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!”