It was now 1876 and Abe Edgington was the pride of Governor Stanford’s stable. Although Stanford was actually no longer the Governor, people continued to address him as that. Abe was a stunning iron grey in color, 16 hands tall and weighed about 1050 pounds. Yet his Morgan blood was very evident, he was deep bodied and muscular, very upheaded and wonderfully balanced with perfect propotions. He posessed all the style and elegance of the Black Hawk family, and would naturally turn heads whenever Stanford drove by. However, being naturally a man of great purpose and energy, and his health from driving his horses wonderfully improved, he was not content to idle his time away as a country gentleman. Stanford always thought big, and having become fascinated with the gait, speed, and motion of his horses, he now wanted to breed trotting racehorses. He believed that he now understood something about the mechanics of motion, and to his mind, the secret of success in developing a really fast horse lay in teaching them speed while they were very young .
Stanford purchased 650 acres of the historic Rancho San Francisquito which had been originally granted to Antonio Buelna in 1839. He named the property Palo Alto, meaning “tall tree,” after a huge redwood that grew along the banks of San Francisquito Creek, which ran through the property. Later he added more than 8,000 acres of adjoining properties, and here he began to build his Palo Alto Stock farm.
He decided at once to employ breeding and training experiments of his own, hiring the noted trainer Charles Marvin in 1878. Occident and Abe Edgington were still at Sacremento when Marvin first arrived but Stanford had them brought to Palo Alto so Marvin could start working with them and implement Stanford’s new training theories. Then Stanford began his breeding experiments with an interest in the Morgan stallion Fred Low #605, another son of old St. Clair #48. Fred Low was foaled in 1864 and bred by George Ingalls of Sacramento, CA. Fred Low’s dam was Lady Ross, a granddaughter of Black Hawk #20; second dam a daughter of Neave’s Cassius Clay Jr. # 2148. Fred Low had received first premium at the California State Fair as a yearling in 1865, and again in 1870 and 1871. Leland had several daughters of St. Clair, as well as some mares of Clay and Black Hawk lines, and he bred several of these mares to Fred Low.
Soon Stanford was ready to resume his experiments on the mechanics of motion and advised Muybridge to be ready. Despite the difficulties of his murder trial, Muybridge had remained a close friend of the Stanford family and was a frequent guest. He had captured many scenes from the Governor’s mansion in Sacramento which later proved valuable in restoring it to the museum which may still be seen today.
In a rare 1872 photo, Muybridge captured young Leland Stanford Jr. looking on while his mother, Jane Stanford, center, plays billiards with her sister.
Now his attention turned to Palo Alto. A great experiment was planned for June 1878 which would be conducted on the training track at Palo Alto. Stanford submitted the problem to his railroad engineers as to how to devise a means to trip the shutters so as to enable Muybridge to capture multiple rapid photo frames in sequence. The first camera to have an automatic exposure system was not developed until 1938 and it was another 30 years before the became widespread which made the experiments of Stanford and Muybridge all the more remarkable. Since there was no way at this time for a single camera to capture such a performance, they set up 12 cameras. Stanford paid for and supplied all the equipment, as well as the time and expertise of his railroad engineers. He ordered the finest cameras from New York and lenses from London. The photographic genius of Muybridge was required to bring Stanford’s vision to fruition.
Accordingly, the surface of the track was sifted with lime to make it appear completely white and provide better contrast for the photographs. The shed housed the 12 cameras, as well as a dark room which allowed Muybridge to develop the pictures immediately. On the opposite side of the track, a backdrop was set up of whitewashed canvas painted with evenly spaced vertical black lines 21 inches apart. Another smaller screen below painted
Abe Edgington driven by Charles Marvin, showing all four feet off the ground, photo by Muybridge
with horizontal lines 4 inches apart showed the number of inches the horses feet were above the ground. Charles Marvin would guide the sulky so the left wheel would go between two wooden slats set up with trip wires to the shutters running across. The wires were above the surface only between these wooden slats where the sulky wheel would pass, and the remaining wires across the track were set into underground tubes to prevent any interference or friction with the track surface As the wheel went over the delicate wires, completing the electrical circuit, the shutters would fire in quick succession, and could easily be heard by the spectators, adding to the impressiveness of the scene. Afterward, Muybridge would be able to develop the photos within about 20 minutes and lay them out for the crowd to admire.
These experiments were a huge success and many variations of them would occur during the next year. Muybridge was now in great demand for lectures, and indulgently, Stanford allowed him to keep the cameras and equipment and to patent his ideas although he had supplied the original idea of capturing the horse’s true motion, provided the models for the photos and the engineers to work out the mechanical obstacles and paid for everything.
Charles Marvin, meanwhile, began to train Abe Edgington and Occident according to Stanford’s new theories. On his arrival, Abe worked a mile for him in 2:22 and Occident in 2:19, but it seemed the more he tried to use Stanford’s methods, the slower the horses became. Later, Marvin realized this was because he did not really understand the method and how to properly employ it. Stanford’s plan consisted of giving the horses short quick brushes to build up their speed, and later Marvin came to understand that an older, more mature horse cannot stand as much sharp work as a younger horse, and he was giving them too much of it, causing their speed to deteriorate. Abe’s best effort before Marvin arrived had been to win a match of $10,000 in a race against Defiance in 1875. He was never able to better the training time of 2:22 in a race however, and his official record under Marvin came later in 1878 while winning a race at Santa Clara in straight heats against Doty, Coquette, and Frank Ferguson, with a time of 2:23 3/4. Occident beat Judge Fullerton in a race at Sacramento later that year with the best heat in a time of 2:22. Marvin always believed Abe Edgington was actually the better race horse of the two, but since both were “made” horses when they came into his hands, he was unable to improve their records. Stanford believed that if they had been given the advantage of learning his system when they had been young horses, their speed would have been much greater. This was doubtless true as Stanford’s Palo Alto stars were later very successful.
Next: Further photographic experiments, and Stanford’s Palo Alto stock farm
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© 2016, Brenda L. Tippin. Please do not copy without permission