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American Roads: Site Map > Auto Trails > Auto Trail Articles > Touring Topics article December 1912

Object of San Diego-Phoenix Race

By Col. Ed. Fletcher

― from Touring Topics, December 1912, page 15-16.


Shall San Diego stay on the map of Southern California as a progressive, energetic city, and what advantages have we, if any, in our fight for the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway? This explains the object of the San Diego-Phoenix race of October 25th and 26th, 1912.
The Automobile Dealers’ Association of San Diego appointed a committee of three, with Mr. Ed. Fletcher as chairman, to promote the race. An A.A.A. sanction was secured for October 25th and 26th, the same day and hour of starting as the Los Angeles-Phoenix race. San Diego had twenty-three entries; Los Angeles twelve. All cars from both cities had to check in at Yuma.
The San Diego boys had pulled this race off in less than two weeks. Twenty-one of the twenty-three entries had never entered a race before; some of the drivers never had been over the road.
Against us, from Los Angeles, were the best drivers and cars on the coast. The excitement in San Diego was intense as the day of the race drew near, and never was there such a crowd on the streets of San Diego as the night of the commencement of the race.
The committee decided to send ahead the Tribune-Gazette pathfinder car owned by the writer. It was a thirty horse-power Franklin touring car, and included W. S. Smith, Harry Taylor, W. R. Hamilton, the writer, and our baggage. We left at 7:37 a.m. Saturday, October 25th, 1912, about fifteen hours in advance of the racers. It was a glorious morning as we passed the State Normal School and hit it up toward La Mesa, over Cajon Boulevard at better than fifty miles an hour. The roads were great; first a mesa, then a valley; mesas and valleys, with its olives and oranges from a semi-tropical climate, higher and higher to apples and cherries, nearly a mile high among great pines and oaks, winter snows and mountain streams the year around. The wonderful mountain scenery is ever-changing, and the roads remain good.
We passed Descanso, dashed through Pine Valley, and gaining the divide slid down the eastern slope of the coast range towards the mysterious Colorado Desert and Salton Sea. Never did the lights and shades of the desert range appear to better advantage.
The road remained A1 to Mountain Springs, 86 miles from San Diego. Here we found many teams at work building around Devil’s Canyon to the desert in Imperial County, $50,000 having been subscribed by San Diego citizens, Fred Jackson chairman, to help the good work along. Devil’s Canyon was somewhat rough, but not bad. We reached Dixie, where our guide was waiting. From there to El Centro was a delightful panorama: cotton fields, alfalfa, fruit orchards and date palms. We arrived at El Centro at 12:03 p.m., 4 hours and 26 minutes from San Diego, 123 miles. Our actual running time was 4 hours and 16 minutes. The pleasures of such a trip cannot be described in words; one would have to drive it oneself, and any $600 car can do it with ease.
(At El Centro Fair on San Diego Day, November 9, 1912, 165 machines, containing nearly 800 San Diego boosters, made the trip to El Centro and return without accident or trouble to a single machine.)
After lunch at the Oregon Hotel, where we were royally treated, we left for Yuma via Holtville, passing through more beautiful tropical country on our way. Five miles east of Holtville, we took the new road across the desert and sand dunes, and there is no question but what a good road can be built via this route.
Our little Franklin had a hard trip through the sand, having five passengers and baggage for thirty miles of the way from Holtville. We reached Yuma at 6:30 p.m., being checked in there by G. Purdy Bullard, A.A.A. representative. Our actual running time from San Diego was approximately 8 hours; our elapsed time, including all stops, 10 hours and 53 minutes from San Diego, distance 186 miles. No ferry being in sight, we crossed the Southern Pacific railroad bridge over the Colorado River into town, tired but happy over our first day’s trip.
After a good night’s rest, we were checked out at 6:30 a.m. Sunday morning, by C. H. Akers, owner of the Arizona Gazette, of Phoenix. Our run was made to the Gila River without accident and in quick time. On the north bank, through a misplaced sign, we took the wrong road and lost an hour.
As we passed Castle Dome, photos were taken of this interesting country, including the giant cactus of the desert. Castle Dome is well named, being a mountain several thousand feet high and it is almost impossible to scale its summit.
Passing through the divide, we were soon nearing Palomas where we bucked a desert sand storm for some time, with considerable loss of time. This storm meant rain in the Salt River Valley, as we soon found, to our sorrow.
Passing Agua Caliente we struck muddy roads and more of it. Buckeye Valley was afloat; the water was three feet deep and rapidly rising when we rushed the Hassayampa River. The car and occupants were a sight to behold. We passed three machines stuck in the mud in Buckeye Valley, but kept going until a canal was reached near Coldwater. Here the writer waded to find out its depth; "three feet deep and soft," was the answer, but no house was in sight so a rush and a push was made with success. At 3:05 p.m. we reached the Agua Fria River, two hundred feet wide and about five feet deep. Here we took the Santa Fe railroad bridge, covering the spikes with our coats and robes. We lost nearly an hour here, but were glad to get across.
Arrangements were made for mules and a cable for the San Diego racers for the next day. Then we started again for Phoenix, eighteen miles away. After going along the Christie Road through adobe mud and water, without chains, for two miles and getting worse every minute, we came to two large trees across our path, blown over by the cloud-burst. It was go through or stay there, as we found it impossible to go around. Smith waded to a farm house where axes were obtained and we chopped wood in the dark for an hour or more, with our welcome gas light to guide us.
