Telling America’s Story

Telling America’s Story


Charles Richard (C.R. to friends) Patterson was born into slavery in Virginia about 1833. A story shared verbally for more than a century becomes distorted and so separating fact from fiction becomes almost an impossibility. And so all that we know about Patterson’s early years is that his family escaped and found refuge in the area of Greefield, Ohio aroound the mid 1840s.

In Greenfield, C.R. Patterson apprenticed as a blacksmith for Dines & Simpson, a local carriage maker of regional renown. He was eventually promoted to foreman, a testimony to how well he was respected in the company and in the community.

In 1873, Patterson entered into a partnership with J.P. Lowe, another local carriage maker, and established J. P. Lowe & Company. In 1893 he bought out his partner and reorganized the company as  C.R. Patterson, Son & Company.

Before C.R’s death in 1910, his son Frederick began moving the company in a new direction as it was becoming increasingly obvious that the horse drawn carriage was soon to be replaced by the automobile. The company diversified into produucing auto bodies for companies as well as auto repair, including paint and upholstery.

After more than a year of research and development, in September 1915 the company moved one step closer to the modern era. The manufacturing of automobiles was added to their portfolio of services. The closed touring and convertible-top roadster models were, for the most part, assembled vehicles using parts from a variety of manufacturers as well as a few designed in house. None of the cars are known to exist but contemporary reports note that the cars were well built and durable with modern features such as an electric starter.

As production was limited, marketing was generally regional. The one major exception was advertisements placed African American–owned publications, something few automobile companies considered.

But the manufacturer that produced vehicles by hand could not profitably compete with the likes of General Motors and Ford. And an African American owned manufacturer faced additional obstacles including restricted access to financing, markets, and to marketing.

In 1918, the company suspended automobile production and expanded their vehicle-repair services. In 1920 the company was a gain restructured and was reorganized as the Greenfield Bus Body Company. The company profiited from the regional demand for school bus and specialty truck bodies that could be added to Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Corbit, Moreland, International and other truck chassis. Within a few years they had expanded the catalog options to included hearses, moving van, insulated van bodies, and trailers for semi tractors.

A study conducted in 1929 indicated that almost half of the school busses operating in Ohio used Greenfield bodies. And just as the ravages of the Great Depression began wreaking havoc on the American economy, the company turned its attentions to export. Shortly before the company closed its doors, a few buses were shipped to Haiti far away as Haiti for the first Haitian commercial bus line.

At Jim Hinckley’s America, we tell America’s story. The story of Patterson-Greenfield, the only Afrcan American owned automobile manufacturer, is just one chapter is this inspiring epic that is still being written as America is a work in progress.

History provides us with perspective and balance. The future gives us hope. But history strained and filtered to fit a perspective or agenda is akin to a jigsaw puzzle picture of a desert with clear skies that has had all all the blue pieces removed.

Telling People Where To Go

Telling People Where To Go

Florence Lawrence loved high performance vehicles and in 1912 acquired a Lozier. Photo Historic Vehicle Association

Florence Lawrence was a passionate automobilist as well as a very accomplished mechanic. And she was one of the first superstars of the silver screen. Of course, all of this made her a media sensation, especially since she lived in an era when women were not allowed to vote and the Jaxon produced in Jackson, Michigan was promoted as a car so easy to drive, a child or woman could operate it.

Scheduled for publication on Tuesday, August 2, 2022, the stroy of Florence Lawrence and the contributions of a few pioneering women to the development of the American auto industry in its infancy is the subject of episode two of Car Talk From The Main Street of America. Developed in partnership with producer and engineer Stan Hustad this new weekly audio podcast blends interesting and inspirational automotive history stories with a bit of road trip inspiration.

Rest assured that this new endeavor is not a replacement for the interactive audiopodcast travel program, Coffee With Jim, on Sunday morning. Instead it is an ehancement, if you will, of the Jim Hinckley’s America network with its diverse array of programs.

Telling people where to go is what I do. That and telling stories. And, of course, I always share the adventure.

In coming months we have an array of fascinating programs and presentations scheduled and planned. This is just a sample of what is coming down the pike.

In the formative years of the auto industry there were motorized bicycles and vehicles with four, six and even eight wheels. They were powered by steam, gasoline, kerosene, electricity, oversized clock springs and even compressed air. They began as a manifestation of eccentricity and scientific curiosity but soon morphed into side show curiosity and promotional gimmick. Then in the blink of an eye the automobile was a multimillion-dollar industry. Names became brands. Streetscapes were transformed with gas stations, garages, electric vehicle charging stations, billboards, and dealerships. Society was transformed. The world of transportation was transformed. Our lexicon was transformed with the addition of words like motel. Generational businesses were decimated. Time honored careers were transformed into historic footnotes.

