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Table Rock Trail proves a rocky road

OK. Let’s pretend.

It’s June 25, 1929. You’re president of an automobile company trying to prove your car is better than every one of your competitors’. You’ve already sent your newest sedan on a round-trip, 3,493-mile drive between Canada and Mexico. Even though its radiator and hood were sealed so that no one could add water or oil, and it was purposely frozen in high gear, it made it.

Luckily, your stock sedan has just survived a record-setting run over the steaming sands of the Mojave Desert — 18 hours at an incredible average speed of 67 miles an hour! Then, there’s your hot little roadster that climbed the steep slopes of both Mount Tamalpais and Mount Diablo, near San Francisco, faster than any other vehicle ever has.

So — what do you do next?

Lower Table Rock in Jackson County, of course!

Hugo Lange, vice president of Medford’s Hudson, Essex and Cadillac dealership, hatched a scheme sure to impress his corporate bosses back in Detroit. He would personally take an unmodified, Essex Challenger sedan from his showroom floor and drive it over a rock-strewn cow path to the top of that lofty plateau. It would certainly be “the greatest test of motor stamina ever accomplished in Southern Oregon,” and the first time an automobile had ever made the trip.

With the temperature expected to climb into the low 90s by the afternoon, Hugo’s caravan, consisting of a mechanic, two cameramen and five others, left the South Riverside Avenue dealership on a cool Tuesday morning, precisely at 7:30. To ensure authenticity at these events, corporation rules required a local newspaper reporter ride along and time the trip. An unnamed Mail Tribune reporter got the assignment and rode shotgun with Hugo.

By 8:15, Hugo began the difficult, start-and-stop, 900-foot climb to the top. The rest of his entourage followed on foot.

Dodging boulders and shrubs, the struggling Essex pushed itself up the nearly 40-percent grade. As it plowed its way through the loose gravel, the chains that had been added for extra traction on its tires snapped off in pieces. The temperature on the dashboard gauge soon rocketed to 180 degrees, and yet, Hugo pressed on.

“It was all I could do to sit in the car,” he said, “the road was so rough.”

Thirty-five minutes later, he reached level ground at the top. He continued on for another 100 yards until he reached a cliff overlooking the valley. While the rest of the party sat down to rest, Hugo stood at the edge, waving an American flag to spectators below.

The trip down was treacherous, but other than a “difficult and dangerous” line written in the newspaper a few days later, nothing else was reported about the descent.

While the Essex was once the third-bestselling car in America, behind Ford and Chevrolet, the Hudson Motor Car Company stopped production of the line within four years of the Table Rock climb.

Hugo Lange, an enthusiastic accordion player and performer, continued on in the car business. He died in February 1968 and is buried in Medford’s Eastwood Cemetery.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,”a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com or WilliamMMiller.com.

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