(By Bret Kepner: SCTA Official and member of the Society of Land Speed Historians) – Throughout the weekend of August 8-9, 1914, William D. “Big Bill” Rishel had been hard at work making the speed trial event at Salduro into a spectacle. In a span of forty-eight hours, what was originally designed to be a simple one-day attempt at the Land Speed Record became a three-day program from Monday, August 10, through Wednesday, August 12. Each day would feature a variety of racing activities including record attempts by all of the team’s autos, several races between multiple cars and even racing competition between automobiles and trains. Sunday’s Salt Lake Tribune mentioned a train would be chartered by the Commercial Club and the Rotary Club to shuttle spectators to Salduro but a subsequent article in Monday’s edition explained the express would leave Wednesday morning arriving in time to see the entire day’s activities including the official record attempts by Tetzlaff and the Benz over one-mile, two-mile and five-mile courses. There would be no charge to spectators other than the price of the train ticket.
The event became more grandiose by the hour. Rishel arranged for Salt Lake City mayor Samuel C. Park and Utah Governor William Spry to be in attendance. Rishel also invited the city’s most powerful politicos and influential socialites few of whom cared about auto racing but all of whom had massive financial stakes in the route of the Lincoln Highway. Murphy and Rishel worked closely with Western Pacific to create a shuttle befitting the stature of its guests. In the end, the express train was comprised of two coaches, two Pullman cars and a fully-stocked buffet car. The excursion would leave the Gould station Salt Lake City at 10:00 AM, arrive at Salduro at 1:00 PM for a stay until 4:00 PM before arriving back in Salt Lake City at 7:00 PM. One last minute adjustment to the timetable came when residents of Grantsville (UT) wired orders for ten tickets necessitating a stop in that town. At the time, the fastest speed ever achieved by rail on the Wendover route was 72 mph.
William C. Stark, secretary of the Commercial Club and one of the town’s most prestigious media members, arranged for the Western Union to splice in a Salduro extension line among the telegraph cables running the length of the railway to permit instantaneous results of the event to be wired across the country. Governor Spry contacted old friend, Colonel Irving A. Benton, (and ex-U.S. Marshall whom Spry picked as his personal representative in Congress while Benton maintained a high-profile job as an officer of Western Pacific), to issue orders allowing full-throttle speeds from the trains which normally used the Wendover route. This would not only allow a timely round trip to and from the event but make more exciting for the spectators and dignitaries the planned races between the trains and the cars.
Benton also arranged for the renowned photographer of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, George L. Beam, and Harry Shipler of Salt Lake City to document the event. The Salt Lake City Rotary Club contracted two motion picture cameramen, (one from the Pathe’ Moving Picture Company and the other from Salt Lake City), to also be on hand. The publicity articles printed in all area newspapers invited attendees to bring their own stopwatches to personally time the trials. However, buried deep in those same releases was the political motivation behind the entire extravaganza. Reading almost as an afterthought, the final paragraph stated, “Those who make the trip tomorrow will also have a chance to see one of the proposed courses of the Lincoln highway. Many who have studied the western part of the state declare the Wendover route is the best that could be selected for the Lincoln highway, and that it has more reason to be adopted than any other course.”
After arriving at Salduro late Sunday evening, Moross and his team spent Monday morning tuning the cars for the high altitude. Although modifications were made for the fairgrounds races the previous weekend, the racers used only first and second gears on the small half-mile oval tracks and the speed runs would demand the use of all four available gears.
Tetzlaff would drive both his 445-cubic inch, four-cylinder, gasoline-burning Maxwell dirt racer and the Blitzen Benz II. The rest of the entrants for the first speed trials on the salt beds included champion Indiana racer Wilbur D’Alene in a 495-cubic inch, four-cylinder Marmon; Californian William “Coal Oil Billy” Carlson, (son of the mayor of San Diego), in the kerosene-burning, 445-inch four-cylinder Maxwell designed by Ray Harroun which Carlson drove to a ninth-place finish at Indianapolis ten weeks earlier; rising star Alfred Harvey “Captain” Kennedy of Washington in a 414-inch, six-cylinder lightweight Chalmers Model 24 Bluebird, (although it was actually painted red); Pennsylvanian Harry Goetz, (famed riding mechanic for Oldfield, Burman and 1911 Indianapolis winner Harroun), who was behind the wheel of the exotic 377-inch, four-cylinder Nyberg Endicott Special; Frank “Wisconsin Kid” Brock, (one of the earliest champions in American powerboat racing), in the seat of Earl Cooper’s Santa Monica-winning, 297-inch four-cylinder Stutz-Wisconsin for the trials. Renowned Englishman James “Hughie” Hughes, the winner of the 200-mile Golden Potlatch event at Tacoma (WA) in July, did not make the trip but Goetz was slated to also drive Hughes’ kerosene-burning, 445-inch four-cylinder Maxwell.
Because of his affiliation with the Federation of American Motorcyclists, Rishel also extended an invitation to several area motorcycle dealers and assembled four two-wheelers for the event, (the Indians of Al Ward and past amateur World Champion Lon Clafli, the Merkel of Fred Whittler and a Thor ridden by J. Louis Anderson). As an official of the Federation, Rishel insisted he gained sanction through the FAM to verify motorcycle speed records at the event and, in fact, scheduled fellow FAM official F.L. Gardner and National Cycling Association Board Member C. L. Berry from Salt Lake City to assist with timing.
