Window to the Past

Early Motor Cars of the Delphos area


(Editor's note: Bob Holdgreve has compiled a brief history of early automobiles in Delphos area in a two-part series.)

OHIO CITY — John Lambert is said to have invented the first gasoline engine-powered automobile in the United States. The claim is validated by the Smithsonian Institute. Working at night in a workroom at his grain elevator, he invented a carburetor, and reduced a three-cylinder gas engine to one cylinder to lessen crankshaft failures. This engine was mounted on a three-wheeled buggy that was steered with a wooden arm.

This car did not have a reverse gear, but had two forward gears, 5 and 15 mph. On May 20, 1891, he took the car out for a test run. Later, after making some improvements, he again made a test run when he struck a tree stump and wrecked the car.

He then built a second car and on Oct. 1, 1891, its engine backfired and set the elevator on fire and destroyed both cars. He then moved to Anderson, Ind., where he manufactured Lambert cars, trucks, fire engines and tractors, and became Indiana's first millionaire.

— The Lima News July 5, 1992

DELPHOS — This 1902 Sears car has been restored and is on display at the Delphos Canal Commission on North Main Street. Alex Teman of Delphos acquired the car in 1945. Teman’s 1902 Sears has been to many parades and car shows over the years. The car has been displayed in Delphos, Bluffton, Spencerville, Kalida, Ohio City, Van Wert, Findlay, and Fort Wayne. An air-cooled two cylinder engine, with pistons measuring four and one-eights inches, powered the car. A simple design of the war is the way in which it transfers power to the rear wheels. There are three basic components: flywheel, countershaft with pulley, and chain drive to the ground wheels. The car has a dual exhaust system and looks more like a horseless carriage.

— The Delphos Herald July 25, 1984

LIMA — Around 1902, E.W. Cook of Lima, built his own automobile.

— Allen County Museum

VAN WERT — Noah Clifton built his first automobile at home. Later he had a factory to build automobiles. He was supposedly contacted by Henry Ford, who had ideas of a possible partnership. Clifton, as the story goes, was distrustful of the young Ford empire, and his doubts and suspicions quickly squashed any such development.

— The Delphos Herald

DELPHOS — Situated on North Main Street, is a machine and repair shop, known as the Delphos Machine Works, owned and operated by P.R. Mueller.

This industry is of great advantage to the manufacturers, mill owners and farmers as it furnishes a place where they can have their repair work done with neatness and accuracy.

In 1902 he added the manufacture of automobiles. With his superior knowledge of steam power, he has succeeded in perfecting a machine, propelled by steam, which is far superior to those which depend on gasoline or electricity for their motive power. It is not subject to the faults always found in those machines and can be generated by anyone, thus making them more desirable and less expensive to operate. He expected to increase this branch of his business and establish a factory in Delphos, second to none in the county.

— Delphos Herald, Nov. 21, 1902

PAULDING — Around 1900, stock was sold for the Paulding Motor Car Company. They intended to manufacture cars, but found it so complicated that they ended up being a dealer for Auburn Automobiles.

— History of Paulding County 1880-1920

LEIPSIC — The Koeb and Thompson Motors Co. manufactured a large five-passenger touring car which operates on a two-cycle, four-cylinder engine. Engine patents were obtained by them. The car had rear platform springing which was an innovation at that time.

— Putnam County History

DEFIANCE — The Turnbull Motor Truck and Wagon Co., 1917-1930 after reorganizing as the Defiance Motor Truck Co., built a short-lived 1923 passenger car.

— Defiance County History

NEW BREMEN — The Case Motor Car Co., 1910-1930, (no connection to the J.I. Case Tractor Co., Racine Wisconsin, which also built automobiles) offered two truck models in addition to its passenger cars.

There also was an Auglaize Motor Car Co. of New Bremen.

— Auglaize County History

DELPHOS — J.M. Thatcher owned the first car, the first auto sales business, and the first auto repair shop in Delphos. His first car was an E.M.F. He also had a Stanley Steamer automobile.

Compiled by Robert Holdgreve
Delphos Historical Society

May 22, 1999 Delphos Herald Newspaper

Early Automobiles


(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a continuation on the history of transportation researched by Robert Holdgreve.)

