The Salt Beds Of Salduro: Chapter Four:

“Big Bill” Rishel, William Randolph Hearst, the Lincoln Highway and a place named Salduro

Aug 08, 2017 Brian Lohnes

(By Bret Kepner SCTA Official and member of the Society of Land Speed Historians) – Born in Pennsylvania, William D. “Big Bill” Rishel became one of the west’s top bicycle racers riding for the Cleveland team while living in Colorado and Wyoming. When he moved to Salt Lake City in 1895, Rishel became an instant local celebrity. Known for his athleticism, (he was also a star football center on several local teams), he gained fame as an exceptional endurance rider. In 1896, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst developed a transcontinental bicycle relay race by which a message would be sent from San Francisco to New York aboard Stearns “Yellow Fellow” bicycles. The race was designed mainly to increase newspaper sales but also helped discover and map the most efficient route across the nation. Because of his experience in long-distance bicycle competition, Rishel was contacted by Hearst to scout a path across what was then known as “the salt beds of Utah”.

Believing the easiest approach to Salt Lake City from the west would be around the southern tip of the Great Salt Lake, Rishel and fellow cyclist Charles A. Emise, (who would later become the racing director for Lozier automobiles), took a train from Salt Lake City west to Lucin (UT) and rode with ease sixty-two miles southeast across the flat expanse to become the first humans to traverse the salt on bicycles. However, when the duo encountered a thunderstorm just as they arrived at the mud flats on the eastern edge of the Great Salt Desert, they were forced to carry their bikes most of the remainder of the hundred-mile trip to Grantsville (UT). The entire ride took just under twenty-three hours and convinced Rishel the best route would be around the northern tip of the Great Salt Lake to Ogden (UT) rather than Salt Lake City.

Rishel’s decision inflamed an already heated rivalry between Salt Lake City and neighboring Ogden, each of which hoped to reap the publicity benefits of the Relay Race passing through their town. A war of words erupted as each city’s newspapers berated the other. The leg of the Relay Race passing through Ogden on August 31, 1896, was filled with controversy with each town insinuating the other had been involved in everything from corruption to sabotage. Rishel’s name was included in nearly every article but he managed to complete the race with a new notoriety.

After the Hearst contest, “Big Bill” became a jack of all promotions. He began producing his own bicycle events and eventually managed the Saucer velodrome at the Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake City. He accepted the presidency of the Pacific National Football League, operated the Wandermere Motordrome for motorcycle races and helped organize the Federation of American Motorcyclists, the Utah Automobile Association, the Salt Lake City Automobile Bureau of Information, as was the Utah chapter president of the American Automobile Association.

Meanwhile, he held the position of Sports Editor for the Salt Lake Herald from 1900 to 1910 before assuming the role of Automotive Editor for the Salt Lake Tribune in 1911. All of these titles firmly entrenched Rishel in the social and political circles of Salt Lake City. However, he also remained an eminent motorsports authority in the area and the trip across the salt in 1896 kept alive in Rishel’s mind a vision of the salt beds becoming a center of motorsports activity.

In 1903, the Western Pacific Railroad began laying railroad tracks across the Great Salt Desert on a route which skirted the southern tip of the Great Salt Lake. In part, the path was chosen by the reconnaissance and mapping by Rishel prior to Hearst’s 1896 relay race. When the railway was completed to Nevada in 1907 and the new border town of Wendover (UT) was created, Rishel drove his four-cylinder Pierce-Arrow far from the eastern edge of the desert and realized the quality of the salt was far beyond what he experienced ten years earlier. A planned full-throttle drive across the salt was cancelled when Rishel realized water covered the salt surface only one mile away. On the trip back to Salt Lake City, Rishel was embarrassed after telling the story to railway workers who laughed while explaining the “lake mirage” common on the salt.

After hearing Rishel’s reports of “the perfect speedway”, fellow motorcycle enthusiast David Abbott “Ab” Jenkins rode a Yale two-wheeler tuned by Rishel to the salt beds in 1910 and blasted across the flats at what he estimated to be 60 mph. In 1911, Rishel again made the grueling trip and convinced friend and Wendover store owner Ferg Johnson to take his 24 hp 1906 Packard Model 24 S touring car out onto the pristine salt. The duo reported a top speed of 54 mph and Rishel knew the salt beds provided possibly the nation’s only site for truly unlimited acceleration.

