By Michelle Radison
Special to the Triplicate
In Del Norte County history, one reads about mule pack trails, wagon plank roads and railroads. What of the first automobile in the area? Had a person been standing at the corner of second Street and H Street in the summer of 1904, they would have seen the first automobile pass them by.
As the horseless carriage approached, one may think it sounded like a large insect. At first sight, it looked like railroad handcar, bobbing and hurdling the wagon ruts on the dusty street. The proud owners, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Bertsch and their two daughters, were observed bouncing along in the automobile, proud to be the first automobile owners in Del Norte County.
The buggy had two sets of seats (this is when backseat driving came about because the rear rider needed to watch for road for obstructions). Frequently, the family was asked when they would be traveling in their buggy, because the horses and the machine did not mix well.Citizens made sure to schedule their outings while the streets were quiet.
The Bertsch family did not hold the honor of being the first automobile owner for too long. Dr. Ernest Fine became the second car owner, and a friendship and rivalry began to develop between the two men.
By the time the Fourth of July arrived, the townspeople demanded that the duo race down the beach to determine the better vehicle. Not only would the winner be named the better automobile owner, but he would also win $20. Soon the race was the talk of the town. It was thought that Fine had added a string of batteries to his vehicle to improve performance, giving him an advantage.
On race day the gentleman and hundreds of spectators gathered at Elk Creek to watch the spectacle. The contestants were to circle the track from Elk Creek to Cushing Creek four times. The first two laps were neck-in-neck, but on the third lap Fine was in distress. He stopped at the south end of the beach for repairs and somehow lost track of the number of full laps. As Fine approached the home stretch, the other racer sped by, reaching the goal and making a quick turn sped back. Fine motored to the goal while his opponent raced back and forth. The winner was Bertsch; he had made four laps and Fine only three due to the confusion.
With the improvment of roads, automobiles arrived in numbers. Livery stables gradually went out of bussiness and auto shops replaced them. The art of the blacksmith slowly faded away, and a new era began.