Era of jaunty jalopies — Oldsmobile Trophy endurance run became a victim of the First World War

by Bruce Cherney (part 4 of 4) 
With four cars having perfect scores at  the completion of the endurance jaunt to Brandon and back to Winnipeg, the decision was reached to stage a run to Portage la Prairie in order to break the tie. Russell  Mackenzie McLeod, Charles Henry Newton, Dr. George Matheson and Prof. D.W. McDermid were announced as the judges who would decide the outcome of the second run and finally determine the winner of the 1908 Oldsmobile Trophy .
According to the original judgement by Henry Martin Belcher, Dr. Matheson and Prof. McDermid, which was addressed to William Ernest Wright, secretary of the Winnipeg Automobile Club: “After careful consideration of the daily card reports, and examination and testing of the cars at Brandon and Winnipeg, we find that the cars owned by E. Nicholson (actually the car owner was Mrs. S. Nicholson), W.E. Wright, Hon. (Manitoba Minister of Public Works) Robert Rogers and Joseph Maw all finished with a perfect score of 1,000 points.” 
In an interview with the Toronto Sunday World (published September 13), W.C. Power, while visiting the Ontario city, claimed Wright’s Russell should not have been awarded a perfect score as it lost three points on the second day of the original run. A letter written to the Free Press by an individual calling himself “Fair Play,” published in the September 19 edition of the newspaper, pointed out the “glaring untruthfulness of the statement,” which was made “apparent by the judges placing it in the perfect score class.”
In reply to the letter, Free Press automotive editor Arthur Coates “Ace” Emmett wrote that it would have been better for the Toronto newspaper to have left Power’s statement about Wright out, as: “It always tends to create more or less bad feeling when this method is adopted.”
Actually, the interview with Power, a long-standing member of the Winnipeg Automobile Club, was more of a glowing advertisement for the McLaughlin-Buick automobiles built in Ontario that he sold in Winnipeg than a true recounting of the endurance race. 
Power gave McLaughlins first billing during the Toronto interview, implying that this brand of vehicle was the star of the endurance run. Yet, no McLaughlin recorded a perfect score, according to the judges. In fact, the three types of vehicles finishing with perfect scores were two Packards, an Oldsmobile and a Russell (a car also built in Ontario), much to the chagrin of Power who, with the exception of the Wright’s Russell, failed to mention this fact during the interview. His comment about the Russell only arose when he wanted to point out that the vehicle had lost at least three points by his estimation.
Power’s criticism can be attributed to a desire to downplay the competition while promoting the vehicles he sold. Such blatant promotional practices were common in newspapers of the era wanting to both attract advertisers as well as satisfy existing advertisers, which was something Emmett was well aware of as the automotive editor for the Free Press. 
Emmett acknowledged the practice when he said the article in the Toronto newspaper had been “somewhat stretched in the interest of advertising, but would have been considered legitimate business enterprise if the personal information of one particular car had been left out.”
The fact that the “Winnipeg run,” according to the October 1, 1908, Montreal Gazette, “is considered the most important touring event of the year in Canada,” was a strong motivation for Power to emphasize the McLaughlin cars participating in the tour.
By the end of the run to Portage la Prairie and back, car owner Nicholson was awarded first place and owner Rogers took second-place honours. Nicholson’s winning Packard was driven by C. Brown, but the first-place prize was decided by the reliability of the vehicle with the prowess of the driver playing a decidedly subservient role. Still, drivers had to ensure the vehicles under their control met the pace set for each leg of the run while preventing mishaps from occurring along the route, which could contribute to point deductions if repairs became necessary. 
The judges announced their decision was “definite and final.”
By 1909, there were 500 automobiles in Winnipeg, but only 148 paid-up members of the Winnipeg Automobile Club. The common complaint expressed by the club executive was apathy among the membership, which may explain why the club failed to plan and schedule a Brandon run until too late in the season.  This is a surprise given the popularity of the previous year’s endurance run, which was extensively reported by local newspapers.
The Free Press on September 11, 1909, expressed the opinion that there was little hope to decide the Oldsmobile Trophy that year “unless the automobile club shows some signs of animation than have been apparent lately.”
It was initially announced that the endurance run would start on Thanksgiving Day, October 25, but this was cancelled in favour of an “At Home” to the Goldsborough Farm near Stonewall on the same day. The farm was described as the northern touring headquarters of “Winnipeg autoists” located 35 kilometres from the city and about three kilometres from Stonewall. The clubhouse burned down in the early morning hours of January 14, 1913. 
A year later in 1910, the endurance run was once again staged, although the route was shortened. On October 5, the McLaughlin-Buick driven by J. Cline was declared the winner of the Oldsmobile Trophy after it completed the 232-kilometre run from Winnipeg to Carman and Roland, returning by way of Morris, with the least amount of penalty points. In second place was a Ford driven by R. Roach.
According to the judges, the only penalty points accrued by the McLaughlin-Buick was for loose tension rods and a loose washer. The Ford was penalized for adding oil and changing a spark plug. Neither vehicle recorded any road penalties.
