Thursday, November 13, 2014

When 60 mph shattered the Ogden to Salt Lake speed record

                                        I-15 in Layton today, with a 65 mph speed limit.

ALMOST 90 years ago, the automobile had only been a prominent fixture in Utah about two decades. Of course, there was no I-15 and the Bonneville Salt Flats had not yet become a racing mecca. So, racing in record time from Utah’s second-largest city to its biggest city was a worthy speed challenge.
“Baker breaks Salt Lake-Ogden auto mark, Famous pilot shatters old record in marvelous dash” was an April 10, 1925 headline in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.
Erwin “Cannonball” Baker of Indiana, who had set cross county speed records (including New York to Los Angeles in 71 hours and 33 minutes) had averaged 60.33 mph in traveling from Ogden to Salt Lake, a distance of 33.5 miles, in 36 minutes and 18 seconds.

                       "Death Curve" in Roy today, at 1900 West and Riverdale Road.

“The famous Death Curve” out of Ogden was taken at better than 60 miles an hour,” the Standard reported. (That might have actually been in Roy at today’s Riverdale Road and 1900 West junction.)
The Standard-Examiner sports editor, Warren Erickson, Baker’s mechanic and a man from Postal Telegraph Company rode in the record-setting Rickenbacker model car
Jenkins raced through Sunset, Clearfield, Layton, Kaysville, Farmington and Bountiful. His top speed was 87 mph and 35 mph his lowest (during a brief engine problem). He had police escorts on motorcycles as long as they could keep up.
The mark by Baker broke the previous record, set by Abe Jenkins of Salt Lake, at 39 minutes even.
“This almost unbelievable record may never be shattered,” the Standard story concluded.

                              1900 West Street in Roy today.

-Today, much of the speed limit between Ogden and Salt Lake is 65 mph and some drivers greatly exceed that.
MapQuest lists the distance from Ogden to Salt Lake at 39 miles, requiring 40 minutes. However, that includes a number of traffic signals, as well as 5.5 miles more than in the 1925 record run.
 Knock off that extra distance and no doubt the majority of I-15 drivers today easily exceed Baker’s speed record all the time.
(Note that the Bonneville Salt Flats first attracted world-wide attention about two months later in June of 1925. That's when Utah's Abe Jenkins outraced a Union Pacific train from Salt Lake to Wendover by five minutes in his Studebaker. A year later, Jenkins would set his own cross country driving records, though he was most famous for racing the "Mormon Meteor.")
-Baker’s record Ogden to S.L. run was only possible because in August of 1920, the state highway between the two cities had been completed after two years of construction.
“Completion of State Highway is to be celebrated at Lagoon by three counties on August 18,” was an Aug. 4, 1920 headline in the Standard.
Separate parades left Salt Lake and Ogden, meeting up at Lagoon, where Governor Simon Bamberger officially opened the new road.
William Haight of Farmington, a pioneer, also spoke of the trail conditions for the three counties in 1848, as he saw them while wintering cattle in Weber County.
Swimming races, baseball games, bucking contests and more were held to celebrate the occasion after the new paved road was open.
-Another historical note: “Runaway street car imperils many lives, dashed down steep hill; crashes into store,” was a Nov. 15, 1918 Standard Headline.
A Twenty-Fifth Street car going eastbound up the hill above Washington Boulevard, lost traction because of leaves and dust on the tracks. It rolled backward and became a runaway westbound, crashing into the Sims hat store, next to the Broom Hotel.
No one was hurt, including the four passengers, one of whom jumped out of the trolley at about Adams Avenue.

(-Originally published on Nov. 13-14 in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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