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Oklahoma Traveler

Cars made during the early 1900's: Some questions

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For the last couple years, we've been doing research on the history of an old town in Oklahoma. Part of that involves examining old buildings and such for historic value. There's one building in the outskirts of the downtown area that we've been trying to figure out for awhile. The building started off as a small automobile garage in 1916 and grew to cover the entire block by 1925. After that, the trail goes cold.

So what does this have to do with antique cars?

We're trying to figure out if this was, in fact, an automobile garage. In the picture included below, you can see that the building was built on a slope. This is the back side of what was once a two story building. I believe that the bricked in parts were openings for automobiles to drive in and out of the garage, but I can't prove it yet.

So my main question is this: What was the standard dimensions of old automobiles from the 1910's and 1920's? Second, in your opinion, could this have been the backside of an old automobile garage?

Your help is much appreciated!

Thanks,

Oklahoma Traveler

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Based on your photo, the dimensions are decieving. Assuming a standard brick width of 8 inch plus mortor, you are looking at an opening of roughly 4 feet. Early autos (I have two 100+ years old) are 64 and 66 inches wide. I would assume that these are 4 foot blocked in window openings. The fence on top would appear to have 8 or 10 inch posts and span about 8 ft.. Single car garage doors are 8.5 t0 9 ft. wide for todays cars. How wide is the bricked in area and are those 8 inch bricks? What is on the other walls? Still could be a garage, but I think they would use another access. Just an opinion. Good luck in your search!

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From what is in the photo I would doubt very seriously of it being an automotive service building of any nature. First doubt is the fact the bricked in areas become shorter the further up the hill it goes. Second doubt comes from the width of the bricked in areas. Remains of something, yes. What is to the left of the concrete corner? With a house sitting on top of whatever it might have been and the wall appearing to be now a retaining wall it took a lot of dirt to fill that sucker up. What do the owners of the house have to say about it? Since real property in Oklahoma is abstracted the abstract should provide a revealing history of the property and probably usage. The owner of that house should have an abstract which is would likely be about 2" thick and on 8-1/2" by 14" paper. If the owner of the house has nothing they are willing to share a trip to the county court house is in order.

Good luck!

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Caddyshack,

I think you make a lot of sense!

I had figured the openings at around 4 1/2 feet myself, so I wasn't off by that much. After looking all over the internet, I wasn't able to find a "standard" width of early automobiles. I've seen everything from cars that were 47" wide to around 70" wide, so it's been hard to judge anything.

I'm not sure of the actual dimensions yet, but I hope to be able to go out there this weekend to take some measurements. However, the main entrance would have been to the north. The photo shows the back end of the building, which is the only part that is still visible. They tore down the old building and made that into a retaining wall.

I've included a map here as well that shows how it was laid out. In the 30's, the building was expanded to run all the way back to the alley. The main entrance was off Rogers. The photo above would have been taken from the alley towards the south of the building.

I think you're right when you say that those are windows. Not being familiar with old cars of that period, it's hard to figure out how things would have worked. I'm assuming that they produced a lot of exhaust. Since the garage would have been closed in, I would assume that there would have to be enough ventilation to keep the fumes from choking people out. Could that be what the windows were for?

Thanks for the help!

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From what is in the photo I would doubt very seriously of it being an automotive service building of any nature. First doubt is the fact the bricked in areas become shorter the further up the hill it goes. Second doubt comes from the width of the bricked in areas. Remains of something, yes. What is to the left of the concrete corner? With a house sitting on top of whatever it might have been and the wall appearing to be now a retaining wall it took a lot of dirt to fill that sucker up. What do the owners of the house have to say about it? Since real property in Oklahoma is abstracted the abstract should provide a revealing history of the property and probably usage. The owner of that house should have an abstract which is would likely be about 2" thick and on 8-1/2" by 14" paper. If the owner of the house has nothing they are willing to share a trip to the county court house is in order.

Good luck!

Jim,

From old maps, we do know that there was a garage there. By 1925, it was a two story building and the garage was located on the bottom floor. The building extended to the left of the concrete corner up to Rogers along Witte; meaning that the building took up about 1/2 of a city block. The garage didn't extend as far back as the wall in the picture, probably 1/3rd of the way, but was most likely connected to whatever was in the rest of the building. That house hasn't been there for long, and if I remember right, it's the child development building.

