- Written by webmin
By 1909, crossing the country was a largely symbolic gesture, especially to deliver a message. Transcontinental runs were already becoming the stuff of legend, and trains and telegraphs had already connected the country.
However, the U.S. military had yet to fully grasp just how important the automobile would become. Considering how technologically advanced the military has become since then, it’s odd to think that the military was a full decade behind when it came to accepting the automobile. To change that, it took a highly publicized transcontinental run – from New York to San Francisco – in a 1910 Mitchell Ranger, chronicled by driver Malcolm E. Parrott in the 2004 book, “Pioneering a Motorized Army: The First Transcontinental Military Dispatch Car.”
The choice of Parrott as a driver was interesting. Though the run was conceived by Major General Leonard Wood, one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, Parrott was simply a private in the National Guard of New York, not a member of the regular standing Army. He had, however, experience as a race car driver. His companions were even less usual choices: Frank X. Zirbies, a race car driver (and, apparently, not a member of any military) best known for his participation in the Glidden Tour, and Lt. B.B. Rosenthal, a Signal Corps engineer who apparently drove not one mile of the trip.
The trip started August 19 and, despite heavy storms, nearly impassable mud sinks, washed-out bridges and one bad bearing in the Ranger’s four-cylinder engine (re-babbitted in the field with a helpful farmer’s kettle and a pocket knife), the three men made it to San Francisco on the scheduled date a month later. The Ranger, we learn, remained in Zirbies’ possession and was used in at least a couple successive long-distance tours.
The book’s a quick read and mostly told from Parrott’s point of view, taken from Parrott’s account of the trip written in 1941. Stuart Mowbray’s introduction provides excellent context, though it would have been great to read more contemporary newspaper accounts than the two Mowbray included (a quick search turns up articles from August 18, August 20, August 22, September 12, and September 26).
Incidentally, I’ve yet to come across any other reference of the 35hp 1910 Mitchell using the name Ranger. If it did indeed go by that model name, that would make it a candidate for David LaChance’s list of early cars with actual model names rather than alphanumeric designations.