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Era of jaunty jalopies — first annual endurance run to Brandon was a competition for the Oldsmobile Trophy
Oct 15, 2010
by Bruce Cherney (part 2)
When the car tour to Brandon was initiated by the Winnipeg Automobile Club, it was appropriately renamed an “endurance run” due to the extremely poor condition of roads in rural Manitoba. A “pleasure jaunt,” the other term used by the club to describe the run, would turn out to be a misnomer as a result of the trying country trails the drivers and their passengers faced. 
Professor Edgar Kenrick, the man who introduced the automobile to Winnipeg in 1901, frequently wrote to the Horseless Age, a New York publication, about the automobile craze in the city and the poor roads that hindered their passage into the hinterland. 
Kenrick came to Winnipeg in 1899 to serve as a science professor at St. John’s College. Some researchers claim that was the same year he introduced the “horseless carriage” to the city, but a one-sentence item in June 14, 1901, Manitoba Free Press refutes this assertion. According to the brief mention, “Today the first automobile was brought into Winnipeg by Professor Kenrick and caused quite a stir.” 
The vehicle that caused such a stir was a one-cylinder, four-hp, three-wheel automobile with a hinged steering tiller that was built by the Knox Automobile Co. of Springfield, Massachusetts. The hinged steering tiller had a dual purpose, as it could also be swung around to tow the vehicle home in case of a breakdown. 
The professor died in January 1905, but his car survived, and was used for a period by a home decorator who employed it to carry paint cans and ladders. The little three-wheeler was bought in 1911 by the Central Garage Company, local agents for Knox automobiles who had a garage on Water Street (Sir William Stephenson Way). 
The car came to an inglorious end while gasoline was being delivered to the garage by a horse-drawn wagon. As though in a fit of poetic justice for heralding the end the reign of horses as the major means of road transportation and freight hauling, a spark from a horseshoe ignited the gas and the little car and garage were consumed by flames.
In one of Kenrick’s commentaries to the New York magazine, he said of the local roads: “We Winnipeggers are unfortunately cursed with the worst quality of greasy, sticky mud, which, though said to be desirable from an agricultural standpoint, renders the roads, after rain, simply abominable from the point of view of the owners of any type of wheeled vehicle.”
When the Winnipeg Automobile Club was formed in 1904, its 14 members said the mandate of the club was to make travelling by car easier, safer and more enjoyable, as well as protect the rights of motorists. Making automobile travel easier and safer would only occur after the roads that were then little more than rut-filled cart trails were significantly improved.
In 1906, a Good Roads Association was formed in Winnipeg, and a committee of Winnipeg Automobile Club members established under its auspices “for the purpose of conducting missionary work amongst the various municipalities surrounding Winnipeg.”
Secretary A.C. Emmett approached city businessmen to secure promises of financial assistance to fund road improvements. “Several property owners, having subdivisions fronting Portage avenue between St. Charles and Headingly offered to defray the whole cost of improvements for the portion of road passing their prospective properties, recognizing the benefits arising from good roads between these points and the city” (Free Press, June 13, 1908).
In the rural areas, the committee, comprised of Charles Alloway, F.W. Drewry, T. Woodman and A.E. Emmett, encountered resistance to the road improvement scheme. The article claimed rural municipality ratepayers. “who consisted principally of the farming element, refused to do anything towards road improvement beyond the occasional levelling of the surface with a grader.”
Rural residents believed the only people who would benefit from better roads were Winnipeggers, “losing sight altogether of the great saving in time and horseflesh if the heavy loads brought by them into Winnipeg were hauled over a good trail instead of through an apology for a road consisting of either liquid mud or hard sun-baked ruts, inches deep, which prevent anything beyond a crawl when a load was carried.”
One highway that was being improved by the provincial government was between Selkirk and Winnipeg Beach, a growing summer resort area for Winnipeggers, which seems to support the rural complaint that such roads are only for the benefit of city residents, although the communities of Selkirk and Winnipeg Beach and points in between obviously had a vested interest in the completion of the road project. While the route between Selkirk and Winnipeg Beach was being improved, the stretch leading from the city to Selkirk was said to be the worst outside the city, causing tires to be “cut to the canvass, owing to the endless ruts.”
