|by Christopher Jensen
Plain Dealer auto editor
The opportunity to drive an1899 Winton is a special thing, and it should be the occasion for
meaningful thought about automotive history. In particular, it should occasion thoughts of
Cleveland's Alexander Winton, one of America's automotive pioneers.
Instead, I'm obsessing about stopping the, uh, darn thing.
I am with Charles F. Wake, one of Winton's great-grandsons, and we are sitting on the cutest little tufted seat, no doubt spiritual kin to Chrysler's "rich Corinthian leather." We are driving one of three 1899 Wintons in the world, this one belonging Cleveland's Frederick C. Crawford Auto Aviation Museum.
The 8-horsepower, one-cylinder 117-cubic-inch engine is mounted below and behind us. It is banging away, and It sounds like the world's loudest smoker's cough. We are cruising down the street at 10 miles per hour.
The 1899 will clearly go faster but that means plenty quick, as I am still getting used to the lack of seat belts and have doubts about the car's stopping ability, an important part of which seems to be a Jeaune Dixon-like ability to predict the future.
"You want to plan well in advance... shoot off flares," advised David Holcombe, curator of the museum, a co-sponsor of the event.
Other than this trifling problem with inertia, driving a Winton designed about 100 years ago is not all that hard. In fact, it is enormous fun. At least it is fun for half a mile or so. "Driving this is a trip," agreed Wake, of Sarasota, Fla.
The question is, how will Wake and I feel after driving the 1899 Winton 700 miles?
Starting Sunday at 8 a.m., we will leave Public Square for New York City to commemorate a drive Winton made 100 years ago.
Actually, there will be 14 Wintons, the newest a 1922 model. Another Winton great-grandson,
James A. Winton Jr. of Rocky River, will drive a 1916 model. In theory, we will reach New York on June 22 and our misadventures will be recounted in The Plain Dealer's Driving section June 29.
The trip is called the Winton Centennial, and Wake and Winton (so far) are unindicted co-conspirators. There was also the enthusiastic support of Holcombe and co-sponsorship from the Crawford museum.
Several years ago, when Wake and Winton were trying to figure out some way to commemorate the 1897 trip, Holcombe suggested driving the route again. It was an outrageous and tragically contagious idea that quickly gained momentum - and then acceptance.
You only live twice Winton actually drove to New York twice. On July 28, 1897, Winton and an employee headed for New York to prove the reliability of his vehicle, according to "Famous But Forgotten: The Story of Alexander Winton, Automotive Pioneer and Industrialist," a new book by Clevelanders Thomas F. Saal and Bernard J. Golias that will be published tomorrow.
Winton arrived in New York on Aug. 7 of that year, after 78 hours and 43 minutes of driving time. The problem was that nobody cared. Winton got little attention, which was disappointing, since publicity was the whole idea.
Long before Jacqueline Susann thought about it, Winton decided that once was not enough, and two years later he hooked up with journalist Charles B. Shanks. Shanks had been a Plain Dealer reporter before going to fight in the Spanish-American War, according to Saal and Golias.
Accounts as to how the two got together differ. There is a story that Winton paid Shanks $100 to go with him, and another story that the trip was the result of a bet, with Shanks rudely doubting the reliability of the Winton.
In any case, they decided to drive to New York. The Plain Dealer would sponsor the trip and Shanks would report on it.
The trip began on May 22, 1899, with a Plain Dealer story the previous day announcing "Novel Method of Transport. The Plain Dealer is Sending a Horseless Carriage to New York."
The story noted that "the automobile will doubtless become the most convenient mode of trans-
port during the 20th century. The Plain Dealer is endeavoring to demonstrate the entire feasibility of this mode of locomotion."
Shanks figured they would travel about 800 miles, including some wandering as they tried to
find the best route. "On the route to New York, there will be some pleasing experiences, and again, some ugly difficulties are apt to arise. Of course, if the skies are blue and all men kind, if the roads are free from heavy mud, and, if the water is not too high in some of the streams which must be forded, then the trip will be one of continuous pleasure.''