On September 10, 1912, a federation of high-profile businessmen, politicians and automobile manufacturer representatives proposed the nation’s first transcontinental road to be named the Lincoln Highway. Ironically, the group was led by Indianapolis Speedway owner Carl G. Fisher and the project was financially supported by such luminaries as Thomas Edison and Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Again, much of the route was based on the maps created from the scouting of the Hearst Bicycle Relay Race which helped design the rail system which already crossed the continent. Because Rishel was so deeply connected to the automobile associations in the state, he was consulted on the privately-funded project and he steadfastly maintained his preference for a path around the southern tip of the Great Salt Lake paralleling the Western Pacific Railway.

The interest in the Lincoln Highway renewed the rivalry between Salt Lake City and Ogden since the highway would offer a massive economic advantage to the city included on the route. Utah Governor William Spry campaigned for the highway to go through Ogden and then head west along the northern route avoiding most of the salt beds. Both Spry and Rishel were surprised when the Frank Seiberling, director of the Lincoln Highway Association and president of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, proposed a route which ran through Salt Lake City but then headed southwest to Ibapah (UT) which also circumvented much of the salt. At that point, Spry relented and agreed to support Rishel’s concept of a nearly straight road across the Great Salt Desert to Wendover. In early 1914, the majority of Salt Lake City businesses, civic organizations and civil engineers also approved Rishel’s path. The Lincoln Highway Association, however, was deadlocked and refused to begin construction until the final route was decided.

In the summer of 1914, “Big Bill” Rishel knew he needed an impetus to promote his personal Lincoln Highway cause. Ever since the speed records of Oldfield and Burman made headlines, Rishel knew if he could entice the Blitzen Benz, the nation’s automotive star and reputed World’s Fastest Automobile, to the salt beds for another attempt, it could provide the perfect publicity needed for Salt Lake City, the state of Utah and the possible direction of the highway. In fact, Rishel had sent proposals to Moross and even spoke to Moross by telephone after the running of the Golden Potlatch Trophy race in Tacoma (WA) on July 3 under the guise of a congratulatory call when one of Moross’ drivers won the event. Moross, however, showed no real interest in the concept if only because there was little profit in the venture. When Rishel finally met Ernie Moross on Wednesday, August 5, 1914, he knew it was his only chance to coerce Moross into a commitment.

Moross listened to Rishel’s description of the salt beds and understood the benefit a new Land Speed Record could bring to his team’s sagging reputation. Moross agreed to travel with Rishel, Frank S. Murphy, (President of the Salt Lake City Rotary Club and area logging pioneer), and Salt Lake City real estate tycoon Charles Tyng to determine the feasibility of the salt as a suitable course for an LSR attempt.

The quartet travelled by train to Wendover on Thursday evening, August 6, and then took a stagecoach ten miles east to the small railroad siding village of Salduro, (“hard salt” as translated from Spanish). It was at this location Rishel believed the salt to be in its smoothest and most pristine countenance. Moross was astonished at the condition of the surface which lacked the dangerous dips and undulations of a sandy beach course and offered an endless amount of distance on which to run. It was decided the speed record attempts would be held in an area approximately six hundred feet south of the Western Pacific Railroad tracks with the cars heading west toward Wendover and paralleling the rails.

However, Moross also realized the obstacles posed by such a remote location. During the return trip, he voiced a list of concerns for which Rishel had all the solutions. Originally, Moross envisioned brining only Tetzlaff and the Benz to the salt but Rishel insisted all eight teams could be taken by train. When Moross noted there was no fresh water for miles, Rishel promised to make arrangements with the Western Pacific Railroad to have a tank car filled with fresh water added to the train. Moross noted there was nowhere to make repairs on the race cars; Rishel said a machine shop car could also be attached to the train. When Moross asked about food, supplies and accommodations for the trip, Rishel offered a completely stocked dining car and a sleeper cab. As the chapter president of the AAA, Rishel made clear he could provide sanction for the event through the association which would permit “Big Bill” to personally validate any potential records. Moross noted the lack of time to promote the undertaking to which Rishel replied he could handle the publicity and make certain everybody who needed to be in attendance would be onsite. The handshake agreement was made before the train returned to Salt Lake City.