On the other hand, the run to Shoal Lake via Stonewall and Balmoral was termed the best for a weekend car tour.
It was suggested in the Free Press article that the Manitoba government could use convict labour to improve roads, as was being done in the United States. The use of chain gangs to make local improvements was primarily an American phenomenon, especially in the Southern States, and not endemic to Canada, so it was a suggestion not acted upon by the provincial government. 
On August 7, 1907, the executive of the automobile club met in Maw’s Garage to discuss a new and more daring auto tour to Brandon, encompassing a distance of 520 kilometres. The intent was to have entrants and their vehicles leave Winnipeg on  Friday afternoon and cover the first leg to Portage la Prairie on the same day. The following morning, the next leg of the tour was to be to Brandon via Neepawa, Minnedosa and Rapid City. A one-day layover was planned in Brandon with the cars leaving Monday morning for Morden, via Souris, Boissevain and Deloraine. The final leg of the journey was the trek back to Winnipeg on Tuesday.
It was understood that it would not be a race, “but merely a pleasure jaunt.” Undoubtedly, this decision was reached as a result of the tragic accident in 1906 to Boswell.
To prevent racing, the participating vehicles would be proceeded by a pace-making car whose driver was instructed  to set a moderate speed that had to be followed by the trailing vehicles. Any automobile passing the pilot car would be disqualified.
The establishment of the first annual run to Brandon also involved a new $100 silver trophy for the first-place “touring” car with the least number of “adjustments” (repairs). The trophy was  donated by the Oldsmobile Motor Company. The executive of the club indicated the Dunlop prize was also offered for “run-abouts” taking part in the endurance run, but as it turned out the Dunlop race was dropped in 1907. It was decided that the competition for the Dunlop Trophy would no longer be a tour into the countryside, but a 100-mile race to be held at the Kirkfield Park track starting in 1908.
The change of venue to Kirkfield Park became necessary when the auto club failed in its negotiations with municipalities to remove all speed limits “for the short time occupied by the race.”
The new “reliability” contest was open to all members of Manitoba automobile clubs. Prior to the announcement of the new road trip, over 30 motorists had expressed an interest in participating.
On August 31, 1907, W.C. Power, the secretary of the auto club, and H.A. Aylwin, set out to plot the route to Brandon. Along with Professor Duncan McDermid, Aylwin was also a judge for the endurance run.  The vehicles taking part in the run were scheduled to depart Winnipeg a few days later, after the route to Brandon and back to Winnipeg was plotted and the two trailblazers had returned to the city.
The pace car on the designated day of the run was an Oldsmobile driven by O.W. Brown, who was accompanied by passengers Mrs. E. Nicholson, Mrs. F.W. Carroll and Mr. and Mrs. Fred W. Scott. The Oldsmobile started out from the Winnipeg Automobile Club’s headquarters at Joseph Maw & Co. garage on King Street, proceeding to Portage Avenue and the start of the westward journey via Princess and Donald streets. 
Immediately behind the pace car came the entrants in the endurance run, while proceeding all the cars was the Oldsmobile Roadster driven by Power with Aylwin serving as his assistant. As it made its way west, the role of the pathfinder car was to mark the route and turns with confetti. 
In the vanguard of the procession out of Winnipeg was a car containing  unnamed mechanics — later newspaper accounts would seem to imply they were Stanley Maw and Robert Rogers Jr. — prepared to lend assistance with any car repairs along the route when called upon. The presence of the mechanics was said to provided great comfort to the run’s participants.
In the evening of September 8, the first vehicles began arriving at the Imperial Hotel in Brandon. The pace car driven by Brown reached the hotel before the others, while a Franklin in which Earl Persse and Alfred A. Andrews rode was the second to arrive. Ironically, Power and Aylwin took a wrong turn near Brandon, resulting in the “pathfinder” arriving at the hotel in third position. 
