Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Great "Two-Gallon Efficiency" Run of 1906 Through Pelham for Early Automobiles

In the spring of 1906, much of America was enthralled with the new-fangled automobile.  The technology was relatively new and the cost of a new gasoline car was becoming within the reach of more and more Americans.  

Automobile enthusiasts throughout the New York region were driving in and around Pelham on unpaved roads that were a challenge for the simple automobiles of the time.  New York City automobile enthusiasts banded together as the "Automobile Club of America" with a clubhouse on West 57th Street that served as the unofficial automobile center of the nation.

During the spring of 1906, the Automobile Club of America came up with a novel idea for a competition among the many different makes and models of cars that were crowding New York roadways.  It decided to hold a "two gallon efficiency" contest that would leave from the club's headquarters and head up to Jerome Avenue, then Shore Road, and pass through Pelham on the way up the coast for as far as the cars could travel.  The general concept was to test how far each car could travel on two gallons of gasoline.  The contest, however, was much more complicated than that.

The winner would be selected based on a complicated formula that required the weighing of vehicles and then the addition of passengers and an observer or weights and an observer to add eight hundred pounds to the vehicle.  The final weight of the vehicle with the eight hundred pounds added would then be multiplied by the distance traveled by the car (with some adjustment made for the number of engine cylinders) on two gallons of gas to give a point total that would be used to rank the performance of the vehicles.  

The first prize was a large sterling silver punch bowl worth $500 (about $14,000 in today's dollars).  Cars had to be standard, stock cars (no "freak" cars and no unusual alterations were permitted).  To ensure that all cars used the same fuel, cars would be required to drain their gas tanks and would be provided with a sealed two-gallon can of "gasolene" by the club to be poured into each car's empty tank.  Each car also was provided with a sealed can of gas to carry on the car for a return trip once the car had run out of gas.

An unbiased "observer" was required to ride in each vehicle to keep drivers honest.  In addition, the Club's Contest Committee had a car that rode with the lead car until that car ran out of gas.  Once that car ran out of gas, the Contest Committee car occupants checked the extra gas can of the vehicle to make certain the seal had not been broken and no extra gas had been used, then recorded the distance and waited for any other car in the contest to pass by, after which the Contest Committee car would follow and repeat the process, always trying to stay with the automobile that had traveled farthest.

On Friday, May 4, 1906, entries for the race closed.  There were seventy four entries that included some of the most famous automobile makes of the day including Franklin, Oldsmobile, Renault, Frayer-Miller, Mercedes, Lozier, and many more.  Most of the entries were touring cars, although there were a few runabouts, and a few enclosed body autos.

With such a lucrative first prize, the contest turned out to be heated and the results became controversial.  On Saturday, May 5, 1906, sixty-five of the seventy-four entries appeared for the contest.  Controversy began immediately.  As vehicles began to drain their gas tanks on West 57th Street not far from the clubhouse, someone flicked a match or cigarette beneath one of the vehicles igniting a fire that required contestants to scramble to save their vehicles.  Incredibly, there was no damage from the small fire.

Additionally, young boys gathered and caught some of the gasoline drained from some of the vehicles.  Rumors began to swirl that the boys were selling the gasoline back to contestants who hoped to sneak it back into their tanks to improve the performance of their machines.  

Despite all the controversy, at 1:00 p.m. the weather was beautiful and the contest began.  Automobiles began to depart from a brewery at 57th Street and Avenue A.  They began to follow the following course:

"From Avenue A and 57th street, west to 56th street, to First avenue, to 57th street, to Fifth avenue, and up Fifth avenue to 110th street, to St. Nicholas avenue, to 155th street, across the viaduct to Central Bridge, to Jerome avenue, to 189th street, thence to Fordham Road, to Shore Road, to Bartow Bridge, to Hunter's Island and Travers Island, and on Pelham Road to forks.  The machines then went through the following towns as far as the power lasted:  New Rochelle, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Rye, Port Chester, Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Bridgeport."

As the afternoon proceeded, the weather changed.  Heavy rains turned the roadways, including Shore Road in Pelham and Pelham Road in New Rochelle, into a muddy mess.  Nevertheless, the cars trudged along, passing through Pelham on their way northeast.

By the end of the day, a 12-horsepower runabout Franklin, owned by the Decauville Automobile Company and driven by A. Holmes, traveled eighty-seven miles, for which performance it received a score of 200,000, using the formula for the contest.  The second place car was the 20-horsepower Frayer-Miller automobile driven by Dr. Butler.  Though reports differ, it appears that the much heavier Frayer-Miller automobile traveled 47.9 miles for a total score of 194,953 points once the formula was applied.

