The Salt Beds Of Salduro: Chapter Six

One Run by the Blitzen Benz Changes the Course of History for the Salt Beds of Salduro

Aug 12, 2014 Brian Lohnes

(By Bret Kepner SCTA Official and member of the Society of Land Speed Historians) – On Wednesday, August 12, 1914, the express train from Salt Lake City was met at 12:45 PM by three drivers who raced the locomotive to Salduro. There, around one hundred fifty dignitaries and spectators disembarked and gazed through the blinding glare at the assembled speed machines before them. More reporters made the trip as did a larger group from Wendover. Governor William Spry, the guest of honor, seemed as popular as the race drivers.

The day’s half-mile trials found all of the cars and motorcycles making repeated runs. D’Alene’s Marmon posted a best of another 19.40-second pass, (92.783 mph), but Carlson’s Maxwell slowed from its previous performance. Kennedy’s Chalmers recorded its fastest speed at 87.378. Tetzlaff jumped in his gas-powered Maxwell, (with which he spent most of the first two days racing trains), and posted a respectable 89.108. It was Carlson, however, who earned the honors of the fastest “small car” on his last effort at 93.750 mph, (discounting the blatantly erroneous 112.500 mph clocked Tetzlaff’s Maxwell on one of the few one-mile runs attempted on Monday).

The battle of the motorcycles came down to two riders who fought weekly at the Wandermere and Salt Palace velodromes in Salt Lake City. Al Ward’s 60-cubic two-cylinder Indian Hendee Special suffered terminal damage early in the event but Ward hopped aboard a Harley-Davidson Model 10 which was tuned, in part, by Rishel. Ward and longtime rival Fred Whittler’s Merkel-Light Flying Merkel, (using a similar engine), were often separated by only fractions of a second but Ward managed the meet’s best performance at 95.744 mph on the Harley-Davidson. The crowd was also treated to match races and three-abreast races often over a mile in length.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Tetzlaff was ready for his record attempt but another broken fuel line forced the run to be aborted. The thirty-minute delay served only to build the anticipation of the run while his mechanicians, Basso and Benedict, worked to repair the car. Finally, “Terrible Teddy” and riding mechanic Domenich left the starting line and thundered away from the crowd. The time was announced via megaphone to the assemblage as twelve and three-fifths seconds, (12.60), and a speed of 142.857 miles per hour for a new World’s Speed Record!

Tetzlaff returned to the cheering throng among the most happy of whom was Governor Spry. As photographers captured images of Spry and Tetzlaff surrounded by ecstatic spectators, the Governor asked for a ride. Tetzlaff obliged by taking Spry, (in his Maxwell racer rather than the Benz), for a 90 mph run on the half-mile course. Spry was still in the mechanic’s seat when, for the final event of the day, Tetzlaff won a three-abreast race with D’Alene’s Mormon and Carlson’s Maxwell.

Ernie Moross, “Big Bill” Rishel and each driver and mechanic extolled the virtues of the salt beds to the assembled press, proclaiming it the “finest race course in the world”. Both Moross and Tetzlaff insisted the Blitzen Benz could achieve speeds as high as 155 mph with more time on the course. The event was contested on damp, (but not wet), salt and the drivers insisted the surface added a margin of safety by keeping the fragile tires cool while still affording traction. Benedict opined the Benz would’ve run even faster had the course benefitted from sea-level atmospheric conditions. Rishel announced to reporters the time was official, sanctioned by the AAA and would stand as the new World Record. It was a magic moment in which the ultimate goals of every individual involved were reached in spectacular fashion.

The Wendover residents returned home. The express train headed east back to Salt Lake City and the Moross troupe’s locomotive soon followed. Once again, Salduro became an oasis of isolation in the middle of the Great Salt Desert.

The reporters filed their stories and the news spread to every corner of the country. Lost in the fervor, however, was the total illegitimacy of Tetzlaff’s new 142.857 mph speed record. Those who reported from the scene transmitted the information they received on the salt and, once again, the half-mile elapsed time of 12.60 seconds was doubled to produce a projected one-mile clocking of 25.20 seconds to beat Burman’s 25.40 clocking at Ormond. Unfortunately, Burman was never clocked over a straight half-mile distance and Tetzlaff never drove a full mile.

Most news reports indicated Tetzlaff only ran a half-mile but many blatantly stated he drove a mile in 25.20 seconds. Nearly all compared his speed directly to Burman’s run and nearly all, in one form or another, were simply incorrect. The Salt Lake Tribune covered all bases; its coverage noted Tetzlaff ran on a half-mile course but claimed the one-mile record by clocking a 12.60-second half-mile at “a rate of a mile in 25.2 seconds” and then ran an erroneous headline declaring Tetzlaff had covered a half-mile in 25.4 seconds! Even the one-paragraph “aggregate” results transmitted globally by the Associated Press did state Tetzlaff only drove a half-mile but added, “at the rate of 25 1-5 seconds for the mile, which is 1-5 under the world’s record”.

While the world was thrilled with the new record, the AAA was incensed. Rishel did, in fact, receive confirmation of AAA sanction prior to the one-mile record attempt and, as the President of the organization’s Utah Chapter, Rishel was designated the official observer. The Blitzen Benz II attempt, however, failed to conform to the most basic rules of speed record validation, method of timing and distance of the attempt. Stopwatches had not been permitted as timing devices for speed records under AAA rules since 1910 and the organization only sanctioned straight-line speed records over a distance of one mile. In fact, the AAA disavowed any knowledge of Rishel’s request for sanction of a half-mile distance. Rishel only made matters worse when he was quoted in the Salt Lake Telegram describing the fact officials holding the stopwatches may have actually missed the car’s true time for the half-mile because Tetzlaff’s speed was such that “before the timers could click off their stop watches, Tetzlaff was 100 feet down the course”. This blatant admission of timing inaccuracy, (combined with confirmation Tetzlaff was not clocked electronically even over the half-mile distance), while Rishel claimed he was the official representative of the sanctioning authority only further ridiculed the AAA. However, with the news already disseminated via the only media source of the time, there was no way disclaim the effort in a timely manner. Within a week, the AAA made known the run was in no way an official record and, in fact, ostracized Moross for going along with Rishel’s plan. However, it was too late. As far as the world knew, “Terrible Teddy” Tetzlaff was the new Land Speed Record holder.

Only the nation’s oldest automotive publication, the hard-cover monthly known as Motor Age, presented factual and correct information concerning the final day of the trials. Moreover, Motor Age made note of the extremely important fact Tetzlaff did not record a speed faster than the 142.935 mph kilometer electrically clocked by Arthur Duray’s Fiat S76 in Belgium eight months earlier. However, even Motor Age committed an error; the book published the date of Tetzlaff’s run as August 11. Although advertisers and even Moross touted the accomplishment for months after the event, Teddy Tetzlaff was not the official American or European Land Speed Record Holder. If the stopwatch times were to be believed, he was only the second-fastest person in human history.

Of all three reputed holders of the Land Speed Record, (Bob Burman at 141.732 mph in the mile, Arthur Duray at 142.935 mph for the kilometer and Tetzlaff’s half-mile 142.857 effort), it should be noted all were utilizing four-cylinder engines. None of the trio’s speeds were bettered by another four-cylinder vehicle until April 10, 1930, when William “Shorty” Cantlon drove his Miller Special to a two-way average of 144.985 mph. Racing at Muroc Dry Lake in southern California, Cantlon produced a legitimate record under AAA sanction with two runs over an electrically-timed mile in less than one hour. His initial run was clocked at 145.867 mph and his second pass resulted in a speed of 144.115 mph. Cantlon was officially credited with breaking Burman’s record. In fact, the next driver to exceed any of the trio’s marks was Britain’s Ernest A. D. Eldridge who claimed the AIACR World Land Speed record with a two-way average of 145.893 mph for the kilometer on July 12, 1924. Eldridge was driving his 1,323-cubic inch, six-cylinder Fiat Mephistopheles on the road course in Arpajon, France.

The first speed trials on the salt beds of Salduro were a means to a completely different end. In October, 1915, a single-lane, graded dirt road was built from Knolls (UT) to Wendover across the salt by a work team directed by County Road Supervisor G. M. Matthews. After Spry lost the office of Governor in 1916, the Lincoln Highway Association went ahead with its plans to build its south route toward Ibapah. In a surprising revolution, the state of Utah joined forces with private and state contractors to build a better road due west to Wendover over the graded dirt path based on opinions which, in many ways, were influenced by the speed trials. When construction began in 1918, Nelson Lamus was among those who helped built the route. Completed on June 6, 1925, using funds from the newly-created Federal Highway Act, it was named the Victory Highway, (in reference to World War I), and was numbered U.S. Highway 40 the same year. The Wendover road invalidated the need for the southern route to such a degree the Lincoln Highway Association actually endorsed the Victory Highway as the most efficient route.

