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Gold’s 1912 Buick Racer

This photo, taken around 1940, shows Martin Gold’s 1912 modified Buick roadster racer resting in the backyard of his family home at 807 N. Seventh St. in Phoenix.

This photo, taken around 1940, shows Martin Gold’s 1912 modified Buick roadster racer resting in the backyard of his family home at 807 N. Seventh St. in Phoenix.

Martin Gold arrived in the Valley around 1880 after emigrating from what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Gold was part of a generation that seemingly lived to work, and in less than two generations, the efforts of men like him transformed a wasteland into the city of Phoenix.

His work included freighting goods overland, buying property and establishing a very profitable harvesting enterprise.  He is even noted to be the first man in Phoenix to own a steam-powered thresher.

In 1929, as Gold neared retirement, he built a stately home of white brick, but died in 1931 before he could occupy it.  Subsequently his daughters, Dolores, Rose, and Helen, moved into the capacious new mansion to raise their families.  They also brought along their father’s roadster.

In the late 1930s, Helen’s son, Louis Killen, pulled the Buick out of retirement to show it in Horseless Carriage exhibits.  Dolores’s son, Frank, who was born in 1942, remembers playing on the roadster and believes it was in the backyard until they sold the house in the early 1950s.

Years before its retirement, the Buick roadster had enjoyed its greatest glory as a controversial star of the 1916 Arizona State Fair’s inaugural road race from Douglas to Phoenix.

The road race was a major event.  The course ran from Douglas to Phoenix, passing through Tucson and Florence and requiring a ferry ride across the Gila River. The race supplemented the many southwestern road races that drew some of the best cars and drivers in the world to Arizona.

Though Arizona had recently become a state, it was still a frontier and travel conditions were primitive.  The roads, when they existed at all, were graded trails (gravel covered roads did not come in until the 1920s) frequently obliterated by severe dust storms.  Cars had to be able to blaze their own trails over desert and rock outcroppings when necessary.  There were few bridges, and rivers were crossed by ferry.

Driving was strenuous and dangerous.  Sixty miles per hour was considered wickedly fast, and it was surely fast enough to kill.  From 1902 to 1918, some two dozen professional drivers died in road races at a time when there were only about ten major races a year.

Gold, who was 57 years old at the time of the Douglas to Phoenix race, did not intend to drive. Instead, Pete Thomason, owner of the Auto Specialty Company on North Central Ave., was at the steering wheel, and the mechanic was Gold’s nephew, Dave Martinez.

The race began in Douglas at 6:30 on the morning of Monday, Nov. 13, 1916.  The 15 participants were scheduled to start at five-minute intervals, to avoid endangering one another in the “dangerous mountain curves of Tombstone Canyon.”

Even so, there was plenty of trouble.  Only six cars made it to Phoenix by 4:30 p.m.  A Pope seemed to be winning before its “steering knuckle” broke, and it wound up wedged in a mesquite clump.  A Cadillac never got past Bisbee; Tombstone Canyon claimed a Hudson; and in the town of Tombstone, a Stutz ran into a wall.  In Tucson, a National died of a broken radiator and spring. A Buick and a Sterns also ended their days in Tucson, while a Ford stopped in Florence.

Gold’s Buick left Douglas at 7:05 am.  Four hours and three minutes later, it roared into Tucson, startling the horses on Stone Avenue before heading back into the desert.  It took another two hours and 28 minutes to make Florence, where the Gila River had to be crossed by ferry.

The ferry ride took ten minutes and before long, “sand was soon flying as the Buick bounded through the rutted desert towards Higley and the Salt River Valley.”  It crossed the finish line at the state fairgrounds with an elapsed time of 8 hours, 32 minutes, and 35 seconds.  Unfortunately, the time was not good enough for first place.

E.L. Cord won in a Paige, averaging a disappointing 32 miles per hour over a rain slowed course.  Second place depended on how much time had elapsed at the ferry, which was not charged against the drivers.  First, the judges awarded second place to Bert Hines’s Pierce Arrow, then they gave it to Gold’s Buick.  The Republican telegraph office was deluged with requests for the official finish, but the timers didn’t arrive from Gila River until the next day, at which point they awarded second place to Bert Hines’s Pierce Arrow and Gold’s Buick took third.

— Gary Weiand.  Photo courtesy of Tom Killeen.

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