CHAPTER THREE. THE START

"IS THIS ROAD TO - "

The trip was not premeditated - it was not of malice aforethought; it was the outcome of an idle suggestion made one hot summer afternoon, and decided upon in the moment. Within the same half-hour a telegram was sent the Professor inviting him for a ride to Buffalo. Beyond that point there was no thought, - merely a nebulous notion that might take form if everything went well.

Hampered by no announcements, with no record to make or break, the trip was for pleasure, - a mid-summer jaunt. We did intend to make the run to Buffalo as fast as roads would permit, - but for exhilaration only, and not with any thought of making a record that would stand against record-making machines, driven by record-breaking men.

It is much better to start for nowhere and get there than to start for somewhere and fall by the wayside. Just keep going, and the machine will carry you beyond your expectations.

The Professor knew nothing about machinery and less about an automobile, but where ignorance is bliss it is double-distilled folly to know anything about the eccentricities of an automobile.

To enjoy automobiling, one must know either all or nothing about the machine, - a little knowledge is a dangerous thing; on the part of the guest it leads to all sorts of apprehensions, on the part of the chauffeur to all sorts of experiments. About five hundred miles is the limit of a man's ignorance; he then knows enough to make trouble; at the end of another five hundred he is of assistance, at the end of the third he will run the machine himself - your greatest pleasure is in the first five hundred. With some precocious individuals these figures may be reduced somewhat.

The Professor adjusted his spectacles and looked at the machine:

"A very wonderful contrivance, and one that requires some skill to operate. From lack of experience, I cannot hope to be of much practical assistance at first, but possibly a theoretical knowledge of the laws and principles governing things mechanical may be of service in an emergency. Since receiving your telegram, I have brushed up a little my knowledge of both kinematics and dynamics, though it is quite apparent that the operation of these machines, accompanied, as it is said, by many restraints and perturbations, falls under the latter branch. In view of the possibility - remote, I trust - of the machine refusing to go, I have devoted a little time to statics, and therefore feel that I shall be something more than a supercargo."

"Well, you are equipped, Professor; no doubt your knowledge will prove useful."

"Knowledge is always useful if people in this busy age would only pause to make use of it. Mechanics has been defined as the application of pure mathematics to produce or modify motion in inferior bodies; what could be more apt? Is it not our intention to produce or modify motion in this inferior body before us?"

Days after the Professor found the crank a more useful implement for the inducing of motion.

It was Thursday morning, August 1, at exactly seven o'clock, that we passed south on Michigan Avenue towards South Chicago and Hammond. A glorious morning, neither hot nor cold, but just deliciously cool, with some promise - afterwards more than fulfilled - of a warm day.

The hour was early, policemen few, streets clear, hence fast speed could be made.

As we passed Zion Temple, near Twelfth Street, the home of the Dowieites, the Professor said:

"A very remarkable man, that Dowie."

"A fraud and an impostor," I retorted, reflecting current opinion. "Possibly; but we all impose more or less upon one another; he has simply made a business of his imposition. Did you ever meet him?"

"No; it's hardly worth while."

"It is worth while to meet any man who influences or controls a considerable body of his fellow-men. The difference between Mohammed and Joseph Smith is of degree rather than kind. Dowie is down towards the small end of the scale, but he is none the less there, and differs in kind from your average citizen in his power to influence and control others. I crossed the lake with him one night and spent the evening in conversation."

"What are your impressions of the man?"

"A shrewd, hard-headed, dogmatic Scotchman, - who neither smokes nor drinks."

"Who calls himself Elijah come to earth again."

"I had the temerity to ask him concerning his pretensions in that direction, and he said, substantially, 'I make no claims or assertions, but the Bible says Elijah will return to earth; it does not say in what form or how he will manifest himself; he might choose your personality; he might choose mine; he has not chosen yours, there are some evidences that he has chosen mine."

"Proof most conclusive."

"It satisfies his followers. After all, perhaps it does not matter so much what we believe as how we believe."

A few moments later we were passing the new Christian Science Temple on Drexel Boulevard, - a building quite simple and delightful, barring some garish lamps in front.

