By Rich Place
A collection of antique cars arrived in Springville last week as part of a celebration of the life of George Schuster and the 110th anniversary of The Great Automobile Race from New York to Paris.
The cars were parked Friday morning in front of the Concord Mercantile building on Franklin Street as their drivers and other interested members of the public were able to tour the Heritage Building that features a room dedicated to Schuster and The Great Automobile Race.
Schuster, who hailed from Springville and at one time owned the Schuster Motor Car Co. in the village, was part of the winning team of The Great Automobile Race in 1908.
At 2 p.m. on Friday, a brief ceremony was held beside Schuster’s gravesite at Maplewood Cemetery and was attended by community residents and those from across the country piloting the antique automobiles.
“I can’t help but think that, 110 years ago today, great-grandpa was actually on his way and on the outskirts of Moscow on his way to final victory in Paris,” said Schuster’s great-grandson, Jeff Mahl, during the gravesite ceremony.
Schuster and the team behind the Buffalo-built Thomas Flyer automobile started the race from Times Square in mid-February 1908 and finished 169 days later in Paris. Mahl explained the complexity of the feat and used it as motivation for everyone today.
Mahl said his great-grandfather took the trip one day at a time and noted there was no problem he couldn’t solve. He noted that whether it was traveling through Alaska or making repairs in Siberia, Schuster demonstrated a great sense of ingenuity.
“The thing I hope we never lose as Americans is that sense” of ingenuity, Mahl said. Speaking to the whole crowd at the ceremony but turning specifically to a group of young Boy Scouts, Mahl later added, “the real key is there always is an answer. There is nothing you can’t do. All you got to do is take the time and effort to figure it out. And believe me, you can far exceed what you think you can do if you really try.”
The ceremony on Friday was attended by Springville Mayor Bill Krebs and Concord Supervisor Clyde Drake, who both remarked about Schuster and his impact on the area.
“He was a pioneer in the transportation industry,” Krebs said about Schuster. “He was a mechanic and an innovator who demonstrated the potential of the automobile with courage and technical skill that remain today admirable examples for all of us.”
Drake noted people today would be glued to televisions and cell phones to see the latest weather during a long drive and compared that to The Great Automobile Race in 1908 that obviously didn’t have any of that technology.
“Today we recognize (Schuster’s) courage and perseverance that conquered both the odds and obstacles that such a 169-day race presented,” Drake said.
The ceremony, which was emceed by Joel Maul of the Concord Historical Society, included the placing of flags by Schuster’s grave, located on the west side of Maplewood Cemetery. The gravesite is marked with a stone proclaiming him as the driver of the Thomas Flyer.
Pastor Stan Handzlik of the Assembly of God Church also spoke at the ceremony, including offering a prayer for the drivers involved in this year’s event.
The following day, members of the group attended a special event in Buffalo, with some drivers headed northeast to Nova Scotia and others heading west to San Francisco. It’s all part of the 110th anniversary of The Great Automobile Race.
Mahl was part of the group bound for San Francisco to re-enact the American leg of The Great Automobile Race from 1908. He’s driving a 1929 Ford Model A Roadster Pickup, which was among those parked at Maplewood Cemetery during last week’s ceremony.
The event last week in Springville was one of several events commemorating the 110th anniversary of the race. Two days prior, some of the drivers traveled to Hyde Park, the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt in eastern New York, for a tour and were able to park their cars in front of the mansion.
Those interested in following Mahl and others on the trip can visit a blog dedicated to the event at 2018nytoparisnews.com.