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MailTribune.com
  • When did the first automobile come to Southern Oregon?

  • for the Mail Tribune
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  • for the Mail Tribune
    Some folks called it "Elwood's Pushmobile." That's because local jeweler and later optometrist Elmer Elwood had a lot of trouble getting his newly acquired car to start. Friends had to help him push it around.
    Elwood's car arrived on a train on April 30, 1903, according to files at the Southern Oregon Historical Society Research Library. Described as a Lambert Union that cost $1,250, it is considered to be the first privately owned car in Southern Oregon.
    A 2004 article written by historian Bill Miller for Senior Views, now on file at SOHS, tells how Elwood tried all summer to get his car started, without success. He finally had to order another engine. It arrived in October and he was able to get that one started. But winter rains had begun and roads became muddy, so Elwood had his car moved south, by train, to Chico, Calif.
    Bad luck followed. Next February the car caught fire and was damaged beyond repair.
    The first automobile to make an appearance in Southern Oregon did so four years earlier, according to Miller's article. When a circus came to town in summer 1899, it included a "sputtering automobile." The car would spring to life, move a few feet, stall, and then repeat the process. Many onlookers laughed at it.
    Another local resident, Albert C. Allen, believed he had the second Rogue Valley car, an Oldsmobile that he bought in 1906.
    "Allen's Oldsmobile was the popular one-cylinder, chain-drive, curved-dash 'Runabout' model," wrote Steve Wyatt in an SOHS column published in the Mail Tribune in 2004. "The stylistic curved-dash Olds is considered by many automotive historians to be the first low-priced, mass-produced car in the world. It was so successful that General Motors purchased the company in 1908 and continued to use the Oldsmobile name."
    Allen wrote a booklet in 1958 titled "Crater Lake and Its Legend" describing how he tried to drive that Olds to Crater Lake. He made it into the national park but not to the rim. The honor of reaching the rim fell to a man named Charlie True and his REO automobile in August 1907, according to a 2002 SOHS article in the Mail Tribune. It took days, but he made it.
    Potential car owners in the early 1900s faced many problems, such as dirt roads that were difficult to negotiate, especially during the rainy season, and an absence of gas stations, garages and/or mechanics.
    That began to change in 1906 when W.M. Hodson opened the valley's first garage, according to Miller's article. Soon there were a dozen cars in Jackson County. The age of the automobile was on its way.
    Cleve Twitchell is a retired Mail Tribune editor and columnist. E-mail him at clevelinda@msn.com.
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