and passing by several of the railway sidings listed in the guide.  He was making excellent time over sections of good road.  Near the Creston siding Wyman stopped to take a picture of the "Greate Divide" signpost using his Kodak "Pocket" camera.  (He took many pictures during his epic journey. Sadly, only those published in "The Motorcycle Magazine" and "The Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review" survive to this day.)

Between the Creston and Daly's Ranch sidings, Wyman stopped to take another picture.  This time, of the abandoned prairie schooner that was made famous in the first edition of "The Motorcycle Magazine."  Pressing on, Wyman stopped for gasoline in the bustling railroad town of Rawlins.

Ft.Steele Bridge Tender's house
It was late afternoon when Wyman approached the ruins of Fort Fred Steele.  Although the fort was abandoned, the Fort Steele community was sparsely populated with merchants serving the sheep ranchers wool harvest and a logging industry providing the UPRR with bridging and railroad tie lumber.

Fort Steele lay mostly on the west bank of the North Platte River.  The UPRR had completed a new bridge across the river a couple of years before.  Previous bridges had suffered damage in yearly flooding and fires from cinders belched out by the coal burning locomotives of the day.  Wyman would normally cross rivers over the railroad bridges if they were available.  But, the new trestle over the River was guarded by a UPRR Bridge Tender.   So, he took the "old immigrant trail" across the River just to the northeast of the fort.

By the time Wyman arrive in Walcott, at 6:15 pm, he had traveled over 90 miles across southern Wyoming. Walcott was the lay-over point for two stagecoach lines.  The Walcott Hotel, fairly new in 1903, was favored by stagecoach travelers and is the likely place Wyman stayed the night.  While fixing the spokes of his motorcycle, outside the hotel, he remarked, "I found some interest in automobiles here, and, after inspecting my machine, the natives fell to discussing the feasibility of running automobiles on the stage lines, instead of the old Concord coaches, drawn by six horses, that are now used. One of the stage drivers said that if anyone would build an automobile that would carry 12 or 14 persons and run through sand six inches deep. He would pay from $3,000 to $5,000 for it. I told him to wait awhile."

Read Wyman's account of his ride from Bitter Creek to Walcott, Wyoming, on Monday, June 1, 1903:

     "After having breakfast in the boxcar restaurant, I left Bitter Creek for Rawlins. In this stretch, about 20 miles from Bitter Creek, I crossed my third desert, the Red Desert of Wyoming. It takes its name from the soil of calcareous clay that is fiery red, and the only products of which are rocks and sagebrush, and they will grow anywhere. There is a Red Desert Station on the map, but there is nothing there but a telegraph office, and the same is true of Wamsutter and Creston, the succeeding names on the map. I took a snapshot of the road in the desert near Bitter Creek and wrote on the film: "Who wouldn't leave home for this?" East of Red Desert the road improved considerably, and from Wamsutter to Creston it was really fine.

      It was along this fine stretch, just before reaching Creston, that I came to the Great Divide and took a picture of the signpost, which marks the ridgeline of the great American watershed. Standing there and facing the north, all the streams on your left flow to the west and all those on the right side flow toward the east, the waters of the former eventually finding their way to the Pacific, and the latter to the Mississippi River...  

      From Creston to Rawlins there is nearly 30 miles of downgrade, and, as it is a fairly good highway of gravel, I made lively time over it. After leaving Creston there come Cherokee and Daly's ranch before you get to Rawlins, and it was between these places, both mere railroad points, that I got the picture of the abandoned prairie schooner that was printed in Motorcycle Magazine.  Rawlins, where I stopped only for gasoline, is a town of some size, having more than 2,000 population.  From there the country becomes rolling again, and after passing Fort Fred Steele, I began to ascend once more. It is a great sheep ranch country all through here now from Rawlins. At Fort Steele there is nothing left but the ruins of abandoned houses. I now follow the old immigrant trail that winds across the River Platte, and am fast approaching the Laramie Plains, over which my route lies to the Laramie Mountains. Beyond Fort Steele I enter White Horse Canyon, which got its name, so the story goes, from an Englishman, one of the sort known in the West as "remittance men," who drank too much "Old Scratch," and, mounted on a white horse, rode over the precipice and landed on the rocks 200 feet below.

