The Locomobile and General Pershing

According to a 1918 story in the New York Herald, Locomobile developed this model for the use of General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, and his staff, in Europe where Pershing was serving as the commander of the American forces during World War I.

According to the story, after observing British commanders using Rolls Royces and French commanders using Renaults, General Pershing requested a vehicle from Locomobile which would be representative of America and be able to meet the physical challenges of being driven 200-300 miles per day over war-torn roads at high speeds.   Locomobile first shipped two of these automobiles and they were used simultaneously, one following the other, so that the General could change cars without losing any time in the event of a blown tire.

The Locomobiles successfully met the challenges, and then more units were supplied for the use of the General Staff.  The automobile company wasted no time including this information in their advertising:

You can’t blame Locomobile for being proud of its association with General Pershing, a great general as well as a good and decent man.  He still holds the distinction of being the only active-duty six-star general in American history.  For more information on this man, I highly recommend a documentary created by University of Nebraska professor Barney McCoy called “Black Jack Pershing:  Love and War,” which is available on Amazon Prime.  If it doesn’t make you shed a tear, you better check your pulse.


Daredevil Joe Tracy

While reading up on some old race history, I kept seeing the name “Joe Tracy”.  Since we share a last name, I was intrigued and had to know more.  The Joe Tracy whose name is written in the annals of race history is this man:

He was born in Ireland in 1873 and eventually immigrated to the United States and became a citizen.  He is best known for racing Locomobiles in the Vanderbilt Cup Races and, according to the Vanderbilt Cup Races website, is the only driver  to compete in the first five Vanderbilt Cup Races.  Many contemporary sources describe his temperament as being quiet, thoughtful and steady.  He was said to use good judgment and to be extremely knowledgeable.  On the race track, however, he earned the nickname “Daredevil” Joe Tracy.  A 1906 Chicago newspaper called him “America’s Greatest Race Car Driver,” explaining that he was without peer as an expert and the equal of any foreigner as a driver.  This was high praise at the time as Europe was far ahead of America in car building and racing.

The Vanderbilt Cup Races were held on Long Island from 1904 to 1910.  In the 1905 race, Tracy drove a 90-hp Locomobile to a third place finish.  He drove 283 miles in four hours, 58 minutes and 26 seconds.  His average lap speed was 56.90 mph and his fastest lap speed was 61.38 mph. The day before the race the cylinders of his Locomobile had cracked, and Tracy stayed up most the night replacing them.  There was no time to try them out before the race, but they did work, and Tracy didn’t have to stop at all during the race except for gasoline.  He crossed the finish line behind two French drivers, proving that America could produce a race car that could hold its own against the Europeans.

The Locomobile was appropriately named for its likeness to a locomotive.  Here is a picture of Tracy in a Locomobile in 1906:

Locomobile was established in 1899 and was steam-powered in its first years of existence but had converted to gasoline by 1905.  They were well-made and expensive automobiles.  An ad from 1905 describes the Model H as follows: “35 horse power Magneto, make and brake ignition, double chain drive.  The finest car on the American market.”  They were fine automobiles and Locomobile priced them accordingly by asking $5,000 for the Model H and $3,000 for the cheaper Model E.  Locomobile celebrated the fact that they had created the first American automobile to threaten European racing supremacy:

Tracy’s next Vanderbilt Cup race was the Elimination Race in September of 1906.  That race consisted of ten laps around a 29.7 mile course with nine turns,  and Tracy completed the 297 miles in 5 hours, 27 minutes, 45 seconds.  He and the Locomobile he was driving won big, beating the nearest competitors by more than 20 minutes.

This picture of the Locomobile appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

This great description of the car appeared in the Boston Globe:

These pictures of the car and driver appeared in the Los Angeles Times:

According to some sources, Tracy was told to slow down by the Locomobile’s owners (they communicated with hand signals).  Tracy disregarded these instructions, and the reason why may involve a certain young woman who had promised to marry him if he won the race.    A Pittsburgh Press article, “Sweetheart Fainted as Her Fearless Lover Safely Piloted Locomobile Across Finish Line,” included this quote from the young lady, a Miss Taylor:  “I am so very, very sorry, that I gave my consent for Joe to enter this race.  Every moment I expect to hear of some accident to him.  When he rushes by on two wheels hardly touching the ground, my heart stops beating . . . After I have seen how he is risking his life every minute, I will marry him whether he wins or loses.”  Of course he won, but they apparently never married.  A 1915 article titled, “The Danger of Adoring a Speed Hero” revealed that “Miss Taylor” was a name invented by Tracy to protect the female’s true identity.  She was actually Fannie Collins Coles, she had married a wealthy New York broker, and the paper reported that she had “offended her husband by continuing her girlhood devotion to the racer, “Daredevil” Tracy.  So much drama, and the public likely ate up every word.

Tracy was a favorite going into the Victory Cup race in October, but he lost too much time, at least 40 minutes, due to tire problems.  Numerous replacements were required and he ended up coming in a disappointing tenth.  On the one lap that his tires held, he did have the fastest lap speed at 26 minutes, 20 4/5 seconds.  He was also the only racer to pass every contestant in one lap.  If only he’d had decent tires!

Another feature of these early races was how reckless the crowd was, underestimating the danger at their own peril.   After Tracy crossed the finish line in the 1906 Elimination Race, the crowd flooded the course.  The second and third place finishers had to drive through the throng , and the remaining drivers were unable to finish at all.  During the Vanderbilt Cup race in October, one paper reported that 10,000 people formed a “solid segment” on both sides of the road at one of the turns on the course, the Jericho turn.  After a race car would pass, the crowd would push forward to the center of the road until police beat them back with nightsticks.  The same paper reported 20,000 spectators at Hairpin Turn where drivers were cruising along at 60 mph or better as they approached the turn.  The human alley was so small that the suction of the racing automobiles nearly sucked the skirts off some of the female spectators.  Tracy even stopped during the race to yell at Mr. Vanderbilt himself that people would die unless they were kept off the roads.  He was obviously correct because another paper reported that the cost of the race included three men dead, one woman dying, one boy mortally injured, two or three fractured skulls, several broken legs and dozens of serious injuries but added, “And yet race enthusiasts said that it was a very satisfactory and successful contest.”

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Tracy quit racing in 1906, but stayed involved with automobiles.  He joined Locomobile as a consulting engineer in 1906.  In 1908, he was hired as a consulting engineer for Diamond Rubber, a tire maker.  There he was put in charge of the racing department and it was the first time that a tire company had hired an expert driver.   In 1913, there was a story about Tracy moving his testing plant and laboratory to larger facilities due to increased demand for his services.  At the new place, six to eight motors could be tested simultaneously.

Unfortunately, Locomobile did not experience the same happy ending.  According to the Standard Catalog of American Cars, the company ran into financial trouble in 1919.  It became part of Hare’s Motors for a short time until it was purchased by William Durant of General Motors fame.  The stock market crash of 1929 severely hurt Durant and marked the end of the Locomobile.

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1914 Locomobile Roadster

Tracy lived to a ripe old age, not passing away until 1959 at the age of 86.   There is a great story about him in a 1946 issue of the Kingston Daily Freeman.  There was a celebration of “old-time” automobiles in June of that year at Mineola, New York.  A dirt track race was part of the festivities, and it was won by 74-year-old Joe Tracy driving the very same Locomobile from the 1906 race.  White-haired and wearing a long duster and goggles, Tracy beat a 1916 Stutz and a 1912 Mercer among others.  I guess he was still Daredevil Joe Tracy, and they likely never stood a chance.