Once Upon a Flivver Fever (Part 2): Abilene or Bust!

When the new mode of transportation came along (see Part 1), Star-Telegram publisher Amon Carter Sr. made his newspaper an early advocate of the automobile.

On May 20, 1909, the Star-Telegram sponsored a two-day automobile endurance race from Fort Worth to Waco and back. Among the makes of cars taking part were long-gone names such as Franklin, Maxwell, Velie, Chalmers-Detroit, and Jackson. Along the 250-mile course drivers dodged angry farmers with shotguns and even-angrier constables with citation books. They braved swollen streams and dirt ruts softened by spring rain. Drivers got lost, axles and piston rods snapped, radiators ran dry.

But most of the cars made it back to Fort Worth. A Maxwell won the endurance cup (the winner was determined by a complicated set of factors other than shortest time); a Chalmers-Detroit won the economy cup, sipping seventeen gallons of gas (a cost of about $3.50 then). Each car company was quick to boast of its victory in an ad in the Star-Telegram.

Bonus trivia: In 1909 the man who had captured John Wilkes Booth forty-four years earlier was an early casualty of the new technology: He was hit by a car. Contrary to the prediction of this news report, Conger lived another nine years.

In 1910 early Fort worth auto enthusiast Tom Abbott took a Maxwell where no car had gone before (and probably since): bouncing up the south steps of the courthouse, chugging through the corridors of the hallowed hall of justice, and bouncing down the north steps.

Riding shotgun with Abbott on that bone-jarring jaunt was Star-Telegram auto editor James R. Record (1886-1973). Record himself was not a motorist. Ever. In fact, cars made him sorta nervous. So, naturally, the Star-Telegram made him its first auto editor.

In 1917 the Maxwell car company proposed a publicity stunt: Driving a stock Maxwell four-cylinder, race driver Percy Gibbs would attempt to set a speed record from Fort Worth to Abilene, a distance of 175 miles. Again, auto editor James R. Record rode shotgun in the Maxwell.

The route to Abilene included “some very bad road”—road that at times was only a rumor: buggy ruts, mesquite thickets, creek beds. There were delays as Gibbs stopped to patch flat tires or to refill an overheating radiator.

Note that the ad warns readers that the price of a 1917 Maxwell is about to jump by $30.

More bonus trivia: On his radio and TV programs, Jack Benny owned a Maxwell.

But despite the challenges, the Maxwell averaged a blistering thirty-one miles an hour, beating the time of the fastest Texas and Pacific train on that route, the Star-Telegram claimed. However, the trip was so unnerving to autophobic auto editor Record that he returned to Fort Worth by that slower mode—the train. When he had safely reached Fort Worth, he resigned his post as auto editor.

Once Upon a Flivver Fever (Part 3): The Big Two (Plus One)

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