President Dwight Eisenhower’s Federal Highway Reform Act of 1956 allowed Utah’s leg of the new Interstate highway system route, (dubbed Interstate 80), to parallel the Victory Highway only twelve hundred feet to the north of the original road. Construction in Utah was not completed until August 22, 1986, which finally produced an uninterrupted highway from New Jersey to California. The original Victory Highway across the salt still exists as the I-80 Frontage Road which parallels the Western Pacific Railroad tracks only one hundred feet to the south.

Land Speed racing failed to prosper on the salt beds, (coined the “salt flats” as early as 1916), due to the remote location and access only by rail. Although several events were planned at Salduro, including trials in 1920 scouted and promoted by Rishel and Will Pickens, (Moross’ original promotional manager), the only motorsports activity in the area came when Ab Jenkins opened the Victory Highway in 1925 by driving on it to race a train.

Jenkins and Nelson Lamus are credited with moving the speed contests to the north of the Victory Road and the Western Pacific rails for Jenkins’ first speed and endurance trials on September 18-19, 1932. Due in no small part to the introduction of the area to potential industry during Tetzlaff’s record attempt, interest in potential commercial opportunities burgeoned at the site. Only eleven months after the original 1914 trials, the Capell Company of Salt Lake City began harvesting salt at the Salduro siding and obliterated the area of the original course. When the nation entered WWI and demand for potash, (potassium chloride, previously imported from Germany), and salt soared, Salduro became home to over three hundred employees. Both the Solvay Process Company and the Utah-Salduro Company built mining facilities onsite and William Spry, who was appointed to the State Land Commissioner’s office in 1905 and would go on to serve as Federal Land Commissioner, notoriously denied dozens of prospecting claims to the area in order to keep the new industry operating only on land leases.

It was the Salduro salt mining boom which drew Nelson Lamus, a Minnesota native who lived in Redding (CA), to Salduro in search of work in 1917. While he was a miner by trade, his flair for major excavation projects gained Lamus better employment as the area’s director of construction for the Victory Highway while remaining in the employ of the Salduro mining companies.

By 1925, however, demand for product from Salduro waned and, in December, 1928, the Western Pacific ceased stopping at the Salduro Station. By the end of 1929, all mining operations had ended. Among the few hearty residents remaining in what was essentially a “ghost town” was Lamus who gained the reputation as “custodian of the salt flats”. Along with his wife, Martha, and children, (including son, Blair, who would become a key figure in Land Speed Racing administration), Lamus lived in a small house constructed of wood and sheet metal in Salduro and eked out a living selling salt to farmers and preparing the race course for all LSR attempts. After two decades of enduring Salduro, (where the nearest fresh water was nine miles away), Lamus and family moved to a more hospitable residence in Wendover by 1938.

In 1939, the Utah-Salduro Company resumed limited operations but closed again at the onset of WWII. A fire in September, 1944, erased all traces of the town and, although mining in the area resumed after the war and continues to the present day, all which remains to mark the site of the original 1914 Salduro speed trials is a small sign bearing the name of the town posted on the railroad building which houses the switching equipment at the original siding where the racers and spectators were parked on Wednesday, August 12, 1914. It is located seventeen hundred feet east of the eastbound Rest Stop on Interstate 80 at Mile 10 and a quarter mile south of the highway.