Controversy continued, however.  The Contest Committee of the Automobile Club of America received numerous protests from contestants who claimed that young boys had been selling gasoline from the drained tanks at starting line of the contest.  

The Committee grew so concerned that it refused to declare a winner.  Instead, it approached the first and second place finishers and arranged to have them completely repeat the entire event with Contest Committee observers.

On Monday, May 7, 1906, the Franklin runabout and the Frayer-Miller automobile took off again from West 57th Street to repeat the contest.  The weather on this second occasion was beautiful.  When the cars ran out of their two gallons of fuel, the Frayer-Miller was the winner.  The entire episode was odd.

The Frayer-Miller was driven by F. E. Mosckovis.  As Mosckovis drove the car over Central Bridge, he was arrested for speeding.  Although it is not clear how the matter was handled, the arrest caused him an hour and twenty minutes' delay before he could restart the car and continue the contest.  With the better weather and drier roads, he drove the Frayer-Miller 59 8/10 miles which, according to its weight and cylinders, gave a score of 243,386 points.

The little Franklin runabout, with A Homes driving, traveled a distance of 95 miles, giving it a score of 218,500 points.  It stopped seventeen miles northeast of New Haven.

The Contest Committee declared that the retrial had confirmed that the two vehicles were capable of the results that they had achieved in the actual contest on Saturday, May 5, 1906.  Thus, it declared the Franklin runabout to be the victor entitled to the sterling silver punch bowl first prize.  

The retrial, however, had given two different car manufacturers bragging rights.  Soon advertisements touting the Franklin runabout as the winner of the contest began to appear in local newspapers.  Those were met with advertisements touting the Frayer-Miller as the car that finished second in the contest, then beat the Franklin runabout in the retrial.  

To make matters more interesting, the Frayer-Miller Motor Car Company wrote a letter to the automobile editor of The New York Press challenging the Franklin to a rematch for the silver punch bowl and offering to give $100 toward a second-place prize.  The winner of the contest, however, didn't take the bait.

Though the little Town of Pelham was witness to the Great Two Gallon Efficiency Contest of 1906, there seems to be no record of the passage of the autos through the little town.  Could it be that though the automobile elicited great excitement in Pelham at the time, not enough to watch in the rain?

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Newspaper Photo of the $500 Silver Punch Bowl Awarded as
1st Prize in the Great Efficiency Run of 1906.  Text Associated
with Photo, Citation, and Link Appear Immediately Below.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.


Efficiency Contest Trophy. . . .

FIRST prize in the two gallon efficiency contest, to be conducted by the Automobile Club of America on Saturday, May 5, will be a silver punch bowl costing $500.  Competing cars will be supplied with two gallons of gasolene at the start and will be driven out Jerome avenue and over the Shore road until halted by lack of gasolene.  The award will be on the basis of weight of the car and passengers, with 800 pounds added, multiplied by distance travelled.  The winner will be the car with the highest score."

Source:  FIRST PRIZE IN TWO GALLON EFFICIENCY TEST -- Efficiency Contest Trophy, New York Herald, Apr. 25, 1906, p. 12, cols. 3-4.  


THE two-gallon efficiency test of the Automobile Club of America, which is to start at 1 o'clock next Saturday afternoon from the clubhouse, at Fifty-eighth street and Fifth avenue, Manhattan, continues to be the topic of conversation among motorists.  Entries have come in surprisingly large numbers.  Up to last night sixty-two had been received, representing all the leading American and many foreign built cars.  The entries were to have closed at noon yesterday, but the committee in charge decided to hold the lists open until the same time tomorrow.  The cars enrolled to date follow:

