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Route 66 News

Footage from the Bunion Derby

Here’s rare footage of runners participating in C.C. Pyle’s International Transcontinental Foot Race, aka the Bunion Derby, in 1928. Two-thirds of the Los Angeles-to-New York race took place on a fledgling Route 66.

The footage is an excerpt from the Solomon Sir Jones Collection at Yale University. Jones was an African-American preacher who took his camera all over Oklahoma and good portions of the rest of the country during the 1920s.

I’m fairly certain the footage begins in Oklahoma City and ends in Chandler. Consulting Geoff Williams’ excellent book, “C.C. Pyle’s Amazing Foot Race,” runners mentioned they dealt with a cold, hard wind during the April 14 leg of the race. The footage clearly shows clouds of dust being billowed by gusts at the checkpoint.

Williams’ book described the runners looking like scarecrows when they reached the finish line in New York City. But based on the Oklahoma footage, those sunburned athletes already were looking ragged after 1,500 miles — just halfway through the race.

Also, the footage shows one of Pyle’s elaborate touring buses, which creditors seized in Tulsa after he stiffed an Oklahoma City shop for repair bills. So the film probably was shot before Tulsa.

In the film, you’ll see runner No. 43. He is Andy Payne of Foyil, Okla., who became the Bunion Derby’s winner and recipient of a $25,000 grand prize. A statue of a running Payne stands next to old Route 66 in Foyil today.

Consulting a database of the Bunion Derby’s participants, I matched up identifications with the runner’s numbers:

  • No. 220: The heavily bearded R. Lucien Frost of Los Angeles, who was disqualified from the race in Virden, Ill., when he hitched a ride.
  • No. 119: Sammy Robinson of Atlantic City, N.J., who finished 45th overall.
  • No. 65: Harry R. Gunn of Los Angeles, who finished 28th. He was one of the few speed walkers in the race.
  • No. 43: Andy Payne.
  • No. 103: Peter Gavuzzi of England, who led for a good part of the race but dropped out in Ohio because of pain from an abscessed tooth.
  • No. 165: Ed Gardner of Seattle, who finished eighth overall. Gardner reportedly endured threats from white supremacists in Texas and Oklahoma during the race.
  • No. 46: Lester H. Anderson of Elsinore, Utah. He did not finish, but I found no record where he withdrew.
  • No. 83: Mike Joyce of Cleveland, who finished fourth overall.
  • No. 121: Harry Abramowitz of the Bronx, N.Y., who finished 11th.
  • No. 126: Niels P. Nielson of Denmark and Chicago. He withdrew from the race in Gary, Ind., protesting the beginning of longer-distance stages after Chicago.
  • No. 7: H. William Kerr of Minneapolis, who finished sixth.
  • No. 107: John Salo of Passaic, N.J., who finished runner-up to Payne.
  • No. 146: Patrick DeMarr of Los Angeles, who was disqualified when he hitched a ride in Springfield, Mo.
  • No. 187: Ernest A. Cooney of Los Angeles, who finished 52nd.
  • No. 17: Seth Gonzales of Denver, who finished 15th.
  • No. 62: Carl I. Willberg of New York City, who withdrew in Chicago in protest over longer distances.
  • No. 120: Arthur E. Killingsworth of Lomis, Calif., who finished 18th.
  • No. 123: Harry Sheare of San Francisco, who withdrew in mid-May after suffering injuries from being hit by a car. He was the last contestant to withdraw from the race.
  • No. 129: A.G. Barnes of Middlefield, Ohio, who withdrew in Gary, Ind., in protest over longer distances.
  • No. 53: Paul A. Smith of Gates, Ore., who finished 21st.

Those are the uniform numbers I could make out. If there are others, let me know in the comments section and try to use the database to determine their identities.

(Hat tip: Michael Bates)

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5 thoughts on “Footage from the Bunion Derby

  1. Angie Berry

    Pretty impressive! I live about 30 miles from the Andy Payne statue, have been there but didn’t realize the magnitude of this event until now. Thanks so much for sharing!!

    :36 seconds, #238 is Olli Wantinnen from Finland, no finish, dropped 5/08 Ligonier, broken ribs, hit by car
    :39 seconds, #89 is Harry Rea from Long Beach, CA & England, no finish, dropped 5/08 Ligonier, no reason given
    :39 seconds, #106 is Richard J. Thomas from Brooklyn, NY & Cornwall, England, finished 39th
    :48 seconds, #23 is Walter J. Grafsky from St. Paul, MN, no finish, dropped Gary, IN, in protest over longer distances
    :50 seconds, #224 is Mike Kelly from Goshen, IN, finished 54th
    :56 seconds, #1 is J. Eugene Germaine from Montreal, Canada, finished 46th
    1:44 seconds, #45 is Roy McMurtry from Newhall, CA & Indianapolis, IN (he only has one arm) finished 12th with 705.42.52 time
    2:52 seconds, #183 is John Valis from Los Angeles, CA, no finish, dropped 3/10 Danby, no reason given
    2:53 seconds, #28 is John Stone, Jr. from Marion, IN, finished 33rd
    3:07 seconds, #71 is Tony (Antonio) Constantinoff from Toronto, Canada & Russia, finished 17th
    3:12 seconds, #188 is John Cronick from Saskatoon, Sas., Canada, finished 10th with 666.42.38 time

  2. Fernando Mendez

    My grandpa is #1, J. Eugene Germain, first to sign in. Never compited before, could make it to the end. The only french canadian in the race. So proud of him!

  3. Pingback: The Race Race Across America | The History Bandits

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