(Editor’s Note: In this series of reports, we are recounting the daily travels of Erwin G. “Cannon Ball” Baker’s record-setting run from San Diego to New York City of 11 days in 1914. A group of enthusiasts is re-creating his ride, and I am trying to ride along with them.)
When Erwin G. Baker set off on May 3, 1914 from San Diego for what he hoped would be a record run to New York City on his Indian motorcycle, he needed to prove his progress to a skeptical world.
A less honest man might have been tempted to merely ride out of town and load his motorcycle on the first train that happened by, and to facilitate his progress that way!
But Baker had made arrangements with the Federation of American Motorcyclists, headquartered in Brooklyn, N.Y., to certify his ride. As part of this process, Baker would send telegraphs daily of his whereabouts, as he made his way across America. At points where Baker was unable to send a telegram, he would ask the local post office clerk to stamp his route book.
Baker received a stamp, during his second day of traveling, at the tiny post office in Dome, Arizona. When a group of motorcyclists, led by Don Emde, rode through the area on May 4 on their 100th year anniversary commemorative “Finding Cannon Ball’s Trail” ride, they found no post office and very little that remained of Dome itself.
Dome was located on a stretch of roadway that once was used by travelers from San Diego to Phoenix (via Yuma). That roadway – or trail – offers some spectacular scenery, but it proved to be too tough for motor vehicles to tame; when U.S Route 80 opened in 1926 the stretch from Dome to Agua Caliente (“hot springs”) was part of it. But travelers preferred a less demanding route through Gila Bend. U.S. Route 80 was “de-commissioned” (like Route 66) in stages between 1964 and 1974 as Interstate 8 was completed on a somewhat parallel route, and tenuous footholds in the inhospitable desert, like Dome, withered away.
Baker said the Dome-Agua Caliente section proved so diabolically tough (and hot), it almost did in his record run. He was stuck in sand, ran out of gas, had to push his motorcycle several miles, and suffered heat exhaustion in 119-degree temperatures; he had to stop for some time in Agua Caliente to recover. Fortunately, the historic inn there had an ice machine, which allowed him to refresh himself sufficiently.
“If it hadn’t been for that ice machine,” he wrote in his journal, “I might never have seen the bright lights of Broadway.”
He stopped in Phoenix for the night, at the end of Day 2 of his ride, according to his logbook, having covered 411 miles since San Diego.
May 4, 2014