Tag Archives: Marion

Weather challenges for the Indianapolis Auto Show

Do think we have weather challenges today? Let me tell you about the 1913 Indianapolis Auto Show and weather challenges 100 years ago.

Indianapolis or Bust

Meet me at the auto show

Indianapolis auto shows were open air affairs beginning in 1907, because of the lack of any building of sufficient size to accommodate a large show. Soon, over 60 dealers and garages throughout the district hosted thousands of visitors at these shows.

The successes of these early shows led the Indianapolis Auto Trade Association (IATA) to plan the March 24, 1912, tent show on three streets around University Park. However, a blizzard blitzed this show. The Indianapolis News reported: “A gang of workmen was busy nearly all day removing the snow from the top of the tent and succeeded in preventing it from breaking through anywhere.”

The next year’s event was inside, at the Coliseum and Coliseum Annex at the State Fair Grounds, March 24-29. No snow, but a torrential downpour started on Easter Sunday, March 23. By mid-week many parts of Indianapolis were stranded by the swollen White River and its tributaries. With the crippling of street car and other transportation systems, Indianapolis auto manufacturers came to the rescue.

Every factory and garage and many private owners placed their cars at the disposal of the police and other departments. New cars, test cars, factory trucks, and anything that would run was pressed into service in the flooded districts where it was sometimes too swift for boats. These vehicles carried the imperiled families to places of refuge.

Henderson touring car

R. P. Henderson’s touring car

For instance, the personal touring car of Henderson Motor Car Co. Vice President R. P. Henderson was placed at the disposal of authorities on the north side making trips carrying flood victims to high ground. One of the first trucks placed in service was “Old Bolivar,” the first Henderson touring car built, that was serving as the factory pickup truck. The truck transported a boat and officers to the flood area across the Fall Creek Bridge.

By Tuesday, March 25, the continuing rains caused the White River and other streams to rise cutting off access to the fair grounds, making it necessary to discontinue the show until Friday, March 28. On Friday the show was further discontinued until Sunday at 1 pm. The directors of the IATA decided that the Sunday receipts of the show would be donated to the flood sufferers relief fund. Freewill offerings to the fund were also accepted at the doors, and the IATA also scheduled two benefit theatrical performances at the reopening. The total amount taken in for the fund during the Sunday show approached $1000.

1913 Henderson Ad

1913 Henderson auto show ad

On Sunday, IATA estimated that at least 4,000 people inspected the cars on display. Indiana manufacturers, including Auburn, Cole, Empire, Haynes, Henderson, Marion, Marmon, McFarlan, Motor Car Manufacturing Co., National, Studebaker, Premier, and Waverley Electric, were part of the 36 firms exhibiting a total of 200 cars.

The show continued through the end of the week. The Coliseum ground floor featured pleasure car exhibits, and the promenade around the structure had more cars and motorcycles. The Coliseum Annex housed accessories and trucks. Warmer weather, bigger crowds, and better transportation facilities combined to make the later days of the show successful. A joyful carnival crowd greeted closing night on Saturday, April 5.

The Indianapolis Auto Show celebrates its centennial on December 26, 2013, thru January 1, 2014. Hopefully, we won’t have any weather challenges for this year’s iteration of the show. See you there.

Long distance auto racing debuted in the Midwest in June 1909

With all of the hoopla regarding the opening auto races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August 1909, sometimes it is easy to forget that long distance auto racing debuted in the Midwest at Crown Point and Lowell, Indiana in June 1909.

Under the direction of Ira M. Cobe, the Chicago Automobile Club planned and organized a two-day speed festival, including the Indiana Trophy Race and the Cobe Cup Race. The two events, scheduled for June 18 and 19, constituted the Western Stock Chassis Championship sanctioned by the American Automobile Association Contest Board.

Howard Wheeler of Crown Point was among those who planned the 23.37-mile race course from Crown Point to Cedar Lake, on to Lowell, and then returning to Crown Point. The route featured only three towns, no railroad crossings, and was paved with tar macadam roads, which were high-tech for the day.

Cobe Cup Poster

Cobe Cup Poster

Grandstands were built at Crown Point, Cedar Lake, Creston, and two sites in Lowell. One location on North Clark St. was advertised “to be safe from the cars and the racers could be seen for two miles on the fastest part of the course.” The other stand was across the street from the Civil War Monument on Commercial Ave.

Despite being advertised as a stock chassis race, rather liberal modifications were permitted for the contests. Gas and oil capacity could be increased; lighter rear springs were permitted; any size wheel and tire could be used; auxiliary oil pumps were allowed; and steering columns were lowered.

The first event was the 10-lap Indiana Trophy Race for cars limited to 300-cubic-inch displacement, on Friday, June 18, with cars made by Buick, Chalmers-Detroit, Corbin, Fal-Car, Locomobile, Marion, Moon, and Stoddard-Dayton.

At 7 am, National Guardsmen took control of the course to prepare for the start. Box seat holders included Carl G. Fisher, founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ira Cobe, the Studebaker brothers, and W. E. Metzger from Detroit.

Joe Matson Winning Indiana Trophy

Joe Matson Winning Indiana Trophy

Joe Matson took the checkered flag in four hours, 31 minutes, and 21 seconds in his Chalmers-Detroit with an average speed of 52.2 miles per hour. The remaining finishers were George Robertson – Locomoblie, second; Adolph Monsen -Marion, third; Jim Florida – Locomobile, fourth; and Fred Wiseman Stoddard-Dayton, fifth.

Saturday’s 17-lap, 395.65-mile Cobe Cup Race was for cars limited to 525-cubic-inch displacement with entries from Apperson, Buick, Fiat, Knox, Locomobile, and Stoddard-Dayton.