Getting the abstract from them is a great idea. Unfortunately, I have no idea who to ask there about that. Since it's a newer business I doubt any of the employees there would know anything. I think I can probably find something at the courhouse though, which isn't a bad idea either. I'll definitely have to check in to that!

Thanks for the help!

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Are there any old city directories or phone books at the public library or historical society? They would give you a clue as to who used the building for what, when.

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We used to rent an old building downtown that began life as a phosphorous plant in the 1880's. Over time it morphed into many things, and had a subterranean portion that was used for a time as an ice plant. There were openings about the size as those in your pic where the ice wagons would back up and load ice for delivery.

It looks like the maps shown may be from Sanborn Fire Insurance maps? Don't know if that town had them,

but they're a great source for tracing a building's history.

TG

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We finally figured it out! Thanks for everyone's help here; we would have never gotten it down if it wasn't for you.

So by the time that 1930 rolled around, there was an auto garage that ran the length of the block. It was a two story building, but it looked a lot different back then. The business sold the property to the city sometime around 1935, but by this time much of the building was damaged. They kept the foundation and some of the structural elements, but for the most part the building was demolished. They built the county building here, which was a two story mostly concrete building. The building was only used a few years before it burnt down. When it burnt, they brought in a lot of back fill and leveled off the property, leaving the original side wall as a retaining wall.

We went this morning to walk around it and get a better idea of things. The road in front of the building was actually almost one foot lower than it is now and was originally a brick road that had a nice sidewalk running next to it. Later, they updated the road by laying concrete slabs over it, then finally by adding a couple layers of asphalt. The road has a very gentle slope to it, and showed us how the terrain used to look before the fill was put in. The bottoms of the windows were, at one time, about four foot above the ground. With the fill, they are now level. This would have been the first floor of the county building. The fill also covered up the sidewalk and many of the other distinguishing elements that was there.

Out of everyone that we asked, nobody could remember the origins of the building, but they did remember the county building being there. Now, thanks to your help, we can trace the origins of this unusual landmark back to the very beginning!

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One thing further, as an aside.. there has never been an in-depth historical study of Poteau. We've spent about two years tracing the history of the town from 1875 through 1930. A few years ago, the last of the "old-timers" passed away and with him went most of Poteau's history. Today, not many people know much about the origins of Poteau, so that's one reason why we're having such a hard time figuring out buildings such as this.

For example, I went in to the old Frisco Depot (which is now the city hall) to ask some questions about the buildings history. When I asked, all I got were blank stares. There were six people working that day and not one of them knew that it used to be a depot. That just baffled me..

The library has very little information, and the historical society only has the same stories that's been passed around forever.

There were Sanborn-Perryman maps made for Poteau, but it took a lot of work to get them. That was where the above maps originated. Since the Sanborne maps are still copyrighted I couldn't post all of them here.

Finally, we're just now getting into the time frame around WWI, when automobiles became popular in Poteau. Since I don't know that much about older cars, I may have to come back and beg for more help! You guys have given me a lot of information that I wouldn't have looked at otherwise, and it is all very much appreciated!

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On the off chance you haven't already thought of/done it:

(1) County surveyors offices are often repositories of old maps, necessary for the assessment of county property taxes; some of the oldest included maps which had ownerships printed onto the various parcels, as mentioned.

(2) Check with your local land title company/s; abstacts were made (to my limited knowledge, at least) in at least two copies: one for the property buyer and one for the Abstactor's office (usually local atty's in early days, later often succeeded by Title Co's). Copies of your property's abstract might be available, and/or old/older maps. If still City property, whichever City board/authority handles City real estate sould have the abstract, but they may not want to bother looking for it if you don't have someone local they like or respect (or fear) fronting for you.

I can't comment about abstactors, but title co's usually had their own sets of property maps, assigning each a number/letter, to be able to follow title thru deed/mtg etc records (in the title co's own records) to avoid the time consumed in trying to follow names thru the public records at the courthouse etc..

(3) Local surveyors, if any, and/or their predecessors if a family business, may well've done surveys over the years touching on your area, and in most areas private surveys/maps weren't required to be filed with the County Surveyors office. Good luck.

