BY SHERI TRUSTY
In 1903, Horatio Nelson Jackson bet his friends he could drive a car from San Francisco to New York City in less than 90 days. He had no driving experience, and he didn’t own a car. He purchased a two-cylinder, 20 horsepower Winston, packed it with 1,200 pounds of camping gear, hired a bicycle mechanic to help with breakdowns, and on May 23 he set off. On July 26, he entered New York City and became the very first person to cross the country by car.
Scott Montefusco, a retired Marine Corps captain and FBI agent, is retracing Jackson’s route this year in a Korean War-era 1952 M38 Willys Jeep. His travels brought him to Port Clinton in time for the 4th of July Red, White & Blue car show, where he let kids climb aboard the jeep while he told them about the hero his trip honored.
“I want to inspire young people to step up and serve as First Responders or in the military, and I want to help them take an interest in American history,” Montefusco said. “I thought, ‘How can I inspire young people to serve and take an interest in history? I’ll retravel the route of the first person to ever drive across America.’”
Over and over again, Montefusco invited children to sit in the jeep at the car show. He talked to them about Jackson’s adventure across America and about Jackson’s WWI military service that earned him three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.
“What I love about this is, kids jump in the jeep and crawl all over it, and I talk to them about Horatio and why I honor him and respect him,” Montefusco said.
Montefusco is recreating Jackson’s experience as much as possible. Because Jackson’s car had no top and no windshield, Montefusco leaves the top off and the windshield down on the jeep as he drives. He wears a jet helmet for safety.
“Wearing the jet helmet protected me from hail storms in Cheyenne. I’ve been through four mountain passes and four rainstorms,” he said.
Even with the modifications, there is no way to truly recreate Jackson’s experiences driving across the country when automobiles were new.
“In 1903, there were no roads outside cities and no gas stations. People bought their gas at hardware stores,” Montefusco said.
Montefusco’s mission to inspire children to serve is an extension of his own passion for serving his country.
“I retired in 2018, and I’m not done serving my country. After 36 years in and out of uniform, I don’t take lightly that I have all my body parts,” he said. “I served with others who died in the line of duty or had serious injuries.”
While he travels, Montefusco is raising money for the Tunnel to Towers foundation (www.t2t.org) which helps Gold Star families and the families of fallen First Responders. His trip across America is educating, inspiring and aiding Americans along the way.
“Like Horatio, I’ll never stop serving,” he said.