Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


In 1908, you could purchase a Ford Runabout for $700 in Farmington. Used vehicles were usually half the price of a new one, if you could find one for sale.

According to Ralph Arnold, in 1908 the Talbott sisters of Douds advertised a 10-horsepower motor buggy or $465. It was pretty much a self-propelled buggy featuring traction in both rear wheels. A 2-passenger machine, there was no windshield, and nothing to protect riders from the elements. They promised to deliver it anywhere within a twenty-mile radius of Douds.

Earlier that year, Henry Busey created quite a stir around Douds one Sunday morning when he went out "for a spin" in his new horseless carriage. These vehicles were rare in Van Buren County. LeRoy Fickle of Stockport was injured in a buggy wreck, when his horses stampeded as a result of a motor vehicle attempting to pass them.

Automobiles had been around less than twenty years, and were hardly the vogue. Yet, many people were attempting to build their own vehicles in their garages. Both Farmington and Bonaparte at one time manufactured a few vehicles for sale. During the next ten years, a thousand or more competitors across the country sought to design an original automobile.

When the Haynes Model 27 was made in Mason City, Woodrow Wilson was president, the first ships chugged through the Panama Canal, and World War I was still in the future. The company went bankrupt in 1925, but at least one Model 27 survived and spent its next 80 years in Mason City.

The car, a 1914 model owned by Lucy Schmidt, might be the only one of its kind in the world. Antique car enthusiasts have searched and advertised in vain for another. It is currently owned by a collector in St. Louis.

According to registration records, John O’Leary of Mason City purchased the car in 1915 for about $2,800. Howard O’Leary later owned the car and sold it to the Schmidts. In the 1980s, the Automobile Club of America gave the Schmidts a top national prize for presenting a non-restored vehicle, earning them a trip to Hershey, PA.

Along with the 1911 Oldsmobile Limited, Haynes Number 27 was the largest car made during the era, weighing in at more than 4,000 pounds. It could seat seven, with two sitting on fold-up seats in the back. It had an electric gearshift with buttons placed in the middle of the steering wheel, and featured a small air compressor, used to pump air into the tires.

When Schmidt sold the car to collector Mark Hyman of St. Louis, it was hard for her to part with it. She also has a 1914 Overland, a 1918 Nash, a 1926 Chrysler, a 1929 Model A "Henry’s Lady," and a 1934 Pontiac.

This is just one story of many. In 1999 Utsingers of Dallas City, IL had their bright red, right-hand drive Burg featured at the Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant. Burg manufactured buggies for years, and made a few autos in Farmington before he moved to Dallas City. He only made a handful of automobiles as a sideline, so of course, these vehicles are very rare. I wonder if anyone still has a Van Buren County made vehicle.

My father, who lived with his parents in Louisa County, purchased his first vehicle from a dealer in Muscatine in 1912 and "learned to drive it on the way home." He kept from going into any ditches, but couldn’t figure out how to stop the vehicle. He took out part of his mother’s prize flower garden and stripped a few garments off the clothesline before finally running into the side of an outbuilding, finally bringing the car to a stop. No damage was done to the sturdy new Brush auto.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick