Donner Party
Sierra Stories
Buy Books!
Tahoe Nuggets
About Us
Contact Us




Follow Mark on Facebook for more stories


<Previous Nugget> <Next Nugget>

Tahoe Nugget #186:

Conquering Sierra Snow by Car
June 27, 2010

Before automobiles began to gain popularity after 1900, Lake Tahoe locals and tourists relied on a system of stagecoaches, railroads, and lake steamers for transport. Once people got used to the independence and convenience of traveling in their own car, however, it meant the end the short narrow gauge rail line that connected Tahoe City to Truckee, as well as for the classic steamers that plied the deep waters of nineteenth century Tahoe.

Businesses realized that future tourism dollars were going to arrive by car, not passenger train, so they began to pressure the state and county governments to improve mountain roads. The first driver fought his way over this portion of the rugged Sierra in May 1901. The first motorcyclist made it over the following summer.

Marketing to the rapidly growing auto-based tourist economy grew quickly. During the winter of 1911 the Tahoe Tavern hotel near Tahoe City offered a silver trophy and bragging rights for the first party to drive a motor vehicle from California over the snow-covered summit road to the luxury hotel.

1Nugget #186 Storm Headline
Snow was plentiful that June. During the 1911 winter more than 32 feet of snow fell in January alone. In March the snowpack reached 37.8 feet deep on the level. Both are Sierra Nevada records that still stand today.

Despite the Tahoe Tavern's well-advertised award, it wasn't until June 2, 1911, that anyone dared try it. Arthur B. Foote led the charge. Pushing, pulling and dragging an automobile over the roadless Sierra would be a major physical and logistical hurtle. He convinced several men he knew to help.

Drifts had blocked the trail and the car occasionally fell into deep crevices in the snow, but each time the men used their block and tackle system to pull it out. When they reached the Yuba River it was roaring with snowmelt and the bridge was out. Both Foote and Starr were accomplished engineers and they quickly rigged a metal cable over the raging torrent and
slid the car to the other side.

2Nugget #186 Auto Donner Granite1

Looking for the road in June 1911.

Foote's group wasn't the only one competing for the prize, but when the other drivers following them came to the washed out bridge on the Yuba, they were at a loss on how to cross. Foote and Starr had removed the cable and told no one of their technique. This gave them an insurmountable lead.

3Nugget #186 Push Pull Drag1

It took a group of men to push, pull and drag the car over Donner Pass.

By June 9 they had reached snowbound Soda Springs where they spent the day repairing or replacing various broken parts. Finally, on Saturday June 10, they pushed their vehicle over rock and snow down to Donner Lake where they had breakfast. It was a clear road for the 15 miles from Truckee to Tahoe City, and they reached the Tahoe Tavern by noon to claim their trophy.

4Nugget #186 Driver Snow Pipe1

Descent to Donner Lake. Note car door is wired open and the transcontinental railroad wooden snowshed in background.

Promoters at the Tahoe Tavern were completely surprised by their arrival. The next day the Grass Valley Morning Union newspaper featured the story on page one: "The victors enjoyed the consternation which they caused by their unexpected arrival. The resort management had not expected these men from Grass Valley to achieve their success by shoving, tugging, and hoisting their Model T over seemingly impassable mountainous terrain."

5Nugget #186 10 Millionth Car1

Ten million cars had driven over Donner Pass by 1999. The Lincoln Highway was the nation's first transcontinental highway, first established in 1913. It later became Interstate 40.

[Home] [Presentations] [Donner Party] [Weather] [Sierra Stories] [Endorsements] [Buy Books!] [Tahoe Nuggets] [About Us] [Contact Us]

Mic Mac Media
P. O. Box 483 Carnelian Bay, CA 96140
Phone 530-546-5612

© 2012 by MicMacMedia.com — This material and format is copyrighted, and permission from the author is necessary for commercial use.