In 1872 Studebaker based in South Bend, Indiana was billed as the largest manufacturer of wheeled vehicles in the world; wheelbarrows, freight wagons, prams, carriages, surreys, ambulances, buckboards. In 1897 the company built the first of several prototype horseless carriages, and in 1902 their first production models, an electric designed by Thomas Edison, rolled from the factory. The company continued producing horse drawn vehicles until 1920 albeit in ever smaller numbers as the company evolved into one of the largest automobile manufacturing companies in the United States.

In 1889, Elmer Apperson and his brother Edgar opened the Riverside Machine Works on Main Street in Kokomo, Indiana. As the brothers were talented machinists and blacksmiths, they prospered and development a reputation for quality workmanship. This was the reason that an eccentric Kokomo businessman named Elwood Haynes retained their services to install a Stintz marine gasoline engine in a carriage. That horseless carriage took to the street on the Fourth of July 1894. From these humble beginnings the Apperson Brothers Automobile Company was launched. Even though it is largely unknown today, the company continued producing automobiles until 1926, and pioneered an array of developments.

Clinton Woods lacked the business savvy needed to attract investors or successfully form a corporation. But he was a visionary obsessed with a simple idea; the horseless carriage was the future and the future of horseless carriages was electric vehicles. In 1899 financier Samuel Insull and several board members of Standard Oil purchased Woods designs and patents, and with an astounding $10 million in capital stock launched the Woods Motor Vehicle Company.

The company immediately began producing an electric Hansom Cab that sold well in New York and other cities. In 1900 they began producing a Victoria that was displayed at Chicago’s first auto show. It was here that the manager of the Honolulu Iron Works saw a Woods, placed an order, and imported the first automobile into Hawaii.

The company enjoyed moderate success even though the electric vehicle was being quickly eclipsed by gasoline powered vehicles. But the companies crowning achievement was the Woods Dual Power introduced in the summer of 1916. The car used a Woods designed four-cylinder engine as an auxiliary to the electric motor. At speeds under 15 miles per hour, the gasoline engine idled and the car was driven by the electric motor. Faster speeds were obtained by using the gasoline engine with the electric motor as an auxiliary. The Woods Dual Power was a hybrid!

Alexander Winton established the Winton Bicycle Company in 1891, and five years later took his first experimental horseless carriage for a spin. On March 1, 1897, he organized he Winton Motor Carriage Company, and to promote his new vehicle, proceeded to drive from Cleveland, Ohio to New York City. By 1899, with the production of 100 vehicles, he became the largest manufacturer of horseless carriages in America. That was also the year he turned away a young mechanic as he was turned off by his ego and launched a rivalry that would last for years. That mechanic was Henry Ford.

Milton Reeves Octoauto. Photo authors collection

Winton played a pivotal role in the launching of one of America’s most famous automobile manufacturers. In 1898 car number twelve was sold to James Ward Packard who proved to be a very dissatisfied customer. During the drive from Cleveland to his home in Warren, Ohio, his new machine broke down numerous times and was eventually towed by a team of horses. Packard confronted Winton and made several suggestions for improvements. Winton was heard to say, “Mr. Packard, if you are so smart, why don’t you make a car yourself.” And so, Mr. Packard launched the Packard Automobile Company in 1899.

The establishment of automobile companies in the first years of the 20th century was a tsunami. But the market was very finite. This and a major economic recession in 1907 decimated the industry. An increased demand for vehicles, advancements in production and a growing middle class fueled another gold rush in the industry before WWII. The post war recession and the growing dominance of major manufacturers including General Motors, Ford, Hudson, Nash, Studebaker, and Packard forced many companies to close or merge. And then came the Great Depression, and the industry that was birthed with such promise for the independent thinker was forever transformed. Before the launching of Tesla by Elon Musk, only one man was able to successfully launch an American automobile manufacturing company after 1925 – Walter Chrysler.

The Glory of Eccentricity

An odd idea from the fertile imagination of Milton Reeves. Photo authors collection

Milton O. Reeves was not a man without imagination. He was a modestly successful businessman. He was a visionary of sorts. He was also a man with steadfast determination not afraid of ridicule or derision. This is a particularly desirable quality if you intend to manufacture and market an automobile that is a manifestation of your eccentricity.

Reeves was born on a farm in Rush County, Indiana on August 25, 1864. Even as a child, in his imagination devices were conceived to save time or labor, or to streamline a process.

Fast forward to 1879. While working at a sawmill in Columbus, Indiana, Reeves noted that if the speed of the saws could be controlled in a uniform manner there would be a reduction of waste which in turn would result in increased profits. This would also curtail the need for a large workforce. And so, he devised a variable speed transmission that utilized a series of tapered pulleys.