"There is another latter-day sect," said the Professor; "one of the phenomena of the nineteenth century."

"You would not class them with the Dowieites?"

"By no means, but an interesting part of a large whole which embraces at one extreme the Dowieites. The connecting link is faith. But the very architecture of the temple we have just passed illustrates the vast interval that separates the two."

"Then you judge a sect by its buildings?"

"Every faith has its own architecture. The temple at Karnak and the tabernacle at Salt Lake City are petrifactions of faith. In time the places of worship are the only tangible remains - witness Stonehenge."

Chicago boasts the things she has not and slights the things she has; she talks of everything but the lake and her broad and almost endless boulevards, yet these are her chief glories.

For miles and miles and miles one can travel boulevards upon which no traffic teams are allowed. From Fort Sheridan, twenty-five miles north, to far below Jackson Park to the south there is an unbroken stretch. Some day Sheridan Road will extend to Milwaukee, ninety miles from Chicago.

One may reach Jackson Park, the old World's Fair site, by three fine boulevards, - Michigan, broad and straight; Drexel, with its double driveways and banks of flowers, trees, and shrubbery between; Grand, with its three driveways, and so wide one cannot recognize an acquaintance on the far side, cannot even see the policeman frantically motioning to slow down.

 It does not matter which route is taken to the Park, the good roads end there. We missed our way, and went eighteen miles to Hammond, over miles of poor pavement and unfinished roads. That was a pull which tried nerves and temper, - to find at the end there was another route which involved but a short distance of poor going. It is all being improved, and soon there will be a good road to Hammond.

Through Indiana from Hammond to Hobart the road is macadamized and in perfect condition; we reached Hobart at half-past nine; no stop was made. At Crocker two pails of water were added to the cooling tank.

At Porter the road was lost for a second time, - exasperating. At Chesterton four gallons of gasoline were taken and a quick run made to Burdick.

The roads are now not so good, - not bad, but just good country roads, some stretches of gravel, but generally clay, with some sand here and there. The country is rolling, but no steep hills.

Up to this time the machine had required no attention, but just beyond Otis, while stopping to inquire the way, we discovered a rusty round nail embedded to the head in the right rear tire. The tire showed no signs of deflation, but on drawing the nail the air followed, showing a puncture. As the nail was scarcely three-quarters of an inch long, - not long enough to go clear through and injure the inner coating on the opposite side, - it was entirely practical to reinsert and run until it worked out. A very fair temporary repair might have been made by first dipping the nail in a tire cement, but the nail was rusty and stuck very well.

An hour later, at La Porte, the nail was still doing good service and no leak could be detected. We wired back to Chicago to have an extra tire sent on ahead.

From Chicago to La Porte, by way of Hobart, the roads are excellent, excepting always the few miles near South Chicago. Keep to the south - even as far south as Valparaiso - rather than to the north, near the lake. The roads are hilly and sandy near the lake.

Beware the so-called road map; it is a snare and a delusion. A road which seems most seductive on the bicycler's road map may be a sea of sand or a veritable quagmire, but with a fine bicycle path at the side. As you get farther east these cinder paths are protected by law, with heavy fines for driving thereon; it requires no little restraint to plough miles and miles through bottomless mud on a narrow road in the Mohawk valley with a superb three-foot cinder path against your very wheels. The machine of its own accord will climb up now and then; it requires all the vigilance of a law-abiding driver to keep it in the mud, where it is so unwilling to travel.

So far as finding and keeping the road is concerned, - and it is a matter of great concern in this vast country, where roads, cross-roads, forks, and all sorts of snares and delusions abound without sign-boards to point the way, - the following directions may be given once for all:

If the proposed route is covered by any automobile hand-book or any automobile publication, get it, carry it with you and be guided by it; all advice of ancient inhabitants to the contrary notwithstanding.

If there is no publication covering the route, take pains to get from local automobile sources information about the several possible routes to the principal towns which you wish to make.

If you can get no information at all from automobile sources, you can make use - with great caution - of bicycle road maps, of the maps rather than the redlined routes.

