Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Abernathy Automobile Route, 1910

Column sent to Frederick Leader and Frederick Press
July 13, 2010
Maxwell Motor Car ad from 1910 (Source: Wikipedia Commons)
1910 Auto Trip was adventure for Abernathys
When Bud and Temple Abernathy, ages 6 and 10, left New York City in their Brush automobile on July 6,1910, for their long trip back to Oklahoma, they were accompanied by their father Jack in his own car.
The boys had learned to drive on the streets of New York City (no driver's license was needed in those days). Jack Abernathy had not yet learned to drive, but when he purchased the Brush for his boys he also purchased a larger Maxwell for himself. The Maxwell Auto Company would later serve as the starting point for Chrysler and was the forerunner of Plymouth.
Abernathy’s Maxwell was a four-cylinder touring model with a big back seat. He chose the larger car to accommodate the entire family back home.
Because he could not yet drive, though, Jack Abernathy hired a man who was combination driver and mechanic to drive the Maxwell for the trip to Oklahoma.
Their route back to Oklahoma was not a direct one. From New York City, the Abernathys drove north to Albany and then west to Buffalo where they visited Niagara Falls at the U.S.-Canada border.
Brush Runabout from a1912 advertisement (Smithsonian Institution)
In Poughkeepsie, New York, they narrowly averted tragedy. Six-year-old Temple had been riding with his father in the Maxwell, and jumped from the car as it was coming to a stop. Bud was following closely in the Brush and as he pulled alongside the Maxwell, his car struck Temple. Thankfully, Temple was only bruised, but the boys learned an important lesson about caution and safety.
When they reached Cleveland, Ohio, on March 11 they were greeted by a large crowd and Jack was greeted by the local sheriff and his six deputies.
It rained for much of the way from Ohio to Detroit, but the Brush led the way because it was able to handle the muddy roads much better than the bigger Maxwell.
In Detroit, they visited the Brush factory where their car had been manufactured. The factory produced 100 cars a day. Factory mechanics gave the boys’ car a tune-up while they were there.
In 1910, paved roads were rare and there was no well-established route system. Automobiles were a growing fascination for Americans, though, and from 1904 until 1913 Jasper Glidden, a wealthy telephone official and banker, sponsored long automobile tours to publicly test automobile reliability. There were many cars and drivers in the Glidden tours, and there was keen competition between car companies for their cars to excel in the tour.
Temp cranks the Brush while Bud sits behind the wheel.
In 1910 part of the Glidden Tour ran from Dallas-Fort Worth to Chicago. In planning their route to Oklahoma, the Abernathys followed the Glidden Tour route in reverse from Chicago to Oklahoma City. Following this established route made their trip easier and faster than it would have been otherwise.
From Chicago, they drove west to Omaha, then south through Kansas City and Wichita, Kansas. They encountered rough terrain during much of this part of the trip and navigated very muddy roads that the boys referred to as “gumbo”. They also dealt with stifling summer heat.
Near Emporia, Kansas, a bridge had been washed away and the Abernathy cars were able to cross where the bridge had been only when construction workers laid narrow timbers for them to cross. Driving the cars over the narrow timbers required good nerves and steady skill!
Near Wellington, Kansas, Jack Abernathy’s Maxwell caught on fire. Although the car was not destroyed, most of the Abernathys' possessions, including their clothes and souvenirs, were a complete loss.
On Friday, July 29, the Abernathys arrived in Oklahoma City with much fanfare. The Brush’s “speed thermometer” measured 2,512.2 miles. Since their departure from Frederick in early April, the boys had travelled more than 5,000 miles on horseback and by automobile.
A large crowd turned out to greet the Abernathys in Oklahoma City, including a special group of Oklahomans who were owners of Brush Runabouts!
In the 1910 book “Meeting Roosevelt”, Bud Abernathy wrote, “At Oklahoma City we were met by city, state and county officials and 14 Runabouts just like the one I was driving. My car just seemed to brag to them about what it had done, and just to show the business of them what a dandy car it was, I ran ahead of all them and flew into the city. After 2,500 miles the little engine was purring like a kitten. It really was just getting limbered up and ready to run good.”
Bud and Temple Abernathy in the 1910 Brush Runabout
Joe Wynn is a member of the Tillman County Historical Society Board of Directors. He can be contacted by e-mail at


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