100 Years of Buggy History – 1924-1927

Previous Articles: Intro & 1920; 1921-1923

This week, 100 Years of Buggy History goes further into the 1920s. The course continues to evolve, rules start to become standardized, the Prelim/Finals setup begins, and one fraternity creates the first Buggy dynasty.

1924

Raceday: Saturday, May 17, 1924 at 10:00am

Sweepstakes Committee: William Fencil (Chair), Vernon L. Wendlandt, Albert Thomas, L.F. Vogt

Race Results: (1) KapSig, (2) SAE, (3) DTD

Design Comp: DTD (Winner); Beta (Honorable Mention)

Weather: Sunny; 71 Degrees (Low of 45)

1924 was a relatively uneventful year of Buggy, but it did see a couple of important changes that brought the race closer to what we see today.

  • Raceday on the Weekend. The 1923 races went off successfully, so there were few planned changes to the races for 1924.  The biggest change that was planned?  Moving Raceday from Friday to Saturday!  By having the race on Saturday morning, Sweepstakes hoped that more alumni would be able to attend the race.
  • Push or Drive? Another rule was added in 1924 to clarify that Pushers are pushers and Drivers are drivers. They could not swap places. In addition, a rule clarified that the transition zones for pushers were 5 yards wide, and that the transition must occur in that zone.
  • Steam Tunnels Change the Course. It wasn’t initially planned, but the course was forced to change in 1924 due to the construction of CMU’s steam tunnels. Originally, the starting line was going to be moved in front of Central Building (Baker Hall) to give teams an equal footing at the start, but due to construction of the steam tunnels (running from Scaife Hall to Margaret Morrison), the starting line was moved to its present location – in front of Margaret Morrison at the bottom of Tech Street. The finish line was unmoved (it remained at the end of the now-CFA parking lot, the current site of Spring Carnival’s Midway).
  • KapSig Goes Back to the Wheel Well. KapSig brought back their same buggy from 1923, but they couldn’t get the same harness racing wheels on loan. So instead, they reached out to James Dawson Callery (a Pittsburgh banker, industrialist, and sportsman), who lent them 4 wheels from his harness racer, Lady Jones.  (Side note: Lady Jones was a champion runner back in the early 1900s, but her biggest claim to fame is that she is the only horse, and KapSig’s 1924 wheels were the only wheels, to have defeated a trotter named The Harvester, who was elected into the Wisconsin Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2011. )
  • Raceday Results. 18 Buggies competed in 1924.  KapSig appears to have won somewhat easily, with SAE and DTD coming around the final turn together thereafter.  The KapSig buggy was driven by W.C. Wilson.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said that KapSig’s repeat win was very unlikely, saying that “the odds would certainly have been 100/1 against their repeating,” though that seems to suggest a lack of understanding of Buggy by the Post-Gazette.
  • Design. DTD took the Design Competition, though we don’t have any information about what their buggy looked like.
  • Tappa Tappa? The May 21 Tartan’s headline for their Raceday 1924 noted that “Tappa Tappa Tappa” was DQ’d, but I have been unable to determine who “Tappa Tappa Tappa” is – This is the only reference in CMU’s archives (aside from a 1927 reference to the “Tappa Tappas” having a buggy), and Google didn’t turn up any references to this as a nickname. So I may be missing a joke or a reference here – But if you know it, post below!

1925

Raceday: Friday, May 15, 1925 at 9:30am

Sweepstakes Committee: Ben J. Kristof (Chair), G.I. Murphy, R. De Pue, Sid Forbes, Bill Escher, W.A. Donahue, J.V. Bowser

Race Results: (1) KapSig, (2) SAE*, (3) DTD, (4) SigNu

Design Comp: (1) DTD, (2) Delta Mu (became KDR in 1930), (3) ATO, (4) PiKA

Weather: Ideal; 73 Degrees (Low of 43)

1925 saw some new rules try to level the playing field, and we got one step closer to the present-day course setup.