At last we were off again, but only for a short distance, when we skidded into deep water and mud along the side of the road, but fortunately our engine was clear. "All out and push," was the command. Wet to the skin, but happy in the fact that we just made it, was the result. At last the Fair Grounds were reached at Phoenix at 6:05 p.m., eleven hours and forty-five minutes from Yuma, after the writer's hardest auto experience.
We were the first car to Phoenix from San Diego, distance 398 miles. Our road took us over two mountain ranges and deserts; our actual running time being 16 hours and 45 minutes; our elapsed time 22 hours and 38 minutes. Only five racing cars from San Diego beat our elapsed time.
After a good night's rest, we returned early next morning to the Agua Fria River, where we found our teams ready to assist the San Diego racers. Hamlin, the Los Angeles winner, showed up first, and we were glad to be able to put him across in less than four minutes, as our cable extended clear across the river, with four good steady horses on the other side to pull him over. Soules, the Cadillac driver, lost half an hour in crossing, as he did not care for our assistance, and even refused our canvas to cover his magneto. The San Diego boys were all put across that day in short order, and we felt after it was all over that our pathfinder car had done its duty.
The best racing time made, San Diego to Yuma, was by the National in 7 hours and 50 minutes. The best time made. Los Angeles to Yuma, according to my understanding, was by the Franklin in 10 hours and 47 minutes. The writer has allowed five minutes for each checking station, to the National, as allowed in the Los Angeles race. This shows the advantage in time in favor of the San Diego route, for the Ocean to-Ocean Highway, by two hours and 57 minutes, as Yuma will undoubtedly be on said highway in any event. If I have been correctly informed, Hamlin with the Franklin, the winner of the Los Angeles race, averaged 28 miles an hour to Yuma, while Campbell. with a Stevens-Duryea, the winner of the San Diego race, averaged 23 miles an hour. The distance, San Diego to Yuma, is 186 miles. Los Angeles to Yuma 304 miles, a distance of 118 miles in San Diego’s favor. As a matter of fact, it is less than 10 miles farther to go to Los Angeles from Yuma via San Diego than to go over the route as traversed by the Los Angeles racers.
The writer is of the opinion that the time to Yuma from San Diego will be lowered to seven hours or less as soon as the Devil’s Canyon road is completed, which will be within six months from date.
The main object of the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway, anyway, is to get eastern motorists here from all over the United States. The attractions of the San Diego route are many, as follows:
First—From Yuma it would be nearly 120 miles nearer the coast than any other way, and as the Easterner gains the divide over the Coast Range and motors down the west slope towards San Diego, the panorama of ocean and sky, valley and mesa, with a vista of table mountains in Mexico, and the eighty miles of sea coast of San Diego County, will make an impression on him never to be forgotten. The above scenic attraction should be considered and to San Diego’s advantage, for first impressions are generally lasting.
Second—The San Diego route would traverse the heart of the improved section of the great Imperial Valley, connecting Yuma with the county seat of lmperial County, El Centro.
Third—The San Diego route has a hundred miles less desert, with its accompanying dangers of lack of water, drifting sands, heat, etc. No sane person who is acquainted with that country but will admit the advantages of the San Diego route on account of the elimination of desert travel and the opportunity to travel for eighty miles through the mountains and valleys, with its beautiful rugged scenery, timber, running streams and delightful climate, as compared to the desert heat.
Fourth—From El Centro, the county seat of Imperial County, the distance is 123 miles to San Diego Bay. To reach the Pacific Ocean why should Imperial Valley motorists be compelled to go via Colton and Los Angeles, over a hundred miles farther, and an additional one hundred miles of desert? This statement alone should convince any right-thinking man that the San Diego route is the natural and logical way for the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway.
Fifth—It is common knowledge that the State Highway Commission is now building a state road along the coast from San Diego to Los Angeles, and to be completed within two years from date. The Ocean-to-Ocean Highway via San Diego route from Yuma sees the heart of Imperial Valley, eliminates most of the desert, gives the visitor the mountain scenery of San Diego County; then for eighty miles from San Diego to Los Angeles the wonderful drive along the coast, past our famous San Diego, San Luis Rey, San Juan Capistrano and San Gabriel Missions to Los Angeles. The distance is practically the same from Yuma to Los Angeles via San Diego, in fact only ten miles longer, and with our natural advantages, why this opposition from Los Angeles?
The writer deeply appreciates the kindly words of thanks from Ralph Hamlin and the Los Angeles newspapers and all other papers and Los Angeles friends for what little he did in helping the Los Angeles boys and making toward the success of the Phoenix races.
Nothing better could have happened to help bring about a good feeling between Los Angeles and San Diego. Friendly rivalry among men and towns in the interest of clean sports and for the common good can only bring good results for all.


[ Read G. W. Wilder's response letter here. ]


Note: This is not the end of the letter. I'm either missing, or did not copy, the rest. However, it was close to the end in any event. SV



Copyright © S. Varner 2006