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My eye refuses to believe that the span on the fence on top is anything near as narrow as 8 or 10 feet. More like 14 or 16 feet. Think about the vertical height of an "average" fence post, and I believe it fair to say not much over 5 feet. That would make for a much more squarish than a 3 or 4 to 1, as this would appear to be. Then the other question arises which is: if not automobile doors, then what would they be? Looks like auto storage, possibly, or maybe something to do with moving livestock. Is there a railroad or other depot near here? Or...was there?

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On the off chance you haven't already thought of/done it:

(1) County surveyors offices are often repositories of old maps...

I've found Oklahoma to be a little different than most states.

Prior to 1907, there were few surveys done (or, not that many left, at least) and most were done either by the railroads or by the Native American nations. I've found a couple that were stored in the Choctaw Capitol, but they were almost illegible. Beyond that, the only maps that I've found have been done by the Sanborne-Perryman company. They are only 10 years off from when the first settlements began, so piecing the information together wasn't too hard.

After 1907, beyond the Sanborne maps, I haven't found anything. I've talked people at the courthouse and other county locations but they told me they don't have anything that far back. Still, this didn't surprise me - city tax records from the early days were stored in an old room and looked as if they were about to fall apart. The county building burned sometime in the 80's and a lot of those old records were lost.

(2) Check with your local land title company/s; abstacts were made....

I've tried this route as well, but without much luck. Adam's Abstract Company does have some information, but most of it wasn't what I was looking for. The courthouse, again, wasn't much help either. It seems that most of the older information from the early 1900's has been lost for good. I have, however, been able to get two downtown businesses to show me their copies, which has helped a lot.

(3) Local surveyors, if any, and/or their predecessors if a family business, may well've done surveys over the years touching on your area, and in most areas private surveys/maps weren't required to be filed with the County Surveyors office. Good luck.

This is something that I haven't thought of! I'll have to check the phone book and ask around a bit to see if I can find anyone who would know anything.

The unfortunate thing about Poteau is that there was a period of time where the town basically moved into limbo - old buildings burnt down or was destroyed, no new projects were began.. basically there was no initiative to preserve the history. Up until now, no concentrated effort to fully document the town's history has ever been attempted, so this is something new for all of us. With so much lost, it's been hard to fit the pieces back together. Still, we're slowly making progress..

Thanks for the suggestions!

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My eye refuses to believe that the span on the fence on top is anything near as narrow as 8 or 10 feet. More like 14 or 16 feet. Think about the vertical height of an "average" fence post, and I believe it fair to say not much over 5 feet. That would make for a much more squarish than a 3 or 4 to 1, as this would appear to be. Then the other question arises which is: if not automobile doors, then what would they be? Looks like auto storage, possibly, or maybe something to do with moving livestock. Is there a railroad or other depot near here? Or...was there?

We've discovered that the concrete part that's shown was the old county building. The bricked in areas were windows, and would have been around 4-5 foot off the ground before the back fill was added. The parts of the old automobile garage that remain include the foundation, the sidewalk, and a few inches of the old brick side wall. Some parts of the back fill have been washed away so we were able to see a little of this.

The location of this building was between two depots, the Frisco depot to the west and the KCS depot to the east.

What I find amazing is how, just within a short time frame, the automobile really changed the face of the town. In 1913, there were only three known automobile owners, but by 1916 there were four garages, "paved" roads, and new "resorts" being built that catered to the driver. It's like the town grew up almost overnight.

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When an old person dies, it's like a library burning to the ground.

I still occasionally wonder about something from before my time, and wish I could ask somebody who was there. I grew up with people who were born in the nineteenth century, and their kids, all gone now, and now I think of things I should have asked them.

I think I can answer one of your questions. When cars were run in a garage, a flexible metal hose to the outside would be attached to the exhaust pipe.

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When an old person dies, it's like a library burning to the ground.

That's a very powerful statement, and so true...

When I was younger, I never cared about history. I remember my great grandmother telling stories of how she came in to Oklahoma on a wagon train, now that I'm older, I wish I could go back and ask her more about that.

What appalls me is the fact that there is so much history in these little towns, but very few people take the time to record it. Once it's gone, it's gone..