USGS Topo Map c.1900

      At 6:10 p.m. I reached Walcott, a "jerkwater" settlement, composed of two saloons, a store and a railroad station. It is made important, though, by the fact that two stage lines come in there. The hotels at places of the sort are generally clean, and they are kept more-or-less peaceable by the policy of reserving an out-building for the slumbers of the "drunks," so I concluded to tarry."

G.A.Wyman, "Over the Rockies and the Great Divide to the Prairies", The Motorcycle Magazine, August 1903

The Fort Fred Steele Historic Site has joined The George A. Wyman Memorial Project as a hosting location.  The Site is operated by and is part of the Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

All in a Day's Ride

Riding the last leg of his historic journey across America, Wyman was on pace reach New York City by July 4th.  The toll on him and his motorcycle was accumulating with each day.   During his five day repair layover in Chicago he remarked that he grew soft.   The two day ride from Chicago to Perrysburg, Ohio, left him feeling very "saddle-sore" to the point of wishing he had a hot water bag for a seat cover.   Constant issues with the motorcycle were also wearing on his determination.  Everyday was filled with multiple frustrating stops to make adjustments and repairs.

After a quick breakfast, Wyman retrieved his motorcycle from the Perrysburg Post Office, where he stored it for the night.  It was around 7 am, Friday, June 26, when he left town along the road, which is now the "Fremont Pike," US-20.  He soon discovered the motorcycle was running low on motor oil.  Wyman calculated that he had enough oil to last for about 30 miles of normal riding.  He decided to alternate between riding under power and peddling.

It was mid morning when he rode into Fremont along West State Street to the center of town.  In 1903, Fremont, Ohio was a bustling community of 8,400+ in the industrial heartland of America. Wyman quickly found a local machine shop and obtained oil for his motor.   Apparently, he didn't pay much attention to the container of oil until he started to pour it into the oil reservoir.  It was so thick he had to heat it up before it would flow out of the can.

Eager to make up time and with the oil issue resolved, Wyman departed Fremont east over the Sandusky River Bridge along State Street.  He wanted to make it all the way to Cleveland before stopping for the night.  Winding along the rural roads, the path was again beset with muddy and sandy conditions.  Sometimes the sudden changes in the road surface would cause Wyman to fall.  This happened more frequently than he would mention, remarking once that his reports would be nothing but accounts of one fall after another.  It was just part of the ride for him, a price he had to pay to reach his ultimate objective.

About 30 miles from Cleveland, near the west side of Amherst, Wyman noticed a piece of his front suspension was broken.  Stopping to examine it, he discovered part of the reinforcing bars of his front forks had snapped.  The truss, which stiffens the front forks, had suffered metal fatigue from the constant pounding while riding.  He also spotted several more cracks and fractures in the truss that had became brittle.  Thoughts raced through his mind of this condition extending to the rest of the motorcycle.  This weakening of the front suspension would spell trouble for him down the road.  Resolved there was little he could do about it in the middle of the country side, he pressed on.

The roads to Amherst, through Elyria and beyond were in bad shape.  Usually, he would be forced to walk the motorcycle for long stretches at a time.  Luckily, Wyman found a good stretch of riding surface along a side path.  At one point, he passed an automobile struggling though the ruts and sand pits, barely moving, its engine laboring.  He thought himself fortunate to be able to ride over narrow slices of good surface.  Six miles out of Cleveland his luck improved.  He would remark it was some of the best road he had encountered during the entire trip.

Wyman rode into Cleveland at around 7 pm that evening.  The first thing on his agenda was to get some better motor oil.  He went to the "Oldsmobile branch" in the heart of downtown.  The Ohio Oldsmobile Company, listed in the 1903 Cleveland business directory at 411 Euclid Avenue, was the auto makers' dealer or "agent" as they were referred to then.  The mechanics at the Oldsmobile garage were very interested in his machine.  At first the fellows didn't believe Wyman's story about riding all the way from San Francisco.  When he showed them pictures of his start in San Francisco, they gave him as much motor oil as he could carry.  He would get a late start the next day as he took advantage of the garage facilities, to work on his bike.

