Shortly after 2:00 on November 5, 1901 Kirk Brown the official starter for the first Eagle Rock Hill Climb stretched a white tape across Eagle Rock Avenue just north of Harrison Avenue. "Number 1 car in position", shouted Brown. W.R. Royce pulled up to the tape marking the starting line in a small 4 wheeled car ready and anxious to go. Starter Brown informed Mr. Royce that if his car was disabled before reaching the first turn to the right that he was to pull off the course and keep to the left. He also told Royce that if he was not ready he may withdraw. Royce acknowledged he was ready with a confident nod. Starter Brown then began the countdown and gave the signal as he shouted, "Go!". W.R. Royce became the first to ascended the steep grade in West Orange at the first Eagle Rock Hill Climb as he rode off into history. The event is reported to be the first such motoring competition in the United States. One by one each participant took his turn at the starting line as they also rode into history.
The grainy newspaper image seen above from November 5, 1901 shows Charles Duryea of Orange Massachusetts in his three wheeled automobile in West Orange near the starting line at the bottom of Eagle Rock Avenue. He captured first prize in the category for gasoline machines and set a new world record in the process. Charles Duryea is credited with being the builder and inventor of the first gasoline powered automobile in the United States in 1892. He came to West Orange and won in the gasoline engine category when his three wheeled Duryea and set a record of 3 minutes and 45 seconds. The fastest time overall time was turned in by W. J. Steward of Newark in the steam powered category in an amazing time of 2 minutes and 43 seconds.
At the time the drivers were often referred to as "chauffeurs" and the person accompanying the driver became known as a "mechanician". He was a assistant to the driver who watched the tires and pumped oil to the engine. He was a combination mechanic, engineer and navigator prepared to continue on if the driver was injured or thrown from the automobile. Although it was more common for the mechanician to be thrown from the automobile in some cases with fatal results.
Interesting side note concerning the first Eagle Rock Hill Climb. When W. J. Steward had been announced the winner in the steam powered category the second place finisher D.L. Wright challenged Steward to a rematch. He offered $100 as a side bet to engage in another run up the hill for the best time. However, Wright insisted that the affair take place immediately. Mr. Steward would not agree but expressed his willingness to run over the same course at another time for any amount of money. Both men talked it over and could not come to any agreement over the matter and a second run to beat each other's time up Eagle Rock Avenue never happened.
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First Eagle Rock Hill Climb November 5, 1901
Newark Evening News photos from November 6, 1901- (left) Charles Duryea wearing the derby the winner of the gasoline category is seen in his 3 wheeled auto in at the bottom of Eagle Rock Avenue in West Orange. (right) W.J. Steward the winner of the category is seen in his Yellow Scourge car #13 in West Orange.