Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Chariton's first gasoline-powered automobile

There's no doubt that Harry Penick's Locomobile was the first home-owned automobile to stalk the streets of Chariton, terrifying carriage horses, small children and dogs. This was a steam-powered vehicle that rolled off a rail car and onto the city's dirt streets during August of 1902.

That Locomobile also has the distinction of being involved in Chariton's first automobile accident, during September of that year, when it bucked off its driver and went rolling over and over down a hill.

But this fine 1905 Lambert was the city's first gasoline-powered automobile, rolling into town a couple of years later --- during May of 1905 --- after its purchase by Ed Walton, at the time a well-known Chariton businessman who, because he didn't stick around, has been for the most part forgotten.

The photo, from the Lucas County Historical Society collection and among those I've been filing recently, was donated during 1967 by Verl E. and Louise (Hickman) Holmes. It is slightly damaged (someone has pulled it off the photo album page to which it was pasted at some point) and bears this note on its back, "Lambert car (friction drive); first gasoline car in Chariton, 1905."

I set out to figure out how this fine automobile was related to the Holmes, who weren't related to Edward Walton and his wife, Barbara, its first owners.

As it turns out, Louise Holmes (1907-1968) was the only child of Chariton attorney James H. Hickman (1877-1951) and his wife, Julia Mae Guyle (1883-1961) and thereby hangs the tale. Her grandparents were Stephen D. and Elizabeth (Teas) Hickman. Stephen also was an attorney and, during 1894, built the double-front Hickman building, still standing in a good state of repair on the east side of the square. The Hickman law offices were upstairs.


Anyhow, The Chariton Herald reported the Waltons' purchase of their fine new vehicle during May of 1905 and by June, the family was using it for excursions.

The Chariton Leader's Warren Township correspondent reported in the edition of June 29, 1905: "Ed Walton of Chariton with his automobile passed through here Friday morning going as far as Garden Grove, returning in the evening. If all users of such machines will exercise the same care that Ed does to prevent teams from scare and fright and thus prevent accidents, no one will object to the use of the public highway by such strange and unusual vehicles."

The Warren Township correspondent's optimism proved faulty, however, and on July 20, The Patriot reported as follows under the headline, "A Runaway Smash-up" --- "A team belonging to McKlveen & Eikenberry became frightened at Walton's automobile Monday morning and ran from the office south to the square. Tod Lane was driving the team and one line snapped in two so he could do nothing to stop the horses. On the west side of the square, just in front of Daugherty's drug store, they struck  a buggy with such force that the shafts snapped and it was carried along for about a rod and completely demolished. The collision upset the delivery wagon and Mr. Lane jumped, landed right side up and caught his team. One of the horses was cut severely on one foot. The buggy which was wrecked was comparatively new and belonged to C.O. Ericson, who lives east of town on the old Baxter farm. It was snatched away so quickly and easily that the horse hitched to it was not even frightened."

The Waltons enjoyed their new vehicle for about a year, but during that time Barbara Walton became seriously ill with tuberculosis, or consumption as it was called at the time. The family decided to seek a new home in a more arid climate in the hope of improving her health and, during 1906, moved from Chariton to Texas (Barbara died in Alice, Texas, on March 5, 1908).

As a result, the Patriot reported on June 21, 1906, "James Hickman (has) purchased the automobile belonging to Ed Walton."

There were three automobiles in Chariton by the following spring, as The Herald reported during early April, 1907: "Jas. Hickman got out his automobile this week and Harry Stewart expects to bring his down from Des Moines today or tomorrow, so that Chariton will have three vehicles to start the season with."

After that, I could find no more references to an automobile that could be identified with some certainty as the 1905 Lambert --- but the Hickmans were prosperous people and so most likely traded it off as automobile technology advanced.

There's no way of telling when this photo was taken --- or who its three occupants are. But I'm guessing that James Hickman is one of the passengers and that the photo might date from 1906, soon after he purchased it. 

The Waltons most likely did not employ a driver --- they were not especially affluent people. But the Hickmans were --- and probably did. They could also afford a chauffeur's hat just to make the distinction clear between who owned the vehicle and the guy who had been hired to drive and maintain it.

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