Cannon Ball Baker’s 1927 Record Setting Cross Country Run
The following was condensed from a booklet, The Fastest and Longest Truck Run on Record, published by the General Motors Truck Company in October, 1927.
Condensed by Donald E. Meyer, GMC Truck Historian.
(First published in American Truck Historical Society, Motor City Chapter News Letter, "Changing Gears", 12/04)
At 8:48 pm on September 6, 1927, a 1927 GMC model 40, two-ton tank truck left New York City headed for San Francisco to set a transcontinental speed record for trucks. The driver was E. G. "Cannon Ball" Baker, a famous race driver who had made several similar trips in cars and a motor cycle but never a truck. He had two newspaper reporters with him in that small cab. The trip was sponsored by GMC Truck Sales to demonstrate the performance and reliability of the 61 hp Buick 274 cid "Master Six" valve-in-head engines first used in GMCs that year. The truck was loaded to capacity with Atlantic Ocean water and weighed a total of 12,560 lbs.
The first lap to Philadelphia was covered in record setting two hours flat. From there they headed west over the Alleghenies on the Lincoln Highway (later US30). They climbed the four mile Fort Louden 6% grade at an average speed of 14.3 mph. That was the steepest grade on that highway. The average speed for the first 21 hours to Indianapolis was 44.3 mph. In spite of dense fog and rain they reached Kansas City within 48 hours, 1,487 miles out of NYC. Bucking strong headwinds over dirt roads with many detours, they averaged 32 mph from Kansas City to Cheyenne while “the Atlantic water swished and roared in the steel tank.”
Leaving Cheyenne at the end of the third day, Cannon Ball faced a rough night in a blinding thunder storm on rough, choppy roads with deep gumbo clay in many places. They easily crossed the Continental Divide but had to go down long steep grades with heavy traffic east of Salt Lake City. From there to Reno, NV, there were rough detours and sections with loose crushed stone on the road. They faced strong headwinds into the Sierras on winding switchback roads. After crossing Oakland Bay on a ferry boat, they reached San Francisco at 10:24 am on September 12, just 5 days, 17 hours and 36 minutes after leaving NYC. Total distance covered was 3,693 miles for an average speed of 35.5 mph. After an official welcome from the Mayor and many others, they completed the ceremonies by backing the GMC down to the shore and dumping the Atlantic water into the Pacific Ocean.
That amazing feat did demonstrate the reliability of the GMC truck and Buick engine: "No mechanical attention was required on the trip - not even pumping up a tire." Baker made this statement about the trip: “I am very proud of the record that has been set for crossing the continent in a truck. Glad to state that the General Motors truck that I drove answered every demand, with plenty of power in reserve. The truck, the engine, its amazing performance and reserve capacities, I can most heartily recommend to the prospective owner.” Baker had driven the entire trip with only about four hours of sleep.
After the run was completed, the same GMC truck was driven 2,861 miles to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in time for the International Petroleum Exposition at an average speed of 34.3 mph.