Jack Cannonball May
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
by Jack May
Today we have been running for exactly 21 minutes, 36 seconds, down the lime rock road on Prairie Hill farm. My face scans to the left as usual as we search for a couple of newborn fawns we saw yesterday amid 300-year-old live oaks. This is a typical morning for us.
My own date and place of birth are listed as August, 1957, Switzerland. I was designated with a Case Number (#268417). Today, birth data are stored in computer databases, but then a careful human recorded our details in ink on a ledger.
I was built to have a specialized, precise and rugged character. After more than a week undergoing a battery of tests and examinations to determine my soundness and health, I was officially certified as “Superlative” and released from the clinic to await my master. Our adventures were about to begin!
Four years earlier, my creators were not well known. That year, the British mounted an expedition to be the first to summit the tallest mountain on earth—Mount Everest in Nepal. The peak, about 29,035 feet above sea level, had remained unconquered despite several serious attempts to scale its heights. As a promotion, my creators designed a special edition to assist in this heroic undertaking. History records their success when Edmund Hillary reached the summit in May of 1953 with a Rolex Explorer on his wrist!
The next year Rolex promoted the brand to leaders of the U.S. Army. Their approach was not subtle in advertising our advantages and superiority over the competition. We were absolutely waterproof and shockproof, withstanding the harshest environments from mountain tops to deep under the sea. We were incredibly accurate and absolutely dependable, attributes held in high regard by the Army—in fact, essential to the mission of the Army.
In the fall of 1954, Rolexes travelled to the U.S. Military Academy for display to cadets in a show for civilian clothes and military tailors. The actual Hillary Explorer was displayed on a card table, along with a few new Explorers and several other Rolex models. Cadets were invited to pick up and inspect that famous watch. Although I was yet to be born, my future master was one of those cadets. At that moment, he pledged to one day possess an Explorer of his own.
He achieved his goal at the end of the summer in 1957. Instead of $175, the retail price of a Rolex Explorer, cadets could buy one of us for $84, a serious financial commitment for my master at that time. In addition to the features of the standard issue model, I was ordered with a special face with my name and the name of my master.
I was born with the standard-issue leather band. Still a West Point cadet of age 20, my master showered without removing me. Okay for me, but tough on the band. Soon, he replaced the leather with a metal band, befitting someone who never removes a “Superlative!”
Master became a lieutenant and paratrooper. On one jump, the jolt of the static line pulling out the chute snapped open the metal band. Flying through the air at 150 miles an hour, only his quick reactions saved me from plummeting to earth from 1,250 feet. Most certainly this would have been fatal, even for a tough customer as I. After that, the lieutenant switched to a nylon strap that can be snugged tight and go anywhere.
I was the official timer for the master when he raced in the infamous Cannonball Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash official series, a cross-country auto racing event. As we were approaching the finish in California, he glanced at my face frequently to confirm that we might have a world record. Thank goodness, I was spot on! We won and hold the New York City-to-Los Angeles official series record of 35 hours 53 minutes, an average of 83 miles an hour. Sometimes I don’t mind going fast!
We experienced many other adventures—Army Ranger and Mountain Schools with good awards, diving underwater in most of the oceans, lots of car racing and another national championship, mountain climbing, expeditions for The Explorers Club to Africa and the Amazon, big game hunting, business struggles up and down, loves lost and loves found, parties with friends, quiet times with good books, culinary adventures, art galleries, hard times and sweet times, and, ah, so many exotic automobiles.
If I had permission to relate all the walks holding hands with his best girl and all the loving and romance I have experienced close up, I could have a television reality show.
My master is a member of The Explorers Club in New York City. Once he had occasion to introduce me to the most famous of all my kin—the original model that made it to the top of the world on Mt. Everest. Sir Edmund Hillary was the master of the original of our clan. When my master asked him to display this esteemed iconic work of art, the most famous mountain climber of all history was unable to do so—his timepiece was in the museum. Nonetheless, I was pleased to have been shown off to this hero.
Master keeps me tight on his wrist with a nylon strap to this day, more than half a century later. Despite our ages, we have been active almost every day and remain in superb physical and mechanical condition. We still run together around the farm, past our home base at Xanadu. We run near the cenotaph plaque honoring the USMA boys of B-2, who long ago became men.
This Rolex Explorer watch can say for myself that I have been and continue to be a witness to a full and busy life. I do not simply tell time. I have dared my master to go faster, further, deeper and higher.
I tell the history of Jackson Campbell May, USMA ’58. My birth forms (Case #268417) are still on file, the hand-printed ink now fading with age. Approaching two billion seconds since my creation, I am still ticking on and anticipating our next adventure with excitement!
Permissions for photo of Tenzing & Hillary.
Photograph uploaded by Dirk Pons, grandson of John Henderson. John was a tea planter in Darjeeling, and his wife Jill the secretary of the mountain club, so involved with the Sherpas and the provisioning of the various climbs. Link: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/