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The Great Race: 1915

May 1915. "York, Pa., auto races -- start of Washington, D.C., cars." Please ignore the mold. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

May 1915. "York, Pa., auto races -- start of Washington, D.C., cars." Please ignore the mold. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.


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A day at the races

These cars are not racing the ninety-miles to York—they are traveling there to participate in the July 5, 1915 series of five-mile races on the York half-mile dirt track. Nearly all of the contestants were from the Washington D. C. area, and had been expressly invited by the York Motor Club, under whose auspices the meet was held. While BradL is correct in his assessment of the AAA, this particular event was not sanctioned by them. In fact, the event was being held for the Washington drivers who had been suspended by the AAA on June 18 for driving in another non-sanctioned race at the York track on the previous Memorial Day. Irvin Barber and Don Moore—along with their cars—were "disqualified and suspended" for one year, and six other drivers who were not AAA members were placed on the ineligible list for a similar length of time. Although they were not named on the list of ineligible non-members, Walter Smith and Milo Burbage didn't join the AAA until the first available date after the ban was lifted on June 1, 1916. At the time Smith was still recovering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound received in February, 1916 in a suicide attempt.

This photo shows eight of the twelve cars that were going to race at York. It was taken on Saturday July 3, 1915 shortly before noon, and is a bit of a homecoming for Shorpy readers, as a few of these people have graced these pages in the past. They are gathered by I. T. Donohue's auto parts store at 14th and I Streets in Washington D. C.—that's Franklin Park to their left—ready to start out at 12 o'clock sharp for a (non-competitive) 90-mile run to York where, as planned, they arrived in time to participate in the 8:00 p.m. automotive parade.

Irvin Donohue was quite the race booster and in his store he had on display the Batavla tires and Rayfield carburetor that had been on Irving Barber's car May 31 at York, when he took first place in a 5-mile free-for-all, and second place in a handicap free-for-all (after skidding off the track, spinning completely around twice, and driving back onto the track). Donohue, himself a racer and an AAA member, went along this trip and served as pit crew for the drivers.

The cars and drivers, as near as I can identify them, are (front row-left to right):

The red and white 1915 Argo Speedster with Walter L. Smith (middle initial is not "F" as the news photo has it), the 22-year old owner of the Smith Motor Sales Company, at the wheel. Next to him is, I believe, his father Ulysses Grant Smith who was born in 1865 (naturally), and served as the private secretary to the Secretary of Commerce.


Next car over is Irvin C. Barber in his bright red 90-hp Carter Brothers-built 1914 Eye-See-Bee (ICB) Washington-based race car (and below is a shot of it in racing trim two months later at the Benning race track in Maryland, just outside of Washington):

Eye See Bee

When the car was first built in the spring 1914, it was shipped to Indianapolis to participate in the Memorial Day 500-mile race as the "Washington Special" (with Batavia tires furnished by Donohoe). Backed by a wealthy New York broker, the car was to be driven by Mel Stringer, with Barber as relief driver. Although they could hit 90 mph on the straightaways, their 77.680 mph qualification lap wasn't good enough to land them a spot in the starting lineup.

On November 27, 1916 Miss Eleanor Blevins (also known as Peggy and by her married name Betts) used the Eye-See-Bee to break the Philadelphia-to-Washington speed record. With Bailey Gish as her riding mechanic, she made the dash in 3 hours and 15 minutes actual running time (exclusive of all necessary stops)—shaving 35 minutes off of the old mark.

The car in the middle is the circa 1914 Semmes Special with Raphael "Ray" Semmes at the wheel, but Lew Gibson, the man to his left, was the driver at the event (below is same car at speed two months later at the Benning track):

Semmes Special

The second car from the right is a circa 1914 Case owned by Don Moore, although G.E. Feeney (in the seat to Moore's left) drove the Case at York, while Moore drove a Mercer owned by Milo Burbage.

The car on the far right is a circa 1912 Stoddard-Dayton driven by William DeKowski.

Back row-left to right:

This appears to be the circa 1913 Cole that was driven by C. Cleveland "Cleve" Campbell.

The car in the middle of the back row is a circa 1911 Warren-Detroit, raced by H. B. Sharp. It was an older car, and had been Barber's before he had the Eye-See-Bee built.

The last car on the right is Paul Miner's 1914 Buick. He too was a member of the AAA (hence the badge), but hadn't raced in May.

The drivers/cars that were at the race but not shown in the picture were: Harry D. Myers/Marquette Buick; Milo C. Burbage/Mercer; and Robert M. Clendening/Oakland; and Frank Stewart/Reo.

On Sunday most of the drivers prepped their cars for Monday's race. This would entail the removal of some or all unnecessary appendages and body parts—if they hadn't already been removed before they left Washington. This could result in quite the menagerie of styles as seen in the photo below of the Labor Day races at the Benning track two months later. The #2 Chevrolet Series H Royal Mail roadster nearest the camera retains it full body minus headlights, while the next two cars (#18 and #15) are stripped to the bare bones. The #17 car is a full bodied speedster with headlights mounted, while the #12 Ford on the far side has a custom body for racing.