While in Brandon, the organizational meeting for the Manitoba Motor League was held. Those elected to the executive of the league, “for the mutual protection of all automobile owners throughout the province,” included president W.A. Elliott of Brandon, first-vice-president D.H. Sprague of Winnipeg, second-vice-president Joseph Maw of Winnipeg, secretary H. Stevens of Portage la Prairie, treasurer W.R. Bawlf of Winnipeg, and treasurer L.R. Barrett of Winnipeg.
Among the bylaws regulating automobiles discussed was one in Brandon restricting the speed of cars to six mph on city streets and four mph at crossings, which did not “meet with the advanced views of the motorists and it is probable that the future will see a change,” according to report in the September 11 Free Press.
By this time, the Manitoba Motor Vehicle Act had been passed by the provincial legislature, which called for licencing of drivers, a provision that was supported by the auto club. Section 25 specified that “no male person sixteen years of age, and no female person under eighteen years of age, shall drive or operate a motor vehicle upon any public street, highway, road park, parkway or driveway.”
A Winnipeg bylaw was also being proposed to restrict automobiles to a maximum 10-mph speed on city streets.
On the return trip to Winnipeg, the first car piloted by Aylwin reached Carman on September 8 at 9:30 p.m. The Free Press reported a day later that Aylwin had made a record run from Miami to Carman, a distance of “21 and one-half miles,” in “34 minutes.” The next car into Carman was the Franklin in which Persse and C. Anderson rode (what happened to Andrews?).
Two serious “mishaps” during the run were reported in the same September 11 edition of the Free Press. John Borebank, a Winnipeg businessman who died in the 1912 Titanic disaster, “had the misfortune, while on a winding steep hill, to break the front wheel and had to send to Winnipeg for another. The accident occurred west of Holland, but Mr. Borebank left the party and got back to Winnipeg ahead.
“L.T. Bristow broke a radiator in running over a ditch, but by the skill of Robert Rogers Jr. and Stanley Maw he was righted in 45 minutes and ready to proceed.”
There was also a few punctured tires, “but nothing of any importance occurred and some made the entire run of more than 300 miles without the slightest trouble.”
Eight vehicles arrived back in the city by 2:30 p.m. on September 10.
The 1907 Oldsmobile Trophy was presented to E. Nicholson’s Oldsmobile driven by C. Brown Jr.
In 1908, Power and Aylwin were again given the task of testing the route to Brandon and back. The judges were announced as Prof. McDermid, H.M. Belcher and Dr. Samual Matheson.
A two-page report on the event was contained in the August 22, 1908, Free Press, including a humourous column called Random Jottings on the trials and tribulations of the endurance run by “The Imbecile,” who wrote that 23 drivers had started and 22 “survivors congratulated themselves” in front of the city post office for having completed the course.
In an August 1 article preceding the run, the Free Press expressed the opinion that the course mapped out by Aylwin and Power was not particularly difficult, “so that this factor which generally plays such an important part in contests of this nature will not have to enter very seriously into the calculations of those taking part in the event.”
In keeping with the concept that the event was to be a “pleasant jaunt,” the route decided upon by the two pathfinders included “beauty spots,” such as “the beautiful Killarney lakes ... and the view from the magnificent hill at Lariviere.” The later was called “the Garden Spot of Manitoba” in the article.
Since hotel space was at a premium during the event, the warning was issued that the number of passengers carried by the entrants had to be limited. The feeling was that more cars able to take part would intensify the interest in the endurance run and contribute to the enthusiasm of spectators along the route.
The second annual Oldsmobile Trophy endurance run, involving over 70 drivers and passengers, including women and children, started out from the new post office building on Portage Avenue on Saturday, August 15 at 8 a.m.. The run was cited as being the “longest tour ever made for Canadian automobiles.” And with the presence of so many children and their parents, it was in some measure a family adventure into the countryside.
The cars were expected to make the run to Portage la Prairie and then Brandon on that day. With the exception of car No. 8, a McLaughlin Buick owned by W.A.L. Sweatman, all the cars reached reached Portage “in perfect order.” Sweatman had been delayed by tire trouble.
