American Studies • History and Sports
Bunion Derby: The 1928 Footrace Across America
On March 4, 1928, 199 men lined up in Los Angeles, California, to participate in a 3,400-mile transcontinental footrace to New York City. The Bunion Derby, as the press dubbed the event, was the brainchild of sports promoter Charles C. Pyle. He promised a $25,000 grand prize and claimed the competition would immortalize U.S. Highway Route 66, a 2,400-mile road, mostly unpaved, that subjected the runners to mountains, deserts, mud, and sandstorms, from Los Angeles to Chicago.
The runners represented all walks of American life from immigrants to millionaires, with a peppering of star international athletes included by Pyle for publicity purposes. For eighty-four days, the men participated in this part footrace and part Hollywood production that incorporated a road show featuring football legend Red Grange, food concessions, vaudeville acts, sideshows, a portable radio station, and the world's largest coffeepot sponsored by Maxwell House serving ninety gallons of coffee a day.
Drawn by hopes for a better future and dreams of fame, fortune, and glory, the bunioneers embarked on an exhaustive and grueling journey that would challenge their physical and psychological endurance to the fullest while Pyle struggled to keep his cross-country road show afloat.
"In a wild grab for glory, a cast of nobodies saw hope in the dust: blacks who escaped the poverty and terror of the Old South; first-generation immigrants with their mother tongue thick on their lips; Midwest farm boys with leather-brown tans. These men were the 'shadow runners' men without fame, wealth, or sponsors, who came to Los Angeles to face the world's greatest runners and race walkers. This was a formidable field of past Olympic champions and professional racers that should have discouraged sane men from thinking they could win a transcontinental race to New York. Yet they came, flouting the odds. Charley Pyle's offer
of free food and lodging to anyone who would take up the challenge opened the race to men of limited means. For some, it was a cry from the psyche of no-longer-young men, seeking a last grasp at greatness or a summons to do the impossible. This pulled men on the wrong side of thirty from blue-collar jobs and families."--from the Preface
"No writer 'owns' a swath of history the way Chuck Kastner 'owns' the wildly crazy C. C. Pyle Bunion Derbies. The inaugural race was a truly American epic: from its massive scope to the fact that it was dominated by a handful of second-rate runners who decided there was no future in continuing in the underdog role. Chuck's book makes you want to schedule your next vacation for Route 66, there to relive the zaniness and heroics of 1928."--Rich Benyo, editor, Marathon & Beyond Magazine
"Bunion Derby's narrative arc transcends the academic approach one would expect from a university press."--Philip Damon, on the Peace Corps Writers website
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
Charles B. Kastner lives in Seattle, Washington, and has published numerous articles in Northwest Runner and Marathon and Beyond magazines. Bunion Derby is his first book.
"...a brilliant, compelling, enthralling read about a piece of American history that for the most part faded into the dust its participants no doubt kicked up."--
"[Kastner's] familiarity with sport running, his affinity for the characters he is writing about, and his enamor for competition infuse [The Bunion Derby], giving it an epic quality.--
The Chronicles of Oklahoma
"We think [Bunion Derby] would make a great holiday gift for any of your running or history-minded friends, but get one for yourself, too. It's a great read."--
"What made Bunion Derby an outstanding read for me is twofold: it is about a piece of American history that is today almost unknown. One web site has a fascinating history of it, and there have been a few articles here and there, but for the most part it has disappeared from written history. Why? There is so much that it represents-the character and strength that was an American virtue; the opportunistic hucksterism that defined this country; individuals conquering extraordinary physical and emotional difficulties, petty jealousies, cheating, political and financial agendas, and creating for themselves a personal challenge that each--whether he dropped out or completed the race--in his own way won. This is one of those books that should be discovered by every reader who appreciates solid research, writing worth reading and a fantastic story. How many ways can I say that it is one every reader of BiblioBuffet should pick up as soon as possible. Bunion Derby has my highest recommendation."--
6 x 9 in. 256 pages 27 halftones