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Bunion Derby: The 1928 Footrace Across America Hardcover – October 15, 2007

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Editorial Reviews


"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"

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The story of Charley Pyle's 3,400-mile cross country race and extravaganza and the men who endured 84 days of mountains, deserts, mud, and sandstorms to compete for a $25,000 grand prize.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University of New Mexico Press; First Edition edition (October 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826343015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826343017
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #893,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I've been in love with the running for over forty years. The process of running on my own two feet has a primal, and, at times, spiritual appeal to me. I've competed in hundreds of races from ultra-marathons to five-kilometer runs. I've experienced the proverbial runner's high, but nothing I've done comes close to the Herculean effort required by the men who ran in two long forgotten footraces across America, nicknamed the bunion derbies. These races took place in the twilight of the 1920's when the nation was a buzz with Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic and all records seemed there to be broken.

For the past fourteen years, I've studied and written about these epic footraces. My first book about the 1928 race--Bunion Derby: The 1928 Footrace Across America--was published in 2007. My second about the 1929 race--The 1929 Bunion Derby: Johnny Salo and the Great Footrace across America--was published this spring. The runners who competed in these trans-America races pushed themselves to the point of physical and mental collapse. Those that persevered to run the 3,500-mile distance across America are a constant reminder to me of the untapped sources of human potential that rest within each of us.

In my latest book, forty-three veterans from the first bunion derby return for a second try at trans-America racing. On March 31, 1929, these veterans joined thirty-four rookies in New York City for the start of the second and last Bunion Derby. Racing over mountains, and across deserts and prairies, the "bunioneers" pushed their bodies to the breaking point. The men averaged forty-six, gut-busting miles a day during seventy-eight days of non-stop racing that took them from New York City to Los Angeles in the waning months of the Roaring Twenties, just months before the Wall Street crash started the nation on its descent into the Great Depression.

The forty-three veterans dominated the race, after having learned hard-won lessons of pace, diet, and training during the first race. Among this group, two brilliant runners, Johnny Salo of Passaic, New Jersey and Pete Gavuzzi of England, emerged to battle for the $25,000 first prize along the mostly unpaved roads of 1929 America, with each man pushing the other to go faster as the lead switched back and forth between them. Chasing them relentlessly, was Eddie "the Sheik" Gardner of Seattle, an African American who showed remarkable courage as he faced down the endemic racism he encountered on a daily basis.

To pay the prize money, race Director Charley Pyle cobbled together a traveling vaudeville company, complete with dancing debutantes, an all-girl band wearing pilots' outfits, and blackface comedians, all housed under the massive show tent that Charley hoped would pack in audiences. This is the story of, arguably, the greatest long distance footrace of all time.


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. Clancy on November 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
What began as a quick browse for me became an adventure. I had expected a book which might appeal to distance runners only (a punishment to which I will never aspire). I found myself rooting for a number of the participants and marveling at their progress. There was little Olli Wanttinen at 4 feet nine inches; how many more steps must he have had to take to match the taller runners' strides. Fifteen-year-old T. Joseph Cotton, eldest of seven siblings, wanted the prize money to help feed his family. Then there was experienced competitor, Charles Hart, who, at age63, was two and three times the ages of most of the racers.

But this is more than just a book about running. Mr. Kastner has done a laudable job of portraying a fascinating, little known facet of American history. It is a literate account of one of the greatest publicity stunts from an age of outrageous stunts - of marathon dancing, goldfish swallowing, and flagpole sitting. There is all the pathos of an America rife with pockets of extreme poverty and hardship, class and color discrimination, optimism and perseverance.

The book is meticulously researched and generously illustrated with archival photographs. Several appendices tantalize with glimpses of future ultra races (post 1928). I hope another book will soon be forthcoming.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By G. K. Newell on November 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The 1920's are famous for grandiose stunts and promotions. One of the most arduous was the great bunion derby of 1928. Brainchild of promoter Charles C. Pyle, this was a foot race from California to New York, spotlighting the newly laid Route 66. This grueling race attracted trained athletes from across the United States and beyond. But most participants were amateurs, ill-suited to the trial before them. They came for the glory, or the thrill, or perhaps the $25,000 prize. Of the 199 starters an ama zing 55 men completed the race.