Not one to minimize the drama, he also noted other dangers, including heavy rain that would
cause "mud galore." In the mountains of New York, he noted, "a big rolling stone which might
gather no moss" could swoop down out of the hills and strike the "horseless carriage outfit." About the only misfortune he didn't suggest was being abducted by aliens.
Shanks and Winton also carried a letter from the mayor of Cleveland to the mayor of New York.
A cozy affair
The 1899 Winton is a cozy affair. The wheelbase is an incredibly tiny 69 inches, and the car's
overall length is 104 inches. That makes a Toyota Tercel - with a 94-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 162 inches - seem like a stretch limo.
It is a two-seater, and a narrow one at that. It will be very easy to rub shoulders. The 1899 Winton came with a top, But it apparently does little more than trap the wind, acting like a backward sail. So we won't use it, substituting foul-weather gear instead.
There is no trunk. Likewise, there are no turn signals, no headlights and no brake lights, which is actually not a problem, given the car's leisurely approach to stopping. One could practically send a letter to following cars.
Wake and Winton figure our group will cover about 100 miles a day. The newer cars are likely to pass the 1899 and go on ahead because the wooden-framed 1899's top speed is "slow and slower," said Wake.
That means about 20 mph on a "nice, flat stretch after you have time to get. .. going," said Holcombe.
Wake figures we will need at least eight hours of driving time a day, But the time on the road will probably be much longer, because we have to do routine maintenance. In the beginning, that will include stopping every 20 minutes or so to check the oil levels. The oil goes in three troughs that have tubes dripping oil onto the transmission, engine and differential.
The gas tank holds three gallons, and Holcombe said the Winton should run happily on 87-octane gas, which is far better than anything it used originally. The gas mileage is uncertain, too.
Burn, baby, burn
The gasoline drips through a valve onto a plate in the carburetor. The bottom half of the plate is heated by the exhaust, a comforting concept. The gas then evaporates and is sucked into the engine's intake valve. The one-cylinder engine has a 5-by-7-inch bore and stroke.
The accelerator is a little button on the floor that uses a pneumatic valve to vary the amount of gas that reaches the intake valve. On corners, the gas can slop off the heating plate, so the Winton temporarily loses power, probably an unplanned safety feature.
A crank is used to start the Winton, which has a two-speed transmission. Getting it rolling involves pulling back on one of two long levers. That engages first gear. Once the rear-wheel-drive Winton is moving, that gear is pushed forward, into a neutral position. Then the second lever is pulled to the rear and locked in place. That is high gear.
There is no steering wheel. The Winton is steered with a tiller connected directly to the front wheels. It requires full-time attention. "The danger is, if you hit a brick or something in the road it can kick back in your hands,' said Holcombe, who will drive a 1907 Winton.
To stop, one takes the high-range gear lever and pushes it forward, disengaging the engine and contracting a band around a drum in the transmission. There is also a foot pedal that operates another band around a drum in the differential. There are no
brakes on the wheels, which Wake had to have manufactured, along with the tires.
Wake figures it will be more surprising if we do not have a breakdown than if we do. How ever, both he and Holcombe are convinced they can make repairs, and a truck with tools and our be longings will follow the group.
The 1899 Winton sold for $1,000 when it was new, Wake said. It was donated to the museum about 20 years ago by James Conant of Fairview Park, and before that was owned by the Rockefeller family.
It is insured for $55,000. There is a risk in driving it to New York, but Holcombe sees the trip as part of the museum's educational mission.
The route we will follow will be two-lane paved roads, quite a difference from the route Alexander Winton experienced - But Wake figured that would be OK. Winton was 38 when he made the trip with Shanks; Wake is 56. "I'm a little older than Alex. I'm allowed to do it on paved roads," he said.