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JIM: Lord Mr. Ford, What Have You Done?

The recent comments and discussions about the traffic situation on and near the Square brought to mind the three or four days I spent in Columbia in the blistering summer of 2009 with shank's mare as my sole means of transportation around town. Each evening upon my return to my room after the day's perambulations to the courthouse, the Lindsey Wilson hill and other points of interest, I found it necessary to sit and shake for a bit and offer up a fervent prayer of thanksgiving that my tired old legs had been given enough spring to avoid maiming or death --albeit by terrifyingly thin margins on two occasions -- at the hands of speeding drivers. (Think I'm exaggerating? Meet me at the corner of the Square and Campbellsville Street any workday afternoon about three o'clock. We'll match quarters to see who gets to face death first by attempting to get to the other side of Campbellsville Street.)
Click on headline for comprehensive early history of auto in Columbia. Since the advent of motor cars, it's been almost open season on pedestrians.

By Jim

Lord Mr. Ford, What Have You Done? *

Well, anyway, the pitiful mewling above got me to wondering about automobiles in Columbia way back when.

Mr. S.N. Newbold had first automobile in Columbia

According to the Adair County News, the first tin lizzie ever to spew gasoline fumes around the Square was owned by Mr. S.N. Newbold and made its monumental appearance on Tuesday, July 3, 1901.The auto drew such a crowd and created such a stir -- a stir fanned greatly by Mr. W.H. Hudson of Columbia who got to ride in the iron contraption and thereafter filled the air with his "emotions indescribable" -- arrangements were quickly made to have one on hand for demonstration and rides at the Fair, to be held toward the end of August. Crowed the News at this news, "everybody can get to see it and spin around the track at the rate of 30 miles an hour," roughly the equivalent of a horse at full gallop.


The August 21st edition of the paper carried several one- and two-line reminders of this Great Event, including "You will be permitted to take a ride on the horseless carriage," and this one, my favorite: "A vehicle that splits the wind, making the rider feel like he is flying." The previous week a subtle message had reminded readers the rides weren't free: "Bring a few extra dimes with you to the Fair if you want to ride on the automobile."

Mr. Scott Montgomery may have been first auto dealer

Not too long afterwards, Adair Countians began buying cars for personal and business use, albeit in a wee trickle at first. Mr. Scott Montgomery may well have been Columbia's first auto dealer, as an ad placed in the News a week before Christmas, 1901 stated "If you want fresh candies or Christmas presents see Scott Montgomery. He has anything from a automobile down to a boy's whistle." (It's more likely Mr. Montgomery was an agent for selling cars rather than him actually having one or more of the in stock.)

Almost exactly a year after the appearance of the horseless carriage at the Fair, this bit of speculative reverie appeared in the paper:

Travel time to Campbellsville cut down to just over an hour

"Just think how convenient it would be to leave Columbia on an Automobile and cover the distance between this town and Campbellsville in a little over an hour at a much less price than the old way requires."

Sam Lewis and J.O. Russell inform selves of merits of cars in the Windy City

This moment of wishful thinking was occasioned by an interview given by Columbia business magnate Sam Lewis, who had just returned from a business trip to Chicago, a trip also made by Mr. J.O. Russell of Russell & Murrell (later, Russell & Co.) fame. It seems that the Messrs. Lewis and Russell had spent time while in the Windy City "informing themselves as to the merits of the automobile" and had returned to the Auld Sod of Adair with visions of dollars dancing in their heads. Continued the article in the August 20, 1902 paper,

"The News man interviewed Mr. Lewis and he states that an automobile large enough to carry twenty passengers from Columbia to Campbellsville would cost $3,000, and the life of such a machine is fully fifteen years, based on the estimate of four trips per day.

"There is only one weak point and that is the tires which would have to be replaced annually. This would be the largest item of expense in the wear of the machine and the actual cost of running such a machine would be only $1.50 per day.

"Mr. Lewis states that Mr. Russell and himself contemplate buying a machine themselves or organizing a stock company for the purpose, and thus afford a quick, safe and comfortable passage between the two cities, or, as we should say, towns.