Wyman's 121 mile ride from Perrysburg to Cleveland took 12 hours.  He used five quarts of gasoline and a quantity of thick machine shop oil.  Read Wyman's account of his ride from Perrysburg to Cleveland, Ohio, on Friday, June 26, his own words:

     "About this time I began to feel the effects of my five days' rest in Chicago. That length of time led to my growing tender. and I was more saddle-sore at Perrysburg that night than at anytime before. I felt then as if I would have to finish with a hot water bag on the saddle.
      From Perrysburg I got a 7 o'clock start, but soon discovered that I did not have any more lubricating oil than enough to last for 30 miles. By economizing I managed to reach Tremont(sic Fremont) where I got some oil at a machine shop. It was so thick that I had to heat it before it would run, but it was better than nothing. After leaving Fremont the roads began to grow very poor. There had been several days of rain on them Just before I came along and as they were simply dirty roads for repeated stretches of 10 miles or more the mud was deep and wide.
       Near Amherst about 30 miles west of Cleveland I got my first reminder of the one-horse story and a foretaste of what was in store for me. The truss on the front forks of my bicycle broke. When I stopped to remove the remains of it, I found that it had crystallized so that it was like a piece of old rusty iron. It broke in several places like a stick of rotten wood. That was the effect of the terrible pounding the machine had received over the railroad ties.  It occurred to me at the time that the whole machine must have suffered similarly, but it did not show signs of disintegrating at the time, and I concluded it would carry me to New York. After leaving Elyria, 25 miles from Cleveland, I struck a good sidepath that continued for 20 miles. It was only six inches wide in places, but those few inches spelled salvation for me, because the road was so heavy with sand that if I had not had the path to ride I would have had to have walked for long stretches. Just out of Elyria I met an automobile, and it was having a hard time of it. It was all the engine could do to keep it moving. The last five miles into Cleveland I went over the best roads I ever had ridden on anywhere in my life.
      It was 7 p.m. when I reached Cleveland. and my first move was to hunt up an automobile station in order to get some oil. At the Oldsmobile branch I found what I wanted, and they gave me enough to last for 300 miles, all I cared to carry, in fact. They took a lively interest in me and my bicycle and examined my motor carefully. Like everyone else, though, they had to be shown the photographs of my start from San Francisco before fully accepting my statement that I had come from California. My distance for this day, to Cleveland, was 121 miles, and I used five quarts of gasoline."

G.A. Wyman, "Along The Shores Of The Great Lakes And Down The Hudson To New York", The Motorcycle Magazine, October, 1903

The City of Fremont, Ohio has joined the Project as a hosting community.  We thank Mayor Daniel Sanchez and the citizens of Fremont for enriching the history of their community with the  Wyman story.  Together, we are...

"Linking the Past to the Present to Enrich the Future"

Monday, March 7, 2016

Rainy Afternoon Layover in Lexington, NE

George Wyman departed Maxwell, Nebraska, early on the morning of Tuesday, June 9, 1903. After eight miles of slogging along the wagon trail, he "took to the railroad."  Twelve miles over the tracks and it was back to the road for an hour, then back to the tracks.  At noon Wyman rode into Lexington along the Union Pacific RR tracks.  Enduring 50 tough miles since Maxwell, he was ready for a break.  Seeking out one of the local eateries, Wyman likely turned left up North Washington Street to the town center.

Emerging from the dining room, it began to rain so hard that Wyman concluded it would be "folly" to ride.  He decided to take advantage of the layover time to work on his motorcycle.  The batteries that powered his ignition coil were acting up and there was the usual attention needed for loose spokes, drive belt adjustments, tightening of nuts and bolts.  Under the shelter of an overhang, Wyman was working away when J.S. Bancroft, local motorcycle enthusiast, stopped to chat.  J.S. Bancroft was a well established businessman in Lexington.  He owned and operated an extensive automobile, motorcycle and bicycle sales-service operation at the corner of Grant and 5th Streets, one block over from N.Washington Street.  Bancroft rode a 2-1/2 horsepower "Columbia" produced by the Pope Manufacturing Company. He offered Wyman the use of his garage facilities to work on his motorcycle.  George was delighted to accept and the two talked "shop" well into the late afternoon.

