Reflections remembers research done on the arrival of the automobile in the Sumter community. An article published in 1963 by reporter Jobie Dixon presents an insightful perspective on this event. Additional resources were taken from The Sumter Item …
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Reflections remembers research done on the arrival of the automobile in the Sumter community. An article published in 1963 by reporter Jobie Dixon presents an insightful perspective on this event. Additional resources were taken from The Sumter Item archives in order to expand the data presented. Because of the length of the articles, the author was required to use a degree of editing.
"One of the first vehicles to arrive in the Sumter area was a 1901 Locomobile, a steam car bought by H. C. Bland of Mayesville, who later moved to Sumter and managed the fledgling Ford agency here until his retirement."
The vehicle he ordered was shipped via train and arrived in a large wooden crate marked "this side up." However, when the crate was opened, it revealed that the auto was sitting upside down. The manufacturers had made an error in posting the sign so that the vehicle was shipped from Bridgeport, Connecticut, on its top.
"The early Locomobile was operated by steam, thus the boiler was positioned directly under the driver's seat, eliminating any possibility of minor injury if it exploded. Kerosene was poured on a rod with a pad and then lighted with a match which hopefully started the engine. The water was allowed to boil to provide steam to get the engine underway. The vehicle sat on hard, tubeless wheels which were surprisingly durable and quiet. Steering was done using a lever which could be pushed from side to side.
"Another auto that appeared in Sumter was the Oldsmobile, 'which looked like a snow sleigh with a buckboard seat on a box, containing the engine.' The vehicle was started by turning a hand crank on the side until the engine engaged. Several new models were later introduced including the Milburn electric car. With more autos being brought to Sumter, more and more auto dealerships sprang up to handle the influx. In 1917, H. C. Bland came to Sumter to manage the new Hud-Sex motors. He became the distributor for the Essex, Cadillac, Hudson and Oldsmobile autos in the Sumter area."
In 1914, McCollum Motors opened a Dodge dealership on the corner of Main and Bartlette streets and placed a gas pump on the property.
"Many Sumterites questioned this action as two pumps were already operating in the city. Later Jeff Williams would open the Chalmer's car agency which was located at the former site of the Coca-Cola plant. Since the first auto arrived in Sumter, a number of makes have been produced with the vast majority now out of existence. Some of the most popular models were the Hubmobile, Pierce-Arrow, Maxwell, Essex, Dort, Liberty, Overland, Franklin, Moon, Reo and the White and Stanley Steamers."
Headlights on the first vehicles were often attached by owners who wanted this convenience.
"They couldn't be cut on simply with a switch; when dusk arrived, and the street lighter was lighting the city's lamps, car owners would light the filament on his headlights with a match." Most of the early vehicles came as basic units, and any extras including windshields had to be added by the owner. The roads were in poor shape as there were no paved streets for years. During the summer months, the roads were extremely sandy, and the winter turned them into mud. Tubes for the tires were not common, requiring the owner to fix his tires or carry a number of spares in case of an emergency.
"Several years before World War I, a big race was held on Main Street for auto owners to demonstrate their wares. The race began at the Claremont Hotel and concluded where Morris College begins today. The winning car registered an amazing speed of 32 mile per hour. Most of the early autos have faded into the past; however, there are some still existing in museums across the nation. These early machines both encouraged and enabled progress to take place in the daily lives of our community's citizens."
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