Passage on automobile would be free of jars of a stage coach

"Passage on an automobile would be free from the jars of a stage coach and in winter would be heated by steam. The time to cover the distance would be 1-1/2 hours. We have no doubt of the ultimate success of such an enterprise and trust that this community will give encouragement as the importance of this undertaking demands. Get out of the old ruts, go through the world in a hurry. We have no railroad, no reason to hope for one, so let the automobile have the right of way."

Mr. Lewis' "facts" on auto questionable

Even for the era of unbounded optimism in which these remarks were made, the foregoing was over the top and Mr. Lewis' "facts" were perhaps somewhat lacking in substance. For example, at four round trips a day, 40 miles per trip, five days a week, the mileage would have totaled nearly 42,000 per annum and over the course of 15 years would have approached 625,000 miles. Several years later, when tires had been improved by an appreciable amount, a good set would last 5,000 miles or thereabout. (You do the math.) The cost mentioned for the proposed vehicle, $3,000, would be the equivalent of almost $80,000 today. Mercifully for the Messrs. Lewis & Russell, this grandiose castle-in-the-sky scheme died a-borning.

Paul Azbill established Columbia Motor Co.

Almost three and a half years later, Paul Azbill established the Columbia Motor Co. in January 1906 and while it had a rather fitful start, the line continued to operate for some period of time. A full page ad (for an upcoming sale of lots near the Lindsey Wilson Training School) in mid-July 1906, in touting the advantages of Columbia, noted that

"While Columbia at present is an inland town, 20 miles from a railroad, she has three motor cars making four trips to Campbellsville daily. Time, 2 to 2.5 hours, and two stage lines making four daily trips..." (The same trip by stage routinely took well over three hours, even when the Columbia-Campbellsville Pike was in good order.)

By summer of 1910, automotive travel fairly prevalent

By the summer of 1910, automotive travel had become fairly prevalent, enough so that the News, in an early August edition, foreshadowed the future, commenting that "The old drummer's wagon will soon be a thing of the past." This thought was occasioned by the whirlwind arrival and departure of Mr. T.M. Carr, a salesman out of Louisville. The article stated Mr. Carr had arrived the previous Friday via auto, and that "He worked the town and started on his return trip to Louisville at 2:30 p.m., saying he would make the city in time for supper. It is one hundred miles to the city."

By 1913, town hit by near flood of scofflaws

Come the middle of 1913, the "wee trickle" mentioned earlier had turned into a near flood and scofflaws were roaring about town to such an extent the Town Board stepped in and fearlessly ordained "that eight miles an hour for automobiles and motorcycles in the corporate limits of Columbia is as fast as any machine can be run. Five dollar fine for the first violation, ten for the second and so on."

Only two weeks later, the paper paid proper if brief homage both to past and present as well as looming future:

"The old stage coach is evidently gone from the pike forever. The automobiles are doing good service and they are here to stay. The time is so much easier and quicker, it would a difficult matter to get the traveling public to again take the hack."

In July 1922, the newspaper observed in the editorial voice, "A few days ago we counted forty automobiles on the square at one time. It was not the 4th of July either. Just an ordinary day." Judge Jeffries took no-nonsense attitude with auto drivers

The foregoing appeared four weeks to the day after this no-nonsense announcement:

"Judge Jeffries has tacked up cards, with the wording, warning automobile drivers that they must cut off the "cut out," and after dark, both lights on the machine must be in action, and fast driving on the streets and square must stop. The judge is right and we are glad he has given publicity to his decision, and hope that his warning notice will have proper effect. If this order is disobeyed, look out for fines."

And in closing, these heady words of advice from the News, fivescore and eleven summers ago:

"It would be the part of wisdom for the automobile riders, who are ambitious to travel a mile a minute or faster, to make their will and say their prayers before starting."

(And if you're a pedestrian in Columbia town, that part about wills and prayers goes double.)

* The title of this ramble is a line in a favorite song. (Thank you, Jerry Reed!) . - JIM


This story was posted on 2013-08-01 06:19:35
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