I think I can answer one of your questions. When cars were run in a garage, a flexible metal hose to the outside would be attached to the exhaust pipe.

I've never heard of that before, but it would make sense! Witte Ave, a side road off of the main street, had garage after garage; it looks like it was an automobile heaven, so to speak. I know those early buildings wern't vented that well, so having a hose to vent the exhaust seems like it would work pretty well. I think I'll have to take a trip back and see if I can find anything on this - it would be an interesting highlight to add to our research!

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Hose and vent systems to collect exhaust have been around a long time. A major supplier is the Car-Mon company.

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Okla Traveler

I'm an oil and gas landman and real estate titles are my business. I am familiar with LeFlore County and the City of Poteau. Abstract companies like Adams make their living compiling and selling abstracts of title. They are not in the business of providing their service for free so don't expect them to be helpful even though the abstract for this property is probably in their warehouse. Since you know the exact location of the property, get a yellow legal pad and a couple of ball point pens and go to the courthouse. Start at the County Clerk's office. They should be able to tell you the legal description of the property on your maps; lot, block and subdivision. Subdivision plats are filed in this office. Then have them to show you the index book for that subdivision and how to read the entries under the block and lot numbers of your property. These entries will show the type of document, grantor name, grantee name, filing date, lots or portions of lots covered, record book type and number and page number. Make a list of the book and page numbers of the documents you want to see. Then have one of the clerks show you how to locate the record books you want to see. Pull the book and look at the page number to read the document. Early records are handwritten copies and are sometimes difficult to read. Later they were typewritten and more recently photo copies. These patent, deed, mortgage, etc. records will tell you who bought and sold the property, mortgaged the property, limited probate records of deceased owners, etc. Make notes of the documents of interest. If you email me I'll email you the Excel worksheet I use for "running title". Then, if there are people or companies that owned the property that are of interest to you, go to the Court Clerk's office. They will show you the direct and indirect index books. In these if John Doe sued Jack Jones, John Doe will be first name listed in the direct index and Jack Jones will be first name listed in the indirect index. The probate index is also in the Court Clerk's office. An owner's estate may have been probated in the County but the final decree not recorded in the County Clerk's office. So it can only be found in the Court Clerk's office. A trip to the County Treasurer's office may have records showing who paid taxes on the property. In Oklahoma adoption and mental health records are closed to the public but all others are open and the clerks in the various County offices are required to assist you in your search of records. Since LeFlore was part of Indian Territory the title to the property you are interested in begins with the Patent (government deed) from the United States to the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. Then there will be a Patent from the tribes to either to an Indian allottee or if part of the original townsite of Poteau to the first purchaser of the lot or lots.

Are you aware of the Okay Truck that was made in Okay, OKlahoma, near Fort Gibson? What about Fred Jones Ford assembly plant in Oklahoma City later an authorized Ford parts remanufacturer? I believe the plant building is still standing on West Reno Street.

Bob Call

bobcall@sbcglobal.net

Edited by Bob Call (see edit history)

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Bob C: (1) Nice rundown on running title; out here (Cal/OR) the County Recorders didn't keep subdivision lot/blk ownership books. When running titles at the Courthouse everything had to be traced thru the various name indexes. Title co's, of course, made their own lot/blk/metes and bounds etc books (abstracts died here quite early, it's all Title Insurance).

(2) There were two O.K. (with the periods) trucks. The first, 1913-16, was built in Detroit, Mich. The second, your O.K., 1917-29, started in Muskogee as the Oklahoma Auto Manufacturing Company, and in 1921 moved to Okay and became the Nolan Truck Company, the trucks staying O.K.s until 1928 or 29, when the truck name was changed to Mogul.

The two O.K. companies were not connected, and there was no connection with the Mogul truck (1911-16) of Chicago and St Louis. (All per Mroz's truck book).

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Noncompos

Oklahoma is the sole remaining abstract state, all others have gone to title insurance. Records maintained by title companies for title insurance usually go back only 30 years and cover surface rights only. In the oil and gas business dealing with mineral rights we still run title from inception in the courthouse. I have worked in Cali and know about their recording office records, Los Angeles County being especially difficult to chain mineral rights. Title insurance companies issue policies only on surface right except in Cali where some companies will issue a policy based upon a title opinion by an attorney they have aproved.

