What Students in Mechanic Programs Should Know About the Mechanic Who Won the World’s Wildest Auto Race
Few races in history have been quite as unpredictable or as chaotic as the first transcontinental automotive trek from New York to Paris. The Great Race of 1908 featured six drivers and cars from four countries and a route that stretched across the United States, Russia, Asia, and finally Europe.
Things went wrong almost from the start, and poor weather, driving conditions, and bad luck soon took their toll. Only one person would complete the entire route: an auto mechanic from New York by the name of George Schuster.
If you’re interested in becoming a mechanic, read on to find out how the mechanic George Schuster managed to finish one of the most infamous car competitions in history.
Test Driver and Auto Mechanic George Schuster Was a Last-Minute Addition
The only American entry in the race was a car known as the Thomas Flyer, made by the company E.R. Thomas. The driver who took it to the finish line, however, almost wasn’t even in the race.
George Schuster began his career as a bicycle mechanic in Buffalo, New York. Buffalo was also home to the E.R. Thomas automotive manufacturing company, and Schuster soon joined, and then made his way up from assembling radiators to working as an auto mechanic—eventually becoming the chief test driver who helped teach new car owners how to operate their vehicle.
Schuster didn’t join the racing team until a day before the race. In fact, the only reason he got involved was because his employer promised him a lifelong position as a mechanic (a promise that only lasted until 1912, when the company E.R. Thomas went out of business). Schuster later went on to work for the Pierce Arrow motor company, and as a dealer for Ford and Dodge vehicles.
Students in a Mechanic Program Might Be Interested in the Thomas Flyer
Students in auto mechanic courses can actually visit the Flyer today, as it currently sits in the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada. The company behind it, E.R. Thomas, primarily specialized in touring cars. It introduced the Thomas Flyer in 1907, which weighed five thousand pounds and housed a 4-cyclinder, 60 horsepower engine which was capable of reaching a top speed of 96.5 km/h.
While it may not seem like much today, the Thomas Flyer was actually a marvel of its time. American-made cars were having a hard time keeping up with European models, which were considered to be superior. Early cars—especially touring cars—were also seen as incapable of driving long distances or for use year round.
Schuster Soon Found Himself Putting His Auto Mechanic Training to the Test
During the race, the Flyer and its team withstood snowstorms, Siberian mud, and quicksand—the car even became Union Pacific Train #49 when it ran out of road and had to drive on the rails.
At that time, a majority of the route through the United States wasn’t paved, which made for rough driving conditions, improvised roads, and continuous maintenance that would frustrate even students in a mechanic program today. As the Flyer changed driver after driver, Schuster eventually took over the wheel himself after it crossed the Pacific. Schuster often had to think on his feet, replacing tires that constantly blew out and even repairing the cracked frame with a boiler plate from a steam locomotive.
After 169 days on the road, George Schuster was the only original team member to drive the entire route from New York, and had the honor of taking the Thomas Flyer across the finish line. Unfortunately, while his accomplishments were more than a little impressive, his reward was only a $1000 prize, which wasn’t handed to him until sixty years later.
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