By 1911, a change arose in the management of the Oldsmobile Trophy endurance run. According to the September 9, 1911, Free Press, the run was placed to be managed by the Winnipeg Motor Trades Association under the auspices of the Winnipeg Automobile Club.
“The change in the management of the annual run had been considered advisable owing to the fact that the run has become more or less a trade affair, although private owners are not barred from taking part ...”
The auto dealers had a vested interest in the endurance run as it provided an opportunity to show off their cars to other communities, and, if victorious, win praise for the reliability of the vehicles they were marketing. For example, an August 30, 1913, Reo Sales Co., 330 William Ave., Winnipeg, newspaper advertisement made specific mention that a Reo was “the winner of the Oldsmobile endurance contest” with “a perfect score.”
Two years earlier, a Ford driven by R. Roach was the winner of the 1911 Oldsmobile Trophy, recording just 32 penalty points, with 25 of the points being for a late arrival at a control station and seven for a minor repair. 
In second place was a Paterson driven by M.G. Walker, the local agent for the automobile company. It was the first car to reach Winnipeg “after breaking a trail through the awful mud for nearly sixty miles” by taking over as the pathfinder car. The car was awarded second place on technical examination, “losing premier honors by a very narrow margin.” 
Third place went to a Reo driven by W.S. Andrews, a representative of the Reo car factory in St. Catherines, Ontario.
Driving his “big Halladay,” R. Strain was assessed no penalty points on the first leg of the journey. However, Strain dropped out of the contest, seeing “no advantage to be gained in forcing a fine car through the rain and mud, and therefore left it at Boissevain, until the weather should allow driving it home in comfort.”
“The final conclusion to be arrived at is, that the contest recently finished,” summed up the Free Press, “was the hardest test that cars had ever been put to in competition for this trophy, and that so many of them should have come through it successfully, speaks volumes for the reliability of the 1912 models.”
As is the case today, next year car models arrived at dealer show rooms in the fall of the preceding year, so 1912 models were available for the endurance run in September 1911.
The 1912 Oldsmobile Trophy run was extended westward to include a leg to Neepawa on the first day and then onward to Brandon. To accommodate the extension of the route, the participants on the second day were scheduled to go southwest to Souris and then west to Glenboro. During the previous years’ runs, the trail taken was directly south to Boissevain. The new route cut out communities that had been included in past events such as Killarney and Morden. The final day’s goal was to travel from Brandon to Glenboro and then to Winnipeg via Treherne, St. Claude, Elm Creek, Fannystelle and Starbuck. In total, the distance covered during the three-day run was 612 kilometres, with the last day entailing a 265-kilometre dash to Winnipeg.
Another change was the stipulation that cars had to be entered and driven by their owners, although a “relief” driver was permitted to take over the wheel when the owner became too fatigued to continue a leg.
The September 28, 1912, Free Press reported a 68-kilometre stretch after St. Claude “proved to be the most strenuous task that an automobile was ever put through ... the cars were called upon to undergo some of the severest strains that it would be possible to put them to. One long succession of mud holes and deep ponds of water had to be rushed by the cars, and it was necessary to hold the contestants back and put them through the bad spots one at a time.”
According to the newspaper, the pilot White automobile driven by J.L. Jones, the local agent of the White Motor Car Co., pushed its way through the quagmire to break a path for the vehicles following behind. Relief registered on the face of the drivers when they reached the south side of the Assiniboine River for the last stretch of 20 kilometres on a well-graded road from Headingley into Winnipeg.
All the entries were meticulously timed and each car’s average speed was calculated using distance travelled and times recorded. According to the judges’ report, the cars entered in 1912 averaged 20.59 mph on the first day, 22.868 mph on the second and 21.8 mph on the final day, despite numerous stops “to inspect water holes.”
“The 1912 contest, although only having five cars entered as competitors, must undoubtedly be given the palm as the most successful run that has been held for the Oldsmobile trophy and reflects the greatest credit on the officials in charge of the contest,” according to the October 5, 1912, Free Press.
Cadillac No.1, driven by Charles McLaughlin, was declared the winner of the Oldsmobile Trophy, having incurred just 25 penalty points, although none were road penalties. 
Cadillac No. 2, driven by J. Marshall, racked up 31 penalty points, 20 of which were for being in a ditch for 10 minutes and having to be towed out by another car. The vehicle was declared the winner of the Gas Power Age Trophy, a contest sponsored by the Gas Power Age magazine published in Winnipeg, that was reserved for cars of between 20 to 30 horse power which were required to average a minimum of 18 mph throughout the run. A relief driver was allowed, but another rule stipulated that the owner of the vehicle had to drive more than half the distance of the entire route.
The Oldsmobile Trophy competition was reserved for cars over 30 hp, which had to average a minimum of 20 mph over the entire route.
A Hupmobile and a Ford also completed the endurance run. Another Hupmobile, driven by A.R. McLeod, suffered a bent steering rod after hitting a sunken oak log. It failed to complete the last leg of the run in the allotted time, and was declared ineligible for the competition.
