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The early days of Escanaba’s autos

April 8, 2011
By Charles Lindquist , Daily Press

ESCANABA - On April 15 the Delta County Historical Society will hold its annual dinner meeting. It will be held at Danforth Place, and our speaker will be Robert Kreipke who is the corporate historian for Ford Motor Company. Mr. Kreipke will be speaking about "the Twenty Millionith Ford." This particular car was a Model A, and when Ford Motor looked for it, it was found in the U.P. In his talk Mr. Kreipke will discuss the modern search for this car and how and where they found it in the U.P. Mr. Kreipke will also discuss the Model A itself and why it was a special car - not just for Ford Motor - but for the country.

This dinner meeting is open to the public. There is a $25 charge per person to cover the cost of the meal. Also, reservations are required. For those who are interested, they should call Lou Ham at 786-6679 or Darolyn Spannuth at 786-0831 for more information or to make reservations.

In thinking about this upcoming meeting, the early days of automobiles in Escanaba come to mind. One of the first really major signs that automobiles had arrived came in 1923. In April of that year Escanaba radio and automobile dealers had the "First Annual Auto and Radio Show." It ran from April 17-20, and It was held at the Coliseum, which was located at 1st Avenue South and 4rth Street. With 11 auto dealers exhibiting cars, a visitor to this show was bound to see something of interest.

Naturally, everyone would want to visit the L.K. Edwards exhibit. Edwards was the first and the oldest auto dealer in Escanaba, and he had the Ford agency. Not only could you see the latest Model Ts, but Mr. Edwards had a special attraction in a Ford car cut into sections and in operation so you could see how every part worked.

Probably Mr. Edwards did not have any of his used cars at the show, but with some of them selling for $65 that week, a visitor to the show might want to walk to Mr. Edwards' garage at 601-603 Ludington to take a look at these used cars, too. After all, the garage was only three blocks away from the Coliseum.

By 1923 a lot of people were thinking that as good as the Model T was for an economical car, they were ready to look at something different and maybe even better. The Buick was known as such a car, and it was really popular, too. Since the Escanaba Motor Company had begun selling Buicks in 1917, it had sold 1,344 of them in the past five and one-half years. Again if visitors wanted to visit the showroom-garage of Escanaba Motors, it was only three blocks away from the Coliseum at the corner of 1st Avenue South and 7th Street. This garage, by the way, was worth a visit in itself. When built in 1919-1920, it was regarded as the largest and most complete garage north of Milwaukee. Today the building across 1st Avenue from the old Carnegie Library is used for storage.

The Hudson was perhaps regarded as even better than the Buick. If you visited the DeGrand Motor Car exhibit, you could see an aspect of the Hudson that was one of the new and really popular attractions in cars, especially for women, in 1923. That was the fact that the cab was enclosed. In 1923 Hudson's big sales pitch was the enclosed car comforts you could get in their Hudson Coach for $1,525. For those who wanted to go top-of-the-line, you could get the Hudson sedan which went for $2,095.

With prices like these you might want to ponder a while before buying a car that expensive. That was no problem. DeGrand Motors would be happy to see you in the second of the really big garages that were built in Escanaba in the early 1920s. In 1921-22 DeGrand Motors built on the northwestern corner of Ludington and Stephenson a garage that was even bigger than that of Escanaba Motors. Today Bobaloons Restaurant occupies part of the old DeGrand building.

Some visitors to the auto show might have special qualities they were looking for in a car. Let's say, for instance, you were thinking of running moonshine into Escanaba from out in the country. You might want a speedy car in case some pesky police car began showing interest in you. A concern like that could take you to the Wolverine Motor exhibit where they were showing the Studebaker Big Six 60 h.p. Speedster for $1,835. I don't know if Clayton Tennant of Ensign attended this show, but there is no doubt that when he was arrested in 1925 for making and delivering moonshine, he was driving a Studebaker.

Again if you couldn't attend the auto show or just needed more time to think about buying a Studebaker, Wolverine Motors would be happy to see you in its spanking new showroom/garage. Just after DeGrand began to build its new garage in late 1921, Wolverine Motors announced it would also build a handsome new garage. This garage would be at the northeastern corner of Ludington and Ninth Streets, the current Butch Quinn Rosemurgy law offices.

Some people, of course, always want to check out the newest type of automobile, and at this show the Dort would fill the bill in that respect. The Dort was a fairly new car named for its founder, J. Dallas Dort of Flint, Mich. If you knew the car business, you were probably aware that Dort had always been a sensible businessman, and that it was he who had kept his partner in the early 1900s, Wild Billy Durant (the founder of General Motors), from flying away completely with his visions on how the car business could be organized. With that in mind you had to think that if Mr. Dort was manufacturing a car that had his name on it, it was apt to be a solid, sensible car well worth checking out.

At this car show wanting to see the latest Dorts would take you to the Beal Motor display where they might be showing the 4-cylinder Dort Roadster at $870 or even the 6-cylinder Don Harvard Sedan at $1,465. And if you missed the show, Beal Motors was located at 228 Ludington, and you could visit their garage later to haggle with the salesman for the car you were thinking of.

Sad to say (going back to the Historical Society dinner meeting on April 15), one car you could not see at this 1923 Escanaba Auto-Radio Show was the Ford Model A it would not appear until 1927. When it did, 5,000 people in Escanaba would flock to see it. While it is not likely that 5,000 people will come to our program featuring this historic car on April 15, I suspect that many people who remember the Model A or other older cars will want to attend. If you are interested, please call Mrs. Ham or Mrs. Spannuth for more information or to make reservations.

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Charles Lindquist is president of the Delta County Historical Society.



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