“A great crowd of people were waiting ... to welcome the tourists and three rousing cheers were given on the arrival of the pathfinder car, which did splendid service in the making of route and keeping the pace steady,” according to an August 15 report filed from the community.
The cars were expected to make the run to Portage la Prairie and then Brandon on that day. With the exception of car No. 8, a McLaughlin Buick owned by W.A.L. Sweatman, all the cars reached reached Portage “in perfect order.” Sweatman had been delayed by tire trouble.
“A great crowd of people were waiting ... to welcome the tourists and three rousing cheers were given on the arrival of the pathfinder car, which did splendid service in the making of route and keeping the pace steady,” according to an August 15 report filed from the community.
The road conditions from Winnipeg to Portage, a distance quoted as 56 miles (nearly 100 kilometres), were described as “splendid,” which “added greatly to the pleasure of the run.”
Despite the good roads, the “puncture fiend” began to appear as the cars passed St. Francis-Xavier, with “G.A. Mitchell, W.A.T. Sweatman and J. Moxam being the recipients of his unwelcome attention” (August 22, 1908, Free Press summation of the run).
“Repairs were, however, quickly made in all cases, and the first stage of the journey accomplished within the time limit.”
The pathfinder car driven by Power reached the Imperial Hotel in Portage at 11:20 a.m. Twenty minutes later, cars owned by Bawlf, a Royal Tourist, and G.A. Mitchell, an Oldsmobile, followed the pathfinder vehicle into the community. The other cars followed in one- to two-minute intervals. The arrival speed from Winnipeg to Portage was 20 mph, but at times speeds of 40 mph were reached.
After a luncheon and replenishment of the vehicles with oil and gasoline, the cars then departed for Brandon at 1:15 p.m. The automobiles were expected to reach the community by seven or eight o’clock in the evening. 
“Since leaving Portage la Prairie, those taking part in the automobile endurance run have experienced practically every condition of road surface and have had to negotiate a large number of stiff canals through the sand hills near Carberry.”
The first car to encounter trouble was Mitchell’s Oldsmobile, which sustained damage to its drive wheel. The disabled car came to a stop on a steep grade and then began to travel backwards. Only the quick reversing of his car by  F. Luke prevented a collision with the runaway vehicle. The car was repaired and able to resume the endurance run to Brandon on Sunday afternoon.
The car was subsequently abandoned and its passengers were transferred to other vehicles. 
The majority of cars reached Carberry by 4:15 p.m., and were greeted by residents lining the main street of the town. 
The pathfinder vehicle left the community at 7 p.m. followed by the remaining entrants. Soon after leaving Carberry, a heavy downpour driven by a strong wind was encountered, which sting the faces and eyes, and “noticeably” affected the roads to Brandon, including the major section along the railway tracks through tall prairie grass with only the ruts of the vehicles providing an indication of the route to be taken.
“Added to this the turns were many in number and in some cases so abrupt as to need considerable care in negotiating them.” 
As the cars approached the prairie city, they had to climb over a steep hill resulting from the erection of a temporary bridge over the Assiniboine River, which “proved to be in a very treacherous state, most of the vehicles slipping and sliding all over the place ...”
J.J. Borebank’s McLaughlin Buick slid and crashed through a wire fence, nearly ending up in the Assiniboine River. The occupants of the vehicle, Mrs. Borebank and Mr. and Mrs. Higgins, were said to have received a “very bad fright,” but being entangled in the “stout” fence wire prevented the vehicle and its occupant from tumbling into the river.
While climbing the hill, Mitchell missed a gear, but avoided trouble by steering his car to the side of the road and then found the proper low gear to mount the incline.
But all the cars, with the exception of those owned by Sweatman,  Mitchell and F.R. Newan (broken front spring), reached Brandon between 6 and 8 p.m. and were put under lock and key in the 10th Street fair building, where they were to be inspected by the judges.
According to the Free Press summation of the run, “the passengers were divided between the Empire, Imperial and Langham hotels, where a well-provided supper table and the luxuries of a good bed soon made them forget the sliding finish to the day’s run.”
(Next week: part 3)