Story of Burkett’s Ride: Automobile Goes on the Warpath and Creates a Sensation in Nebraska Town

This dramatic headline appeared over an article in the Omaha Daily News about a trip made by H. E. Fredrickson into Blair, Nebraska, in his new steam-powered automobile in October of 1900. The story, slightly edited, goes something like this:

Undertaker H. K. Burkett had impressed Fredrickson and his automobile into service to get to Blair on an urgent call, inasmuch as he could not catch a train until much later in the day.

Fredrickson deposited Burkett at the place where he wanted to go and then went downtown to snatch a bite to eat. He stopped his vehicle before the eating place and forgot to hitch it. The sight of the horseless wagon naturally attracted a whole lot of attention, and before long five-sixths of the population was gathered about it.

“By gum, this yere’s a funny wagon,” remarked a prominent citizen as he stored a hunk of tobacco in his face. “Where do you suppose he hitches his mules?”

This interesting topic was being discussed with gusto when the automobile gave vent to a snort of steam. Most of the crowd drew back, but the bolder spirits held their ground. “Gee whiz, Bill, the buggy’s on fire,” yelled one of them. “Go call the fire company.”

He went closer to the vehicle to investigate and accidentally struck the propelling lever. The machine started and the investigator grabbed hold of it to stop it, but it pulled him along.

“Hully gee, help,” yelled he when he had been pulled some thirty feet down the road. During the whole performance up to this time, the crowd had stood rooted to the spot with their eyes sticking out of their heads. The yell awakened a dozen sturdy men, however, and they started off in pursuit of the mobile and its victim.

Half of them grabbed hold of the wheels and tried to pull it to a stop. The other half went to the front and pushed against it. The latter were run over for their pains, inasmuch as the automobile persisted in going ahead.

It was a moment of great excitement, and Fredrickson, attracted by the hubbub, rushed out from the restaurant. He saw his mobile jauntily sailing down the road with the mob of men clinging to it and sized up the situation in a moment. He touched only the high spots in pursuit and meanwhile yelled, “Pull back the lever. Pull back the lever!”

Somebody heard him and yanked back the lever. He, however, pulled it back too far. The mobile halted for just an instant and then backed suddenly, throwing a half a dozen men to the ground and running over them. A score grabbed hold of the machine again, while the rest of the crowd stood in the middle of the road trying to stop it with upraised arms and jumping up and down. The mobile paid no attention to them, and Fredrickson was about ready to bid it adieu when it suddenly ran up against a store and came to a halt. No damage had been done to the machine, but half a dozen Blair citizens believed that they had broken arms or legs until a physician told them they were all right.

A shudder ran through Fredrickson when he was relating his experience upon his arrival in this city. “For a few minutes, I was mighty glad that I had an undertaker with me,” he declared.