Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
This week in 1908 marked the start of the first ever New York to Paris auto race (via Alaska & Siberia) beginning in New York City.
George N. Schuster (1873–1972) was the driver of the American built Thomas Flyer and winner of the 1908 New York to Paris Race. It took him 88 days to drive the route however he didn’t arrive in Paris until July 30, 1908. That’s because the drivers were forced to cross the Pacific by ship because the Berrings-Strait route was impossible to reach at that time.
The racers never passed through Kansas, rather taking a northern route through Nebraska and Wyoming, dropping down to Salt lake City, then on to southern California, and finally north to San Francisco where they caught a ship that transported them across the Pacific, picking up again in Japan, then on to Vladivostok, Omsk, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Berlin and finally Paris.
Schuster worked for the Thomas automobile company, and was inducted into the Automobile Hall of Fame in 2010. According to the race’s anniversary website, www.thegreatautorace.com, “With no roads, the Flyer is designated as Union Pacific Train #49. Rules forbid riding the rails, so they straddled them bumping along tie to tie for hundreds of miles. A Union Pacific Conductor even rode with the Thomas!
The big news of the day on Feb. 13, 1908, in The Great Bend Register was the win by the striking railroad workers in Hoisington.
“The strike of the laboring men a the Missouri Pacific round house in Hoisington was terminated Tuesday mornings when the company notified the men it would pay the scale of wage demanded and allow the hours to stand at ten, as heretofore. This was a complete back-down for the railway company, which had notified the men that their wages would be cut down from 16 cents an hour to 12 1/2 cents and the hours shortened to eight each day. The failure of the company to place the Greeks at work which they imported from Kansas City and the inability to move trains promptly in consequence of the strike forced the road to accede to the men’s demands and the result is that peace and harmony now prevails at Hoisington. For a time yesterday it looked as if the road would be tied up, as it seemed to be impossible to get the frights to moving and the officials were utterly unable to restore train service once it stopped.”
In the same edition, a totally other kind of problem getting a Missouri Pacific train moving was reported in the story “Couldn’t hike up the hill.” It might have had to do with a freight backlog due to the strike.
“The Missouri limited, (limited as to passenger accommodation) due in this city at 6:50 this morning had a strenuous time trying to make the hill five miles north of this city d in consequence it was nearly 10 o’clock before the weary passengers reached here. The train had an unusual number of freight cars an in an effort to make it over the heavy grade on the hill missed out and was compelled to backup a considerable distance in order to get a flying start but the second attempt met with failure as did several others. Attorney Bana and several others offered to get out and push but at last the hill was gained much to the relief of the long suffering passengers.”
The train from Hoisington to Great Bend was eventually discontinued. The train at the entrance of the Brit Spaugh Park is where the engine for that train now sits.
Perusing the social pages of the paper, of which it seems the majority of the paper that week contained, we were surprised to learn the game of Whist was a frequent and popular past time here in 1908. The game is mentioned often in Jane Austen novels written more than 100 years earlier. But, on any given day of the week it was enjoyed by groups of Great Bend men and women getting together to have fun with one another. It turns out, it was from the game of Whist that Bridge evolved. That game became very popular in the following decades, particularly the 1940s,1950s and 1960s, then played primarily by Great Bend women, but occasionally by couples.
“The Forest Avenue Whist club met at the home of Mr. and Mrs. C.S. Allison Monday evening and the customary delightful evening was spent. The guests of honor were Mr. and Mrs. H.S. Born and as the evening rolled by it was very evident that Mr. Born was sadly in need of repairs when it comes to playing whist. His good wife, however, made up for her hubby’s deficiency, by playing a winning game every time.”
“The Holy Whist Club met Tuesday evening and entertained J. Pearson as the guest of honor. W.H. Dodge and wife carried off the honors of the evening, his score being ten games won and Mrs. Dodge’s a clean score of eleven.”
“A delightful surprise was tendered Fred Nuttleman by his wife and a number of friends at his home No. 2921 Forest Ave. last evening. Mr. Nuttleman was invited over to a neighbor early in the evening and with his necktie in his hand sallied forth entirely unsuspicious of his impending fate and sat down to the game. Just why he carried the afore said necktie with him is a mystery but possibly it may be explained by the fact that it was his 34th birthday. After the guests had assembled, Mr. Nuttleman and his necktie were sent for post haste and after receiving the congratulations of those present he invited them to enjoy themselves to their heart’s content. Whist was indulged in after which a sumptuous supper was served to which ample justice was done. During the course of the evening two handsome pictures were presented to Mr. Nuttleman.”
Progress of another kind
The Feb. 13, 1908 edition of The Great Bend Daily Register included area and society news of the week in addition to descriptions of many local businesses. The tone of the descriptions are full of optimism for a town that was clearly growing at the time, and they call to mind the annual Progress editions our newspaper of today has been publishing for the past few weeks, and will continue to for the next few weeks.
The article, titled “About Great Bend of Today,” started out this way:
“With its broad streets, handsome residences, and substantial business blocks it takes front rank in Kansas municipalities.
“From July 29. 1871 to February 1908 is a far cry and could the incorporators of the city of Great Bend, known at that time as the Great Bend Town Company, see the result of their handiwork they certainly would feel highly gratified.”
The entries of each of the businesses are fun to read because they provide a snapshot of what Great Bend’s Main Street must have been like back when independent merchants put everything they had into a business they hoped would be well received by a community, and their efforts were recognized on a more personal level by their neighbors who valued their contributions to bettering the lives of all the people in the area. Perhaps this is a sentimental view, but in today’s era of Amazon and Walmart and McDonalds, it’s fun to imagine there was a time when the community supported not just a couple big grocery stores, but five or six small groceries within walking distance of their customer’s homes, in addition to a bakery and a butcher.
Just for fun
Even in 1908, the healthful properties of chocolate were touted.
“Chocolate Pie is Healthful”
“Chocolate is healthful and nutritious and chocolate pies are becoming very popular. They are easy to make if you use “OUR PIE” Chocolate flavor. Direction on package. Contains all ingredients ready for instant use. At grocers, 10 cents. Order to-day.”
But here’s something that was probably even more fun than a 1908 chocolate pie:
“A skating party on Cow creek at John Helfrich’s north of town was certainly a pleasant one, as the ice was just fine for skating and everyone present seemed to enjoy themselves extremely. There were about 24 in the party. Tony Straub won first prize in the skating contest. Just before departing for home, a lunch was served by Mr. and Mrs. Helfrich, to which all did ample justice. We are all living in hopes to see many more such times. Ask Boise Kimpler if he succeeded in teaching his partners to skate.”