Pup Culture: Road Trip

Road Trip!


by Bud Boccone

If I never hear the words “polar vortex” again, it’ll be too soon. Winter hung on with the tenacity of a Bulldog with a shank bone. But this morning, suddenly, the warm kiss of spring was in the air. For the first time since October I came to work in a sports jacket, content in knowing that I’d soon take my heavy topcoat to the cleaners and have it stored until fall. They say in spring a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love. I guess I’m not so young anymore—all I’m thinking about is dry cleaning.

Well, that’s not strictly true. I’m also thinking about travel. For Americans, packing the family into the car, bound for adventure, is an annual rite of spring. And where the family goes, the dog goes. The road trip with old Sparky in the backseat is an integral part of our pup culture, simultaneously feeding two favorite American obsessions: cars and dogs. Yet, it wasn’t always so. No matter how old a tradition is, someone had to do it first.

In the spring of 1903, before the advent of paved highways, gas stations, roadmaps, or even windshields, Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson and mechanic Sewall Crocker made a historic cross-country drive—San Francisco to New York—just to win a $50 bet.

It’s unclear why Jackson would complicate an already daunting challenge by acquiring a bull-type terrier named Bud somewhere near Caldwell, Idaho. But we do know that Bud took to motoring instantly. Sitting up front between his human traveling companions, watching the country whiz by at an unheard-of 20 miles per hour, Bud would brace for bumps in the rutted dirt roads like a seasoned motorist.

The trio stopped at small towns for food and repairs. Locals gawked at the newfangled horseless carriage (a Winton, one of America’s first commercially available cars). They were further amazed to see at the helm a happy-go-lucky pup fitted with his own pair of goggles. Updates of the team’s progress, widely circulated in the press, made the begoggled Bud a media sensation.

Jackson, Sewall, and Bud—after many hair-raising and hilarious misadventures—arrived in New York 63 days after leaving San Francisco, well under the 90 days required to win the bet. When his 15 minutes of fame expired, Bud went to live at Jackson’s home in Vermont. He spent his life as a watchdog who enjoyed riding shotgun with his master on local auto trips.

This improbable tale had receded into history’s rearview mirror, largely forgotten until 2003, when filmmaker Ken Burns made it into a documentary called Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip. The film reestablished Jackson and Sewall as founding fathers of America’s car culture.

Bud, too, was restored to his rightful place in history: He’s the forerunner of every dog who loves tooling down the highway in the family car—tail thumping, tongue wagging, ears flapping in the breeze—eager for whatever the next bend in the road might bring. 

This museum exhibit features the Winton touring car used on America’s first road trip