133pp. Quarto [25 cm] Illustrated wraps. Very good. The corners of the covers are lightly bumped. There is a tiny tear in the paper at the head of the spine. Illustrated. Bill Rishel was a pioneer on wheels at the beginning of the 20th century. He is a main figure in the highway history of the west. Virginia writes, "Chopping his way over the tree stumps, digging through sand pits, and shoveling into dugways, he drove the first automobile to the West entrance of Yellowstone National Park."
133pp. Quarto [25 cm] Illustrated wraps. Very good. The extremities are mildly browned, and just a little bit soiled. Subtly yellowed pages. Illustrated. Bill Rishel was a pioneer on wheels at the beginning of the 20th century. He is a main figure in the highway history of the west. Virginia writes, "Chopping his way over the tree stumps, digging through sand pits, and shoveling into dugways, he drove the first automobile to the West entrance of Yellowstone National Park."
Every now & then, you stumble across a reference to some bit of history that you never suspected existed. It feels as startling & invigorating as that first gulp of air after a long, deep underwater swim. It also makes you wonder what amazing things are lost because there was simply no one who bothered to write it down.
I ran across a random reference to Bill Rishel founding the Bonneville Raceway on the Great Salt Lake desert. It mentioned that he had discovered the site while "scouting for a transcontinental bike race" in the 1890's. Captivated by mental pictures of colorful wool jerseys & mustache handlebars on the blinding Salt Flats, I immediately wondered whether such an epic race had ever occurred. While researching the question I found this little book, written by Rishel's daughter. It is a rare source of information in print about a staggering athletic event that was the longest race in history at the time, & which came to pass before there were even roads to follow.
I hope it's not a spoiler to tell you that the transcontinental bicycle race did actually happen in 1896. Conceived as a promotion for his newspapers in San Francisco & New York, the bicycle-crazy William Randolph Hearst hired Rishel to piece together a route through the most difficult section of country from Truckee, CA to Rock Springs, WY.
Along the race there was drama to spare, including crowds, wrecks, bad weather & a remarkable episode where the residents of Ogden, resentful of the spotlight on Salt Lake City, hijacked the relay packet & routed it through the mountains to bypass the City of the Saints & rejoin the route near Park City.
With a focus largely on Utah, the book also talks about the legacy of bicycle racing that remained strong in the state long after the transcontinental race & even after the rest of the country abandoned bicycles in favor of motors, including night-lit velo-track racing at the shimmering Xanadu of the Salt Palace.
Not long after this era, Rishel used his knowledge of the territory to build a career putting together auto routes for the burgeoning auto-tourism fad. I was surprised to learn that road-building in the West didn't really start with utilitarian routes, but with locally-promoted tourist tracks leading to the National Parks. Bryce Canyon was actually "discovered", roaded & brought to the country's attention by Rishel's scouting. Later, many of his routes found a place in the Lincoln Highway, the country's first transcontinental road.
Apparently, this is another case of Utahns forgetting their own absolutely staggering history in favor of relentless Mormon mythologizing that is far, far less interesting.
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