First Autos in Nunica and Crockery Township
First Autos in Nunica and Crockery Township
The First Autos in Nunica and Crockery Township
By Sherm Gleason
Fred Allison, the saloon keeper in Nunica, bought the first automobile in Crockery Township, a little red one cylinder (nickname – one lunger) Cadillac. He called it “Little Kate.” It had one seat, two passengers, an engine under the seat. His son, Freddie, was soon allowed to drive it, and, of course, soon all the kids in town had had a ride in it. This was about 1909. I was 13 years old then.
Six or eight kids would hang on this poor little car and Freddie would take us nights to the old swimming hole 3-1/2 miles to Bruce’s Bayou. Several of us would have to jump off and push it up miniature grades. And by the time we would get there or back to town nearly all would be running along beside it. When the one cylinder engine got too hot it lost its power. But with just 2 passengers it would go miles without a cooling off.
About 2 or 3 years later the blacksmith, Joe Crouse, bought an auto just like Little Kate, Nearly every weekend Old Fred and Old Joe would swap off autos and go way up on the Muskegon River, loaded up with a case or two of beer and go fishing. Now these old one-lung autos took a lot of repairing. Old Joe always took his box of tools along and would tell about more repairing than fishing.
There was lots of scared horses stories (true, too) and even runaways. One story Old Joe loved to tell was about a woman driving one horse hitched to a buggy and 2 small kids with her. The horse was real scared. Joe shut his engine off, but the darn horse went right through the ditch, nearly tipping the buggy over. Joe finally got hold of the horse’s bridle and got it quieted down. This lady wasn’t even looking at her horse. She just kept staring at the auto. She finally loudly exclaimed, “What a cute little red automobile!” I’ll bet Old Joe told this story dozens of times and got hilarious laughs out of it.
Louis Moore bought a High Wheeler solid rubber tires delivery truck, one cylinder crank from the side, too. This was the third car in Crockery Township. This was chain driven with big sprockets on the rear wheels. These chains would get loose quickly and we could hear him coming a mile away,. About 20 miles an hour was Louis’s top speed. The little Kates could make it to nearly 30 miles an hour with a strong wind in their back.
Then old Fred Allison bought a 4 cylinder 6 passenger Chalmers Automobile Touring Car with a folding cloth top, brand new, too. I can still see him going by with his head held high. He deserved it, too. This was the 4th auto in Crockery Township.
Then Opie Carpenter bought the first 4 cylinder Ford auto. He lived 2 miles north of Nunica. His son, Mike, soon gave all us kids a ride. Even way down to Spring Lake. Thirty-five miles an hour was about its limit on good roads.
Now by this time (1914) Muskegon and Grand Rapids were getting a few autos on their streets,. My Uncle Charley Fonger had just gotten a mammoth old Chalmers, second hand. He was an expert, shrewd mechanic., Every winter (when all autos were put up on blocks all winter) he would take that heavy 4 cylinder engine out, take it into his bicycle shop and completely overhaul it.
While younger, I had worked in Uncle Charley’s bicycle shop for about a year. Finally, when I was 19 years old and had a fairly good job in Muskegon, but still spent every weekend in Nunica with my married sister, Cora, and Martin, a super brother-in-law and poor old crippled Dad, who lived with them.
My heart was still buried in Nunica. And the famous Odd Fellow Hall Dances that were held every 2 weeks all winte. Oh, what good, clean fun we had at these happy dances! They always had a big burly floor manager and any hanky panky, the guy was heaved out the door. Drunks, too.
In 1915 my job was as night foreman in a magnet wire factory, baking enamel on copper wire as fine as human hairs. These were for the British government to be used in radio head receivers. England was at war with Germany then. Our factory ran 24 hours a day, 6 days a week, Night crew 13 hours a night, 5 nights a week, 65 hours pay, the day crew worked 11 hours a day 6 days a week, 66 hours a week. Hourly pay rate was around 50 cents.
I bought my first auto and the fifth auto in Crockery Township. It was a Henry manufactured in Muskegon then. It weighed 4400 pounds, had a powerful 4 cylinder engine, 4 inch diameter pistons with a 6 inch stroke, top speed about 55 miles an hour on good roads. It was a 1910 model and a doctor in Muskegon had it ordered special made, all genuine leather upholstering. It even had a unique presto gas self-starter on it. It was a 6 passenger touring auto with a folding rubberized cloth top.
Gasoline was 9 cents a gallon. Old Joe Crouse had a 50 gallon drum in back of his blacksmith shop and you drove up and blew your klaxon horn, then probably waited until he finished shoing a hore. He then filled a 5 gallon can and came with a funnel. My gas tank held about 10 gallons. We never bought more than 5 gallons at a time. On good dry roads I got about 12 miles to the gallon. This Henry auto sold new in 1910 for about $1200. It was 5 years old and I paid $300 for it, and soon had $200 more in it. Tires only lasted about 1,000 miles and cost about $30 a piece. I had to have a new top and several more extras.
Martin and I knocked the end out of a chicken coop for a garage for it and I left it mostly all week in this garage. Martin drove it once in awhile.
I drove it the first few miles in low and second, didn’t dare get it into high. Now this old Henry was my pride and joy. I’d drive it through Nunica and the geese pimples went up and down my spine, really tingling. It was a right hand drive. The gear shift 4 way quadrant was out on the fender and so was the presto gas tank for self-starter and lights. I’d have to carry this darn gas tank to Muskegon on the Interurban real often to get it refilled with presto gas. Driving nights with another guy and a couple of girls soon used up this tank full of gas.
The darn auto kept me broke most all the time. I’d have to pick some guy who had some money to buy gasoline. We took in every weekend dance within a 5 mile radius. Talk about sowing wild oats! Oh, boy and how! But they were all clean oats, but lots of fun and laughs.
Then I had to sell this old Henry auto to a Bill Murze for $100 and go to war in 1918, 11 months in France. When the war ended, I came home and 3 years later in 1923 Joe Crouse, Jr. and I bought a building in Nunica and started a garage. We took on the Chevrolet Subdealer sales through Costen and Burns of Muskegon. We had the first gasoline pump in Nunica.
There were several Ford and a few Chevrolet owners in Crockery Township by then. But still lots of farmers didn’t have an auto then, but were getting real itchy. We sold 28 Chevrolets in 1923 and only 8 in 1924. Couldn’t get them from factory fast enough that year. But we only made $75 on a car and guaranteed them for one year. This was a mistake, but thank God, every auto owner put them up on blocks all winter. We saved on the guarantee, but lost out on no repair business all winter. We went so far in debt all winter it took all summer to get out of debt. After 4 years of this we finally sold out to Bill Pickett and son Billy. They wanted the (famous) auto sales and paid us a real fair price. But the poor guys only sold 2 Chevrolets in 1927 for Joe and I had saturated Crockery Township with anyone able to buy an auto.
This is a true history of the Automobile of Crockery Township. They zoomed quite fast after 1920. Lots bought that shouldn’t have, too.