About the safest course is to spread out the map and run a straight line between the principal points on the proposed route, note the larger villages, towns, and cities near the line so drawn, make a list of them in the order they come from the starting-point, and simply inquire at each of these points for the best road to the next.

If the list includes places of fair size, - say, from one to ten or twenty thousand inhabitants, it is reasonably certain that the roads connecting such places will be about as good as there are in the vicinity; now and then a better road may be missed, but, in the long run, that does not matter much, and the advantage of keeping quite close to the straight line tells in the way of mileage.

It is usually worse than useless to inquire in any place about the roads beyond a radius of fifteen or twenty miles; plenty of answers to all questions will be forthcoming, but they simply mislead. In these days of railroads, farmers no longer make long overland drives.

It is much easier to get information in small villages than in cities. In a city about all one can learn is how to get out by the shortest cut. Once out, the first farmer will give information about the roads beyond.

In wet weather the last question will be, "Is the road clayey or bottomless anywhere?" In dry weather, "Is there any deep, soft sand, and are there any sand hills?"

The judgment of a man who is looking at the machine while he is giving information is biased by the impressions as to what the machine can do; make allowances for this and get, if possible, an accurate description of the condition of any road which is pronounced impassable, for you alone know what the machine can do, and many a road others think you cannot cover is made with ease.

To the farmer the automobile is a traction engine, and he advises the route accordingly; he will even speculate whether a given bridge will support the extraordinary load.

Once we were directed to go miles out of our way over a series of hills to avoid a stretch of road freshly covered with broken stone, because our solicitous friends were sure the stones would cut the rubber tires.

On the other hand, in Michigan, a well meaning old lady sent us straight against the very worst of sand hills, not a weed, stone, or hard spot on it, so like quicksand that the wheels sank as they revolved; it was the only hill from which we retreated, to find that farmers avoided that particular road on account of that notorious hill, to find also a good, well-travelled road one mile farther around. These instances are mentioned here to show how hazardous it is to accept blindly directions given.

"Is this the road to - ?" is the chauffeur's ever recurring shout to people as he whizzes by. Four times out of five he gets a blank stare or an idiotic smile. Now and then he receives a quick "Yes" or "No."

If time permits to stop and discuss the matter at length, do so with a man; if passing quickly, ask a woman.

A woman will reply before a man comprehends what is asked; the feminine mind is so much more alert than the masculine; then, too, a woman would rather know what a man is saying than watch a machine, while a man would rather see the machine than listen; - in many ways the automobile differentiates the sexes.

Of a group of school children, the girls will answer more quickly and accurately than the boys. What they know, they seem to know positively. A boy's wits go wool gathering; he is watching the wheels go round.

At Carlyle, on the way to South Bend, the tire was leaking slightly, the nail had worked out. The road is a fine wide macadam, somewhat rolling as South Bend is approached.

By the road taken South Bend is about one hundred miles from Chicago, - the distance actually covered was some six or eight miles farther, on account of wanderings from the straight and narrow path. The hour was exactly two fifty-three, nearly eight hours out, an average of about twelve and one-half miles an hour, including all stops, and stops count in automobiling; they pull the average down by jumps.

The extra tire was to be at Elkhart, farther on, and the problem was to make the old one hold until that point would be reached. Just as we were about to insert a plug to take the place of the nail, a bicycle repairer suggested rubber bands. A dozen small bands were passed through the little fork made by the broken eye of a large darning-needle, stretched tight over a wooden handle into which the needle had been inserted; some tire cement was injected into the puncture, and the needle carrying the stretched bands deftly thrust clear through; on withdrawing the needle the bands remained, plugging the hole so effectually that it showed no leak until some weeks later, when near Boston, the air began to work slowly through the fabric.

Heavy and clumsy as are the large single-tube tires, it is quite practicable to carry an extra one, though we did not. One is pretty sure to have punctures, - though two in twenty-six hundred miles are not many.

Nearly an hour was spent at South Bend; the river road, following the trolley line, was taken to Elkhart.