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
This stunning photograph, taken by the legendary western photographer George L. Beam, shows the train, the cars and the crowd on the salt at Salduro on Wednesday, August 12, 1914. In the background, (left), are the four coaches which hauled the spectators to the Speed Trials and, (right), the two railroad cars used by Ernie Moross’ teams and drivers. To the far right is the water tanker brought in as the only source of fresh water for the team members staying at Salduro for three days. In the foreground, (right), is Billy “Coal Oil” Carlson’s #32 Maxwell while, in the center of the image, the crowd gathers around “Terrible Teddy” Tetzlaff’s similar Maxwell which is located directly in front of the the mountain peak, (located 7.7 miles to the north), which would soon bear Tetzlaff’s name as it does to the present day. (Utah State Historical Society/George L. Beam photo restored by Charles L. Wilson)
Land Speed Racing America
Another image by George L. Beam captures the Maxwells of Carlson and Tetzlaff with at least one of the motorcycles in competition. The crew members and drivers have already made an attempt to create shade from the soaring temperatures which reportedly hit 120 degrees on the final day of the Speed Trials. (Utah State Historical Society/George L. Beam photo restored by Charles L. Wilson)
Land Speed Racing America
Tetzlaff is seen just prior to his final run in the Blitzen Benz II on Wednesday after having made a pair of record attempts over 135 mph in the first two days of competition.
Land Speed Racing America
While Californian Billy “Coal Oil” Carlson was usually driving his kerosene-burning Maxwell at Salduro, Pennsylvania racer Harry Goetz also made several speed runs in the #32 car on Wednesday afternoon. (Harry Shipler photo restored by Charles L. Wilson)
Land Speed Racing America
Harry Shipler’s triumphant image of Teddy Teztlaff, (with arms folded), standing next to an elated Utah Governor William Spry, (with goggles), after the 142.857 mph run. Leaning on the right rear tire is the riding mechanic of the Blitzen Benz II, Domenich Basso. The individual wearing goggles seen between Tetzlaff and Spry may be Salt Lake City Mayor Samuel C. Park. (Harry Shipler photo restored by Charles L. Wilson)
Land Speed Racing America
Easily the most accurate coverage of the Salduro Speed Trials came from Speed Age Magazine’s Volume 26 published on August 20, 1914. The sole error in the Speed Age report was the incorrect date of the record run which actually occurred on Wednesday, August 12, 1914.
Land Speed Racing America
Meanwhile, nearly every other account of the Salduro Trials was a nightmare of erroneous numbers thanks, in no small part, to the decision to use a half-mile course and simply double the elapsed time of the run to create a time for the flying mile distance. Even the single-paragraph Associated Press report, the most-printed of all the wire service stories, contained the confusing determination of a half-mile clocking becoming valid as a record for a distance of one mile.
Land Speed Racing America
The coverage of the Salt Lake Telegram included Bill Rishel’s blatantly untrue guarantee Tetzlaff’s half-mile speed would become the new AAA World Record for that, (or any other), distance.
Land Speed Racing America
Many reports across the nation, including this one from the Carbon County (UT) Times, simply claimed Tetzlaff was timed over a flying mile at Salduro and posted the fictitious one-mile elapsed time record.
Land Speed Racing America
The extensive coverage by the Salt Lake Tribune also included the confusing sentence, “Tetzlaff drove a half-mile in 12.6 seconds, or at the rate of a mile in 25.2” but then added a headline stating Tetzlaff travelled “a half-mile at a rate of 25.4 seconds” which converts to a speed of 70.866 mph!
Land Speed Racing America
The Utah-based Goodwin’s Weekly news insisted Tetzlaff covered a flying mile but then dropped the elapsed time four seconds to 22.2 seconds which equals a speed of 162.162 mph!
Land Speed Racing America
Teddy Tetzlaff is in the seat of his gasoline-burning #3 Maxwell at the conclusion of the Speed Trials at Salduro. The passenger is presumed to be Utah Governor William Spry. (Harry Shipler photo restored by Charles L. Wilson)
Land Speed Racing America
Indiana racer Wilbur D’Alene is shown racing a locomotive toward the east in his 495-cubic inch, four-cylinder Marmon.
Land Speed Racing America
Nelson Lamus helped build the first road from Salt Lake City to Wendover which would later become the Victory Highway. Known as the custodian of the salt beds, Lamus groomed the courses for all Land Speed Record attempts after the 1914 Speed Trials through the middle of the century.
Land Speed Racing America
Within one year of the Salduro Speed Trials, industrialists saw the potential for harvesting potash from the salt beds and the original race course became a mining center almost immediately. (Harry Shipler photo)
Land Speed Racing America
Within six weeks of the Salduro Speed Trials, the push began to change course of the proposed Lincoln Highway to follow the path of the Western Pacific RailRoad across the Great Salt Desert to Wendover. This argument, led by Utah Governor William Spry, also confirmed the success of the original purpose of the races. The original Wendover Route was paved in 1917 and later became the nation’s first coast-to-coast road, the Victory Highway.
Land Speed Racing America
Prior to construction of Interstate 80, the Victory Highway was sole route available to cross the salt beds heading due west. The Victory Highway still exists as the frontage road to I-80 just north of the Western Pacific RailRoad tracks.
Land Speed Racing America
Bret Kepner, author of The Salt Beds of Salduro stands at the only marked location of the site of the 1914 Speed Trials in this Glenn Freudenberger image taken during the centennial event which shows to total and complete devastation of the once pristine salt beds, (located to the right), caused by a century of potash mining.
Land Speed Racing America
The wondrous innocence of the Salduro Salt Beds exemplified in this postcard began to disappear almost as soon as the 1914 Speed Trials concluded. While the area remains one of the most awe-inspiring sites, (and sights), within the United States, it has grown to become much more than merely the Salt Beds of Salduro.