Walter L. Smith's Argo Speedster was already stripped down, so Smith took the opportunity of the off day to drive a sixty-mile round-trip to Lancaster and back. On Monday he arrived at the track ready for the light car event, but when no other cars in his class showed up, that match was scrubbed. Undaunted, Smith promptly entered the diminutive Argo in a five-mile scratch race for cars up to 301 cubic inch displacement—putting it against the Mercer, Semmes Special, Cole, and the Buicks. The Mercer won in 7:06 with Don Moore at the wheel while, astonishingly, the Argo beat out two other cars—coming in at 7:58 for a fourth-place finish. The five-mile scratch race for cars from 301 to 450 cubic inch displacement was won by Barber in his Eye-See-Bee at 6:35. The five-mile free-for-all was won by Barber/Eye-See-Bee at 6:24, and the five-mile Australian pursuit race was won at 6:24.5 by Moore/Mercer. An Australian pursuit race is where all the cars begin the race in motion and evenly spaced around the track. When the flag drops the race starts and as soon as you're passed by a car from behind, you are out of the race. Obviously, it goes until there is only one car left. In the case it was Milo Burbage's Mercer, driven by Don Moore.

More was expected of Harry Myers' Marquette-Buick which, with Ted Johnson driving on Nailor's Hill, held the hill-climbing record of Washington D. C., but it did not win any races at York. Myers owned Riggs Garage at 1467 P Street in Washington. The only downside to the day was Frank Stewart's crash at speed in his Reo. He walked away, but the car was totaled.


It wasn't that bad of a loss however, as the Reo was one of the oldest cars in the race and due for retirement. In a few years Frank Stewart would found the Standard Automotive Supply Co.

Most of this group kept racing, most notably at Benning's in Maryland, but the AAA doesn't appear to ever have suspended any of them again for driving in non-sanctioned contests. In fact, it seems to have dropped the penalties for the AAA members, as both Barber and Moore drove in the AAA sanctioned race at Benning's in September. Eight months after the York race Paul Miner went into business with George and Charles Rice and opened The New Garage at 1323 H St. NW, in Washington.

New Garage

This business soon expanded to 1317-27 H St. NW as the Geo. C. Rice Co. Their address overlapped with the Hotel Hudson.

Hotel Hudson

Cleve Campbell left for Europe the next year and worked for the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps in France, then spent a year in London fitting artificial legs to wounded soldiers. Milo C. Burbage was a bricklayer from Ohio who made it big as a contractor in Washington. Today his house in on the Prince George's County (Maryland) Historic List.

Lexington Not Made Near Concord

The car on the far right appears to be a 1910 - 1913 Lexington automobile which were originally made in Lexington, Kentucky and then Connorsville, Indiana from 1909 to 1927. A little more than 38,000 Lexington cars were built during that time.

Lexington won the Pike's Peak hillclimb in both 1920 (first and second places) and 1924 (first, second, and third places). An amazing performance for a tiny company.

Pictures of Lexington's are not easy to come by. The radiator emblem on this car is similar to the Lexington emblem in the color plate section of Jack Martell's book Antique Automotive Collectibles.

A picture of the a Lexington car that was in the Glidden Tour is shown below along with another picture. Note the radiator with the same shape (but no emblem on the radiator, just the company name in script).

The Streets and Sanitation truck behind the Lexington is also interesting with paper piled up inside, bags hanging off the back, and a mustachioed driver looking directly at the photographer.

At least one Lexington survives.

American Automobile Association

The car in the background with the AAA badge carries the officials of the race. The AAA became the official sanctioning body for auto racing in the US in 1902. They formed the United States Automobile Club in 1955 and turned over all sanctioning to them after the Le Mans tragedy caused them to rethink their goals. All racing during this period, including the Indy 500, was officiated by the AAA.

This is the same body that banned women from racing shortly after Joan Newton Cuneo won the amateur national championship.

No Pedals

The car on the far left is an Argo made in Jackson, Michigan between 1914 and 1918 that has been stripped of most of its body work and accessories. This one is from 1914 - 1916 as the later models were more conventional and cost more than $400. A Ford Model T Runabout cost about $345 in 1916.

The Argo had a 4 cylinder 12 horsepower engine, shaft drive, weighed 750 pounds, with a 44 inch tread width, 4 gallon gas tank, an expected 35 - 45 mpg, could go up to 40 mph, and two forward speeds and one reverse gear. It came equipped with tools, but if you wanted your top, windshield, generator, and headlights attached you had to pay $20 extra.

An extract from a LOC photo of an Argo and a close-up of the logo is shown below. The Argo was previously seen on Shorpy here,, and here,, and several other posts.

Did AAA sponsor this race?

The car behind race car #3 doesn't look like a race car and doesn't have the white thing across the hood with the car # on it. It does have what appears to be the AAA logo on the radiator.

I wonder many hats made it across the finish line.


They're going to have to pedal hard to keep up.

Beefy No. 13

Fat tires, heavy suspension, and trimmed down to fighting weight. (no lights for these racers, they pack just the essentials!) One can only imagine the engine under that loooong hood. And, by the license plate, it's street legal! It looks like these boys have done this before!

Who won?

Anybody? The guy with the bicycle?

First or Nothing

The American spirit - I love it!

Watch out, boys!

Right after crossing into Maryland on I-83, look out for radar traps. And then 695, the Baltimore beltway, has construction zone cameras for you speeders.

But seriously, most likely they took York Road through Towson, then maybe Charles Street into downtown Baltimore where they grabbed U.S. Route 1 somewhere south of town en route to D.C.

[They're in D.C., about to leave for Pennsylvania. - Dave]
Oh, drat. Yes, of course. OK then, new GPS info for everyone! "When possible, make a U-turn."

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