In 1913, there were 16 entrants in the endurance run. That year, the course was extended further westward than the 1912 route with the drivers required to travel to Minnedosa and then to the furthest western point of the route at Virden. 
From Minnedosa, the cars were scheduled on the second day to reach Virden through Rapid City, Hamiota and Miniota and then proceed from Virden to Brandon where the penultimate day of the run ended. The last day of the run involved the long trek to Winnipeg from the “Wheat City.” 
With the length of the route extended westward to almost reach the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border, the endurance run for 1913 covered a distance of nearly 800 kilometres. 
Guided by the Cadillac pilot car driven by Harold Chambers, the automobiles  passed through Portage la Prairie and Neepawa with relative ease on August 20, although stretches of the road between St. Francis-Xavier and Poplar  Point were “in terrible condition and needed the greatest care” (Free Press, August 21, 1913). From Franklin to Minnedosa, a distance of about 15 kilometres, the trail was flooded by a heavy rain, “and the state of the roads was so bad that the cars took nearly an hour to cover this portion of the run.”
While the Free Press claimed “the appearance of the muddy travel-stained cars on the streets of Minnedosa caused the greatest interest among the townspeople,” the Minnedosa Tribune only made an extremely brief mention of the run, saying that the cars came at 8 o’clock in the evening and then left the next morning.
On this final day of the run, Cadillacs, entered by owners Bert Bowes and Sten Lund, withdrew from the contest owing to an accident that resulted in broken front springs to both cars. The damage to the two cars could have been repaired, but the penalty points involved effectively knocked them out of the competition. Both drivers, however, made the trip back to Winnipeg after the broken springs were fixed on their cars.
A Hupmobile driven by F.M. Montague also abandoned the contest. According to an August 30 Free Press report: “The reason Montague gave up was owing to the fact that he got into a bad mud hole on the first day and insisted on getting out of it by himself, refusing assistance, thereby losing so many points by arriving late at the night control, that he did not consider it worth while finishing the run as a competitor.”
Galt Horton of Portage la Prairie, driving a Reo, won the Oldsmobile Trophy. Second prize went to a Hupmobile, entered by Joseph Maw & Co. of Winnipeg, that was driven by C.P. Anderson.
The Gas Power Age Trophy was awarded to a Ford owned and driven by A.L. Forde, while in second place was a Hupmobile owned and driven by Bert Rutherford.
Although there was some talk of holding the endurance run in the fall of 1914, the First World War intruded and the event was cancelled and never again held. The war was the primary reason for the cancellation of the endurance run, but interest in the annual event was already waning, despite the assertions of its most ardent promoters. In effect, it had become a professional contest that amateur private car owners ignored, removing the biggest group of potential supporters from the mix. As well, the province’s auto clubs had found other causes to pursue rather than the “reliability” of vehicles. 
Just prior to the war years, the Manitoba Motor League with help from local auto clubs, including Winnipeg’s, was concentrating its efforts on mapping and placing signage on the province’s major thoroughfares. In 1913, “Ace” Emmett devised a system of auto routes across the province marked according to colours. Volunteers from the Winnipeg Automobile Club were “supplied with paint, brushes, and stencils (to) cut R (right) and L (left) turns” on trees, fences posts, and whatever was handy along rural roads, the markings co-ordinating with Emmett’s maps (Manitoba Motorist, November-December, 1964).
During a 1920 convention of the Canadian Automobile Association in Winnipeg, it was Emmett who, after observing the numbers on the city’s streetcars on the way to the meeting,  came up with the idea of numbered highways stretching across Canada.
The Manitoba Good Roads Association, formed by the Winnipeg Automobile Club in 1909, successfully lobbied municipal governments and the province to spend more money on road improvements. 
On June 8, 1910, the Portage la Prairie Weekly Review reported the association was receiving the co-operation of the Premier Rodmond Roblin government through the appointment of Archibald McGillvray as the provincial good roads (highways) commissioner. His appointment was considered a major turning point, as it suggested that the provincial government was finally coming to the realization that municipalities could not solely bear the cost of road improvements. However, it would be another two years before the province provided significant monetary compensation to municipalities for road construction.
While the Winnipeg Automobile Club endorsed the actions of the provincial government, it also, at its own expense, pulled a split-log drag over the 110 kilometres of “earth road” between Portage and Winnipeg to smooth out the ruts in the highway. 
In 1912, the Roblin government passed an Act Respecting the Improvement of Highways, which set aside $200,000 to aid municipalities in the construction of major public highways. The provincial government also passed the Good Roads Act in 1912, which guaranteed the debentures of any municipality undertaking the construction and improvement of road systems within its borders. 
The two acts were repealed in 1914 and a new Good  Roads Act passed, providing more generous financial incentives, and the establishment of a Good Roads Board that included a provincially-appointed commissioner and three members selected by the Manitoba Good Roads Association.
It was a sign of the times that the “reliability” of the cars in the latter years of the run detracted from the sense of adventure experienced in the early years, when “jaunty jalopies” were a novelty. The flimsy mechanical marvels competing in the initial years travelled over extremely challenging trails, rather than roads, which made the annual contest a true endurance run.