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December 19, 1917: Mare Island Travels to the Rose Bowl
As we approach the 104th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2018, let’s look back at the events leading up to the 4th Rose Bowl game in 1918.
Nowadays, folks traveling from the Seattle-Tacoma area to Los Angeles can take a three-hour flight or drive the 1,100-mile distance in about seventeen hours. Travel times were a bit longer in 1917 when Camp Lewis’ football team boarded the train at Dupont Station outside Tacoma for their two-day and three-night trip to Los Angeles.
Following a celebration at the local YMCA, headlined by Camp Lewis’ commanding general and four regimental bands, the team’s 23 players and 7 others left the station at 6:18 p.m. on December 21st. The party arrived in Los Angeles the morning of December 24, about the same time as their opponent, the Mare Island Marines. The Marines, sailed from San Francisco aboard a commercial steamship, the S.S. Yale, on the 22nd. Hugo Bezdek, their coach, did not much like the water, so he traveled by train, arriving on Christmas Day.
The teams might have made the trip to Los Angeles by automobile or bus, but the road networks and automotive technology of the day were not up to the task. Before, during, and after the teams were traveling to Los Angeles, the Army conducted an experiment testing the limits of its primary military truck, the Liberty B. Designed in 1917 and produced by a number of manufacturers following standard specifications, the Liberty B was a marvel with a 52-horsepower engine capable of achieving a top speed of 15 miles per hour. (Today’s highway truck engines commonly have horsepower ratings more than 10 times that of the Liberty B.) The Liberty B also came with solid rubber tires and a canvas windshield drivers could look over to see the road ahead. The windshield was an advancement over the Liberty B’s primary competition, the horse-drawn wagon.
To test its capabilities, a convoy of twenty-nine Liberty B trucks drove out of the Packard assembly plant in Detroit headed to Baltimore and their eventual shipment to France. What better way to demonstrate the industrial might and technological progress America brought to the war? One-hundred years ago today, seventy-one men, including drivers, mechanics, and cooks, were five days into the trip to Baltimore, battling snow and ice through much of the journey. It was a battle since few roads between cities were paved, and none were plowed or salted. In Warren, Ohio, one of the trucks had an accident resulting in the death of one soldier in the convoy. It’s unclear whether the road conditions contributed to the accident.
The convoy continued on the following day, speeding to the East Coast. Despite being slowed by the weather and the accident, all twenty-nine trucks completed the journey, averaging forty-seven miles per day and arriving in Baltimore two weeks after the trip began. Since they pulled off this trick only four years after Henry Ford implemented the first moving assembly line in December 1913, it was considered a major feat. The same trip takes eight hours by car today.
While the latter part of this story has little bearing on the 1918 Rose Bowl, it helps paint the picture of the times in which the game was played and the sophistication of the equipment the men used once they got over there.
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