Ken Burns has produced some great cinema epics and Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip was one that I can really relate to.
In 1903 Horatio Nelson Jackson took a $50 bet that he could travel from California to New York by motor car in 90 days. This was at a time when the term road had little meaning. No one had ever been able to travel much more than 25 miles in an automobile and even that was a challenge.
This film uses Ken Burn’s typical approach of using period photographs along with Tom Hanks narrating as the voice of Horatio. He also shot current video of the areas that Horatio transversed in the Winton two-seater.
Much of the script is taken from the letters Horatio dutifully wrote to his wife that he lovingly referred to as Swipes.
Horatio funded the road trip himself and was constantly confronted with the breakdowns and adversity. Keep in mind there were no gasoline stations and your service station was likely to be a blacksmith’s shop. His companions consisted of a mechanic by the name of Crosby and a dog they adopted along the way called Bud.
When I contrast the trip I took to what Horatio faced and overcame it is an astounding accomplishment.
I had GPS to guide me across eight thousand miles of modern paved roads. Horatio had a compass and maps that were a combination of fantasy and wishful thinking. At one point he received directions from a young lady that took him a few miles only to end up at a farm house. When he asked her why she gave him false directions she said that her father had never seen a car so she sent them to his farm so he could see theirs.
I was able to transverse the highways at speeds upward of eighty miles per hour and Horatio was lucky to make eight miles per day.
He would write daily letters that moved by the speed of train to his wife while I could get on the Internet each night and send my postings at close to the speed of light.
No matter what troubles Horatio experienced each day he remained eternally optimistic that the next day would be “smooth sailing”. It was a journey as important as landing on the moon, maybe more so. Pick up a copy and see for yourself.