At the Salt Lake City fairgrounds race with 4,000 fans in attendance, Tetzlaff rose to the occasion by setting a new one-mile record for two laps of a half-mile dirt track, (48.38 mph), in the Benz, and winning two heat races and the feature event driving the Maxwell. The event results were the headline of the sports section of the Salt Lake Tribune.  However, only beneath those results, (published on Sunday morning, August 9, prior to the race at Ogden), was the speed record attempt on the salt beds officially announced.

Not surprisingly, Tetzlaff offered duplicate results in the Sunday event at the Ogden Fairgrounds, breaking the previous day’s one-mile record for two laps of a half-mile dirt track, (50.63 mph), in the Benz and again winning two heat races and the feature event driving the Maxwell albeit before a much smaller crowd. After the Ogden race, Moross and his team loaded their vehicles on the train to Salduro with the entire excursion financed by the Salt Lake City Rotary Club. Prior to his departure, Moross made certain reporters telegraphed news of the impending event on the wire. When Tetzlaff first gazed over the salt on Monday, August 11, 1914, much of the nation already knew he was there.

Chapter 1: The History Of The First Speed Trials At Bonneville
Chapter II: The Opening of the Speedway, the Gold Brick Scandal and the Debut of the Benz
Chapter III: Barney Oldfield is Banned From Auto Racing While Ernie Moross Creates New Stars and New Records
Chapter IV: “Big Bill” Rishel, William Randolph Hearst, the Lincoln Highway and a place named Salduro
Chapter V: Ernie Moross, Bill Rishel, Teddy Tetzlaff and the Blitzen Benz II arrive on the Salt Beds of Salduro
Chapter VI: One Run by the Blitzen Benz Changes the Course of History for the Salt Beds of Salduro
Chapter VII: The Aftermath – What Became Of The Major Players From The First Speed Trials On The Salt

Land Speed Racing America
Bicycle racer and all-around athlete William D. “Big Bill” Rishel is shown here in 1896.
Land Speed Racing America
As this advertisement proves, Rishel was one of best-known sportsmen in Salt Lake City when he was chosen to scout a path for the Hearst Transcontinental Bicycle Relay Race.
Land Speed Racing America
This article provides a small example of the problems experienced on the Transcontinental Relay Race which eventually approached riot status between the towns of Ogden and Salt Lake City.
Land Speed Racing America
As reported on the front page of the San Francisco Call, the final results of the Hearst Transcontinental Bicycle Relay Race actually reflected a stunning performance and laid the groundwork for a national highway system.
Land Speed Racing America
Rare examples of the buttons worn by the riders of the Stearns “Yellow Fellow” Bicycle Team during the Transcontinental Relay Race.
Land Speed Racing America
Eighteen years after Hearst’s Bicycle Race, it was the route of the highway plotted during the contest which would change the face of the country and nearly incite a civil war in Utah. “Big Bill” Rishel was in the middle of the battle.
Land Speed Racing America
The Salt Lake City Fairgrounds oval track played host to the first of two days of racing from Ernie Moross and his traveling racing series in the greater Salt Lake area on August 8-9, 1914.
Land Speed Racing America
In this advertisement for the second event of the weekend at the Ogden, Utah, Fairgrounds track, Teddy Tetzlaff, (left), is shown with his chief mechanician George Benedict who was misidentified in nearly every printing of the image.
Land Speed Racing America
This small article in the Salt Lake Tribune announced the reconnaissance trip made by Bill Rishel and Ernie Moross on Thursday, August 6, 1914, to see if the salt beds were, indeed, suitable for automobile racing.
Land Speed Racing America
Tetzlaff destroyed the field and the World Record during the Salt Lake City Fairgrounds event on Saturday, August 8, 1914.
Land Speed Racing America
…and the results were no different the next day at Ogden.
Land Speed Racing America
Only after the results of the Saturday event at the Salt Lake City Fairgrounds had been posted in the Sunday, August 9, 1914, edition of the Salt Lake Tribune was the trip to the salt beds announced to the public in the this somewhat nondescript article.
Land Speed Racing America
In August, 1914, few humans were even aware of the existence of the salt beds of Utah. Salduro was a mythical stop on an indescribable journey to a land without peer. This rare early postcard shows a locomotive heading west toward Salduro.