  • Raceday Moves Back to Friday. After a 1-year Saturday trial run, Raceday was moved back to its then-typical place on Friday.  But students made a strong push for alumni to come back and watch anyway.  The Tartan said that Buggy is put on “more for the entertainment of former students than for any other purpose.”
  • Starting Line Success; Finish Line Moves. One thing from 1924 did stick – The start of the course was permanently moved to the bottom of Tech Street (outside Margaret Morrison Hall).  In addition, the finish line was moved to this point as well. This resulted in a downhill straightaway to the finish line, rather than the uphill and/or curved approach to the finish line of previous years. See photo right.

1925 Course Map, courtesy of the April 28, 1925 Tartan
  • No Athletes Allowed. A couple of new rules were enacted in 1925.  One expanded the prohibition on varsity letter earners from track and cross-country runners to all varsity athletes.  It didn’t matter the sport; if you earned a varsity (or freshman) letter, you were ineligible.  Another prohibited the use of demountable parts on the buggy.
  • Design Comp Rule Changes. Another set of rules directly affected Design Competition.  “Freak” buggies (originally banned in 1923) were still prohibited, but now an additional rule was added so that Buggies must race in the same condition as they were in for design competition.  So orgs were no longer able to create a separate buggy just for Design Competition.  In addition, the trophy rules were changed so that if the buggy that won the race also won the Design Competition, the Design Comp trophy would go to the 2nd place finisher in the Design Competition.
  • Heat Discussions. For the first time, the idea of Preliminary Heats was proposed, in order to eliminate “the disorder which has ruined the chances of some of the contenders in former races”. 4 heats were proposed, but the plan was ultimately scrapped (at least for this year…).
  • The First Dynasty is Born. We don’t know too much about the race itself, other than the top 4 finishers.  KapSig pulled off the threepeat, becoming the first true Buggy dynasty.  SAE crossed the finish line 2nd, but the Tartan notes that their placing was contested, so we don’t know if they were officially awarded 2nd place or something else (possibly DQ’d?). Meanwhile, according to the May 19 Tartan, some pushers tried to make better time by running with the buggy in the freeroll.  Apparently they forgot how gravity and wheels work though, and the pushers all flopped onto the asphalt as other buggies sped past.
  • Design Winner. The winner of the Design Competition, DTD, entered a yellow buggy that was trimmed in brown, with a highly polished nickel radiator and a fin-like projection in the back.

1926

Raceday: Friday & Saturday, May 14-15, 1926 (Prelims on Friday; Finals at 11:00am on Saturday)

Sweepstakes Committee: Unknown

Race Results: (1) PiKA (3:18.3); (2) KapSig; (3) SAE

Design Comp: (1) ATO

Weather: Probably overcast with a possible drizzle on Friday; High of 71/65 on Friday/Saturday (lows of 54/51)

We don’t have a ton of information about 1926 (the Spring 1926 Tartan issues are missing from the digital archives), but the biggest change came in the form of the races – for (probably) the first time ever, the races were run in heats.

  • Racing in Heats.The biggest change to Buggy racing from 1926 was that, for the first time, the races were run in heats.  We don’t know how many orgs competed or how many heats they ran, but based on the records, our best guess is that the race was run in 3 heats of 6 buggies each.  6 teams would advance to the finals (likely the top 2 from each heat), where they raced in a single Finals.
  • The Need For Speed. According to the June CIT Alumnus, many of the buggies were built for “speed alone”, which was probably the result of the “no freaks” rule that was still in place.
  • Prelims. The 6 teams to advance to Finals were (1) PiKA, (2) KapSig, (3) PhiKap, (4) Woodlawn Club, (5) SAE, and (6) DTD.  We know for certain that in one of the 3 Prelim Heats, PiKA defeated KapSig.  Based on that, and the order in which the teams were printed in the May 15, 1926 edition of the Pittsburgh Daily Post, my assumption is that Heat 1 had PiKA 1st and KapSig 2nd, Heat 2 had PhiKap winning and Woodlawn Club 2nd, and Heat 3 had SAE on top with DTD 2nd.
  • Finals. In the finals, PiKA toppled the KapSig dynasty, and earned its first solo Buggy victory, with a 3:18.3 time.  KapSig finished 2nd, but they were pushed to the limit by the underslung buggy of SAE, which finished 3rd.