Marshal, Milton’s brother, was also a successful inventor as well as businessmen. In 1869 he had patented an improved version of the standard corn plow, and in 1875 launched the Hoosier Boy Cultivator Company in partnership with his father and an uncle.

Milton’s variable speed transmission piqued their interest and in 1888 the Reeves brothers purchased the Edinburg Pulley Company and renamed it the Reeves Pulley Company. In a moment of insightful brilliance Milton Reeves devised a promotional idea for the company that was linked to the bicycling mania that had become a national obsession in the early 1890s. In 1896 he introduced a motorcycle powered by a Sintz engine coupled to a Reeves variable speed transmission that was the Reeves Pulley Company’s most popular product. This seemed to have inspired Milton Reeves. The following year he introduced a four-wheel horseless carriage with the same mechanical components.

However, the transmission he had hoped to promote through the endeavor was lost in the public outcry over noise and the horses that were terrorized by the vehicle as Reeves drove the streets of Columbus, Indiana. Undaunted Reeves devised two innovations that he hoped would resolve these issues, and perhaps, become marketable commodities.

The first was a muffler, an ingenious round metal box that housed a set of tubes with holes that dramatically curtailed noise. Reeves and his brother patented the device. It was the first muffler designed specifically for automobiles in 1897.

Milton Reeves second idea was nothing short of bizarre. He purchased a life-sized papier-mache horse that was being used to promote a blacksmith shop, cut it off at the front shoulders and mounted it on the front of the vehicle. The thought was that this would curtail the nervousness of horses. As if that was not odd enough, Reeves used the hollow horse neck to house the gasoline tank. The muffler stayed, the horse head was discarded, and the car was given a polished ebony body in late 1897.

The Reeves Motocycle garnered a surprising amount of press, and even more surprisingly, the company received unsolicited orders for five vehicles. The first two vehicles used the two-cylinder, two cycle, six horsepower Sintz Gas Engine Company engine and double chain drive unit coupled to the Reeves variable speed transmission. The other three, however, utilized an air-cooled engine designed by Milton Reeves. After filling the orders, the company announced that they would not continue producing automobiles but would instead focus on the manufacture of the Reeves transmissions and motors only. This, however, was not the end of Milton Reeves automotive ventures.

Milton Reeves Octoauto. Photo authors collection

In late 1905, Alexander Y. Malcomson ordered an entire year’s production (500 units) of air-cooled engines for an automobile manufacturing company that he was launching in Detroit. His Aerocar venture proved to be short lived and so Reeves found himself with controlling interest in a moribund company. Undaunted Reeves began cobbling together a variety of cars; some with shaft drive, some chain drive and even a high wheeler marketed as a Go Buggy in 1907 offered at $450 without a body.

The final chapters in Reeves automotive endeavors were truly unusual. After manufacturing a variety of vehicles and evaluating automobiles currently on the market, he had determined that riding comfort, and tire life, would be improved by moving beyond the industry standard of four wheels. The first endeavor was the Octoauto built from a highly modified Overland chassis. The eight-wheeled oddity on a 180-inch (457-cm) wheelbase was finished for display at the inaugural 1911 Indianapolis 500.

Reeves honestly felt that the concept was marketable. “The eight-wheel concept is applicable to any vehicle. Therefore, if interested contact any automobile manufacturer or myself.” This is the opening for a promotional brochure published for the debut.

For obvious reasons, the project ended with the single prototype. And so, Reeves set out to build the Sextoauto, a six wheeled vehicle. Two were built. The first was the Octoauto with one front axle removed. The second was manufactured on a modified Stutz chassis and promoted as a luxury car with variable speed transmission. There was even an abbreviated promotional tour that included a cross-country jaunt. The endeavor was as successful as the Octoauto.

Reeves, the first patent for an automotive muffler, the Octoauto and Sextoauto are today forgotten chapters in the history of the automobile industry. They are examples of the stories that I like to share in features written for Motoring NZ. These are the type of stories that add a bit of seasoning to Jim Hinckley’s America.

Inspiration In A Life Well Lived

Inspiration In A Life Well Lived

J Walter Christie pioneered the use of front wheel drive in the development of his race cars. Who remembers Mr. Christie today?

He never complained and refused to see himself as disabled. He perfected the electric razor, developed a balancing mechanism for steam turbines, and transformed the Perfect Circle corporation into the largest manufacturer of piston rings in the world. Perhaps his most transformative contribution was the invention of cruise control. His was a life well lived. But the inspiration comes from knowing that Ralph Teetor was blind. He had been injured as a child, and as a result one year later he lost his sight.

