On the morning of June 20, Jeff Mahl and his traveling companions set off in their antique automobiles from Hyde Park in the southeastern corner of New York State, heading northwest for the city of Buffalo.
Traffic was light as they departed FDR’s former home at roughly 6 a.m., making their way along in the cool morning air up Route 9 toward the Kingston Bridge to Interstate 87/90.
While the travelers rode on, they were no doubt filled with excitement as they set out to honor and retrace the historical route taken by Mahl’s great-grandfather 110 years ago during a thrilling automobile race around the world.
Mahl, a 1967 graduate of Alfred State College’s marketing program, was behind the wheel of one of the four classic vehicles taking part in the trip to commemorate the historic 1908 New York to Paris Race, which was won by his great-grandfather, George Schuster.
While he had heard his great-grandfather’s stories about the race many times while growing up in Springville, Mahl was now getting the chance to live them, as he piloted a 1929 Model A Roadster Pickup. He was joined on his journey by John Quam, who drove a 1928 Plymouth Roadster; Jack and Mary Crabtree in a 1929 Model A Boat Tail Speedster; and Roger and Kathy Hershberger, who drove a 1941 Packard Model 160 that traveled part of the way.
After first stopping in Canastota, where they received a very warm welcome, the group arrived in Buffalo June 20. Over the next few days, the travelers would visit Niagara Falls; Rich Products, the former site of the Thomas Factory that built Schuster’s Flyer; the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum; Schuster’s Springville home; and the new Heritage Building Museum.
On June 23, Mahl and his fellow travelers joined up with competitors of the annual controlled-speed endurance rally known as “The Great Race,” which Alfred State competes in every year.
As The Great Race teams sped north toward Halifax, Nova Scotia, from Buffalo, Mahl and his crew headed west at a more leisurely pace toward San Francisco. Along the way, the group stopped at a number of locations that Schuster and his fellow racers also visited 110 years ago, traveling through Ohio, Illinois, Nebraska, Wyoming, Nevada, and California.
Some notable stops included Cheyenne, WY, where Gov. Matt Mead greeted the travelers and presented them with a Wyoming state flag; Evanston, WY, where the group was escorted into town by the Unita County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Patrol; and Twin Springs Ranch in Nevada.
As it turns out, Twin Springs Ranch is owned by the Fallini family today, just as it was in 1908 when Schuster’s vehicle broke down there in a nearby stream, and he was assisted by a man named Giovanni Fallini. On his trip, Mahl met the Fallini family and toured the ranch, getting to see an old stone bunkhouse that still stands to this day as it did 110 years ago, as well as the spot where the Thomas Flyer forded the stream in 1908.
Undoubtedly, the stories Mahl heard from his great-grandfather while growing up were racing through his mind as he ventured through the same places.
“After hearing the stories all those years ago, it’s a rare opportunity to see the places and meet the people who have also heard the stories about when the American Thomas Flyer came through their towns across the US from their grandfathers,” Mahl said.
Finally, after covering 3,563.9 miles, the group arrived in San Francisco July 5, completing the American leg of their journey. Mahl and his fellow travelers plan on beginning the Asia-European legs of their trip sometime next year, traveling through Japan, Siberia, Manchuria, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Berlin, Belgium, and Paris, just as Schuster did in 1908.
Understandably, after completing their US trip, the travelers are excited to continue their journey. As Mahl noted in the final entry of his daily blog about their adventure, “The spectacular views as we crossed America and the truly exceptional people we met along the way made it well worth the effort.
“It’s even harder to believe six international teams started out 110 years ago in the middle of winter, to circumnavigate the globe in automobiles that were considered a passing fad and nothing more than toys for the rich. To think of life today without an automobile would seem impossible.”
In the same entry, Mahl later added, “I believe we all came away from the experience with a genuine appreciation for the great country we live in, and for the tremendous efforts and sacrifice of all those who came before us.”
For Mahl’s day-by-day account of the trip, visit his blog at www.2018nytoparisnews.com.