Back to auto related. In Los Angeles there is a building on I15 I believe know as the Citadel Outlet Mall. It was originally built by Samson Tire and Rubber Co. later merged in U. S. Rubber (Uniroyal). The building is in ancient Assyrian style. For that reason it was used in the 1950's movie Ben Hur. Here are links to a couple of pictures of the building.

Ancient Assyrian Style Citadel in Los Angeles

Uniroyal Tire Factory | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Movieland Mystery Photo [updated] - latimes.com

Old Uniroyal Tire building from 1929 (Citadel Outlet Factory) | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

One uncovers a lot of interesting history working oil and gas titles in Cali. Few people realize that there is oil production all over Los Angeles.

Edited by Bob Call (see edit history)

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Okla Traveler

I'm an oil and gas landman and real estate titles are my business. I am familiar with LeFlore County and the City of Poteau. Abstract companies like Adams make their living compiling and selling abstracts of title...

Bob, this is some great information here!

I've spent most of the week tracking down information on the buildings, and I think we finally have it all figured out. I ran into the new owners of the existing automobile garage and turns out that they had the abstract which they were nice enough to let me view. With the other building that I was concerned with, I was able to get some new photographs of it which allowed me to date it precisely to when it was built.

I've been on a tight time schedule, so I apologize about not getting back with you sooner. I really appreciate all of the help here - you've given me a lot of great ideas! After talking with my partner about this, I think I talked him into doing all of the background work like this, which would save me a lot of time.

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...on a semi-related note, there was another automobile garage in Poteau that I've been curious about. Outside of the original building, there is what looks to be an old-time movie ticket window. The thing is, there was never any type of theater here.

This building would have been built in the early 20's, and had a capacity of 20 cars. I have a feeling that this was a parking garage, and not a repair garage. I've done some searching, but haven't came up with anything on this.

Was it typical back then to have ticket windows in automobile parking garages?

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...on a semi-related note, there was another automobile garage in Poteau that I've been curious about. Outside of the original building, there is what looks to be an old-time movie ticket window. The thing is, there was never any type of theater here.

This building would have been built in the early 20's, and had a capacity of 20 cars. I have a feeling that this was a parking garage, and not a repair garage. I've done some searching, but haven't came up with anything on this.

Was it typical back then to have ticket windows in automobile parking garages?

No less probable than there ever being a commercial parking garage in a town like Poteau. Why would you assume the building was never an auto repair facility? Is this "ticket booth" attached to the structure or just sitting there and possibly something that was previously associated with a carnival or some sort of annual event where tickets were sold to get in.

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No less probable than there ever being a commercial parking garage in a town like Poteau. Why would you assume the building was never an auto repair facility? Is this "ticket booth" attached to the structure or just sitting there and possibly something that was previously associated with a carnival or some sort of annual event where tickets were sold to get in.

On the map from 1925, it labels auto-repair garages differently than parking garages. On the one that I'm curious about, the map says that it's a garage. Attached on the south end is another building that is labeled "Auto Rep. G.", which in the key says that that building is an automobile repair garage. Once inside the building, after poking around, it didn't look like any kind of repair garage that I had ever seen. It's a small building, and if it had a capacity of 20 cars, I just can't see any way that they could use it as a repair garage. Going back to the maps, there's a lot of automotive related buildings in the area as well, and each one of them are labeled as to their function: Auto storage, painting, refueling, repair, etc. I can't prove one way or another that it wasn't a repair garage, but from what I've seen I highly doubt it was.

The "ticket booth" is attached to the building. I spent quite awhile studying this thing since it was so unusual to me. Originally, this would have been on the outside of the building. To the right of it is a large garage-sized door. Other than the small door on the "front" of the building (modern day), this is the only entrance. After studying the ticket booth, it does look like it was built during the same time that the garage was built; the bricks match and interlock with the building's bricks. In front of, and slightly to the left, there's also a large tile design that was laid into the floor - which again would have been on the outside of the building.

Since the "ticket booth" is immediately left of the garage door, the only conclusion that I can come to is that there was an attendant there that took care of everything. While I'm pretty sure that it wasn't a repair garage, it could have been related to the repair garage, since they were pretty close together.

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