1927

Raceday: Prelims on Friday, May 13, 1927 @ 10:30am; Finals on Saturday, May 14, 1927 @ 11am

Sweepstakes Committee: Fred Woods (Chair), R. Buckley, J. Deane, Don Campbell, J. Schmid, Jim Bair

Race Results: (1) KapSig (3:15.8); (2) DTD; (3) Theta Xi

Design Comp: (1) Beta; (2) Phi Sigma Kappa (inactive in 1937); (3) Delta Mu (KDR)

Weather: Sunny on Friday, possible overcast on Saturday (High of 62/61, Low of 46/47)

1927 saw some expansion from 1926, with a few minor changes to the rules and one more major change to the teams.  Other than that, it was a year of consistency before one last significant change in 1928.

  • Athletes Allowed.  After a 2 year ban on athletes from any school sports, orgs were once again allowed to include athletes on their teams; as long as those athletes didn’t compete in Track or Cross-Country.
  • And 1 Pusher Makes 5 – The biggest change in 1927 saw the addition of a 5th Pusher to the team, splitting the backhills into 3 segments, rather than 2.  Prior to 1927, “Industries Hill” (which was essentially, but not quite, Frew Street) had 1 pusher on the equivalent of Hill 3, and then the final pusher taking over for the equivalent of Hill 4 and the race to the finish line.  The new rule added a 5th pusher at the end of the present-day Hill 4.  See photo right for a basic map.

Edited course map to show the addition of a 5th Hill, added in 1927.
  • Bump-and-Run Won’t Work.  The rules for transitions were a little more restrictive in the 1920s.  The first pusher was required to push until the start of the transition zone (the Buggy can’t just be shoved ahead), and the second pusher must be touching the Buggy by the time the transition zone ends.
  • ROTC Back on Duty. The crowds from earlier years proved unmanageable for the Alumni Police Force, so this year ROTC volunteered to patrol and control the crowds.
  • Making Finals. 18 organizations competed on Raceday.  They were divided into 3 heats of 6 teams for the Prelims.  8 teams made the finals – The top 2 from each Heat, and then the 2 fastest remaining times (you can imagine this addition may have been caused by a Buggy in 1927 that finished 3rd, but whose time was faster than the winners/second place finishers from other heats).  Only the first 4 buggies in each heat were timed.
  • Prelim Heats and Incidents.  In one of the 3 Prelim Heats, KapSig was victorious, with PhiKap running 2nd.  In a second Prelim Heat, DTD finished first and PiKA crossed the finish line in 2nd, but PiKA was DQ’d for a “rules infraction.”  There were “several wrecks” and “a couple of DQs”, and the biggest incident came courtesy of Kappa Sigma Rho, whose buggy suffered two broken wheels.  Luckily, the driver was uninjured.
  • Finals.  In the Finals, DTD got the early lead and reached the freeroll in front.  But from there, it was all KapSig, who passed DTD in the freeroll and never looked back, getting their dynasty back on track.  KapSig’s buggy was driven by Russ Roller.
  • Design Comp.  Design comp was won by Beta, who entered an “aluminum bodied chariot”, which may have been ahead of its time.  Phi Kappa Psi (inactive in 1934) may have had a chance, as they built a “remarkable” replica of Major Henry Seagrave’s “The Slug”, the land speed record holder and first vehicle to break 200 MPH.  Unfortunately, Phi Kappa Psi didn’t get their buggy to the design competition in time, and so they were ineligible to compete.
Photo of the Backhills (Present-Day Hill 4) in 1926, from the 1926 CIT Alumnus
Photo of the starting line in either 1924 or 1925, courtesy of the CMU Archives. For details about how we dated this photo, see the comments on the photo page.

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