Repairs complete, Wyman departed Lexington around 5 pm after the rain had stopped.  Again, the wagon trail that served as the main road out of town was impassable due to the rains.  Wyman rode along the tracks to Elm Creek, stopping for an evening meal.  At some point along the next 16 miles he experienced a fall, braking the ammeter on the motorcycle.  By the time he stopped for the night in Kearney at 8:20 pm he had traveled nearly 90 miles that day.   Below, is the account of his rainy afternoon layover in Lexington, in his own words.

"I left Maxwell at 7:15 a.m. on June 9, and followed the wagon road for the first eight miles. Then it got so sandy that I took to the railroad. I remained on the tracks for 12 miles, and then tried the road again. After an hour on it, the mud began to be so thick that riding was impossible, and I then returned to the railroad and stuck to it until I reached Lexington, where I had dinner. When I emerged from the dining room it was raining so hard that it would have been folly to have attempted to ride. My batteries required attention, and by chance I met J.S. Bancroft, who has the most complete bicycle and automobile repairing station that I saw between Cheyenne and Omaha. Mr. Bancroft stopped when he saw me at work on the batteries and invited me to his store.  He is a motor bicycle rider, using a 2 1/2-horsepower Columbia. I lost an afternoon in Lexington, but it stopped raining at 5 p.m., and I went over to the railroad and made a run of 20 miles in an hour and a half to Elm Creek, where I had supper. I was anxious to make all the mileage I could, so after supper I started again, and by 8:20 p.m. I had ridden 16 miles more and was at Kearney, where I put up for the night. I had a fall and broke my ammeter in this last stretch. I had the same experience with my watch back in Nevada. A note in my diary, made at Kearney reads:
        'There are some of the greatest pace followers of their size in the world in this region. A bunch tacked on to me back at Ogallala, and for two days I have been unable to shake them. It looks as if they will stay with me all the way into New York. The natives call them gnats. They bite like hornets.' "

G.A.Wyman, "Over the Rockies and the Great Divide to the Prairies", The Motorcycle Magazine, August 1903

Today, Lexington, NE has joined The George A. Wyman Memorial Project as a hosting community.  The Dawson County Historical Society and Museum is acting as the hosting authority to mount a Wyman Waypoint sign, Waypoint poster and site narrative at the Museum on Taft Street.  We spoke to Crystal Werger, Museum Director, about our desire to get an additional Wyman Waypoint sign mounted in the vicinity of the J.S. Bancroft garage location at 5th and Grant Streets.

The George A. Wyman Memorial Project thanks the citizens of Lexington for helping us bring the Wyman Story to their community.  Working together, we are....

"Linking the Past to the Present to Enrich the Future"

Saturday, March 5, 2016

World Wide Wyman Media Coverage

Today, the Wyman story went world wide...for the second time since 1903.  An article written for Atlas Obscura by staff writer Sarah Laskow was picked up and extended by the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom.

Click to HERE read article

Sarah Laskow contacted the Wyman Memorial Project a few days ago to gather information about Wyman's journey across America in 1903.  We talked at some length about this his epic and historic saga.  Sarah was intrigued to learn about the modern sport of safe long-distance riding and motorcycle touring.  

One day after publishing her article the story was picked up by the Daily Mail, UK and extended.  Links to both are below.

George Wyman took 50 days to get from San Francisco to New York in 1903.
By Sarah Laskow March 04, 2016, Atlas Obscura

  • George Wyman traveled from San Francisco to New York City with just a one and a quarter horsepower motorcycle
  • Wyman traversed mountains, mud tracks, intense desert and cities
  • Bikers now retrace the journey in the annual Wyman Memorial Challenge
PUBLISHED: 15:35 EST, 5 March 2016 | UPDATED: 18:50 EST, 5 March 2016