|Part IV||By Charles Jarrott|
Five o'clock in the morning, and once again the same anxious crowd of mechanicians and drivers were congregated about the gates of the closed park where the cars were stored. As they were dispatched one after another, we realized how much we had dropped behind, and it seemed that our time to start would never come. Eventually we were admitted, and then a desperate struggle ensued between ourselves and the motor, which would not start. Reduced to exhaustion, we were finally taken in hand by the customary squad of soldiers and pushed on to the road, when suddenly in the last few yards the engine started up, and we were away once again.
I will not attempt to describe the various mechanical troubles, which we experienced. One thing after another kept going wrong. Then a leak developed in our radiator, which necessitated filling up with water every few miles. I believe one of the rules of the race was to the effect that no mechanical repairs should be affected in any of the controls. I very quickly learned that this rule had been made merely to be broken, and followed the example of everybody else, making use of any time which we were kept waiting in any of the towns in the most effective manner possible. On no occasion was any attempt made by the control officials to enforce this rule, except at one little village in Austria. Here the officials, wearing red sashes to denote the importance of their positions, had evidently learned the regulations by heart, and were determined to enforce them. Hence when we arrived at the control and proceeded to open the bonnet and change one of our sparking plugs, an excitable old gentleman rushed up and poured out a torrent of expostulation, not a word of which we could understand.
Du Cros, on this occasion, was doing the work, and the troubles and trials we had gone through had reduced his patience to the finishing-point. His only reply to the worthy official with the red sash was to wave a vicious-looking spanner in his face, accompanied with a warning, in very forcible language, to get away from the car. At this another official rushed to the aid of his friend, but both were defeated ignominiously by Du Cros and his spanner. Force of arms had evidently to be met with force of arms, and the next thing we realized was the appearance of a beautifully clad soldier, dressed in a shining helmet, a blue coat, and white ducks, carrying a gun with a fixed bayonet, shouting to us in stentorian tones and making ready to clear us away from the car. I talked to him soothingly, but apparently the more I talked the more angry he became, and matters began to look very serious, when Du Cros, who had been getting things out from the back of the car, arrived with a long engineer's oil-can, and proceeded to continue the conversation with the now infuriated soldier.
I had never believed that Du Cros had such a beautiful command of the English language, and I was moved to admiration at the splendid manner in which he was emphasizing every remark with a swinging gesture of the hand in which he held the oilcan. I only realized a second sooner than the infantryman that every time he waved the oil-can he projected a stream of lubricating oil over the immaculate white ducks and the blue uniform coat I shall never forget the mingled look of horror and disgust which came over the face of that soldier when he surveyed the result of the argument, and the alacrity with which he rushed out of range. As for myself, I had by this time climbed into the driving-seat, and was convulsed with laughter. Du Cros, however, was very serious, and threatened all and sundry within reach that he would serve them in like manner if they came near the car. Then, the time when we ought to have started away having elapsed some minutes before, he jumped up into the car, and we were off once more.
I think it was on this day that we struck the "donkey backs" on the Austrian roads. The roads were cut in a series of steps, and before the car had recovered from the shock of leaping down one of these steps or drops in the road, another would be encountered. From a driving point of view, it was one of the most painful experiences I have ever had. It was impossible to travel at any speed, and the terrific strain thrown on our car completed its wreck. The leak in the radiator had become worse, and the only way we could get it to hold water at all was by wrapping a towel round one of the pipes, and Du Cros lying at full length along the bonnet, holding the water in.
Then we arrived at the last control but one. The car was getting worse and worse at every mile, but we hoped that we should yet be able to get to Vienna. At this control a number of the Panhard - Levassor workmen were stationed, but although they made an attempt to patch up our leaking radiator, their work was nullified immediately after we started. Then, almost within sight of our goal, crossing over a bridge into the city, with a mighty crash the grand catastrophe happened. The distortion of the frame had at last broken our gearbox, and huge pieces of aluminum fell out into the road. I could not disconnect the clutch, and the car stopped with a jerk. Five kilometers away from the finish, and unable to go another yard! As I investigated the damage beneath the car I was enraged to think that all the struggling we had gone through was to result in our being stranded so near to the finish. There was but one hope—perhaps if I could get one of the Panhard workmen along he could suggest a means whereby the car could be made to travel those last five kilometers; otherwise it was hopeless.
The sun was pouring down and the heat was terrible. The question was as to how I could let the Panhard men in the last control know what had happened. There was but one way of doing this, and taking away from the cyclist patrol, who was leading us into the city, the bicycle which he was riding, I took off my coat and proceeded to ride the five kilometers back to the last control, over the vile pave of which the road was composed. Du Cros took charge of the car, around which a great crowd had assembled, and as I toiled back I was continually turning over in my mind the problem as to what could be done in order to get our car on to the racecourse, where the finish had been fixed. I had been tired before, but those five kilometers seemed interminable.
At last I arrived at the control, but not a man could I get. When I explained what had happened, I obtained but a shrug of the shoulders and the information that I had better resign myself to fat; as nothing could be done; and that I had better leave the car at the nearest place and make my way into Vienna the best way I could. So I started back once more, hopeless and despondent. In my tired condition I could not be expected to ride a strange bicycle in a very expert manner, and the next thing that happened was that I ran into and bowled over a burly gendarme, who arrested me on the spot What he must have thought of the wild-looking dirty individual who had run him down I cannot imagine. Without a cap (I had lost it some time before), without a coat, and with a grimed and dirty face, there could be no question but that I was the driver of one of the racing cars, and the welcome offices of a bystander who understood English straightened matters out for me, and the policeman's manner immediately changed; I was released from custody, assisted on to my machine, and sent off.
