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A tale to tell

By Staff | Feb 5, 2013

Pine Island Methodist Church was full Saturday afternoon as Jeff Mahl, the great-grandson of George Schuster Sr., shared the story of the Great Auto Race of 1908.

The audience became mesmerized as Mahl sat in a rocking chair recliner during his two-hour presentation of what started in Feb. 1908.

He began the presentation by sharing an assignment he had when he was 14 years old. Mahl said the writing assignment, which was given on Monday and due on Friday, depicted his great grandfather’s race from New York to Paris.

“These stories were phenomenal,” he said of his great-grandfather’s race recollections.

As the family got together to prepare Thanksgiving dinner, Mahl said his great-gramps would gather the great-grandchildren and share his great stories.

As he sat in the chair Saturday, Mahl told the story through his great-gramps and the photographs that were taken during the Great Race to provide a visual for the crowd.

There were 250,000 people who gathered in Time Square waiting for the race, which was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., Feb. 12, 1908. Mahl said the crowd was so thick that the mayor of New York City could not get through, which delayed the race 15 minutes.

“The president of the Auto Club of America raised a gold plated pistol and fired a shot in the middle of Time Square,” he said, which started the race.

Mahl said although it was 29 degrees the day the race began, they did not run into snow until they got to the northern city limits. Eight to 12 horses had to help drag them through whatever predicament faced the Thomas Flyer, a four-cylinder, 60 horsepower car.

Once Schuster and his crew arrived in Chicago, they were out of the snow, but encountered mud, a sandy, clay mixture. Mahl said the mud added hundreds of pounds to the already heavy car. He said his great-gramps found a fire chief who agreed to hose off the car to get rid of the mud.

“Four men would rock a pumping assembly and squirt mud off of the car,” Mahl said laughing, adding that they started the first car wash.

The special show Saturday took the audience through countless adventures similar to the snow and mud as the Thomas Flyer made its way to Paris to win the race 169 days later.

As they made their way through numerous locations in the United States, their final destination was in San Francisco as they loaded on a steamer to Seattle.

Although the Thomas Flyer was the first automobile in the Alaskan territory, they soon found that the car could not make it through the conditions. Mahl said his great-gramps was instructed to head back to Seattle.

The Thomas Flyer was then loaded onto the steamer to cross the Pacific Ocean.

Once Schuster and his team arrived in Japan, they were faced with paths that were designed for foot traffic. Since the car could not make right angles, due to the radius, they hired villagers, 35-40 at a time to pull the car up and down the mountains.

The Thomas Flyer was then loaded on another steamship to go to Asia.

Once they arrived in Paris they only had one operating headlight, which was a problem, because it was mandatory to have two operating headlights.

Mahl said his great-gramps said they had traveled 22,000 miles from Time Square and since it was broad daylight, they would not need the headlight, which was still not accepted. A bicyclist offered a lamp he had on his bicycle, which allowed the Thomas Flyer and team to go through the check point of Paris and therefore win the race.

He went on to tell the crowd that once his great-gramps returned to New York, he received the gold key to New York from the mayor and was invited to President Teddy Roosevelt’s home.

Mahl said that race costs $100,000, which was a lot of money in 1908.

As the production came to an end, the crowd erupted into applause as they started talking of the differences that have taken place with cars and roadways.

The proceeds from the event benefited the Calusa Land Trust.