National @ Giant's Despair 1909

The articles in the attachments below focus on the National Motor Vehicle Company's entry into the Giant's Despair Hill Climb, sometimes referred to as the Wilkes-Barre Hill Climb which is a nod to the nearby city in Pennsylvania. The drivers entered by the manufacturer were future Indianapolis 500 veterans Charlie Merz and Johnny Aitken.
The first article (attachment National052609) originally appeared in the May 26, 1909 Indianapolis Star. The article, which was published in advance of the contest, reports that the grade of the hill ranged from 10 to 22 percent and was a "reverse curve" 6,000 feet long. Another interesting aspect of the event spoke to the organizers' attempts to communicate with and entertain spectators. They announced that after each event the contestants would descend back down the hill in their finishing order with flags designating their position. The competition was held May 31, 1909 and you can check out the program cover.
The Indianapolis News promoted the event in their newspaper with an article on the same day as the Star's report noted above. This article is in attachment NationalHillClimbNews052609. It is actually a digest of automotive news that covers several topics beyond Giant's Despair
This collection of items starts off with an announcement from the White automobile company that they intended to produce an engine that would run on kerosene. The article notes predictions of the day that gasoline was a finite resource and alternative energy was important to continued growth of the automobile industry.
The second item concerns National's entry in the Wilkes-Barre Giant's Despair hill climb. It mirrors the Star's details and adds that Aitken and Merz had left for Pennsylvania the previous evening.
Another important Indianapolis car manufacturer, Premier Motor Manufacturing Company, announced that three of their machines would contest in the 1909 Glidden Tour. Two would have a go for the Glidden Trophy and one was entered in the competition for the Hower Trophy.
Premier had also been recognized as the provider of the event's official car for Chairman Frank Hower and Founder Charles J. Glidden. The company had provided official vehicles in 1907 and 1908 in what they called pilot, pathfinder and press car roles.
The fourth item reports that the widely respected racer Herb Lytle had been hired by the Kokomo-based Apperson Automobile Company. The company announced that Lytle will drive an Apperson entry in all the top road races and hill climb events in the United States. He also agreed to serve as chief inspector of finished cars at the Apperson factory as well as demonstrate some new models for dealers around the United States. The article notes that Lytle was expected to drive a 50 HP Apperson in the Cobe Trophy coming up June 19.
A fifth item reavealed plans for an "Auto Day" for Crawfordsville, Indiana on June 9. Expectations were high as the affair was billed as the largest display of autos ever in the city. Delegations from Kokomo, Indianapolis, Frankfort, Lebanon, Lafayette and other nearby towns were anticipated. 
The group planning the Crawfordsville show planned to promote it at a similar event in Kokomo. Among the events and prizes planned for Crawfordsville were a hill climb, an "egg" race, an obstacle course, best decorated cars, best lady driver, best gentleman driver, biggest car, smallest car, the car carrying the most passengers and more. Fred A. Turner was event chairman.
The final item in this article digest concerned a Newport, Indiana motorcycle and automobile hill climb organized by the Danville Motorcycle Club. While the focus was on enthusiasts from western Indiana and eastern Illiniois, organizers had promoted the event at both the New York and Chicago auto shows. I have added an attachment containing a very brief article describing a hill climb that occurred at that event. Look for that analysis at the bottom of this page.*
Attachment Wilkes-BarreNews060109 contains an article that summarizes the hill climb event. It appeared in the June 1, 1909 Indianapolis News. The National team local angle is the focus as the headline shouts out about their success and a sub-head reports that they scored a first, a second and a fifth in various contests at the meet.
The lead paragraph even asserts that Indianapolis was the home of the automobile. That certainly sounded good and while the Hoosier capital was clearly an automotive center the claim was a reach beyond its grasp.
Despite the fact that this event was widely known as the Giant's Despair Hill Climb, the newspaper refers to it as the Wilkes-Barre Hill Climb. To add to the confusion, they drop the hyphen in the headline. The Wilkes-Barre Automobile Club were the organizers and the attendance was a hard-to-believe 60,000 spectators.
Despite the fact that David Bruce-Brown who drove promoter Hugh Donald "Huge Deal" McIntosh's Benz  won the feature event of the day, this is given secondary status in the Indianapolis newspaper which understandably emphasized the fortunes of the hometown National Motor Vehicle Company entries. Charlie Merz won the six-cylinder class with a time of 1:48 (one minute, 48 seconds).
Merz also finished second in another event for cars with engine displacement of 451 to 600 cubic inches with a time of 1:47.6. The winner was Al Dennison in a Knox with a time of 1:40.8. A Stoddard-Dayton "sixty" drive by Bert Miller was third at 1:48.0.