In the early 1900 Dr. Forbes, a brain specialist, wrote: "When these motor cars reach a speed of 80 miles per hour, they must drive themselves, for no human brain is capable of dealing with all the emergencies that may rise should that speed be maintained for any period worth thinking of. The human animal is not designed to travel at 80 miles per hour. Neither the brain nor the human eye can keep pace with it.

In 1905, the speed limit was usually 15 mph and in some places was 10 mph or less. Police on bicycles enforced the speed laws, back then.

J.M. "Bob" Thatcher owned the first car in Delphos and the first auto sales business and repair shop. His first car was an EMF, and he also had a Stanley Steamer.

Ulrich Best was the first automobile mechanic in Delphos, starting in 1912. He was self-taught. He said, "The factory put out books and you read how things were made and then you fixed them." Mr. Best said, "In those days when you sold a car, you had to teach them to drive it. Many a time I've had to take a man out in the country and turn him loose in a field until he got the feel of the car."

A first hand account from an owner of a 1916 Overland on how he started his car in the winter:

No. 1. Fill the radiator with boiling water to warm the engine a little.

No. 2. Open the brass petcocks on each cylinder and pour a few drops of gasoline into the engine, close the petcocks, retard the spark, (so the engine wouldn't kick backward and break your arm), and set the hand throttle.

No. 3. Vigorously crank the engine. If it coughed and seemed about to start, run like mad to the steering wheel to advance the spark and reset the throttle. At this point the engine usually stopped, so you had to start all over again.

No. 4. Finally, when you got the thing going, if snow was present, you might put chains on the rear wheels and you hoped to arrive at your destination without a breakdown. When you finally arrived, you had to cover up the engine with old quilts to keep it warm. If you stayed for more than an hour or so, you had to go out and start the engine again and let it run for a while to keep it from freezing.

(Do any of you old, old-timers remember this?)

The Electric Car

The electric car lacked the exciting performance of steam, but with its silence and absence of gear changing, it had the advantage of being the simplest to operate of any car on the road. Unfortunately, it had one great drawback which has not been overcome to this day; it is not feasible for a normally sized passenger car to carry more than 1,600 pounds of batteries, and the power these can deliver is limited. You can have high speed over a short range, (an electric car exceeded 65 mph in 1899, but only over one kilometer). A figure of 50 miles at 30 mph is about the best that can be hoped, for. The first electric vehicles to be made in any numbers were taxicabs. At the turn of the century, the largest builder of electric vehicles was the Columbus Automobile Co. of Hartford, Conn. They went to gasoline cars in 1907, and thereafter the best known American electric was the Detroit. It was popular with women drivers who appreciated its elegance, simplicity, and silence. The Detroit electric had five speeds forward and the same number in reverse. Operation was by a single pedal which increased the speed as it was released. The pedal was like an accelerator in reverse and when it was fully depressed the brakes came on. Maximum speed was 22 mph. In the 1920s sales of electric cars were down to a trickle. Electric cars had no Doble with which to go out in glory, although the Detroit lingered on until 1938, by which time, it had a Dodge hood and grill.

The Allen County Museum has on display a 1925 Milburn-White electric car.

If you think that the tilt steering wheel, the steering wheel lock, the car phone, four-wheel drive, diesel engine-powered passenger cars and a 12-cylinder engine that could be changed from 12 cylinders to six cylinders and back again are recent inventions, check the following.

A photo of a steering wheel that could be tilted up was dated 1916

A steering wheel lock is shown for 1913.
A car phone was available in 1919.

The first diesel-powered passenger car was a 1935 Auburn with a Cummings Diesel engine.

A 1917 Enger automobile engine could be changed from 12 cylinders to 6 cylinders and back again by a lever on the steering column.

A Model T automobile with a conversion kit for $195 that lets it be used as a tractor.

The above information was gathered from the following sources: The Delphos Herald, The Allen County Museum, "A Pictorial History of the Automobile" by Stern, "Cars of the Thirties" by Consumer Guide, "Those Wonderful Old Automobiles" by Floyd Clymer, and "Antique Cars" by Lord Montague.

Compiled by Robert Holdgreve
Delphos Historical Society

May 29, 1999 Delphos Herald Newspaper

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