While there may be little in common between the Spirit Ride and the Pony Express, both ventures do share some common dynamics.
The Pony Express was a private venture created to serve the need of delivering the mail to a population center that had mushroomed overnight with the Gold Rush of 1849. By 1860 there was a dire need for faster communication, particularly between San Francisco and the East. The Pony Express succeeded in reducing mail transport by ten days.
The Spirit Ride neither has a profit motive nor is about speed or transporting mail, though it is about accelerating public awareness of the Slow Down, Move-Over Law and carrying that message cross country. Too many motorists either ignore the law or are unaware of it. According to the National Safety Commission 71% of Americans have not heard of this law. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of casualties each year among first responders and over 100 fatalities, 60% of them towers, struck by passing vehicles.
Pony Express Riders sometimes feared being struck by arrows as they rode swiftly to make good time, the average ride about 75 miles, swapping horses every ten miles, then relaying their mail bag to the next rider in an exchange that barely made time for hello and goodbye. The Spirit Rider will ride an hour or two, and some will ride several hours, to relay the Spirit Casket to the next towman and carrier bed. Perhaps in the relay these Riders have something in common, if 150 years apart.
The dedication of the Pony Express Riders and the Spirit Riders are based on different motivations. The Pony Express Riders were paid three times the wage of an unskilled laborer at the time; and though not a lucrative amount, he was paid. The Spirit Rider is a volunteer, motivated by heart and the experiences of running an operation fraught with risk and peril. Maybe one of his drivers was struck and killed working a breakdown, or one of his competitors lost a driver that way, to say nothing of the countless injuries he’s aware drivers have suffered out there. To the Rider, the special casket he carries represents the spirit of the towers who paid the ultimate sacrifice; a precious cargo indeed.
The Pony Express Rider took a loyalty oath to good behavior before he could join this exclusive corps. The Spirit Rider’s oath to deliver his charge safely is implicit with his understanding of what he transports.
There were nearly 200 relief stations from Missouri through to California where the Riders either swapped horses or fell back to let a fresh man take the bags from there. There are over 300 relay points around the country for the Spirit Ride.
The Pony Express came to an abrupt halt one and a half years after it began when the telegraph lines were strung up across the country. The Spirit Ride will have run the same length of time before it finds a home in a museum as a work of art. The design includes a dozen hand-painted images of towers and first responders at work by one of the towing industry’s renowned wrecker artists, Cecil Burrowes.
The Pony Express was about efficiency but could not turn a profit in its short lifespan. Perhaps if the telegraph lines had come a decade or two later it might have. The Spirit Ride is a non-profit venture founded by American Towman Magazine and B/A Products as a non-profit project, found online at atspiritride.com.
While both Rides came from different kinds of purpose, both will go down in the annals of history as shortlived but admirable in their energetic vision. The Pony Express succeeded in significantly improving communications for the young nation. The Spirit Ride hopes to do the same for an industry born with the automobile. The Spirit Ride is on a crusade to save lives. The mail carrying venture wanted a long life no doubt. The Spirit Ride is destined to be like a shooting star; brief but perhaps magnificent in its effect.
The Spirit Ride is a non-profit venture founded by American Towman Magazine and B/A Products.
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