Make.                              H.P.       Entered by.
Rochet-Schneider...........24-35....Chas. M. Jacobs.
Ŧ  La Comete..................25-30....Wm. H. Barnard.
Columbia........................24-28.....Electric Vehicle Co.
Franklin..........................12...........F. Ed. Spooner
ƚ  Covert..........................6 1/2......C. D. Van Schaick
ƚ  Moore..........................40...........W. J. P. Moore.
Elmore Mfg. Co..............35...........Dr. Edwin Steese.
Ŧ  Renault.......................14...........Hugh J. Grant.
Oldsmobile.......................7............John K. Mills.
Maxwell............................10..........M'xw'll-Briscoe Co.
Maxwell...........................16...........M'xw'll-Briscoe Co.
White Steamer.................15..........Augustus Post.
White Steamer.................18-20....White Sew. M. Co.
Welch..............................50.........Welch Co.
Mack...............................40-50.....A. F. Mack.
Martini.............................30-40.....Palmer & Christie.
ƚ  Mercedes.....................40..........Irving Brokaw.
Indian Tri-car...................1 3/4......F. M. Dampman.
Bliss................................40..........F. C. Armstrong.
Peerless..........................30.........William Ives.
Franklin............................12........Miss Clara Wagner
Franklin...........................30.........Decauville Co.
Franklin...........................20.........R. D. Howell.
ƚ  Franklin........................12..........Decauville Co.
ƚ  Franklin........................12..........Decauville Co.
Northern..........................18.........J. H. Hammond.
Queen.............................26-28....Majestic Auto Co.
Columbia.........................40-45....C. E. Knoblauch.
Mercedes (Amer.)...........45..........C. M. Bouggy.
Lozier..............................40..........Lozier Co.
Lozier..............................40.........H. A. Lozier, jr.
Hotchkiss........................35.........Archer & Co.
Mors................................40-52...Col. John J. Astor.
Ŧ  Renault.......................10........J. H. Harding.

ƚ  Runabouts.     Ŧ  Enclosed body.  Other entrants touring cars."

Source:  ENTRIES CONTINUE TO POUR IN FOR TWO-GALLON EFFICIENCY TEST, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 3, 1906, p. 14, cols. 2-3.  

Seventy-four Cars Entered for Two Gallon Efficiency Run.

Entries closed at noon yesterday for the two-gallon efficiency contest to be held by the Automobile Club of America to-day.  In all there are seventy-four entries, and the run promises to be the most successful affair ever held under the auspices of the club.

Many of the members of the club have signified their intention of driving their own cars in the contest.  It is limited to self-propelled pleasure vehicles of individual owners or of manufacturers, taken from stock, and special or freak cars will be excluded.

The start will be made from Avenue A and 57th street at 12:30 o'clock, thence west to 56th street, to First avenue to 110th street, to St. Nicholas avenue, to 155th street, across the viaduct to Central Bridge, to Hunter's Island and Traver's Island, and continue on Pelham Road to forks.  The machines will then go through the following towns as far as their power will last:  New Rochelle, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Rye, Port Chester, Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Bridgeport.

An observer will ride in each car.  As the variable element in this contest is distance travelled, the finish points will be scattered all along the road, and therefore it is necessary for the committee to act through agents.  Each observer is an agent of the committee, and is relied upon to see that the spirit of the rules is strictly followed.

There will be an advance wagon, which will start with the first car and keep up with the foremost to the end of its run.  After the competing car has stopped, if another car passes it the advance wagon will verify the distance made by the stopped car and examine its relief cans to ascertain if the seals are unbroken, and will then follow the car that passed, verifying its position in a similar way.

All results will be scored at the clubhouse as fast as received, and the prizes will be awarded as soon as the results can be prepared."

Source:  NOVEL AUTO CONTEST -- Seventy-four Cars Entered for Two Gallon Efficiency Run, New-York Tribune, May 5, 1906, p. 16, col. 6.  

Winner Covers 87 Miles on Two Gallons of Gasolene.

Of the seventy-one entries for the two gallon efficiency test held under the auspices of the Automobile Club of America yesterday sixty-five started.  The 12-horsepower Franklin car of A. Holmes at an early hour this morning was figured the winner, having gone a distance of eighty-seven miles, for which performance it received a score of 200,000, the highest made up to that time.

The remarkable distance the machine went on so little fuel was astonishing to the hundreds of automobilists who gathered at the clubhouse last night to hear the results.  Next to the Franklin came the 15-20 horsepower Darracq of S. B. Stevens, which made a score of 179,938, going a distance of 46.02 miles.  Many of the other cars also made big scores.

The start was made from a brewery at 57th street and Avenue A, where the weighing in was done.  The cars went over the following route as far as the small supply of fuel lasted:

From Avenue A and 57th street, west to 56th street, to First avenue, to 57th street, to Fifth avenue, and up Fifth avenue to 110th street, to St. Nicholas avenue, to 155th street, across the viaduct to Central Bridge, to Jerome avenue, to 189th street, thence to Fordham Road, to Shore Road, to Bartow Bridge, to Hunter's Island and Travers Island, and on Pelham Road to forks.  The machines then went through the following towns as far as the power lasted:  New Rochelle, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Rye, Port Chester, Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Bridgeport.

