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“As Wonderful as It Is Glorious”: Lorenzo Snow Goes for a Spin in an Automobile

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 03, 2010

Lorenzo Snow crossed the plains to Utah in 1848 with ox-drawn wagons. His company, led by Brigham Young, needed more than 100 days to plod slowly down the trail. “When we came here I drove one of the ox teams … we made on an average of 100 miles a week,” he later calculated.

That was a dull plodding that would not forever satisfy the pioneer. I have an incomplete story from a reliable witness that in 1899, the 85-year-old church president, then on a tour through the southern Utah settlements, challenged Joseph F. Smith to a horse-and-buggy race for 15 miles over the rough road south of Cove Creek. Unfortunately, the fact of the race was what mattered to the witness, and he didn’t record who won.

On May 15, 1900, at 2:30 p.m., Lorenzo Snow stepped out of his South Temple office in Salt Lake City and stepped up to another buggy – but this one was not powered by flesh and blood horses. This carriage was of the horseless variety, one of the first automobiles brought to Utah. Owned and driven by Hyrum Silver, the tiny vehicle (it weighed only 400 pounds) was a right-hand drive with room for only two riders, who sat in arm chairs in a wagon box perched precariously above steel springs.

After walking around the vehicle two or three times to get some idea of what he was in for, President Snow climbed aboard, grasped his hat with one hand and the seat with the other, and said, “All ready!” Silver pulled a neat U-turn – then called “cutting a half moon” – and sped south down Main Street. Putt-putting along at about 30 miles per hour, the automobile easily outpaced the street cars and delivery wagons with which it shared the unpaved street, and spectators are reported to have “just stood and stared with wonder and admiration at the sight of the venerable old man … sublimely content, but a trifle worried, if the expression on his face indicated anything,” as he flew along.

A half hour later, Silver’s machine pulled up again in front of the office, and President Snow stepped out, to be greeted by Horace Whitney, son of then-bishop (later apostle Orson F. Whitney), who plied him with questions:

“Well, it is a wonderful thing,” President Snow replied, “and it is glorious to ride in. We went all down Main Street and around Liberty Park and back up State Street, and around here, and oh, I cannot begin to tell you what a ride we had. I didn’t know what minute we might upset a street car, but the first fear soon passed away.

“I was thinking of getting a bicycle,” he joked, “but I guess the automobile is what I want, after all. It is quite different from driving an oxcart. … I believe that carriage would have no difficulty in covering about thirty-five miles an hour on good roads.

“Anyway, I have solved one query. When we build the City of Zion in Jackson County, there are explicit instructions that it shall contain no stables or horses. Now, I have often wondered before today how we would manage, but it appears clear enough now, and those who insist on having horses can keep them on the outside.

“And the next time we go through Dixie, we can take automobiles and do away with the necessity of carrying oats in the bottom of the buggy.”

The old pioneer, forward-looking and never afraid to try something new, nodded firmly. “Oh, my, it is as wonderful as it is glorious!”



21 Comments »

  1. “As wonderful as it is glorious.” What a fun snapshot of one of the moments that started the American love affair with the automobile.

    Comment by Researcher — August 3, 2010 @ 9:01 am

  2. Really fun stuff Ardis. Although I don’t read them anymore, I spent my teens reading Car&Driver, Road&Track, and Motor Trend, so I can relate to his comment.

    Comment by Ben S — August 3, 2010 @ 10:53 am

  3. Great story!

    Of course, if Pres. Snow could have imagined acres of unsightly parking lots (yeah, I know, it’s redundant) and gas stations and traffic jams and road rage and the whole state of New Jersey paved over with highways and Salt Lake City during a winter temperature inversion, he might not have suggested that the lack of horses and stables in Zion would be solved with automobiles. : )

    Comment by Mark B. — August 3, 2010 @ 11:05 am

  4. Not to mention replacing the oats in the bottom of the buggy with cans of gas, a somewhat less pleasant smell. Unless you count the oats coming out of the exhaust, in which case it’s probably a fair trade.

    Comment by kevinf — August 3, 2010 @ 11:34 am

  5. This was wonderful. I loved how you set it up by starting with ox carts. I wish I could have seen the faces of all the witnesses on the sidewalks.

    Comment by David Y. — August 3, 2010 @ 11:37 am

  6. How far we have come during the last 110 years.

    Comment by Steve C. — August 3, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

  7. Unfortunately, the fact of the race was what mattered to the witness, and he didn’t record who won.

    In one version of the story I’ve read, President Snow won easily.

    Comment by Justin — August 3, 2010 @ 2:06 pm

  8. Ooo, I want *that* story!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 3, 2010 @ 2:28 pm

  9. I love the illustration!

    Comment by Mina — August 3, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

  10. If only he could have ridden with David O. McKay.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 3, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

  11. Thanks for reminding me how much I like LS. What a guy.

    Comment by WVS — August 3, 2010 @ 3:35 pm

  12. Wow!, How cool is this story! Thank you Ardis. It is interesting about the line,”When we build the City of Zion in Jackson County, there are explicit instructions that it shall contain no stables or horses.” I wonder what other explicit instructions there might be lying around?

    Comment by Cliff — August 3, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

  13. The version I’ve read: “President Snow’s Famous Trip and His Race with President Smith,” The Salt Lake Herald, Oct. 11, 1901, 3.

    Comment by Justin — August 4, 2010 @ 8:56 am

  14. Thanks, Justin! (This merits more than a single exclamation point but I have to keep some in reserve for the next treasures you unearth and share here. So there.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 4, 2010 @ 9:15 am

  15. I knew about that Salt Lake Herald story too, I just didn’t feel like sharing. In fact, I usually know the references Justin provides before he adds them. That’s because I, too, am one of the three nephites.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 4, 2010 @ 11:34 am

  16. Nice try, Jacob! Really nice try.

    (I don’t know why your comment ended up in the spam filter. The technology must have greater doubts about your claim than I have.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 4, 2010 @ 11:50 am

  17. LOL.

    Ardis, do you know anything about Hyrum Silver? I assume that he was a man of some means.

    Comment by Justin — August 4, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

  18. Justin, he’s either the brother of John Silver (whose wife was a granddaughter of Brigham Young), or that Hyrum’s son — the wealth required for a purchase like this sounds more like the father, but the innovativeness sounds like the younger man. In any case, other than genealogical details and a few bits found by googling (none of them particularly interesting or identifying), I don’t know anything about him. Yet.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 4, 2010 @ 12:38 pm

  19. Maybe it is Hyrum’s son spending dad’s money. It would not be the last time a young man got a car he didn’t pay for by himself.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — August 4, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

  20. Not the last time, but if this does reflect what happened, it’s almost certainly the first time it happened in Utah!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 4, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

  21. I love the mental image of Lorenzo Snow’s long beard whipping behind him in the wind as they cruised along.

    Family legend reports that when the county paved the road in front of Marcellus Bean’s home (born 1867) sometime in the late 1920’s, he commented to his grandchildren that he’d lived long enough to see the “streets of gold.” One of those grandchildren–my grandmother–told me recently, “I wonder what he’d think about the freeways we drive on now.”

    Comment by Clark — August 4, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

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