When the automobile was in its infancy, car companies would go to great extremes to prove their worth. While most people were making their way west by horse and buggy, the young Packard Motor Car company decided to go east, from San Francisco to New York, in one of their fancy new automobiles. Packard investor Henry Joy dreamed up the journey, believing it would prove that American-made cars, specifically Packards, could “negotiate the all but impassible mountain and desert roads and trails of the Far West.”
Selected for the journey was a 1902 Packard Model F. It would be driven by Packard plant foreman and test driver Tom Fetch, who would be accompanied by The Automobile magazine editor Marius Krarup. Fetch made some modifications to the car to prepare it for a rough journey across roadless terrain and hazardous trails. This included stripping it of fenders, outfitting it with additional gas tanks and installing a low gear that would help it crawl up mountains. The car alone weighed in at 2,200 pounds, but once packed with supplies that included a pick, shovel, chains and canvas used to cross deep ruts and soft sand, it tipped the scales at 3,000 pounds.
The Packard road trip begins
The pair left San Francisco on this day in 1903. The route selected for them by Packard VP Sidney Waldon had them follow the Southern Pacific railroad lines. Due to this, Fetch decided to name the car Old Pacific. The treacherous mountain terrain proved incredibly difficult to navigate. It took Fetch and Krarup until July 20 to reach Denver. The first third of the journey, as harsh as it was, provided for much fanfare and press. One article in Horseless Age read, “The Packard Motor-car Company reports that E. T. Fetch and M. C. Krarup, who have undertaken to run a Packard automobile from San Francisco to New York City, have reached Wadsworth, Nev. in their progress eastward. This is the first time that an automobile has succeeded in crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains.”
Without cared for roads and hardly a map to follow, the pair faced many challenges, both mechanical and not. They had little opportunity to bathing, operated in extreme temperatures and at high altitudes and food was sparse. From time to time they even found themselves building their own roads to get up mountains and across rivers. Upon reaching Colorado Springs, Krarup wrote, “Nevada is awful, but Utah is the worst I ever saw. We carry a pick and shovel along, and we found it necessary in more than one instance to use them when we had to build roads ourselves, cutting along the sides of hills.”
Getting from Denver to Illinois was similarly difficult, but once down from the mountains the plains proved to be suitable for making good time. East of Chicago there were more roads available to use, which helped the Packard conquer the second two thirds of America in the same amount of time as the first. It seemed the great American road trip would succeed after all.
The end of the line for the Old Pacific
When the Packard rolled into Tarrytown, New York, some 200 other automobile owners and fans met them. The crowd was intent on escorting Fetch and Krarup to the finish line in New York City, about 30 miles away. The journey came to an end on August 21, 1903 when the Packard and the parade of autos entered NYC, marking the second time an automobile had made the transcontinental trip. At the end of the 63 day transcontinental jaunt, Fetch addressed the crowd, exclaiming, “Thank God, it’s over.”