Women and children rode in the cars, and all were well loaded down with passengers.  Before being weighed in, the tanks of the cars were emptied of gasolene and a two gallon can was given to the owner of each car to put in the tank of his machine.  After each machine weighed in it was sent off.  Each of the machines carried a small flag of the Automobile Club of America colors.

It was exactly 12:30 p.m. when the first car was weighed in.  At that time a more perfect day could not be asked for, but before the last car was sent off, a few hours later, rain began to fall ,and for a good part of the journey the machines were run in a downpour, which left the roads in a muddy condition.  The showing under the conditions adds more glory to the performances of the machines.  There were all kinds of passenger vehicles in the constest, from the small runabout to the ponderous sightseeing car, holding as many as twenty persons.  

Protests were numerous at the clubhouse last night.  Some of the contestants declared that the handling of the gasolene supply was left too much to them.  A few declared that small boys got possession of the gasolene emptied them from tanks on arriving at the starting point and went about offering to sell it to those who took part in the contest.

After the supply of gasolene had been emptied from the tank of Augustus Post's big new White steamer some one tossed a match under the machine, and for a few seconds flames shot up in all directions.  The fire was put out in time to prevent the machine from being damaged.

The official announcement of the winners of the various trophies will be made to-morrow or Tuesday, it was said at the clubhouse last night.  The miles covered by other cars follow:

J. K. Mills's 7-horsepower Oldsmobile, 57:85; L. R. Burne's 10-horsepower Cadillac, 48.6; R. G. Morris's 12-horsepower Franklin, 45; D. W. Pardee's 30-horsepower Stoddard-Dayton, 40; Frayer Miller Motor Car Company's 24-horsepower Frayer Miller, 47.9; C. D. Alton, jr.'s, 24-28 horsepower Columbia, 44.05; Majestic Auto Company's 26-28 horsepower Quee, 40; Percy Owen's 24-horsepower Aerocar, 33.8; Arnold & Stearns's 16-horsepower compound, 39."

Source:  AUTOS MAKE RECORDS -- GO FAR ON LITTLE FUEL -- Winner Covers 87 Miles on Two Gallons of Gasolene, New-York Tribune, May 6, 1906, p. 10, col. 4.  


The two gallon efficiency contest of the Automobile Club of America proved to be one of the most interesting and instructive ever held.  The official announcement of the leading cars has been delayed because it was impossible to work out all the returns on Saturday evening, but there is little doubt that A. Holmes will win the rich trophy with his 12-horsepower Franklin.  This car kept on running when it seemed as if the fuel must have been exhausted long before, and only came to a stop eight miles beyond New Haven, a distance of eighty-seven miles from the start.  A number of protests were filed because of laxness on the part of some of the observers, which may lead to the next run of this kind being held under more rigid supervision. . . ."

Source:  AUTOMOBILING, New-York Tribune, May 7, 1906, p. 8, col. 1.  

Two Cars Run Far on Limited Fuel in a Second Trial.

The committee in charge of the two-gallon efficiency contest held under the auspices of the Automobile Club of America had the owners of the two cars which made the best showing on Saturday go over the same course again yesterday.  The committee took this action to satisfy themselves, in view of the protests that had been made that the conditions of the contest were not complied with in every particular.

It was asserted that small boys got possession of the gasolene after the owners of the machines taking part in the contest had emptied their tanks on arriving at the starting point and had gone about trying to sell it with some success.

The machines that went over the course yesterday were the 12-horsepower runabout Franklin, owned by the Decauville Automobile Company and the 20-horsepower Frayer-Miller of Dr. Butler which finished first and second respectively on Saturday.  As both exceeded the distance made by them on Saturday it left no doubt that the conditions were complied with.  Although the showing made by the Frayer-Miller car yesterday was superior to that of the Franklin, it has nothing to do in the awarding of the cup.

The start was made from Avenue A and 57th street yesterday, the same as on Saturday, and the machines went over the same route.  F. E. Mosckovis drove the Frayer-Miller car, and was arrested at Central Bridge for speeding.  The arrest caused him one hour and twenty minutes' delay.  He drove the machine 59 8-10 miles, which, according to its weight and cylinders, gives it a score of 243,386.  On Saturday the car went 47.9 miles, with a score of 194,953.

The little Franklin, with A Homes driving, travelled a distance of 95 miles, giving it a score of 218,500.  It stopped seventeen miles east of New Haven.  On Saturday this machine went eighty-seven miles, and led with a score of 200,100.  

