Did You Know?
By Al Owens
…the nation’s carmakers once used the road that leads to our Summit to test all
of their cars?
In 1916 and 1917, newspapers all over the country ran advertisements that hailed
the ability of cars to traverse that steep incline in “road tests.”
In 1916, for instance, the Kokomo, Indiana Daily Tribune ran an ad for the
$1350, “King” automobile. “Tested in the hands of thousands of owners, on the
hills of Uniontown, Pa., Pittsburgh Cincinnati and the Rocky Mountains,” it
Ralph DePalma, considered “the world’s greatest race car driver,” was quoted in
one ad in the Janesville, Wisconsin Daily Gazette as boasting the Saxon “Six,”
had climbed the three-mile mountain road of Uniontown, Pa. in four minutes and
four seconds, and that had been “the most astounding feat I ever saw.”
Similar ads could be found in Bedford, Pennsylvania, Homestead, Iowa, and in
Syracuse, New York – which claimed they tested several 12 cylinder “Nationals”
on one of the “longest grades in the country.”
Did you know that not all of the visitors making the climb up to the Summit were
trying to prove anything?
In early August of 1921, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone (the
developer of Firestone Tires) lunched at the Summit Hotel with their wives, as
part of one of their famous camping trips of the time.
They’d also stopped in Uniontown on the corner of Morgantown and Fayette
Streets, where they were handed a Uniontown newspaper and Edison was asked to
comment on it.
A reporter for the Uniontown News Standard showed Edison a memorial that had
been placed in the paper by Simon’s Music Store that honored the life of
legendary singer Enrico Caruso, who’d died that day. “In loving memory of the
world’s greatest voice, and with grateful appreciation that through a man made
device the golden notes will live forever,” it read.
That notice was certainly of importance to Edison. It not only alerted him of
Caruso’s death, it was, in effect, a tribute to him too. The phrase “man made
device” was a reference to him, because he was the man who invented that device
– the phonograph machine.
Yet, Edison didn’t mention his own role in Caruso’s rise to fame. He simply
reflected on Caruso’s contributions to music. “I am sure the whole world will
unite today in grief at his untimely passing,” he told the Uniontown reporter.
Yet Edison and Ford had made a previous visit to Fayette County that was even,
in the eyes of some, more momentous.
In August of 1918, they’d been on another road trip when their car (curiously
not a Ford, but a Packard) broke down between Connellsville and Greensburg.
There should have been no doubt that the inventor of the automobile, Henry Ford,
could have rolled up his sleeves and fixed his own car.
If there had been any of doubts, they would have evaporated by the time he took
the car to the Wells-Mills Motor Car Garage in Connellsville.
While Edison sat on a box reading a newspaper, Ford fixed the broken radiator
and fan. The Connellsville Daily Courier wrote, “His hands were covered with
grease and his new olive green suit was spotted here and there where he had
placed his hands upon it.”
That may have been the most exciting case of car repair in Fayette County
history. According to a later report, while Ford worked, a large Connellsville
crowd gathered outside of the garage to watch him.
Ford isn’t the only big name automaker to have paid a visit to Fayette County.
In 1916, Louis Chevrolet (the developer of the car that bears his last name) won
a big race at the Uniontown Speedway.
It was a 225 mile race that, in those days, rivaled the Indianapolis 500.
Chevrolet’s win in that 1916 race, may have been escaped widespread coverage for
the fact that three people died during the race.
Newspapers across the country ran the story, and in some cases they got it
wrong. One Newspaper in Nevada claimed that ten people had died. Another
newspaper in Decatur, Illinois erroneous reported that 80 people had been
Yet in subsequent years, the Uniontown race gained national notoriety. In 1921,
Lloyd’s of London insured the prize money, and against inclement weather.
In 1922, The Charleston (West Virginia) Mail trumpeted the Uniontown Speedway’s
wooden track as, “The fastest track of its size in the world.” That may have
been true, but Tommy Milton, considered the “World’s Speed King” won in 1920
with an average speed of 94.9 miles. (Jeff Gordon can walk that fast today)
And there was yet another automotive pioneer who passed through Fayette County -
Fred Duesenberg. The Duesenberg (which some people believe became the origin of
the phrase “a doozy”) was – at any rate – considered the finest automobile of
Duesenberg personally came to Uniontown and spoke at a Kiwanis luncheon in 1925.
He spoke highly of the Uniontown Speedway, but he warned against building a new
track – which had been discussed at the time.
He claimed that there were already bigger tracks, with far more capacity going
up all over the country, and that the roads into and out of the city of
Uniontown weren’t quite good enough to support a major track in the area. Hum.
Did you know that “Trigger” happy cowboy once came to Uniontown, but everybody
loved it? It’s true and I’ll tell you about that next week.