The cross-country drive is as old as the World Series. In 1903, Horatio Nelson Jackson, a 31-year-old doctor from Vermont, set out from San Francisco to New York in a secondhand Winton touring car. With no roads to guide him, he anticipated The Sound of Music's advice to "climb every mountain, ford every stream," completing the pioneering trek in 63 days.
Later drivers had an easier time. The good-roads movement of the next decade led many states to grade and improve their wagon paths for the automobile, to the point that in 1916, only 13 years after Jackson, Bobby Hammond was able to cover the San Francisco-New York route in five days, three hours and 31 minutes.
Better roads and bigger cars allowed even non-adventurers to drive from coast to coast. In 1915, New York socialite and "Etiquette" maven Emily Post asked a friend to recommend a route:
"`Can you tell me,' I asked her, `which is the best route to California?'
"Without hesitating she answered, `The Union Pacific.'
"`No, I mean motor road.'
"Compared with her expression the worst skeptics I had seen were enthusiasts. `Motor roads to California!' She looked at me pityingly. `There aren't any.'"
Despite this discouragement, Ms. Post reached San Francisco in four weeks.
By the 1920s, transcontinental drives had become popular with the motoring masses -- at least those masses with long vacations. The Literary Digest explained in 1922 that "Anybody Can Cross the Country, Now, in Fifty Days," the time recommended for "the average sightseer who has some interest in scenery." The article described Kansas and Nebraska as "only twelve or fifteen days' leisurely automobile runs from the Pacific Coast."
In 1931, Louis B. Miller and a relief driver lowered the San Francisco-New York record to 65 hours and 33 minutes. This record stood for less than three days, though...for after a one hour rest, Miller and a different relief driver drove BACK along the Lincoln Highway in 65 hours, 24 minutes!
More than sixty years later, I set out to see whether roads and automobiles had improved to the point that one driver in an ordinary car, running at normal highway speeds and getting a normal amount of rest, could beat Miller's time from New York to San Francisco. Instead of the Lincoln Highway, I would drive I-80: 2,907 miles from just west of the George Washington Bridge to the San Francisco Bay Bridge.
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