Near Osceola a bridge was down for repairs; the stream was quite wide and swift but not very deep. From the broken bridge the bottom seemed to be sand and gravel, and the approaches on each side were not too steep. There was nothing to do but go through or lose many miles in going round. Putting on all power we went through with no difficulty whatsoever, the water at the deepest being about eighteen to twenty inches, somewhat over the hubs. If the bottom of the little stream had been soft and sticky, or filled with boulders, fording would have been out of the question. Before attempting a stream, one must make sure of the bottom; the depth is of less importance.

We did not run into Elkhart, but passed about two miles south in sight of the town, arriving at Goshen at four fifteen. The roads all through here seem to be excellent. From Goshen our route was through Benton and Ligonier, arriving at Kendallville at exactly eight o'clock.

The Professor with painstaking accuracy kept a log of the run, noting every stop and the time lost.

In this first day's run of thirteen hours, the distance covered by route taken was one hundred and seventy miles; deducting all stops, the actual running time was nine hours and twenty minutes, an average of eighteen miles per hour while the machine was in motion.

For an ordinary road machine this is a high average over so long a stretch, but the weather was perfect and the machine working like a clock. The roads were very good on the whole, and, while the country was rolling, the grades were not so steep as to compel the use of the slow gear to any great extent.

The machine was geared rather high for any but favorable conditions, and could make thirty-five miles an hour on level macadam, and race down grade at an even higher rate. Before reaching Buffalo we found the gearing too high for some grades and for deep sand.

On the whole, the roads of Northern Indiana are good, better than the roads of any adjoining State, and we were told the roads of the entire State are very good. The system of improvement under State laws seems to be quite advanced. It is a little galling to the people of Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio to find the humble Hoosier is far ahead in the matter of road building. If all the roads between Chicago and New York averaged as good as those of Indiana, the trip would present fewer difficulties and many more delights.

The Professor notes that up to this point nine and three-quarters gallons of gasoline have been consumed, - seventeen miles to the gallon. When a motor is working perfectly, the consumption of gasoline is always a pretty fair indication of the character of the roads. Our machine was supposed to make twenty miles to the gallon, and so it would on level roads, with the spark well advanced and the intake valve operating to a nicety; but under adverse conditions more gasoline is used, and with the hill-climbing gear four times the gasoline is used per mile.

The long run of this first day was most encouraging; but the test is not the first day, nor the second, nor even the first week, nor the second, but the steady pull of week in and week out.

With every mile there is a theoretical decrease in the life and total efficiency of the machine; after a run of five hundred or a thousand miles this decrease is very perceptible. The trouble is that while the distance covered increases in arithmetical progression, the deterioration of the machine is in geometrical. During the first few days a good machine requires comparatively little attention each day; during the last weeks of a long tour it requires double the attention and ten times the work.

No one who has not tried it can appreciate the great strain and the wear and tear incidental to long rides on American roads. Going at twenty or twenty-five miles an hour in a machine with thirty-two-inch wheels and short wheel-base gives about the same exercise one gets on a horse; one is lifted from the seat and thrown from side to side, until you learn to ride the machine as you would a trotter and take the bumps, accordingly. It is trying to the nerves and the temper, it exercises every muscle in the body, and at night one is ready for a good rest.

Lovers of the horse frequently say that automobiling is to coaching as steam yachting is to sailing, - all of which argues the densest ignorance concerning automobiling, since there is no sport which affords anything like the same measure of exhilaration and danger, and requires anything like the same amount of nerve, dash, and daring. Since the days of Roman chariot racing the records of man describe nothing that parallels automobile racing, and, so far as we have any knowledge, chariot racing, save for the plaudits of vast throngs of spectators, was tame and uneventful compared with the frightful pace of sixty and eighty miles an hour in a throbbing, bounding, careering road locomotive, over roads practically unknown, passing persons, teams, vehicles, cattle, obstacles, and obstructions of all kinds, with a thousand hair-breadth escapes from wreck and destruction.

The sport may not be pretty and graceful; it lacks the sanction of convention, the halo of tradition. It does not admit of smart gowns and gay trappings; it is the last product of a mechanical age, the triumph of mechanical ingenuity, the harnessing of mechanical forces for pleasure instead of profit, - the automobile is the mechanical horse, and, while not as graceful, is infinitely more powerful, capricious, and dangerous than the ancient beast.