Charles Richard Patterson created a profitable but small business empire in Greenfield, Ohio. His success becomes all the more amazing when one considers that he was born into slavery on a Virginia plantation in 1833. Historians are unsure how he came to live in Greenfield, a hotbed of abolitionist activity before the Civil War. There is a possibility that his freedom had been purchased, but a number of African Americans in town had escaped slavery.

He apprenticed in a blacksmith shop that also was engaged in carriage and wagon making. In 1873, he formed a business partnership J.P. Lowe, another carriage maker in town, J.P. Lowe. In 1893 he bought out his partner and purchased the shop where he had begun his career,  and formed C.R. Patterson & Sons. By 1900 his carriage and wagon manufacturing and repair company was employing an integrated workforce of nearly fifty men. His sales catalog listed twenty-five models including doctor buggies, freight wagons, surreys, and closed carriages.

With Patterson’s death in 1910, his son Frederick took the helm of the company. He was college-educated and was the first African American athlete to play football at Ohio State University. He was also the vice president of the National Negro Business League that had been founded by Booker T. Washington. He also charted a new course for the company with diversification that included repair and services for automobiles.  The first ad for auto repair services appeared in the local paper in 1913. The repainting of bodies and the reupholstering of interiors was the initial service offered. Then mechanics were hired and the company became a full service auto repair facility.

Resultant of the endeavors success, in 1915 C.R. Patterson & Sons began manufacturing automobiles. Advertisement announced the availability of the Patterson-Greenfield automobile at a factory sales price of $685. “Our car is made with three distinct purposes in mind. First — It is not intended for a large car. It is designed to take the place originally held by the family surrey. It is a 5-passenger vehicle, ample and luxurious. Second — It is intended to meet the requirements of that class of users, who, though perfectly able to spend twice the amount, yet feel that a machine should not engross a disproportionate share of expenditure, and especially it should not do so to the exclusion of proper provisions for home and home comfort, and the travel of varied other pleasurable and beneficial entertainment. It is a sensibly priced car. Third — It is intended to carry with it (and it does so to perfection) every conceivable convenience and every luxury known to car manufacture. There is absolutely nothing shoddy about it. Nothing skimp and stingy.”

The company continued producing and manufacturing horse drawn vehicles, but the focus was increasingly shifted toward the manufacture of automobiles even though sales were less than anemic. Orders began to come in, and C.R. Patterson & Sons officially entered the ranks of American auto manufacturers. Over the years the company diversified offerings to include coupes and sedans, and in 1918, a stylish “Red Devil” speedster. The vehicles were powered by a 30-horsepower four cylinder engine supplied by Continental in Muskegon, Michigan. They also featured a full floating rear axle, cantilever springs, electric starting and lighting, and a split windshield that opened for ventilation. Information is scant but apparently owners were very satisfied with the quality and durability of the cars.

Small independent manufacturers, even those that offered a quality product, were challenged to compete with larger companies that continued to develop improved means of mass production. The problems were magnified with severe post WWI economic recession. As the profit margin on each Patterson-Greenfield automobile was low, the company was poorly positioned to weather the storm. In late 1919 the C.R. Patterson & Sons company halted auto production. They reorganized to focus entirely on the repair of vehicles. Then in the early 1920s, the company diversified again and began building truck and bus bodies to be fitted on chassis made by other manufacturers. Then in 1930, in the dawning of the Great Depression, sales evaporated. Still, the company survived until 1939.

The Patterson family, a life well. The Patterson family, a story of inspiration.

Changing Times

Buffalo Bill Cody at the tiller of a 1904 Michigan

It was a time of incredible transition. In the Arizona territory Geronimo was being pursued by the United States Army. Meanwhile in Michigan, Ransom E. Olds was tinkering with contraptions that would soon contribute to one greatest societal changes in world history. A few years later, in 1892, he detailed a few of his endeavors, and his vision for the future, in an an interview published in Scientific American. He was quoted as saying about the automobile that, “…it never kicks or bite, never tires on long runs, and never sweats in hot weather. It does not require care in the stable and only eats while on the road.”

Peerless, a company that would rise to prominence as one of the nations leading manufacturers of luxury automobiles during the teens had its origins in the production of clothes wringers. With the explosion of bicycle popularity in the last decade of the 19th century, the company diversified production to include the two-wheelers for which America had developed an insatiable appetite.

Pierce-Arrow, another leader in the manufacture of American luxury cars during the teens, had as a cornerstone Heintz, Pierce & Munschauer, a manufacturer of iceboxes, birdcages, and other assorted household goods. As with Peerless, the manufacture of bicycles served as the interim step toward automobile production, and by the teens Pierce-Arrow challenged Rolls Royce for international dominance of the luxury automobile market. (more…)