I've written about the dashing Harry O. Penick (1867-1940) before, but primarily in relation to the houses he built --- a fine home on East Auburn Avenue renovated after a fire into what remains one of Chariton's most admired dwellings, an elaborate "cottage" in the Spring Lake subdivision that burned to the ground and the legendary Slab Castle, also a victim of fire.
But Harry also was the owner of Chariton's first automobile, a 1902 Locomobile that rolled off a rail car and onto the dirt streets of the city during August of that year.
The Herald reported its arrival as follows in its edition of Aug. 28: "Harry Penick is the owner of the first automobile in Chariton, the machine having arrived on Wednesday last. It is a Locomobile, run by steam, and cost about $700. It is a one-seated runabout, equipped with a ten-horse power steam engine. The water capacity of the boiler is 26 gallons, and the water is heated by a gasoline torch. Only a small part of the water is heated at a time, an automatic pump keeping the water supplied from the tank. The machine can be fired up ready for use in five minutes, and five gallons of gasoline will run the Locomobile one hundred miles. The maximum speed of the machine is forty miles per hour. Harry says the machine is not merely a pleasure outfit, but is very practical, and is much quicker and easier to handle than would be team of horses. Several horses in town have frightened at the machine, but they will soon become used to it, and before long will think no more of automobiles that they do of ordinary driving outfits."
Just a couple of weeks later, as the fire-breathing beast was being broke to ride by Harry's chauffeur, E.C. Stillwell, it bucked him off and broke his ankle --- thus becoming the centerpiece of our city's first automobile accident, too. Here's how The Herald of Sept. 18 reported the incident:
Harry Penick's Steam Carriage Misbehaves, Injuring Chauffeur Stillwell
The first automobile in Chariton, the one purchased by H.O. Penick about a month ago, set a bad pace for the auto business hereabouts, in a little mix-up it had with its driver, or business manager, or chauffeur, or whatever he is called, last Saturday morning about half past eight o'clock.
Mr. E.C. Stillwell, who has had charge of the machine since its arrival and has been breaking it to ride, was taking a short trip to the Baker farm, just east of town, when the accident occurred. Mrs. Edson, who had an errand to the house, was with him.
The ascent to the residence on the Baker farm is quite steep, but Mr. Stillwell drove the Locomobile up the ascent with ease, and Mrs. Edson went into the house to be back in a moment. Mr. Stillwell dismounted to turn down the boiler flame a little, and set the reverse lever, as he supposed, in the middle for safety. He evidently set it a shade too far back, however, and the little steam escaping from the two hundred pounds of pressure started the machine backward slowly.
He quickly seized the lever and stepped into the vehicle to stop it, but the same second one of the rear wheels struck a stump or other obstacle, throwing the Locomobile on its side, and sending it rolling over and over down the hill. Mr. Stillwell was thrown down the hill ahead of the machine, and he kept rolling of his own accord to keep out of its way. It caught him, however, and in falling on him struck his left ankle and his right shoulder.
The vehicle stopped on its side, and Mr. Stillwell crawled to it and shut off the steam, then went up the hill and sat down. His ankle was hurting considerable, and he could not set his left foot down, but he crawled back to the machine on second thought, and shut off the flame and all the valves, returning then to the top of the hill.
By that time he was feeling pretty sick, and when help came he was willing to be taken care of. It was found that his shoulder was dislocated and several of the bones in his left ankle were broken, but other than that there was not a bruise on him. He was taken to his home on North Main Street, where he is now resting as easily as an active and ambitious man can, flat on his back with a good appetite and a lot of bandages and splints.
The automobile was brought to town and sent to the Schreiber hospital for treatment. It was found that the only injuries to it were a broken seat, a bent wheel, and a rod or two out of place. Mr. Stillwell thinks he could have brought it back to town even in his and its injured condition, if the seat had not been broken off. Despite his sanguine view of the accident, his escape was exceedingly fortunate and he should be thankful that he came out as well as he did.