The era of auto buggies and fancy carsPublished 9:19am Friday, January 28, 2011
Column: Between the Corn Rows
Not long ago Dennis Brue brought a book to the newsroom that could set some kind of record for its size. This book, “Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942, 3rd Edition,” has 1,616 pages and weighs at least 6 pounds. It’s produced by Krause Publications of Iola, Wis. Iola, by the way, is somewhat located between Stevens Point and Green Bay, Wis. Yes, the 1805 in the title is correct.
In this book is information and photos based on nearly all the automobile brands and models ever produced in the U.S. Some of these brand names like Ford, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Dodge, Buick and Chevrolet are still very active parts of American life. However, there’s a wild multitude of other autos from the past that have just faded away. Those other vehicles ranged from a one-of-a-kind model to thousands produced, like Studebaker, Nash, DeSoto, Hudson and Reo that are now antiques and collector favorites.
One part of this book has a geographical index where specific makes of these pioneer autos originated.
Before I follow up on this detail, here’s a commentary about those early horseless carriages. They were created by folks once called “shade tree mechanics,” blacksmiths and just plain tinkerers. These men had hopes of cashing in on a new phase of transportation by converting carriages and buggies into vehicles with gasoline or steam-powered engines. Some of their creations were like buggies mounted on bicycle wheels and frames with some sort of crude drive systems. Anyway, the intention was to make a change in horsepower and put the hay eaters out to pasture.
There are listings in this book for Austin and Owatonna. The Austin listing is for the Walter vehicle that was conceived about 1901. Three vehicles from that same era are listed for Owatonna: Ames, Owatonna and Thiem. Nothing really evolved from the attempts to create these gas buggies.
Down in Iowa the auto buggy situation is a little different. This book has two photos of the Colby cars. The Colby firm reportedly made more than 550 vehicles between 1911 and 14 in Mason City, Iowa. Just one Colby still exists and is on display in the Kinney Pioneer Museum near the Mason City Airport.
Also pictured and described in this book is what may be one of the most unusual historical vehicles in the nation, the 110-year-old Frazee runabout auto. This small gem of an auto was created by jeweler George D. Frazee in Osage, Iowa. The Frazee is the first auto made in Iowa. The jeweler made all parts of the auto except the wheels and tires and had some help from a foundry in Osage. The Frazee is one of the oldest still operating vehicles in the United States. It’s also the first gasoline-powered car and 10th vehicle licensed in Iowa.
This car with a right-side lever or tiller instead of a steering wheel and seating for four people is the star of Osage’s Fourth of July parades. For those who want to see the Frazee, it’s reportedly on display at Cedar Valley Memories west of Osage on Iowa Highway 9 on weekends during the summer months.
Dennis also provided what appears to be a magazine, but is actually the program for the sixth annual Geneva Concours d’Elegance held on Aug. 22, 2010, in Geneva, Ill. This city is located just to the west of Chicago.
The program explains this event with, “concours d’elegance had its beginnings in France in the late 1920s. It literally means competition of elegance. Elegant automobiles were displayed with models wearing couture fashions.” In reality, this fancy show is based on fully restored vehicles of past years. And for the 2010 show the Geneva event had is emphasis on Cadillacs and LaSalles.
The featured auto in this program is the 1927 Cadillac Victoria Coupe now owned by Bill and Virginia Hexmer of Washington, Ill. This is the same car once owned by Virginia Watland of Albert Lea and featured in the Tribune’s Lifestyles section for the March 21, 2010, issue.
To close off, here’s reminder that of Albert Lea’s best visual connections with historic automobiles of the past was at Kelsey’s museum once located southeast of the city just off U.S. Highway 65 at the present site of Ad-Art.
Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.