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Oklahoma Traveler

Cars made during the early 1900's: Some questions

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A photo or two is always helpful.

My first thought was also that a commercial parking garage would be odd in a small town. But my SECOND thought was that I wonder if it was near a busy hotel? For a long time I have been researching two assembled cars built in Decatur IL in 1917-22, and have done related research into local car dealers, garages, etc. At that time Decatur was a booming industrial and railroad town of about 50,000 people. All the dealers were in or very near the downtown and the larger ones had evolved from livery stables presumably accustomed to boarding horses for travelers. It appears Decatur had a Packard/Studebaker/Cole dealer across from a large hotel that advertised secure vehicle parking/storage for hotel guests and travelers, complete with 24 hour service and rooms for chauffeurs (it apparently would not do for a chauffeur to stay in the same hotel as the owner). Maybe this was a similar thing, although I still agree it is pretty unusual for a small town. But in the booming 1920s that town may have been more active that one might now think. Would be interested in hearing more, Todd C

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Todd, I think you're on to something here! Poteau, compared to the rest of the nation, wasn't ever a really big town, but it was on its way there until the Great Depression hit. The Federal Courts were there, there were two major railroads that passed through town, and for a long time pretty much everything in that part of the country was centered in Poteau. There was a lot of traffic through town, and from what I've seen, a good majority of it was transient. Passengers transferring from the KCS to the Frisco would stop here.. There's a plethora of stories about lawyers coming here.. so what you say really makes a lot of sense.

To look at Poteau today, one would never guess how it used to be; I've been very surprised myself. Around 1915, the town had a movie theater, two vaudeville stages, and even an opera house. So far, I've counted six different fraternal organizations, such as the Freemasons and the Odd Fellows. By 1925, I've counted five automobile garages just within the downtown area. I know that Ford was here, and there were two more that I can't remember offhand.. So back in the day, Poteau was a booming town.

So with the location of the garage, there was the Central Hotel (Hotel Judkins) that was one block north of it, then another smaller hotel just across the street from that. The Central Hotel was one of the nicest hotels in this part of the country for many years. There was also a boarding house a block to the west. The garage would have been central to all of these. It would make sense that there would be a more "exclusive" garage that functioned as you say.

It would take some more research to prove this, but so far that's the best theory that I've heard so far.

As for pictures, I couldn't get any. While the owner of the building told me what he knew about its history, he wouldn't let me take any photographs. But, I still have hope - I have a friend of mine that said that she'll go back in a couple weeks and try. She's cute, and has a real bubbly personality, so maybe he'll fall for her charms and let her take a couple. I know, it's slightly devious, but without pictures it's hard to explain.

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So, be a little devious...Seriously, a couple points:

(1) On the chauffers--if they were black, many hotels etc would not allow them any accomodations on the premises, so off-site provisions would not be out of the ordinary for the time; and for some of the elite, having any employee or servant (unless a personal body servant--remember many people were travelling by train then), regardless of origin, in the same building meant the hotel was certainly not "first class".

(2) Parking and repair garages with limited space used roller skate/casters type things--you jacked up the wheel, let it down on one of these; when all four wheels were done, the car, even a large one, could be rolled around by one person. Cars could be slipped into very small spaces, or moved around while being worked on. If you're not familiar with them, I have notes somewhere on one company's such product I'll try to find.

I hadn't thought about it at the time, but they would cut down on engines needing to run, maybe minimizing exhaust problems??

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To look at Poteau today, one would never guess how it used to be; I've been very surprised myself. Around 1915, the town had a movie theater, two vaudeville stages, and even an opera house. I know that Ford was here, and there were two more that I can't remember offhand.. So back in the day, Poteau was a booming town.

This was my experience in my research too. For local history I have mostly studied old newspapers on microfilm, photos when possible, and the City Directories which are very informative. It has been almost shocking how optimistic the time was, with business and population booming. In fact one problem researching this period seems to be that when a business would fail or move there was little report of it since it happened a lot and they were ready to forget the past and move on to the next thing.

I once read that by 1915 Ford wanted a dealership in every town in the US of over 1000 people. In Decatur in 1917 the Ford dealer was (predictably) the largest and highest volume, with Willys-Overland second and Buick third, all in keeping with national sales trends. Decatur had 20 dealers selling 36 makes of car, some with just a salesroom and no service department. The Auburn dealer was also a taxi service. Chevrolet was the #5 car nationwide but here it was so recent that newspaper ads included a phonetic spelling (Chev-ro-lay) to introduce it to the public.

The dealer near the hotel was probably originally a Studebaker wagon dealer (big in the midwest) and in December 1916 claimed they garaged 80 cars a day and were booked up with winter storage for owners who stored their cars all winter, common until the 1920s. All a very interesting time historically, Todd C

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(1) On the chauffers--if they were black, many hotels etc would not allow...

That's something that I never thought of.. I remember seeing separate entrances for the train depots and such, but it just never crossed my mind with the hotels. The Central Hotel (also called Commercial Hotel and Hotel Judkins) was a very large two-story Hotel. Directly across the street was another hotel, (the sign reads, "Pats Restaurant and Lodging") although it was much smaller. The hotel occupied the right "unit" of a pretty basic two story house looking building. I don't know a lot about that particular hotel, but it's possible that it could have been something like that. There are a few people I can ask that may know the answer there. If it was, it may give us another clue as to the function of the garage..

(2) Parking and repair garages with limited space used roller skate/casters type things--you jacked up the wheel, let it down on one of these; when all four wheels were done, the car, even a large one, could be rolled around by one person. Cars could be slipped into very small spaces, or moved around while being worked on. If you're not familiar with them, I have notes somewhere on one company's such product I'll try to find.

I hadn't thought about it at the time, but they would cut down on engines needing to run, maybe minimizing exhaust problems??

This is interesting as well.. I forgot about it, but when I was doing research on Okmulgee I ran across a couple photographs like that. It looked similar to an overgrown pallet jack. With the garage that I've been researching, it seems like there's a lot of things that the "ticket window" could have been used for, but without real proof I don't think I can say definitively what it was. This may be one of those things that will always remain a mystery. I've asked everyone I know to ask, and nobody can tell me anything about it earlier than the 1950's...

This was my experience in my research too....

That's exactly it - it seems as if the town knew no limits until the Great Depression hit, since then there's been very little growth until recently. ..and that's another thing, businesses - and people - here did the same. Once they left Poteau then they simply ceased to exist.

That's another thing that I never thought of. I look at cars today and they can very easily survive the winter without any problems. From looking at how cars were made back then, I don't think they would do that well. I'm really going to have to look into that more! That would explain a lot of things, especially why there were so many automobile garages in the area. The time period where most of the garages started appearing was right around 1916 until the mid-20's - which matches with what you've found!

You guys have really given me a lot to think about tonight.

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