Louis Chevrolet in his winning Buick

Louis Chevrolet in his winning Buick

Louis Chevrolet won in eight hours, one minute, and 39 seconds with a 65 second margin driving a Buick with an average speed of 49.26 miles per hour. What makes Chevrolet’s finish so incredible is that on the 11th lap his engine broke a valve in the cylinder head and he was forced to drive the rest of the race running on three cylinders. By the 14th lap, he captured the lead, which he held to the end. The remaining finishers were W. Bourque – Knox, second; George Robertson – Locomoblie, third; E. A. Hearne – Fiat, fourth; C. A. Englebeck – Stoddard-Dayton, fifth; and Louis Strang – Buick, sixth.

Ira Cobe left his box seat with the big trophy and motored to Crown Point’s public square. On the courthouse steps he presented the trophy to Chevrolet and worshipping fans carried the winner and trophy, on their shoulders to his car.

In 1910, the Cobe Cup Race shifted to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Lake County race course returned to the somnolent quiet of a sleepy Indiana countryside.

Snow Blitzes First Indianapolis Auto Tent Show in 1912

The blizzard of 2012 calls to mind another one 100 years ago and its effect on auto history. In March 1912, snow blitzed the First Indianapolis Auto Tent Show.

Prior to 1912, Indianapolis auto shows were open air affairs because there was no building large enough to accommodate a large show. Soon, over 60 dealers and garages throughout the business district hosted thousands visitors at these shows.

1912 Marion ad

1912 Marion ad
Dennis E. Horvath Collection
The successes of these early shows led the Indianapolis Auto Trade Association (IATA) to plan the March 24, 1912, tent show on three streets around University Park. The Indianapolis News reported: “The blizzard failed to utterly to dampen the big tent, although the canvas roof was compelled for a while to support a heavy weight of fallen snow. A gang of workmen was busy nearly all day removing the snow from the top of the tent and succeeded in preventing it from breaking through anywhere.”

Lack of heat also was a problem. The IATA rounded up new car salesmen and fired up some cars to take the chill from inside the tents. Today’s exhibition halls, thankfully are heated.

1912 National 40 ad

1912 National 40 ad
Dennis E. Horvath Collection
At the 1912 show, 40 different makes of automobiles were displayed. Ten of the 15 Indiana-built cars and trucks on display were produced in Indianapolis factories. They were American, Cole, Empire, Marion, Marmon, National, Stutz, Pathfinder, Premier, and Waverley. The Indianapolis News further reported: “Indianapolis is fast becoming the most important car center in the world. The city is nationally recognized as second to Detroit alone in the automobile manufacture and its superior shipping facilities promise to put it in the lead within the next few years.” This prediction never came to fruition, but Indianapolis maintained its auto manufacturing position through the 1920s.

In 1912, Auto Row was centered in the downtown area. This is a sharp contrast to today, where new car dealers are located in outlying areas.

1912 Stutz ad

1912 Stutz ad
Dennis E. Horvath Collection

Later on, the Indianapolis Auto Show moved to the Indiana State Fairgrounds for many years and finally to the Indiana Convention Center. When I was in high school, my friends and I always went to the Indianapolis Auto Show on New Years Day to peruse all of the new offerings. Blizzards were never a problem in our enjoyment.

Thank you Carl Fisher and James Allison

With the 2011 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race celebrating its 100th anniversary, I believe Indianapolis residents owe a thank you to Speedway founders Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison.

Before the inaugural running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1911, Indianapolis was a bucolic city with very little to distinguish it. When the founders built the track on a 320 acre parcel outside of the city limits, the Speedway was about five miles northwest of the city’s center. The Speedway would eventually fulfill Carl Fisher’s stated goal of a proving ground “to establish American automobile supremacy.” The result also helped grow the city’s manufacturing base.

Fisher’s vision for grand ventures was first demonstrated when he and Allison obtained the rights to manufacture and market compressed acetylene headlight systems for automobiles in 1904. This firm, known as Prest-O-Lite, would become the cornerstone for their many automotive ventures. Today, an outgrowth of Prest-O-Lite is Praxair Surface Technologies, which employs more than 450 people at the Speedway Main Street site.

By 1911, Indianapolis claimed 11 operating automakers, with names like American Underslung, Cole, Empire, Ideal, Marion, Marmon, New Parry, National, Overland, Premier, and Waverley. This concentration of manufacturers attracted the supporting ancillary machine shops and businesses. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler went on to build operations in Indianapolis.

James Allison built a new shop for the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company on Main Street in Speedway to prepare a fleet of race cars in late 1916. This venture provided the genesis for the Allison Engineering Company. When World War I erupted, Allison committed his shop resources to war production for crawler-type tractors, superchargers, and master models for the Liberty aircraft engines. In 1929, a year after Allison died, General Motors Corporation purchased the company. Under General Motors, the operation produced aircraft engines, transmissions, precision bearings, and superchargers. Its descendant companies, Allison Engine Company and Allison Transmission are headquartered in Indianapolis. Combined employment at these plants totaled over 11,000 people in the late 1980’s, making them one of the city’s largest employers.

These companies spawned a number of local machine shops to supply additional services to supplement Allison operations. Skilled machinists and tool makers moved to Indianapolis to work in these shops. I know my father moved to Indianapolis in the mid-1930’s to work in various machine shops and retired with over 25 years at Allison.

Thank you to Carl Fisher and James Allison for your grand vision with these manufacturing endeavors and the creating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which drew people to our great city for employment and enjoyment.