And then, as I bumped about on the pave, a scheme came to me whereby I could drive the car and finish the race. It was a risky experiment and it would be risky driving, but the attempt was worth making. I sprinted over the remaining distance with renewed hope, and arrived back once more, to find that Du Cros had in the meantime been energetic, had engaged a cab, secured a rope and tied the car behind the cab, which he had loaded up with our coats and mackintoshes, etc. He himself had apparently been well looked after in the way of refreshments, and, as he joyfully explained to me, we were going to finish with the car even though it was behind a cab! I did not trouble to explain my scheme even to him, but pushed the crowd away, told the cabman to get out of the road, cut the rope, and jumped up into the driving-seat. The great trouble was that I could not take the clutch out, and consequently after starting up the engine, could not get in the gear. We got the engine started, and then I called out to the crowd to push, and immediately the car was taken possession of and was being run down the road. With a yell to Du Cros to jump up, I managed to force in the first speed, and the car shot off; and once more we were cutting down the distance to the finish.
Immediately after this our exhaust-box (which had been hanging by some thin wire) broke away, and as we dared not stop, we left it on the road; and now our condition was worse than ever. The engine was belching forth smoke and flame straight on to the road, blowing up a pillar of dust which must have been seen a very long way off, and smothering us to extinction. Turning a corner, a cyclist almost brought us to grief, as it was impossible for me to stop the car except by switching off the engine, and once more we had the struggle of starting with the aid of a crowd. At last, however, we arrived at the entrance to the racecourse, and away on the other side we could see the finishing-point.
I do not suppose that any car finishing in that race caused anything like the commotion and sensation that ours did, creeping slowly along, with the dust ascending in a vast cloud, and the open exhaust sounding like the crackling of many quick-firing guns. Coatless and hatless, we with the car must have presented a picture typical of a real derelict The vast crowd assembled to see the finish had departed by the time we arrived, and although we had nothing to grumble at in the cordiality of our welcome, nevertheless, the winner having finished some hours before, the enthusiasm had somewhat abated.
Immediately after I passed the finishing-point, my engine stopped once more, and when one of the officials came up and asked me if I would drive my car into the great hall where all the cars were placed on exhibition, I had to inform him that, much as I desired to comply with his request, I was absolutely unable to do so, as my car would not move another yard. When the times were eventually published it turned out that we had finished twelfth in our class, but this was due chiefly to the excellent time we made on the first day.
The next thing to do was to get to the hotel where we had booked rooms, to find baths and clean clothes. But here we met with a difficulty, as no cabman would allow us to get into his vehicle. The smart two-horsed victorias used as the common method of conveyance in Vienna during the summer, so smartly upholstered in fawn cloth, were altogether too fine for such disreputable creatures as ourselves, and it was only by offering much money, and agreeing to have horse-blankets laid on the cushions of the carriage, that we were permitted to get into one.
As may be imagined, I was almost dead with fatigue; but I think of the two Du Cros was worse than myself, and when we reached our rooms he flung himself full length on the floor, and his instructions to our two attendants who had traveled with our baggage were to remove the remainder of his clothes he was then wearing, and to take them away and never let him sec them again. He said that so far as he was concerned, motor racing might be very excellent sport, but Paris-Vienna had given him his fill. I do not want it to be supposed from this that Du Cros was not a sportsman. It may be sporting to drive a racing car, and even when troubles present themselves there is a certain amount of satisfaction in arriving at the other end of the journey, having successfully finished. But for the mechanician, whether he be amateur or professional, it seems to me a somewhat poor game. Achieving none of the glory, trusting his life in the hands of the other man all the time, doing most of the hard work and getting most of the grumbles, a mechanician's lot on a racing car is certainly not a happy one.
I think both of us were compensated in some measure by the warm congratulations we received from the rest of the drivers, and the members of the Panhard firm. No one had expected us to leave Bregenz on the second day; our arrival in Salzburg was considered extraordinary; and the possibility of our eventually reaching Vienna with a car in such a crippled condition had not occurred to anybody. It was the carrying out of the same old dictum: "Win if you can, but finish at all costs," which helped us to get through.
The winner of that race was eventually announced as Henry Farman, who was timed to have covered the full distance of 1120 kilometers in 16 hrs. 25 mins. But in the opinion of many the race should have been given to Count Zborowski (who was timed to have completed the distance in 16 hrs. 56 mins.), as he was held up for some considerable time on one of the frontiers through irregularity in connection with his papers. The fastest time was actually accomplished by Marcel Renault 5 hrs. 46 mins. But as he was driving one of the light cars, although first in general classification, the real racing interest lay between the cars in the heavy class.
Had I attempted to record all the happenings of Paris-Vienna, it would have required a whole book to itself. Never was a race fraught with so many incidents and so many surprises; and never have I struggled harder in any competition. It had all the charm of driving over ground with which none of us were acquainted, and the passing through of towns and the passage over forsaken roads, which had up to then hardly ever been traversed by a motorcar. In fact this race had in every degree all those elements which go to make a really great sporting event, and although I cannot record it as being one of my successes, I have always felt that in my very failure I was successful, because for me, after the first day, it developed from being a race into a struggle between the car and myself as to whether we should reach Vienna or not.