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More than mobility: Cars through the years in Wadena

The first mention of an automobile in Wadena was in a 1903 Pioneer Journal as follows: "The automobile ordered from Cleveland, Ohio, by the Ebner Brothers will not be here the first of May, according to the contract made. There has been a strike at the factory and orders have been delayed. Wm. Ebner says that they have received a letter from the factory saying that the machine would be shipped about the first of June. The machine is said to be a dandy, and it sure should be, for it cost $1,000."

In October of that year it was reported that Henry Ebner and his son Frank, W. E. Parker and John Dower went out to Parkers Prairie on Monday. They went out in Ebner's auto and when at Wrightstown the machine broke in some manner. A team was hired at that place and the auto was brought back to Wadena.

In a 1905 Pioneer Journal article, "Another automobile for Wadena, making the eighth machine owned in this city. Last week Theo Northfoss went to Minneapolis and bought a fine Rambler car. The machine has two cylinders and is rated at 18 horse power. Mr. Northfoss bought the machine second handed but it was only run a part of last season and is as good as new. It is equipped with a fine storm top, horns, lamps and in fact all the extras to make it a complete car in every respect. The machine which Mr. Northfoss bought is the one which John Dower intended buying before he decided to buy Isaac Hazlett's White Steamer. The Steamer and Mr. Northfoss' machine will be shipped from Minneapolis together and they will arrive on Saturday.

"Mr. Northfoss owns a cottage on Lake Blanche and he desired an automobile particularly because it will afford quick and pleasant means of transportation for himself and family to and from the lake during the summer season."

It is hard to understand that with the roads as primitive as they were how these machines could better people's travel plans.

In 1909, it was suggested that an Auto Club be organized. In quoting from the newspaper: "By the new law it is necessary to have two headlights and one tail lamp. Those are to be lighted one hour after sundown. Every machine must be equipped with some sort of a bell or horn and must have a license tag on the rear of the car which is made visible by the tail lamp after dark. The new law went into effect on May 15 requiring the tags to be changed each year. The new tags have the year and state in which they were issued on them and they also change color each year. Every car must be equipped with one of these license numbers before June 15, or the owner will be liable to a fine."

In 1912, the paper reported that Dr. Paul Kenyon, Wadena physician, had a narrow escape. On a country call to the Bjondal farm, it was about dusk, and as he turned into the farm he failed to notice barbed wire strung across the gateways. The front lamps of the car were broken off and the rods supporting the windshield were broken. Fortunately the wires broke and no one was injured.

Another interesting news item dated June 27, 1912 was: "C. W. Miller (depot agent turned temporary Ford dealer) has received notification from the Ford Automobile Company to the effect that no more cars can be delivered this season at least until September. Mr. Miller sold his own car and ordered another for his own use and ordered another for a customer, neither car will be delivered. The factory asks that orders be cancelled. Mr. Miller desires a car for his own use at once and is negotiating with Gehr & Lifquist for the purchase of a Flanders auto. As a consequence Mr. Miller went back to his station agent duties until the Ford drought was remedied."

In a 1913 Pioneer Journal article titled "Automobiles for everybody" it noted that there were 66 automobiles in Wadena. This did not include anyone outside of the city limits and there was one auto for every 6 ½ families. It further stated that the apparent extravagant purchase of autos in Wadena has not had the effect of reducing the bank deposits to any appreciable extent and there is no apparent danger of the community becoming bankrupt through buying automobiles. The Ebner Milling Company topped the list of owners with four.

It was a tough year for auto owners when the village council decreed that autos and motorcycles could not travel at a speed of over eight miles per hour in the city limits and that both groups must keep on the proper side of the street.

Later that year the Pioneer Journal recorded the first car theft in Wadena: "Carl Beltman and George Brock paid more than $100 for a few minutes fun last Friday evening in which they appropriated August Schneider's new automobile for a ride about town. The trip ended rather disastrously and suddenly for them when they collided with the hitching posts on the corner opposite the Congregational church. Two posts were broken completely off by the force of the impact and the third badly damaged. The auto was badly damaged, the front axle and radiator being bent and other damage done. Following the smash up the machine was abandoned and picked up by the owner in the morning. On information supplied by H. W. Klawitter the boys were apprehended and readily settled for the damages rather than face a jail sentence."

In the summer of 1914 one night, the hitching posts on Jefferson Street mysteriously disappeared. It prompted a letter from W. H. Welch, a farmer from Compton Township decrying the fact that the merchants in Wadena had no like or regard for the farmer, which they demonstrated by the removal of the hitching posts. He further stated that the only reason this happened was so that the young bucks of the town would have more room to race their automobiles up and down the streets to their heart's content.

The Pioneer Journal was taken to task by Henry Ebner stating that the paper was wrong in publishing Mr. Welch's letter. He said it only caused more agitation between the farmer and the merchant. He further stated that the farmer and the merchant should cooperate in a business way but the farmer should not be allowed to dictate to the business man as to what he should not do. He further stated that "97 percent of the farmers are gentlemen and very worthy people and the other three percent are d--d fools and it is this element which we must suppress."

I am not so sure that anyone in our day and age would express themselves in such a manner but Mr. Ebner, like Mr. Welch, said it like he saw it.

In 1915, M/M Frank Coon and daughter Maud made a trip to Rochelle, Ill., for an extended visit, making the trip down there and back in their car. Considering weather conditions they made a remarkable trip in that they had but one blow out and were pulled out of a mud hole once. They report a most enjoyable trip, despite the continuous rain.

Mr. Coon reported that they have a most excellent system of highways through that section of the country, but that continued rains had played havoc with them. Further stating that coming out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that for a good many miles the road was so slippery as to forbid travel faster than eight or 10 miles an hour. After that for the balance of the trip the roads were less treacherous.

Also that year, Mayor Ebner pushed a move to organize auto owners and business men with a view to improving the roads leading into the city. This action was prompted by the poor condition of the majority of the roads with some of the worst spots within the city limits. He further stated that the present city administration intended to enforce the road laws, which was only too apparent by the arrest and fining of several of the prominent citizens. The violators were hailed into court with a light fine imposed only because it was their first offense.

In June of that year Dr. Joseph A. Schacht arrived home with his new Speedwell automobile. Later in September he set a new speed record in his new Packard for the run to Wadena from Minneapolis when he left that city at 2:10 p.m., arriving in Wadena at 8 o'clock in the evening with a 15 minute stop for lunch, averaging better than 30 miles per hour. The distance of 43 miles from Long Prairie to Wadena was made in one hour. He was really cruising.

Next week: the conclusion