Kastner's account follows African American, Ed Gardner, through the torturous ordeal. This is history that reads like a novel - absorbing and well-paced. Kastner brings into sharp focus the motivation, the perseverance, the will, the grit that made Gardner a hero of his day.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Hilpert on December 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
How quickly we forget! I have been a lifelong student of American history and a casual runner for more than 20 years, yet, I had never heard of the 1928 "International Trans-Continental Foot Race," an epic, non-stop, 84-day road race covering 3400 miles from Los Angeles to New York City. By today's "ultra-marathon" standards, such a feat of endurance is inconceivable.

In his delightful book, "Bunion Derby," Charles Kastner has brought this remarkable race and its incredible participants back to life, helping to fulfill race referee Arthur Duffy's prediction that "...some day the public will come to realize that this cross country foot race is one of the greatest athletic achievements of the age."

Organized by sports promoter C.C. Pyle and his partner, football hero "Red" Grange, the race attracted 199 participants who competed for a First Prize of $25,000, a small fortune at the time. Each morning, the runners rolled off their metal cots, ran a race leg of 30-75 miles, scrounged for dinner, fell exhausted onto their cots, and woke up to do the whole thing over. Along the way, they had to overcome freezing temperatures, sprained ankles, bad food, assaults by hit-and-run drivers, and threats of violence against the African-American runners.

Could anyone today even imagine running from Los Angeles through the Mojave Desert, crossing the mountains of northern Arizona, and reaching the New Mexico border in twenty days? Throw in freezing rains, a 7400' elevation gain, and howling head winds and the feat becomes super-human.

Remarkably, 55 of the original 199 starters finished the race, even though many were simply amateur runners or not even runners at all. At least, not when they started.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Alan Duxbury on November 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a beautifully written and well-researched story, and to that extent it is a good book. Chuck and Mary Kastner are friends, and frequent visitors to our Bed & Breakfast, so I won't say any more about the book than "Buy it" you won't be disappointed!

The story on the other hand belongs not only to the book, but to American History. The racers formed a cross-section of American society, with some fascinating foreigners thrown in for good measure. The trials and tribulations of all the runners amazed me and their sheer persistence could not help but become fodder for the story. But more than that the story is of ordinary people whose characters and personalities were forever changed by their phenomenal efforts. When the leaders of the race cross into New York State, there is a gesture by the leading racer which brought tears to my eyes. I leave it to you to buy the book and read the story, and admire these Bunioneers.
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Format: Hardcover
Byline: The Book Reviewer (

Title of Book: The Bunion Derby

Author: Charles B. Kastner

Narrator: Andrew L. Barnes

Publisher: University of New Mexico Press

Date of Publication: 2015

Time: 6 hours and 36 minutes

“99 bottles of beer on the wall,
99 bottles of beer,
and if one of those bottles should happen to fall,
98 bottles of beer on the wall . . . “
- Drinking Song

The Bunion Derby, a timepiece of American history, tells the story of a footrace from San Francisco to New York City along Route 66 in 1928. But this was no ordinary footrace, advertising the newly built across-America roadway, the event would take 84 days, covering 3,400 miles “through extreme and varied terrain” including deserts, windstorms, mountains, rain and mud on a road that was largely hardbake and only paved in rare spots, for a grand prize of $25,000 ($3 - $4 million in todays monies). The event was an extravaganza, bigger than any Hollywood Production with a travelling carnival, convoy of cars and busses with 2 huge 24,000 lbs. busses for journalists and the organizers, a cast of sports stars, the promotion of products (the Maxwell House coffee company created the world's largest coffee pot serving 90 gallons of coffee a day, and paid $5,000 for the promotion), and a huge tent city was put up and taken down every day. A chronology of athletes, time and place, a retelling of each day includes a description of countryside and towns, who was ailing, who won that day and how many men were still in the race. The race began with 199 athletes, every day some of the racers would drop out, one got a note from his wife to get home, most had ailments (blisters, infections, shin splints) and fatigue.
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