Indianapolis to Columbus, Ohio: Oldfield Drives "Old Glory"

This is a great, colorful article capturing a moment in American motorsport that excites the imagination. This report from the June 28, 1909 Indianapolis News paints a wonderful picture of Barney Oldfield taking his first serious test drive in his newly acquired National Motor Vehicle Company "Six" he nicknamed, "Old Glory."
The drive was a road trip with newspaperman Roland L. Mellett between Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio. Oldfield was shaking down his new car, "Old Glory," as he looked ahead to the subsequent months of the then-young 1909 racing season. 
The report opens with a callout box showing hourly milestones of progression along the journey. The article is not the cleanest artifact on this site, but it is easily legible. Regardless, here are the points made in the box:

  • 12 noon - left Claypool Hotel
  • 12:20 p.m. - arrived at Greenfield (20 miles).
  • 1:00 p.m. - Arrived at Knightstown (36 miles).
  • 1:30 p.m. - Arrived at Cambridge City (52 miles).
  • 2 p.m. - Arrived at Richmond. (68.66 miles).
  • 3:20 p.m. - Arrived at Eaton, Ohio (84.5 miles).
  • 4 p.m. - Arrived at Dayton (108 miles).
  • Stop for gasoline, 15 minutes.
  • 5 p.m. - Arrived at Springfield (129 miles).
  • 7 p.m. - Arrived at Columbus (180 miles).
  • Actual running time: six hours.

According to the article, the final mileage figure listed above reflects the total distance of the path between Indianapolis and Columbus. The running time was reportedly six hours, but actual time, with an allowance for 45 minutes for dinner (in Richmond) and another 15 minutes to refuel. The previous best time for the trip was six hours, 15 minutes by R.F. Boda, a Columbus-area National automobile dealer who also was said to have extensive theatrical connections.
By comparison, Boda's run was reportedly over roads in good condition while Oldfield and Mellett endured a heavy rain the last 25 miles, resulting in mud splashed everywhere. Below is an enjoyable excerpt:
"Mud-bespattered from head-to-foot we arrived at the Southern Hotel, in this city, at 7 p.m. last evening after a thrilling ride. The trip was made in Oldfield's new racing car, the National Old Glory, with which he expects to shatter all recrods before the close of the present racing season. Portions of the journey were made at a rate of 80 miles an hour, 60 miles an hour. Sixty miles and hour was common, but bad roads and the large number of small towns with large speed restrictions forced the averagefor the run down to 30 miles per hour."
Mellett also described Oldfield's driving style:
"Oldfield is a careful driver and one risks no more in riding eighty miles an hour with him than he would with a majority of drivers while going at a forty-mile-an-hour clip. Barney has a pair of keen eyes and it is only necessary for him to see to act. He slowed down for every bridge, but the moment he saw that the structure was safe he sent the big car away again at tremendous speed. He took no chances of clashing with the constabulary by driving at a prohibitive rate of speed through small towns, as he believes an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure in cases of that kind. In his long racing career, during which he has toured the country back and forth and across several times, he has only been arrested twice for exceeding the speed limit."
Mellett also reports that the roads between Indianapolis and Columbus were lined with numerous small towns. In an interesting turn of phrase he says, "they are brought close together when traveled with Oldfield."
During these times I have noted that the conversation of the times was to frequently mention how distance was being redefined in these days. I am sure this was true as people began to think in terms of how long it took to get from one location to another when in a car as opposed to horse-drawn carriages and the like.
Mellett also remarks on how superior Indiana roads were to those found in Ohio. He reports that the Hoosier infrastructure was more improved and were more topographically level. Apparently he found the terrain in the Buckeye state to be hilly and impeded by "water steppes," described as high ridges built across roads to direct water flow for crop irrigation. He adds that many motorists believed spiteful farmers did it deliberately to make traveling miserable for those in automobiles. The social battle between the "haves" and "have nots" of America frequently centered on automobile ownership during this era.
According to the article, "Old Glory" created a sensation everywhere it went. The engine noise was reported to be heard from a mile's distance. Fences at farmhouses were lined by spectators as the race car passed. Mellett writes that Oldfield delight in blipping the throttle to get a rise out of onlookers. The engine was described as emitting a sound that resembled an Independence Day celebration of firecracks. Mellett writes, "Smoke and fire were emitted along with the deafening noise and many persons took to their heals in flight."
Another interesting point is the Old National Road was followed for the distance. This highway still exists today and is deemed historic by the U.S. Government. Its construction began in 1811 and by 1909 was one of the more improved highways in the country with a macadam, or crushed stone, running surface. With 25 miles to go to reach Columbus the men encountered a rainstorm. It did not last long but left behind a muddy road. 
Mellett reports the car seats were only 20 inches off the ground. With no mud fenders, both he and Oldfield were soon coated with mud. He reports that their arrival in Columbus drew a lot of attention and that Oldfield reveled in it. He reportedly gunned his engine and demonstrated to Mellett that he loved the crowd response.
The original plan was to return to Indianapolis later in the afternoon but the weather was a question mark. The men carried extra equipment in anticipation of breakdowns. This included an additional set of tires, a monkey wrench and a pair of pinchers. None of that was needed on the trip into Columbus as the journey was incident free. 
Mellett closes this wonderful piece with some notes about Oldfield's plans in the days immediately before them. The driver planned to enter races back in Indianapolis during the next Friday and Saturday. Several Cobe Trophy cars were expected to compete with him. Mellett also notes that Oldfield was a fan favorite in Columbus because four years earlier he became the first driver to cover 10 miles in less than 10 minutes. That record was still intact at the time of their Columbus trip.

OldfieldNews062809.pdf1.16 MB