Chapter XXIV. On the Track
 

"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Damon. "Will the electric trolley pull us to a charging station?"

"No, we'll not need to go to a station," answered the youth. "If we can get my car to the trolley tracks I can charge my battery from there. And I think we can push the auto near enough. It's down hill, and I've got a long wire so we won't have to go too close."

"Good!" cried Mr. Sharp. "But attach the rope to the front of the car, Tom. Mr. Damon and I will pull it. You'll have to ride in it to steer it."

"We can take turns at riding," was Tom's answer, for he did not want his companions to do all the work.

"Nonsense! You ride," said Mr. Damon. "You're lighter than we are, and can steer better. It won't be any trouble at all to pull this car down hill."

It proved to be an easy task, and in a short time the "dead" auto was near enough to the electric line to permit Tom to run his charging wire over to it.

"Why bless my soul!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, looking up. "There's no overhead trolley wire. The car must run on storage batteries."

"Third rail, more likely," was the opinion of Mr. Sharp and so it proved.

"I can charge from either the third rail or the trolley wire," declared Tom, who was insulating his hands in rubber gloves, and getting his wires ready. In a short time he had the proper connections made, and the much-needed current was soon flowing into the depleted battery, or batteries, for there were several sets, though the whole source of motive power was usually referred to as a "storage battery."

"How long will it take?" asked Mr. Damon.

"About two hours," answered the lad. "We'll probably have to disconnect our wires several times, whenever a trolley car comes past. By my system I can recharge the battery very quickly.

"Do you suppose the owners of the road will make any objection?" asked the balloonist.

"I'm going to pay for the current I use," explained the young inventor. "I have a meter which tells how much I take."

The hum of an approaching car was heard, and Tom took the wires from the third rail. The car came to a stop opposite the automobile, the passengers, as well as the crew, looking curiously at the queer racing machine. Tom explained to the conductor what was going on, and asked the fare-collector to notify those in charge of the power station that all current used would be paid for. The conductor said this would be satisfactory, he was sure, and the car proceeded, Tom resuming the charging of his battery.

Allowing plenty of reserve power to accumulate, and making sure that the gauge would not stick again, and deceive him, the owner of the speedy electric was soon ready to proceed again. They had been delayed a little over three hours, for they had to make several shifts, as the cars came past.

They reached their shore cottage late that night, and, after seeing that the runabout was safely locked in the big shed where the submarine had been built, they all went to bed, for they were very tired.

Tom sent word, the next day, to the managers of the race, that he would be on hand at the time stipulated, and announced that he had made part of the trip, as required, under the power of the auto itself.

The next day was spent in overhauling the machinery, tightening up some loose bearings, oiling different parts, and further charging the battery. Tires were looked to, and the ones on the spare wheels were gone over to prepare for any emergency that might arise when the race was started.

On the third day, Tom, Mr. Sharp and Mr. Damon, leaving the cottage completed the trip to Havenford, Long Island, where the new track had been constructed.

They reached the place shortly before noon, and, if they had been unaware of the location they could not have missed it, for there were many autos speeding along the road toward the scene of the race, which would take place the following day.

Several electric cars passed Tom and his friends, whizzing swiftly by, but the young inventor was not going to show off his speed until the time came. Besides, he did not want to run any risks of an accident. But some of the contestants seemed anxious for impromptu "brushes," and more than one called to our hero to "speed up and let's see what she can do." But Tom smiled, and shook his head.

There were many gasolene and some steam autos going out to the new track, which was considered a remarkable piece of engineering. It was in the shape of an octagon, and the turns were considered very safe. It was a five mile track, and to complete the race it would be necessary to make a hundred circuits.

Through scores of autos Tom and his friends threaded their way, the young inventor keeping a watchful eye on the various types of machine with which he would soon have to compete.

There were many kinds. Some were larger and some smaller than his. Many obviously carried very large batteries, but whether they had the speed or not was another question. Some, in spurts, seemed to Tom, to be fully as fast as his own, and he began to have some doubts whether he would win the race.

"But I'm not going to give up until the five hundredth mile is finished," he thought, grimly.

They were now in sight of the track, and noted many machines speeding around it.

"Go on in and try your car, Tom," urged Mr. Sharp.

"Yes, do," added Mr. Damon. "Let's see how it travels."

"I will, after I notify the proper officials that I have arrived," decided the lad.

The formalities were soon complied with. Tom received his entry card, after paying the fee, made affidavit that he had completed the entire trip from home under his own power, save for the little stretch when the car was pulled, which did not count against him, and was soon ready to go on the track. Only electric cars were allowed there.

As the young inventor guided his latest effort in the machine line onto the big track there were murmurs of surprise from the throngs.

"That's a queer machine," said one.

"Yes, but it looks speedy," was another's opinion.

"There's the car for my money," added a third, pointing to a big red electric which was certainly whizzing around the track. Tom noted the red car. Behind it was a green one, also moving at a fast rate of speed.

"Those will be my nearest rivals," thought the lad, as he guided his car onto the track. A moment later he was sending the auto ahead at moderate speed, while the other contestants looked at the new arrival, as if trying to discover whether in it they would have a dangerous competitor.