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To the Races: Hill Climbs

F.O. and Flora Stanley on Mt. Washington

F.O. and Flora on Mt. Washington, N.H., August 31, 1899. (Stanley Museum Archives)

The earliest days of automotive racing measured not only an auto’s speed but also its construction, appearance, drivability, endurance, comfort and cost — and provided opportunities for companies to promote their designs. The goal of a hill climb was simple: reach the top of the hill the fastest. Steam cars in general — and Stanley Steamers in particular — quickly emerged as superior at hill climbs. Eventually race organizers changed entry requirements to prevent steam cars from participating since their dominance seemed a foregone conclusion.  

While more a stunt than an actual competition, the first ascent by an automobile to the top of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington belonged to F.O. Stanley and his wife, Flora, who reached the summit on August 31, 1899, in a Locomobile steam car.

At 6,288 feet, Mt. Washington stands as the highest peak in the northeastern United States. While the length of the road was less than eight miles, the average grade was 12 percent, with substantial stretches of 18 percent, culminating in a final 50-yard stretch at 22 percent. Despite a few incidents along the way, the couple completed their trek in two hours and 10 minutes, twice as fast as a typical horse-drawn trip.


Stanley Model H-5 at Auburn Heights, 1908

Stanley Model H-5 at Auburn Heights, 1908. (Marshall Steam Museum Archives)

Marshall Connection
Clarence’s First Stanley

Having gained extensive experience with steam technology working in the family mill, Clarence Marshall attempted to buy his first Stanley steam car in 1908. Rebuffed by a Philadelphia Stanley agent who believed Clarence was too young (in his early twenties) to take proper care of the car, Clarence persisted and purchased a used 1906 Model H later that year.


Bruce Monroe photo of Tom Marshall by arbor at Auburn Heights in 1908 Stanley Model H-5

Photo of Stanley Model K at Giant’s Despair Hillclimb, Wilkes-Barra, Pa., May 30, 1908. (Allen Blazick)

1908 Stanley H-5 Gentlemen’s Speedy Roadster
Built for Speed

By 1908, the Stanleys were manufacturing a full line of models, from family touring cars to limousines to fast roadsters. The H-5s were the most plentiful of the H models, with 44 built in 1907 and 1908. The 1908 sales catalog describe it as a “Gentlemen’s Speeding Car intended for those who wish to hit up a speed of 65 or 70 miles an hour on a good, safe road, without going to the expense of importing a $10,000 racing machine, with its noisy cylinders and high expense for tires and maintenance.”


1908 Stanley Model J Limousine image from 1908 sales catalog

The Model J Limousine was another car available in the 1908 Stanley Motor Carriage Co. catalog. (Marshall Steam Museum Archives)