Racing Over the Sierras by Car After the Record Winter of 1911

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Courtesy Searls Historical Library Men from Grass Valley push, pull, and drag a Model T automobile over Sierra drifts in June 1911. Rope is wrapped around the tires for traction.
Courtesy Searls Historical Library Men from Grass Valley push, pull, and drag a Model T automobile over Sierra drifts in June 1911. Rope is wrapped around the tires for traction.

 

Our friends at the Sierra Sun has just published a terrific two part article entitled:  Conquering Donner Pass by Car.  The article highlights a “race” over Donner Summit, CA in 1911 during extremely high snow depths.

In the early 1900s, automobiles were new and taking them to the limit was all the rage.  A cross-country car race craze had taken hold of the nation and Lake Tahoe was not immune.  In 1911 Tahoe City, CA’s Tahoe Tavern put up a silver trophy for the first car to make it from California to Tahoe Tavern that spring.  Of course, 1911 set a deep snow record that is yet to be broken (40-foot deep snow depths at Tamarack, CA on March 11th, 1911).

Courtesy Searls Historical Library Arthur Foote behind the wheel of his car descending to Donner Lake. Note the door is open for a quick jump if necessary. Also note the railroad snow sheds in the background.
We love that he’s smokin’ a pipe.  Courtesy Searls Historical Library Arthur Foote behind the wheel of his car descending to Donner Lake. Note the door is open for a quick jump if necessary. Also note the railroad snow sheds in the background.

“Determined to ride this new craze of adventure motoring, in the spring of 1911 the Tahoe Tavern hotel near Tahoe City offered its own silver trophy for the first party to drive a car from California over the Summit Road to the luxury hotel. The operators of the Tahoe Tavern were hoping to ramp up their early season tourist business and to generate advertising headlines in the San Francisco newspapers.” – Mark McLaughlin/Sierra Sun

Donner Summit on another record snow year, 1952
Donner Summit on another record snow year, 1952

“The spring of 1911 offered a greater than usual challenge to anyone attempting to cross the Sierra by automobile. It had been a long, hard winter with late season snow. On March 11, 1911, official snow depths reached extraordinary levels, nearing 40 feet at 8,000 feet at the U.S. Weather Bureau station at Tamarack, Calif., southwest of Lake Tahoe. Despite the Tahoe Tavern’s well-advertised award, it wasn’t until June 1911 that anyone would try to drive over the mountains to collect the 3-foot high trophy and earn a daredevil reputation.” – Mark McLaughlin/Sierra Sun

The article goes on to reveal the small town winner from California and how we pulled it off.  It’s a fantastic peice of Tahoe history that almost none of us have any knowledge of.  Thanks to the Sierra Sun and Mark McLaughlin for writing and publishing this article.

Donner Pass, Rainbow bridge, old hwy 40
Donner Pass, Rainbow bridge, old hwy 40

Read the full article here:  Conquering Donner Pass by Car

Check out Mark’s great Tahoe weather website:  www.TheStormKing.com and his blog www.TahoeNuggets.com.

 

 


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