for National Geographic News
Charles Kuralt, the late television broadcaster best remembered for his on-the-road reports across America, once said U.S. superhighways "left a nation of steel guardrails and plastic signs, where every place looks and feels and sounds and smells like every other place."
Had he witnessed the state of roads circa 1903, he might have appreciated such a homogenous drive. Though a two-million-mile (3.2-million-kilometer) network of dirt tracks crisscrossed the country, a trip across it spelled disaster. Carmaker Alexander Winton began a famous failed attempt in 1901, but he barely made it out of California before his wheels spun to a stop in the Nevada desert.
Two years later, Dutch reporter Marius Krarup successfully crossed the same stretch of sand. He rode in a 1903 Packard driven by Tom Fetch, one of three teams that left San Francisco for New York City to claim records in cross-country driving.
The pair failed in their bid to be first, but they did chart the most treacherous route.
Upon reaching Colorado Springs, Colorado, Krarup spoke of the conditions that preceded: "Nevada is awful, but Utah is the worst I ever saw. We carry a pick and shovel along, and we found it necessary in more than one instance to use them when we had to build roads ourselves, cutting along the sides of hills."
Colorado provided a brief respite. After Denver, Krarup and Fetch wouldn't see another surfaced road until Illinois.
This summer, an automobile museum president and the grandnephew of Fetch are retracing Krarup's and Fetch's infamous routefor a second time.
Terry Martin, president of the National Packard Museum, in Warren, Ohio, and Tom Fetch, grandnephew of his namesake, first drove the historic passage 20 years ago in a restored 1903 Packard nicknamed "Old Pacific Two." This year they're replicating the journey with the classic auto in tow.
Though they try to drive the one-cylinder car for a portion of each day, Martin stresses that this year's anniversary tour was organized for other Packard owners.
"When we went across in '83, everyone kept asking where are the other cars? Why aren't there other Packards with you? So this time, we've solved that problem by inviting everyone else to come along."
"It's like a party going across country," says Fetch. The caravan of antique autos left Colorado Sunday morning. In front, a 1939 Packard sped at 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour).
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