The 1928 Footrace across America
On March 4, 1928, 199 men lined up in Los Angeles, California, to participate in a 3,400-mile trans-continental 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 life, from immigrants to millionaires, with a peppering of star international athletes who Pyle included for publicity purposes. For eighty-four days, the men competed in this part footrace and part Hollywood production that included 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 of a better future and dreams of fame, fortune, and glory, the bunioneers embarked on and exhaustive and grueling journey that challenged their physical and psychological endurance to the fullest while Pyle struggled to keep his cross-country road show afloat.
Praise for Bunion Derby
“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
“…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.”
Louis Perrella, #74
In 2007, I published my book about the 1928 bunion derby. On page 94, I included a photo with the following heading: “Left to right, Andy Payne, #43, Patrick De Marr, #188, and Bill Kerr #7 finishing in El Reno, Oklahoma.”
The runner on the right is actually Louis Perrella, #74. The number 4 is mostly covered by his hand. His granddaughter contacted me and let me know that I had mislabeled the photo. So, I’m setting the record straight.
Louis Perrella was an iron tough bunioneer who came on strong in the last month of the race to finish in 7th place and took home $1000 in prize money.