As for Bruce-Brown, he reportedly smashed all records, covering the 6,000 feet of roadway in 1:31.6. That was 6.6 seconds faster than Willie Haupt had done in setting the record the previous year in his "Big Six" Chadwick. Another Chadwick Six in the hands of a driver only reported as "Larzeler" finished second. He, too, was faster than the previous year's record with a time of 1:36.0. 
Third in the feature was Ralph DePalma in his Fiat Cyclone at 1:36.6, also faster than Haupt the previous year. Even the Knox in finishing fourth bested the previous year's best by 0.4 seconds. De Palma had a series of issues. First the electric timer failed and he was allowed another attempt. On his second go a tire failed and he skidded into a ditch. He was allowed a third attempt and finally completed his run.
For whatever reason National assigned Johnny Aitken there smaller "Little Four" car. He finished second in the 301 to 450 cubic inch class. He finished second in his class with a time of 2:03.8.
In a sign of the times, American Automobile Association (AAA) Event Chairman Frank Hower blocked Joan Cuneo, widely recognized as the top woman race driver of the day, from driving in the event. He threatened to disqualify her car, the Knox Giant from all races if she was allowed to drive it in an exhibition trial. The reporter seems to take Cuneo's side in the dispute, referring to Hower as "the little chairman." This development was also reportedly a disappointment to the spectators who apparently wanted to see the lady have a go.
The article reports there were other classes in the race meet and the Maxwell, Buick and Simplex teams were reportedly victorious. The classifications or driver names are not provided. Later in the article it is noted that Louis Chevrolet had an accident in a Buick at a point on the course referred to the "S" turn.
In still more racing, Knox driver Dennison won the Hollenback Trophy for cars selling from $2,000 to $3,000 in his 40 HP machine. He recorded a 2:11.8 time. A driver who is only identified as "Basel" in a "Mathewson" car was reported as second with a Stoddard-Dayton third. I have to wonder if we aren't dealing with some misspellings here. I have to wonder if this Charles Basle in a Matheson. Matheson was located in Wilkes-Barre.
 A Knox won the Quaker City Motor Club, but it is not clear from the article who drove it. Miller won the $4,000 limit class, climbing the hill in 1:50.2 in his Stoddard-Dayton.
Again, the report is confusing when it shares that "the big Chadwick" won "the invitation race" but does not mention the driver. I can only guess it was Haupt. De Palma in a Fiat was second and Dennison running 1:41.2 in his Knox third.
An Oakland car, driven by a driver by the last name of Bauer - his first name is not provided - won a class for cars selling for $1,250 to $2,000 with a time of 2:11.8. Miller in the Stoddard-Dayton won the $4,000 limit class.
The article closes with a departure from the Giant's Despair coverage and segues to an important entry in the upcoming Cobe Trophy later that same month on June 19. Please note the event was organized by the Chicago Auto Club. The entry came from Edgar Apperson of Kokomo, Indiana's Apperson Automobile Company. The car was an Apperson Jack Rabbit. This car was for an unnamed driver to team with Herb Lytle in another Jack Rabbit entry. Both cars were rated at 50 HP.
Elsewhere on First Super Speedway you can find that Fisher Automobile Company ran an ad in the June 1, 1909 Indianapolis Star touting the National team's brilliant successes at Wilkes-Barre, including the class victory in the $3,000 or more six-cylinder stock cars.  
*As noted above in describing the digest article in attachment NationalHillClimbNews052609 that references an auto and motorcycle event organized by the Danville Automobile Club in Newport, Indiana, a report on that event is contained in attachment HillNews060909. This article appeared in the June 9, 1909 Indianapolis News
Six thousand people reportedly witnessed the hill climb feature of the overall gathering. There were five hill climbs for different classes. The hill was reported to 2,300 feet long, 140 feet high with a 14 percent grade at the top. There 75 entries in the auto competitions. The winners of the classes are listed.

  • Class A was for runabouts and was won by Buick driver Fred Calvert of Rockville, Indiana. He covered the distance in 36 seconds.
  • Class B's victor was an Oakland car driven by a man with the last name of Boord. The Hoopeston, Illinios resident recorded a time of 31 seconds.
  • Class C saw Boord also drive an Oakland to the win in 30.5 seconds.
  • Robert Kramer of Attica won the free-for-all class in 25.75 seconds. He followed that with an even faster exhibition run at 23 seconds. His car was a 90 HP Stearns.

The article refers to "the handsome cup." The cup was donated by "Uncle" Joe Cannon, the powerful Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. It was won by "Reddy" McDonald, a high school student from Danville. Exactly what the prize recognized is not shared but McDonald's time was reported to be 30 seconds. The article reports that the event's motorcycle time trials were to take place that same day.

National052609.pdf197.6 KB
NationalHillClimbNews052609.pdf3.67 MB
Wilkes-BarreNews060109.pdf2.85 MB
HillNews060909.pdf248.71 KB