March 7, 2001
The Bunion Derby! What a crazy idea! Itís even crazier that someone from Oklahoma actually won the race! What a story this is. I knew that this would be an Almanac story a year in advance! Who but professionals today would enter in a three-month odyssey stretching from coast to coast followed along the entire route by a giant Maxwell House coffee pot! I wonder if the Bunion Derby was the inspiration for that segment of Forrest Gump where Forrest is running back and forth across the country?
You can find out all you need to know about the Bunion Derby from the book:
Thomas, J. H. (1980). The Bunion Derby: Andy Payne and the Transcontinental Footrace. Oklahoma City: Southwestern Heritage Books.
There is also a smattering of information on the web, mainly very basic, general information.
Hello, I'm Steven Kite welcoming you to Oklahoma Audio Almanac where we turn the pages of history to bring you the stories of our state's past.
It was on this date in 1928 that approximately 199 runners lined up for the beginning of what came to be known as the "Bunion Derby." Dreamed up by sports promoter and entrepreneur C. C. Pyle, the Bunion Derby was a coast-to-coast footrace beginning in Los Angeles and ending in New York City. Corporate sponsors paid to advertise as the official product of the Bunion Derby, and photos, postcards, programs and other memorabilia were sold along the course of the race. C.C. Pyle wasn't the only one who stood to make money from the race; the first place winner was promised a $25,000.00 cash prize.
Huddled along the starting line that day were world class runners, amateurs and beginners. There were contestants from all over including the Philippines, Greece, Germany, Estonia and England, and then there was Andy Payne from Foyil, Oklahoma. Andy Payne was a farm boy who held a reputation as a good runner during his high school years. While visiting in California he heard about the race, begged and borrowed the $125.00 entrance fee and set about training.
The race started without mishap and the runners began their arduous journey. Almost from the first day, injuries began taking their toll on the contestants. The runners ran across Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and into Oklahoma. They ran through snow, sleet, rain, blistering heat, whatever the elements offered. Allowed a per diem food allowance the runners would often trot into cafes picking up sandwiches to go. As the group entered Oklahoma, Payne held a sizeable lead and was given a heroes welcome. By the time Payne reached Claremore, near his home town of Foyil, crowds of thousands lined the streets, bands played, the governor and Will Rogers appeared, and Payne was cheered on throughout the state. By Ohio Payne held a strong lead and never looked back.
Once in New York City, the rag tag band of runners, now narrowed to a field of fifty-five, stumbled the last 25 miles around the track at the Madison Square Gardens. On May 24, 1928, two months and 20 days after beginning, Andy Payne from Foyil, Oklahoma was declared the winner. After all was totaled, Payne had run 3,423 miles in 573 hours, four minutes and thirty-four seconds. Claiming his prize money of $25,000.00, Andy headed back for Oklahoma, paid off his fatherís farm and married his high-school sweetheart. When asked to what he attributed his victory, Payne simply replied, "cornbread."
I'm Steven Kite.
The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a production of the OSU Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.