Horatio’s Drive: An Obscure Wager You Can’t Lose

In 1903, Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson bet $50 that he could drive an automobile across the country. Jackson started up his 20-horsepower Winton Touring Car in San Francisco and arrived in New York City 63 days later.

I’ll wager you’ll be hooked within the first five minutes of this fascinating Ken Burns documentary you’ve probably never heard of

In the unlikely event that I lose, you will miss out on the remaining 105 minutes of a spellbinding documentary about old cars, bad roads, and the sheer determination of an unsung American.

This Ken Burns film documents the first automobile trip across the continental United States.

Among famous firsts in mechanized travel — Lindbergh, Earhart, Armstrong — Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson and his mechanic Sewell Crocker are hardly household names.  The film, too, is often forgotten among better known Burns masterworks such as the The Civil WarCivil War, The WarThe War, and JazzJazz. Burns films can be heart wrenching or make you furious at unfairness.  In this piece his gift for poetic injustice and irony creates a lighthearted account of the American love affair with the car when we were first dating.

In 1903, Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson bet $50 that he could drive an automobile across the country.

Jackson started up his 20-horsepower Winton Touring Car in San Francisco and arrived in New York City 63 days later.   Burns retraces the breathtaking route, the daunting setbacks, the mechanical misadventures, and the sheer optimistic grit of Jackson, Crocker and their canine companion, Bud. The voice of Jackson is played by Tom Hanks, who reads letters sent throughout the journey to Jackson’s wife, Swipes.

This guy is like a cross between the Post Office, the Pony Express, and Pollyanna.  He does not give up no matter what obstacle gets thrown at him, whether its weather, terrain, people, financial sacrifice, or the mind-blowing unreliability of early automobiles.

If you have traveled the vast American continent in a car, especially before the Interstate was completed, or if you’ve even had a flat tire, I’ll wager you’ll enjoy this amazing film.

Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip