Published by the Sunday Journal Gazette
GALLON WENT FAR IN OLD MAXWELL
By Forest J. McComb
Only three popular cars, that I can remember, were smaller than the 1917 Maxwell – the Model T Ford, Chevrolet, and Saxon roadster. They all used four-cylinder engines, with the Maxwell rated at 22 horsepower and the Ford, 18.
The Model T dominated the market. Henry Ford had hit on a small car that was indeed low in cost and maintenance. But the Maxwell had more room (for five people), rode better and had a much better streamlined appearance. Electric lights and self-starter came as regular equipment. The Ford once sold for about $360, laid down and ready to go without any extras whatever, while the Maxwell came complete for $550. They both sported roadster as well as five-passenger bodies on the same chassis, and both had one color – black!
My father purchased a Maxwell touring car in 1917 and at the age of 19, I was the principal driver. We soon knew what splendid mileage we were getting for regular driving – somewhere around 25 or more miles to the gallon of gasoline!
The factory at Detroit knew the economy of the car and wishing to advertise, held a contest among Maxwell car owners only, and offered $50 war bonds to the winner in each state. The driver on gravel roads wouldn’t have to compete with another on concrete, of which there were few at the time.
The Ideal Auto Co. on High Street held the Maxwell agency in Allen County and my late oldest brother, HUBERT J. McCOMB, was a mechanic employed in the Ideal shop. The firm also had the Haynes and Oakland agencies. Later in life, Hubert had his own business and his fine talent was recognized at the McComb Ignition Co. on Barr Street.
Each Maxwell owner in the Ideal agency was entitled to a checkup before entering the contest. Hubert was put in charge of meeting these people; the Ideal also was giving a list of prizes.
Hubert, of course, was fair to all customers. When he saw a car needed some new parts to perform well, he advised them, but left it up to the owner how much he wished to spend. I was going to drive my father’s car, and this was a different story. We intended to go all out to win, if possible, and didn’t leave work or expense stand in the way. We also had a plan!
I’d take the car in evenings to the shop, from eight miles north on Coldwater Road, and he’d work on it. The car was 10 months old and had come through one winter.
He put in new points, spark plugs, condenser and checked the timing. We also took the carburetor apart and washed it. The car was in perfect order, but to make sure we intended to roadtest it the evening of 21st of June. Then, we received the dismaying news!
Ideal auto officials reported a lady had driven her Maxwell 36.6 miles that day. They thought she was a sure winner. Anyone else could try, of course, but it would have to be done at once, for they were closing the contest that day. I must have three observers…………quick!
Another brother, the late CHARLES A. McCOMB, had dropped in out of curiosity and said he would go along. I called a friend nearby, Miss LORETTA WESTRICK (MRS. CHARLES COULARDOT, SR.) and she, too, would go. Two not very neutral observers, to be sure. But a Haynes driver had dropped into the shop and he was recruited. The Ideal knew this man’s word to be impeccable and the observer problem was solved.
The Maxwell factory provided one-gallon tanks with a line to the carburetor, that fastened to the windshield. We filled the tank and I laid down the one-man top.
I had chosen the Leo Road (gravel at the time) for the run, and we drove to Spy Run Creek on Clinton Street for the start. In those days, speedometers had a gauge to record the trip. With it set at zero and the gallon tank connected, we were ready. The men gave me a push, the engine caught, and two male observers jumped in and we were off. Nothing in the rules said we couldn’t use this method of starting, so we used it!
It was a wonderful evening and conditions seemed just right for the contest. Sheet lightning played in the sky, the air dampened, but no rain came. The observers chatted amiably but I had work to do.
Just before crossing the California Road (now the Bypass) I stopped the engine and put the gearshift in neutral, allowing the car to coast over the brow of the hill and down the grade ahead for about a half mile. I shifted into high, threw in the clutch and the engine started again. This was our plan – to coast without power as much as possible! The Leo Road is over rolling country and when there is a hill to coast down, there is usually one ahead to climb. But I felt I could save more fuel than would otherwise would be used, with this method.
Keeping the speed between 30 and 35 miles an hour and coasting whenever possible, we arrived at Leo. I turned around then drove back to Fort Wayne. It had become dark, long before, and I turned around again and headed back toward Leo.
Reaching Leo, the contest began to become exciting, for we were approaching the 36.6 miles set by the lady. Heading back to Fort Wayne, my three observers were hanging onto every movement on the speedometer as each tenth of a mile rolled up.
They cheered mightily when we passed her mark with the engine still going strong. We were almost back to old Robison Park when it finally gave a gasp and died at 40.8 miles. I was elated for the work and patience had paid off! I also realized I hadn’t used the brakes or lower gears on the entire trip!
The Ideal Auto Co. gave me a top prize of a $30 tire and in due time I received a $50 bond from the Maxwell people, making it quite a profitable evening.
The development of the automobile, right or wrong, in this country is a fascinating story indeed! They started in the late 90’s or early 1900’s. They were one-cylinder vehicles with lots of noise and vibration!
Haynes, of Kokomo, is credited with producing the first vehicle that ran on its own power, followed closely by Olds and Ford. They were called “horseless carriages” or “’one-lungers.” They weren’t reliable and didn’t amount to much but the public, “wild for transportation” bought them anyway. These cars were soon followed by the two-cylinder and then four-cylinder engines.
The engine was the vital part of the car and the public’s first question was: “How much power does it have?”
Today, we look for smooth lines of body design, color and upholstery and ask “Has it got air-conditioning and power brakes?” – with hardly a glance at the V-8 engine.
The development of the four-cylinder engine, except foreign jalopies, practically ceased in 1941. Now we find the luxury car has filled the cities with smog and made the world short of gasoline.
The auto companies are frantically sending design engineers to the drawing boards to come up with a smaller, high mileage economical car. The development of the four-cylinder engine is likely to resume again, unless an altogether new engine can be found. Four-cylinder engines can do it because they dominate the farm tractor field now, where power is an absolute necessity.
Many years ago a neighbor, the late FRANK PULVER, purchased a Marion five-passenger car in 1911. It was painted green with yellow wheels and was a luxurious car at the time. In those days the roads were maintained by township supervisors. The roads were gravel over clay and in winter got to be a mess – no good for an automobile.
Owners were in the habit of putting their cars on blocks for the winter. In the spring when the roads could be scraped, Frank could be depended upon to be ready and make the first trip at 50 or 55 miles an hour and, believe me, that four-cylinder car was purring like a kitten in cream!
There were accidents, too. My late father-in-law, GEORGE C. GUMP, also a pioneer in autos, was driving in Perry Township on the Auburn Road. Hitting loose gravel, he upset his Model T Ford. Mr. Gump was thrown out and unhurt, but twin children MARTHA and GEORGE, were nowhere in sight. He raised up one side of the car and Martha scrambled out. They looked around for George, Jr. Finding his cap at the other side of the car, they both lifted and George Jr. crawled out, unhurt. It was a miraculous accident.
Most early cars started in small shops. The younger generation probably will be surprised at the list my younger brother, JOHN F. McCOMB, and I can remember.
Crow, Elcar, Franklin, Dort, Star, Apperson, E.M.F., Reo, Chevrolet, Ford, Moon, Metz, Autocar, Auburn, Macantyre, Zimmerman, Cadillac, Sterns-Knight, Overland, Maxwell, Dodge, Buick, Locomobile, Lexington, Murcer, Stutz, Kissel, Hipmobile, Haynes, Velie, Packard, Pierce-Arrow, White, Peerless, Chandler, Rambler, Saxon, Durant, Marmon, Monroe, Cole, Elgin, Carter, Kaiser, Chalmers, Case, Essex, Chrysler, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Studebaker and Hudson. Indiana was once the leader in automotive production.
All these cars, and probably more, went bankrupt or sold out to what is known as the Big Three. They, along with government interference, have built for us a mess of gas-eating luxury cars overdone in power. And they have willfully thrown the small car market to foreign countries. While doing this, the Big Three catered to and simply fed the ego of the American public. Now the country finds itself short of gasoline! I expect to see our engineers refine the four-cylinder engine and recover the small car market.
With less power, the public will soon learn we’ll have to be satisfied and content to arrive at the next light at the same time as the fellow at the side of us. But at least it’ll be cheaper!