Monthly Archives: October 2016

Taking a ride in the first Cole Solid Tire Automobile

The Cole Motor Car Company is one example of an automobile manufacturer that evolved from Indiana’s carriage industry.

The Cole story starts with founder Joseph Jarrett Cole, who started working in the carriage business in about 1888. He served as a salesman and corporate executive for carriage makers Parry Manufacturing Company of Indianapolis and the Moon Brothers Carriage Company of St. Louis for about 16 years.

Joseph J. Cole and Nellie Cole with the first Cole
Joseph J. Cole and Nellie Cole with the first Cole

In November 1904, Cole purchased a one-half interest for $25,000 in the Gates-Osborne Carriage Company of Indianapolis. He became president and changed the name to The Cole Carriage Company on December 4, 1905. The company was known for its full line of vehicles.

Cole began to think seriously about building an automobile in early 1908 and secured the permission of the other board members to build a model for the company to manufacture. At about the same time, the company employed Charles S. Crawford, a graduate engineer from Washington University, to assist Cole in developing the automobile.

Legend has it that Joseph J. Cole was so excited about the prospect of driving the first car of his design that he forgot to include one important accessory—the brakes.

He spent most of the afternoon on his initial test run driving around and around Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis until the car ran out of gas, providing the necessary means to stop the car.

Soon, the first Cole Solid Tire Automobile was ready for the board’s inspection on October 9, 1908. The car was designed for the road conditions of the day.

A second model was completed and shown to the directors on June 1, 1909. Because of their favorable impression of this second car, board members voted to incorporate as The Cole Motor Car Company on June 22, 1909. This conventional second model was known as the Cole Model 30. The company sold 112 units of the Model 30 by the end of 1909. In 1910, an additional 783 were sold and another 1,316 in 1911.

By the end of the company’s drive through history, Cole contributed several innovations to the automotive industry.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

Diners – Indiana’s back-roads gems

The Plainfield Oasis Diner, which was relocated in 2015 to the town’s west side along the National Road (U.S. 40), is a back-roads gem.

Oasis Diner
Oasis Diner
Copyright © 2015 Dennis E. Horvath

The 1954 diner, built in the Streamline Modern style, was manufactured in New Jersey and transported to Indiana by rail. The front portion is the original 35-foot chrome structure, accented by red, white, and blue stripes. Inside, it still has the original 1954 peach and gray tile interior, with a peach-colored counter and rehabbed stainless steel exterior. The coffee cup sign and pink tile interior create a setting inspired by speed and the motor age.

The diner was placed on Indiana Landmarks 10 Most Endangered List in May 2010, after enlisting Ratio Architects to perform a relocation study for the 1950s-style Plainfield Diner. Doug Huff, owner of L.D. Huff Construction, Inc., and Don Rector moved the diner four miles west to its new location. The menu reflects made-from-scratch dishes, baked goods, hand-crafted sodas, and old-time diner staples like burgers, tenderloins, and ice cream floats.

Diners were especially popular in the 1940s and 1950s, enticing patrons looking for convenient, made-to-order food, hot breakfasts, tenderloin sandwiches, chili platters, and steaming coffee. The Plainfield Oasis Diner is believed to be one of the last structures of its kind on the National Road.

Check out this Indiana’s back-roads gem today.

For more information on our automotive heritage, follow this link.

Indianapolis’ Early Auto Innovation – Part 2

Late in 1908, Carl and one of his real estate associates, Lem Trotter, were returning home on a drive from Dayton, Ohio, to Indianapolis. Their anticipated short drive soon became difficult. The car overheated twice and just inside the Indiana border the vehicle blew the third tire of the day. Fisher remarked to Trotter about how unreliable American cars were and that the nation needed a suitable test track. Trotter challenged Fisher: “You’ve been talking about a racetrack ever since you got back from Europe. If you think it will make money, why don’t you build it yourself?” Fisher encouraged Trotter to find a suitable site for such a track.

Trotter located a 320-acre parcel known as the Pressley farm, located about five miles west of downtown Indianapolis along Crawfordsville Pike. Fisher immediately enlisted his business partner Allison, who shared Fisher’s excitement for the venture. They approached mutual friends and racing associates: Arthur C. Newby, and carburetor manufacturer Frank H. Wheeler to join them. They filed incorporation papers under the name of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company, capitalized at $250,000, on February 8, 1909. They immediately began planning for the 1909 racing season.

Louis Strang with IMS model 1909
Louis Strang with IMS model 1909

For more on the happenings at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway peruse my blogs during April and May each year.

July 3, 1912, marked the founding of the town of Speedway Indiana. On this date, deeds were transferred for the 240-acre site to Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison, owners of the Globe Realty Company, and Lem Trotter, their real estate partner.

The partners conceived the town of Speedway to be a horseless manufacturing city adjacent to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway served by two railroads and modern thoroughfares. The city was designed to be attractive to skilled workers to provide steady employment for the nearby factories.

The realty company laid out the residential section on a grid of streets between 16th and 10th streets and between Main and Winton. The east side of Main Street was platted for factories.

Carl G. Fisher drives the Stoddard Dayton pace car 1909
Carl G. Fisher drives the Stoddard Dayton pace car 1909

Fisher and Allison’s Prest-O-Lite Company was the first to build five buildings on the north plat near 16th Street. The charging building was located at the far end of the property to preclude damage to other properties from possible gas explosions. This facility opened in May 12, 1913. Swartz Electric Company, makers of automobile batteries and electric appliances, opened its plant about the same time. The Electric Steel Company completed facilities in 1915. The lots on the west side of Main Street were specified for stores and offices.

