Friday 25 September 2015

Jackson's Indomitable Spirit as Indispensable as Fuel for his Car

"Throughout it all, Jackson's indomitable spirit and sheer enthusiasm was as indispensable as the fuel for his car." (Ken Burns)

Horatio Nelson Jackson took out a fountain pen and paper to write a letter to his beloved wife back home in Vermont.  The motorist, at a stopover in Idaho, had just undertaken to cross the United States, from coast to coast, in a Winton roadster, a feat never performed before.  The tone of his letter suggested that he had nothing but minor setbacks thus far.  In truth, he encountered enough problems to sink a ship.  But his "indomitable spirit" kept him going.

"Just a line to say everything is all right with your wandering boy..." is how Jackson opened his letter of June 17, 1903.  He described how the running gear of the front wheels had broken down.  "We have patched it up and shall leave in the morning hoping that it will take us to Cheyenne." (

The roadster, nicknamed the Vermont, suffers constant breakdowns on Jackson's jury across the continent.  But that is not all.  In the era before paved roads, Jackson endures "speed bumps the size of Mount Everest" which caused innumerable flat tires.  In an age without gas stations, the roadster was constantly running out of oil.  Before the invention of GPS, Jackson and his co-driver often got lost.  With no roof or windshield, Jackson endured the heat of the desert.  In an age before hotels and motels, he ate inedible meals and drank tainted water.  To top it all off, this married man suffered many lonely nights without his wife by his side.

Jackson ended his letter with the words:  "Well, old girlie, I can't say anymore -- you know how I feel.  I shall make up for lost time."  Jackson kept to his word.  The roadster pulled into New York City on July 26, 1903.  The cross country motorist returned to Vermont for a reunion with his wife soon after.

Supplies replace the back seat of the Vermont. Photo Credit: University of Vermont, Special Collections

The loaded down Winton roadster circa 1903 courtesy

For more information:

1.  Read "Horatio's Drive:  America's First Road Trip" at
2.  Watch Ken Burn's documentary "Horatio's Drive:  America's First Road Trip" (2003).

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