Not one – but two – early motorized transcontinental journeys will be celebrated this Saturday in Denison.
A sign and memorial plaque commemorating the first motorized transcontinental journey will be dedicated in front of the Donna Reed Theater just before the Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA) convoy arrives in town on Saturday evening.
From May 16 to July 6, 1903, George A. Wyman rode his 200cc, 1.25 horsepower motorcycle from San Francisco, California, to New York City, New York.
Wyman spent the night in Denison on June 13, 1903, after a difficult 75-mile drive from Council Bluffs – that took 13.5 hours.
The memorial dedication in Denison on Saturday is part of the George A. Wyman Memorial Project.
“The project’s mission is to spread the Wyman story by marking the points along the way and to provide education to the general public about Wyman’s historic, epic journey across America,” said Tim Masterson, project manager and president of the George A. Wyman Memorial Project.
Masterson is also a member of the long distance motorcycle riding group called the Iron Butt Association.
“Wyman is to long distance riders what Charles Lindbergh is to aviation,” Masterson said. “He is the first documented long distance motorcycle rider.”
Wyman was the first person to cross the United States by means of a motorized vehicle.
The journey was accomplished by automobile 21 days later.
“Unfortunately, it was the automobile that captured the imagination of the American public,” Masterson said.
Wyman’s journey was publicized in the Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review magazine as it took place.
He received significant press at the time, but the story disappeared a few years later.
“Wyman was basically forgotten for 70 years,” Masterson said.
It was not until Road Rider Magazine republished the original accounts, in August 1979, that his journey became known to later generations.
The memorial project began in 2014.
“We had the idea to do for George Wyman the same thing that the Lincoln Highway Association did for that important historical artifact,” Masterson said.
“We’ve been working diligently across the country, from San Francisco to New York City, and one by one we’re marking each of his 160 documented waypoints that he wrote about in his published articles.”
So far, the group has placed about 80 waypoint signs and/or memorial plaques in communities across the United States.
The Denison Public Works Department placed the post and waypoint sign on Monday and added the memorial plaque on Tuesday.
Masterson said placing the memorials can sometimes happen quickly – but sometimes the process takes time.
“We always seek authorized and secure mounting,” he said. “We want to have buy-in and a sense of ownership from the community because this is really part of their history.”
Each waypoint sign/historical plaque costs about $1,000.
“We’ve been very fortunate that the long distance motorcycle rider and motorcycle touring communities have been very forthcoming with funds,” Masterson said.
The next phase will involve revisiting all of the locations and replacing the small memorial plaques with standard historical markers, which cost from $3,500 to $5,000 for materials and labor.
“The idea is to get all of these laid in during phase one and in phase two come back and replace them with historical markers,” he said.
Masterson said he is honored to be the manager of the project.
Three other members of the Iron Butt Association are also involved.
Wyman’s great granddaughter is the manager of research for the project. She lives in San Francisco, where Wyman spent most of his life.
Masterson said the prominent uptown location of the waypoint sign and plaque is fitting for the importance of the accomplishment it denotes.
Wyman kept a personal log of his journey and spoke favorably of his arrival in Denison – but not so favorably of the 75 miles that came before it.
He left Council Bluffs at 6:30 a.m. on June 13, 1903.
“I started on the roadway and followed it nearly 40 miles to Woodbine,” he wrote. “The June floods had preceded me surely enough and the roads were so muddy that I could hardly force the bicycle along. I took a snapshot of my bicycle in one place where it was kept upright by the mud.”
He hit a rut at one point and landed in a puddle of mud.
“The mud along that part of the world is of the gumbo variety, that sticks like glue when it is moist and dries as hard and solid as bricks,” Wyman wrote. “I held quite a good sized tract of Iowa real estate when I arose, but I reflected that it was better to have landed in a soft spot than it would have been to have struck a place where the flinty ruts were sticking up five inches like cleavers with ragged edges.”
Motor vehicle were uncommon in the area and scared most of the horses he met on the road.
“Eight out of ten horses I met wanted to climb a telegraph pole or leap the fence at the sight and sound of my harmless little vehicle, and the farmers used language that would make a pirate blush,” he wrote. “I was frankly expecting any one of them to pull a gun and take a shot at me during all my 40 miles on the road that forenoon.”
After Woodbine, he decided to try to escape “the affectionate hugging of the gumbo mud” by riding along railroad tracks.
“I went on the tracks of the Northwestern, and had not ridden far before I was ordered off by a section boss. This was the first time this thing happened to me, but it was not the last time,” Wyman wrote.
He took a detour through a field and returned to the tracks, only to be chased off again.
He reached Denison at 8 p.m.
“I found a comfortable commercial hotel, with modern improvements, at Denison, and had it not been for the roads I would have thought I was well out of the wilderness. I had to have my driving belt sewed again that night, and it was midnight before I went to bed,” he wrote.
The dedication of the waypoint sign and memorial plaque will take place at 5:45 p.m. Saturday in front of the Donna Reed Theater.
The MVPA convoy is scheduled to pass by the theater between 6 and 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
The MVPA is commemorating the 1919 Motor Transport Convoy, which was a 3,251 mile journey by U.S. Army vehicles along the Lincoln Highway from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco.
Denison Mayor Jared Beymer will talk about revitalizing downtown Denison at the dedication.
Masterson will speak about Wyman and the memorial project.
To read the full account of Wyman’s journey from Council Bluffs to Denison, visit wymanmemorialproject.blogspot.com/2018/06/june-13-across-america-on-motor-bicycle.html