Los Banos would have been fast asleep when the vaunted Thomas "Flyer" finally arrived -- hours later than first anticipated.
People throughout the Central Valley, including those living in Modesto, were hoping to catch a glimpse of the celebrated American-made car.
The Flyer entered the valley as the leader in the celebrated 1908 New York-to-Paris automobile race that also featured competitors from France, Italy and Germany.
It was billed as "The Greatest Auto Race."
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Yes, Virginia, it really DID happen!
In the mid-1960s, Hollywood attempted to re-create the adventure, though the movie featuring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood bore little resemblance to the competition.
So fanciful was the movie that Flyer driver George Shuster Sr. turned down a personal invitation from Tony Curtis to attend the movie's world première, according to Jeff Mahl, Shuster's great-grandson.
"Tony Curtis called him and great-gramp asked him to tell him about the movie," Mahl said. "After listening for a while, great-gramp said, 'It didn't happen that way.' He refused to go the première and never did see the movie."
Shuster was 99 when he died in 1972.
Mahl provided The Bee with excerpts from Shuster's diary, which included this reference to the Flyer's visit to Los Banos.
"As we came further north we were not sure of our way," Shuster wrote, "so coming to a small town called Firebaugh we enquired for a guide.
"So we took him on the car. We had not gone far when we found that his guiding was all wrong. In the dark we came to the buildings of a sheep ranch, and we unloaded him there.
"Getting directions from some men at the ranch, we finally reached Los Banos during the night. A pilot car was awaiting us here, and we started on our way to Gilroy."
His account differs markedly from a front page story that appeared in the March 23, 1908, edition of The Modesto Evening News, a forerunner of The Bee.
The News reported the Flyer, speeding along at a "merry clip," had passed through Volta (near Los Banos and about 35 miles southwest of Modesto) "shortly after 3:30 o'clock this afternoon." The newspaper said the car was en route to Gilroy, and, eventually, San Francisco.
The Evening News, however, didn't have a reporter on the scene in Volta.
It based its story on information from secondhand sources, who reported the Flyer leaving Fresno, en route to Los Banos, at 2:30 p.m. that day.
Los Banos historian Charles Sawyer believes that had the Flyer passed through the city during the day, there would have been a crowd on hand to witness the event.
The 84-year-old Sawyer, however, never heard the story about the Flyer's brief visit to Los Banos until contacted by The Bee.
"I never heard any of the old-timers talk about it," he said, "and I don't recall anything being written about that, either."
In 1908, Sawyer said Los Banos was a "wooden building town" of maybe 400 people.
"It was the Wild West," he said.
There were no sidewalks or paved streets. But the city, which had incorporated a year earlier, did have a general store, Sawyer said, as well as a shop that carried a few automobile parts.
Sawyer said Bill Knight, known as "Buffalo Bill" because of his strong resemblance to "Buffalo Bill" Cody, was the first Los Banos resident to own a "motor car" -- a 1905 Oldsmobile.
Knight was a likely candidate to have driven the pilot car Shuster referenced in his trip diary, but Sawyer can't be sure. He said Knight, who died years ago, never mentioned anything about guiding the Flyer or the Great Race.
The 1908 contest, which was sponsored by the New York Times and La Matin, a French newspaper based in Paris, started in Times Square and ended in Paris, outside the offices of La Matin.
In addition to San Francisco, major stops included Albany, N.Y.; Chicago; Seattle; Valdez, Alaska; Japan; the Russian cities of Vladivostok, Omsk, Moscow and St. Petersburg; and Berlin.
Shuster covered more than 22,000 miles in the Flyer, traveling over three continents.
He completed the race in 169 days -- still a world's record. No one ever attempted such an undertaking again -- until this year.
Great Race II will be run beginning May 30 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the event.
When run the first time, the race began in February.
Organizers and participants in the original race favored a winter start under the mistaken belief they would be able to drive their cars across the frozen Bering Strait.
Instead, the cars had to loaded onto steamships for the Pacific Ocean crossing.
Sorry, Los Banos.
History won't be repeating itself.
The 2008 race route avoids most of the United States, running across the bottom of Canada to Vancouver.
One more difference.
The cars will be loaded onto 747 jumbo jets, rather than steamships, for the Pacific crossing.
Time marches on.
Mike Mooney's column appears Fridays in Local News. He can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2384.