Shortly after the introduction of the electric starting and lighting system by Cadillac in 1912, Fisher and Allison soon realized that this system would soon dominate the automotive market. Fortunately, they found a company interested in purchasing their Prest-O-Lite holdings. Union Carbide realized that the containers produced by Fisher and Allison had dozens of other marketable uses. In addition, the company had discovered other applications for the gasses, from welding to medical purposes. Union Carbide offered the partners roughly $9 million in a combination of cash and stock for their business in 1917.

Following the 1915 500 mile race, Fisher and Allison became concerned that European teams would not participate in International races during World War I and decided to develop their own racing team. They commissioned five racers and formed the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company in September 1915. Eddie Rickenbaker encouraged them to form the two-car Prest-O-Lite Team at the same time.

In 1916, Allison became the sole owner of the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company and moved operations to a small shop on the corner of the Prest-O-Lite lot. Of the 26 cars entered in the 1916 race, seven were from the Speedway Team and Prest-O-Lite Team companies. As a high-end machine shop, the Speedway Team Company soon began developing automotive parts for other racing teams.

That’s how Indianapolis’ auto innovation grew in the early 1910’s.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

Another Car Culture Web Resource

Earlier this year I discovered a Studebaker National Museum video resource. This should be interesting to anyone studying Indiana car culture.

1963 Avanti
Copyright © 1962 Studebaker Corporation

In this video, Andrew Beckman, Archivist of the Studebaker National Museum gives you an overview of Studebaker’s history from 1852 to 1963.

Check out this You And Me This Morning overview of the Studebaker National Museum.

Here’s an interesting video of a 1955 Studebaker Conestoga wagon.

This Avanti documentary shares early Studebaker history and then a comprehensive Avanti story. Wouldn’t you love to have one of these fine Studebaker autos? I know I would.

I invite to check out these Studebaker videos to get an idea of this great Indiana-built automobile.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

Indianapolis’ Early Auto Innovation – Part 1

The story of Indianapolis’ early automotive heritage begins a little over 120 years ago. Carl G. Fisher’s major recreational pursuit was bicycling. In the summer of 1890, 16 year-old Fisher and a dozen or so like-minded young cycling enthusiasts formed their own social club, the Zig-Zag Cycle Club. The club rented a large brick house adjoining the Empire Theater on Delaware Street. Members participated in riding events to towns located 20 or 30 miles from Indianapolis and back. At the time, riding a high-wheeler bicycle was an athletic challenge on the rutted roads of the time. Joining Fisher on those rides were James A. Allison and Arthur C. Newby.

Carl Fisher
Carl G. Fisher
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

In 1891, the seventeen-year-old Fisher and his two brothers opened a bicycle shop on Pennsylvania Street in downtown Indianapolis. Soon, Carl left his brothers Earle and Rollo in charge of the shop, while he engaged in regional bicycle competitions around the Midwest. One of his closest friends and rivals, Barney Oldfield, later became one of the nation’s most famous race car drivers. Bicycle racing provided Fisher the opportunity to cultivate social and business contacts that he would use in the future.

By the late 1890s, Indianapolis as well as the rest of the country was enjoying the bicycle craze. To some, it seemed as if bicycling rivaled baseball as the national pastime. Arthur C. Newby built a quarter-mile wooden racing oval on Central Avenue just north of Fall Creek in 1898 in time for the League of American Wheelman Convention. The velodrome offered seating in covered grandstands for up to 2,000 fans that paid admissions ranging upward from 25 cents.

Fisher purchased his first automobile, a De Dion Bouton motor tricycle in 1898. This budding interest for autos formed the springboard for converting the bicycle shop into an auto dealership later that year. Fisher and automobiles soon became inextricably intertwined in the history of Indianapolis. Fisher, Oldfield, and Newby barnstormed across the Midwest, appearing at dozens of local, regional, and state automobile races in 1901. On October 1, 1904, Fisher won the five-mile Diamond Cup race in Chicago, Illinois, driving the factory-entered Premier Comet.

Newby and two other individuals founded the predecessor of Diamond Chain Company, just outside of Indianapolis’ original mile square at West and South Streets in 1890. It was one of the first companies to exclusively produce bicycle chain in the U.S. As the bicycle craze died down about 1900, they began to produce multi-link chain for other transportation applications like automobiles. They proudly report that the 1903 Wright brothers’ flyer used Diamond Chain. Newby along with L.S. Dow and Phillip Goetz founded the National Automobile & Electric Company in Indianapolis during 1900.


An incident in 1904 provided the genesis for Fisher’s first fortune. Near his new auto showroom on North Illinois, Carl met Percy C. Avery, the patent holder for a compressed acetylene gas system for lighting buoys and lighthouses, who was looking for investors. Carl was so impressed with Avery’s demonstration of the system that he enlisted his friend James A. Allison to become partners with him and Avery in forming the Concentrated Acetylene Company.

Allison understood that the greatest obstacle to marketing the system was the explosive nature of the gas. Allison hypothesized a test for the compressed gas cylinder. Allison took it to the West Washington Street bridge spanning the White River. He threw it onto the rocks below, but it did not explode. He collected the device from the rocky shore and returned to Fisher’s dealership, where they agreed to start the company. The product they developed was the Prest-O-Lite system for automotive headlights. The Fisher Automobile Company location served as early Prest-O-Lite corporate offices before moving elsewhere.

In 1905, Fisher joined an American team that ventured to France to compete in the Gordon Bennett Cup races. He was stunned by the European cars’ superiority over the American models. This event started his thinking to improve American automobiles.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.