On Monday, many of the drivers limbered up their mounts by racing the trains passing by Salduro much to the astonishment of passengers. Initially, electric timers were to be used in order to conform to new AAA LSR guidelines. They were shipped by train to Salt Lake City from Elgin (IL) which was to host one of the nation’s largest road races twelve days later. The clocks would be transported back to Elgin by Moross whose teams planned to race there. Unfortunately, voltage fluctuations in the telegraph lines along the railway in Salduro made electric clocks useless. After setting up the course, several cars made one-mile attempts but it was discovered heat waves and the blinding glare from the salt surface made the waving of the officials’ flags at the start and finish of the flying mile impossible to see clearly even when using binoculars. These problems led to a decision which would dramatically affect the event’s place in motorsports history. Rishel and Moross decided to use stopwatches to time the speed runs over a half-mile course.
While the only people on the salt were members of the troupe and a handful of reporters, the first day did attract two interested spectators. One of the wealthiest couples in America, Finley J. Shepard, (an officer of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and the Gould System), and his wife, Helen Gould Finley, (whose late first husband, famed railroad baron Jay Gould, willed her the modern equivalent of 2.6 billion dollars), stopped their own private train at the Salduro siding to witness the speedsters.
Monday afternoon, most of the team drivers made their first half-mile attempts. D’Alene’s Marmon clocked twenty and two-fifths, (20.20), seconds for a speed of 89.108 mph. Later, Carlson’s kerosene-burning Maxwell recorded an identical time and speed. Tetzlaff made a few runs in his Maxwell but the Benz suffered mechanical problems on its first two efforts. Late in the afternoon, Tetzlaff made his final attempt. Although the Blitzen Benz II caught fire when, once again, one of the fragile fuel lines broke just past the finish line and leaked fuel onto the exhaust, “Terrible Teddy” still produced a surprising time of thirteen and one-fifth seconds, (13.20), for a half-mile speed of 136.363 mph. In the most misleading fashion, the time was announced as being only one second from Burman’s world speed record of 1911. In short, the half-mile elapsed time was simply doubled to reflect a projected speed over a theoretical one-mile course. On his 141.732 mph record run at Ormond Beach, Burman covered the flying mile in 25.40 seconds. When doubled to create a probable one-mile time, Tetzlaff’s clocking became 26.40 seconds. In reality, the only acknowledged half-mile record held by Burman, (other than lap times turned on half-mile oval tracks), was his 106.951 mph record set at Indianapolis on May 29, 1911. Regardless, the reporters wired the news of Tetzlaff’s performance as his riding mechanic, Domenich Basso, and team technical director, George Benedict, began work to fix the damaged Benz.
Knowing well the expectations of the crowd arriving on Wednesday, Rishel sent a telegram to the AAA requesting special sanction for the new half-mile course. There is no confirmation of Rishel ever receiving a response but he maintained the event would still carry official accreditation by the group.
Stark arrived Tuesday morning with Salt Lake City civil engineer Fred P. Jacobs to plot and measure the courses. Using fifty flags and stakes, they laid out several tracks including a ten-mile circular course. The straight main speed course remained located an eighth-mile south of the railway siding at Salduro where the teams had raced on Monday. Jacobs was told of the vision problems which negated the use of any straight course longer than a half-mile so the course was laid to allow as much as 1.5 miles of acceleration prior to the timed half-mile. Using the few remaining wooden stakes, Jacobs plotted out the circle course but, with only small flags showing the way every mile or so, the first drivers to test the course got lost trying to find the markers and plans for the circle race were scrapped.
On Tuesday, August 11, the Benz was ready for another attempt but two team cars succumbed to damage. The engine in Brock’s mount was the first to expire and Goetz was unable to get the Nyberg Endicott Special to run well in the thin air so he moved to the seat of Hughes’ Maxwell. However, the rest of the teams continued to make half-mile runs and racing the passing trains became a popular diversion for the other drivers. Driving as far from the Salduro siding as possible to meet trains coming from the east, the drivers would make a huge turn and meet each challenger, (and its gawking spectators), for a race westward back to the compound.
A small group of spectators came east from nearby Wendover and watched as Carlson and D’Alene continued their rivalry among the machines with smaller engines. D’Alene posted a run of nineteen and two-fifths seconds, (19.40 or 92.783 mph), but, once again, the Maxwell of “Coal Oil Billy” tied the Marmon with an identical time. D’Alene returned with Wendover resident C. W. Lamille is the mechanic’s seat and, on what was to be only a joyride, clocked twenty and two-fifths, (20.20), seconds for a speed of 89.108. Tetzlaff came out late in the afternoon and duplicated his Monday run of 13.20 seconds and 136.363 mph. However, the reports of the day claimed, when Tetzlaff’s speed was “figured on the hour basis”, the Benz was actually travelling 138 mph and “Terrible Teddy” was now within three miles per hour of Burman’s record. What kind of speed could “Terrible Teddy” and the Blitzen Benz II produce in front of the crowd due to arrive the following day?
Coming in Chapter VI: One Run by the Blitzen Benz Changes the Course of History for the Salt Beds of SalduroCLICK HERE for part one of the Salt Beds of Salduro CLICK HERE for part two of the Salt Beds of Salduro CLICK HERE for part three of the Salt Beds of Salduro CLICK HERE for part four of the Salt Beds of Salduro