I’d like to highlight three automobiles built in Richmond, Indiana – the Pilot, Rodefeld and Wescott. The inaugural year of manufacture for all three was 1909.
The Pilot Motor Car Company was an outgrowth of the Seidel Buggy Company. The name Pilot and its slogan “The Car Ahead” were selected by George Seidel because at one time he wanted to be a river pilot. Its subslogan was “Built to Wear – Not Just to Sell.” The Pilot was an assembled car that sold at reasonable prices and in sufficient numbers for the company to remain in business for 15 years.
Seidel took pride that he was one of the first in the industry to employ women. They sewed curtains and finished upholstery. Early Pilots used Teetor Harley engines from Hagerstown, Indiana. These were four-cylinder engines through 1912, six-cylinder engines in 1913 and the primary engine from 1917 to 1924, with the exception of a one-year run for a V-8 engine in 1918.
The styling of early Pilots was much like most cars of their era, with touring cars and roadsters dominating the line. The most dashing Pilot ever produced was the Sportster model introduced in 1922. It had racy lines, disk wheels, barrel-type headlights and no running boards. Pilot Motor Car Company succumbed to the effects of the post World War I recession.
In the early twentieth century, August Rodefeld, his brother William, and son August Jr. established The Rodefeld Machine Shop, one of the earliest automotive repair shops in eastern Indiana. This was the outgrowth of their earlier blacksmith shop which dated back to 1885. Beginning in 1909, they commenced production of four-cylinder air-cooled touring cars and one-ton trucks. Both passenger and commercial vehicles featured chain drive. The Rodefelds produced the engines, transmissions, and all mechanical parts themselves. They used outside suppliers for bodies, wheels, magnetos and spark plugs. Rodefeld vehicle production ceased in 1917, with a total production of about 50 cars and trucks.
After World War I, the company produced water pumps for Model T Fords. In the mid-Twenties, they established a parts jobbing business that evolved into the Rodefeld Company, Inc. This company exists today with automotive supply stores in central Indiana and Ohio.
Burton J. Wescott had a Winton, one of the first automobiles in Richmond and moved his Wescott Carriage Company into the automotive field in 1909. In 1910, he manufactured a four-cylinder touring car and changed the firm’s name to Wescott Motor Car Company. In spring 1910, the company claimed to be completing three cars a day. The first Wescott six-cylinder was introduced in 1913. The company moved operations to Springfield, Ohio, in 1916. Wescott’s Richmond production from 1909 to 1916 totaled about 5500 autos. The Wescott was known as a well-built assembled car.
An interesting side note about the Wescott Carriage Company is that Charles T. and Fred Fisher, two of the seven brothers who later formed the Fisher Body Company, worked at Wescott until 1904, before they left for Detroit, Michigan.
At the Wayne County Historical Museum at 1150 North A Street (on the National Road) you can see examples of 13 Richmond-built vehicles, including a 1909 Wescott and a 1920 Pilot.
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