The fine condition of the roads evidently had a good deal to do with the increase both cars made in travelling over Saturday.  For a good part of the journey on Saturday the machines were driven through a heavy downpour, and the roads were muddy.  The machines were weighed in before starting."

Source:  AUTO TEST CONFIRMED -- Two Cars Run Far on Limited Fuel in a Second Trial, New-York Tribune, May 9, 1906, p. 5, col. 3.  

 1906 Advertisement Touting Victory of the Franklin in the Great
Two-Gallon Efficiency Contest" of 1906.  Source:  FRANKLIN WON
[Advertisement]Paterson Evening News [Paterson, NJ], May 11, 1906,
Second Section, p. 15, col. 1.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.
Text of Advertisement Transcribed Immediately Below to Facilitate Search.

"FRANKLIN Type D $2800
Four-cylinder touring car
Five passengers.
Air-cooled engine.
20 'Franklin horse-power.' Three speed sliding gear [illegible]


This trial conclusively demonstrates the wonderful efficiency of the Franklin air-cooled engine and proves Franklins to be the most economical fuel-users of all motor-cars.

Type D, shown above, is the lightest weight car of its power, and the easiest on tires, and -- because of the non-jarring construction which permits all its power to be safely and comfortably used -- the ablest 4-cylinder touring car built in the world. 

Come and let us demonstrate.

Paterson Automobile Exchange,

"To the Automobile Editor:

Sir -- In view of the fact that the discussion relative to the placing of the cars in the two-gallon efficiency test of the Automobile Club of America was finally fixed, and although the Frayer-Miller scored about 25,000 points more than the car which was awarded the gold cup, that is, on the retrial requested by the members of the Contest Committee (but which did not affect the awards of Saturday's contest), and in view of the fact that the winner of this contest stated that if they were awarded the gold cup they would put it up for competition again under the same rules, we herewith make the following proposition:

If the Decauville Auto Company will again place this cup for competition, we on our part, will agree to donate a $100 silver cup for second prize, as the cup which was actually won is the property of Dr. William E. Butler of Brooklyn, the owner of the car, and, further, we will also donate a third prize, providing more competitors desire to enter in the contest.  We are willing that this contest should be conducted under the auspices of any automobile club affiliated with the A. A. A., preferably under the Automobile Club of America.  If, for any reason, this proposition is not accepted, we will agree to any proposition tending toward the rerunning of this contest and which will give us another opportunity to demonstrate the ability of our car as shown in the retrial.  We will agree to enter a stock Frayer-Miller car which is regularly in use by some owner in the city of New York, and will give our opponents the privilege of entering any car they may desire.


Source:  To the Automobile Editor, The New York Press, Sporting Section, May 13, 1906, p. 3, col. 6.  

1906 Frayer-Miller Advertisement Touting Second Place Finish
During the Great Two Gallon Efficiency Run.  Source:  FRAYER-MILLER
May 13, 1906, p. 14, col. 3.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.  Text of
Advertisement is Transcribed Immediately Below.


Winner of the Silver Cup Offered by the Automobile Club of America in the Great Two Gallon Efficiency Contest.

A Frayer-Miller STOCK CAR, 4 cylinder, 24 horse-power, fully equipped, including top, carrying five passengers (owned and driven by Dr. Butler without special preparation after having been run more than 3,000 miles in ordinary use), covered 47.9 miles on two gallons of fuel.  This is the best performance made by ANY TOURING CAR in the contest.

Special Announcement.

At the request of the Contest Committee the first two cars ran over the same course, under exactly the same conditions, Tuesday, May 8th.  This time the FRAYER-MILLER made 59.8 miles, making a grand total score of 243,386 points, or 43,286 points more than any car in the Contest.

We are prepared to demonstrate that this record can be duplicated by ANY 4-cylinder Frayer-Miller Stock Car.

Results Shown  

Lowest cost per passenger per mile.  Highest mechanical efficiency in the ton mile.  Greatest carrying power:  --  Conveyed five passengers further than any other 4 cylinder car, irrespective of weight.  Air-Cooled by a system that insures correct cylinder temperature at all speeds, and built at every point for Endurance, Reliability, Economy and Speed.  

4 CYL. 24 H. P. FULLY EQUIPPED $3,000.

Torbensen Motor Car Co., Bloomfield, N.J.
Curtis Automobile Co., 70 Albany Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y."

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I have written before about the early days of automobiles in Pelham.  For a few examples, see:

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.

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