Otto Ryssman

Otto Ryssman was a member of the Gasketeers and later became one of five charter members of the 200 MPH Club: "Paul Packett and I went up to Bonneville in my A-V8 coupe (Model A with a Ford Flathead V-8); we went by ourselves up there. We had a handful of tools, some carburetors that we could run alcohol in, and a spare distributor in case mine crapped out. I had about a 3.7-gallon gas tank in the trunk, so we carried a 5-gallon jerry can (designed in the 1930s by the Germans for the military) with us. We traveled at night because of the heat going up the summits. We left Fullerton at 6 in the evening. We stopped in Olancha on 395 (population today 192). The gas station owner had a big sign in the garage that read: If you can get it cheaper in L.A. go to L.A. and get it. He came out and said he had a young son who was interested in hot rods. His son was Bill Mathews who had moved to East Los Angeles with his mom when his parents divorced. I later became good friends with Bill. Bill was Al Teague's babysitter when Al was young." Now that's a small world!

"When we got to Wendover we talked to a Mrs. Smith who owned the Stateline Casino, which was pretty small, about getting a room. It was $1 a night. She owned the restaurant where a lot of guys would eat and then slept on cots in the hanger at the disused airbase. The room she put us up in was rented to the railroad crews. They could have kicked us out at any time I suppose. You had to go down the hallway to shower and use the bathroom.

"There was only one other coupe that ran, that was Bill Phy from Temple City, California. SCTA didn't allow coupes to run until Bonneville, that's why there were only two of us there. I only made a single run (113.25) in my coupe because I was working on Doug Hartelt and Chuck Potvin's roadster.

"We went to El Mirage on the way home to run my coupe on Sunday. Russetta Timing Association held the meet and a lot of guys stopped there to run on the way back from Bonneville as well."

Alex Xydias

Alex Xydias (born 1922) coined the term 49ers when he and his wife, Helen, planned the 50th anniversary of the first Bonneville in 1949, making sure that event was a memorable one for the surviving competitors. More on that later.

We know Alex because of his SO-CAL Speed Shop fame, his past editorship at Car Craft, remaining on as staff member of Petersen Publishing for 12-plus years, plus Alex was director of the Petersen Trade Show that evolved into SEMA.

Alex, a hot rodder since the term "hot rod" came to light, was a member of the Sidewinders: "It was certainly an adventure going to Bonneville, I'll tell you that," Alex exclaims. "We didn't have a clue as to what to expect until we got there. We heard at an SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) board meeting that there was all that salt, which was hard, but we were just taking their word for it. We knew about Bonneville from reading about the record holders before the war, but how could there be so much salt in one place? It didn't seem possible. Besides, we didn't think El Mirage would last but a year or two longer, so we were looking at other dry lakes all over California and they weren't any good either. We felt this was the end of our land speed racing unless we found a better place.

"I remember they were working on the streamliner until the last minute before we took off for Bonneville. The Valley Guys (San Fernando Valley) went up through Bishop and we had two or three summits to go over to get to Wendover. Our tow car was a 1939 Ford belonging to Dean Batchelor. We also had a 1941 Ford convertible towing a little trailer carrying a 50-gallon barrel of fuel, all the equipment, and a Merc engine. The 1941 didn't have any power towing the trailer so we made the trip mostly in Second gear.

"We got up to Tonopah at about 4 in the morning, there was a little old gas station there in the middle of town with an old guy on a chair leaning against the wall with a big light bulb above the station with moths flying around and he had an old dog lying down by him. I thought to myself, this is right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

"The Streamliner must have shifted because I jackknifed the trailer outside of Ely, which turned us completely around and bent the nose of the streamliner and crunched the rear fender of Dean's 1939. If it had happened in the mountains we would have gone over the side of the road.

"I remember when we got over the last high hill we could see the Salt Flats and it was shining all white. It took a long time to get there … 22 hours, but we never stopped.