This is the third in a series of monthly blogs about the places, people and events that appear in my novel, Strangled in the Stacks, the first book in the Booker Falls Mystery Series. This month’s topic is “Automobiles in Booker Falls, ca 1920.”
Numerous automobiles passed through Booker Falls during the first two decades of the twentieth century on their way from somewhere to somewhere else. But it was not until Myrtle Tully’s arrival in town in the fall of 1919 in a twelve-year-old Model N Ford that any had taken up permanent residence.
The most well-known of Ford’s vehicles was the popular Model T. But for five years before that model hit the road in 1908, The Ford Motor Company had produced eight previous models: A, B, C, F, K, N, R and S.
The Model N—Myrtle’s car—built at Ford’s Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, was introduced in 1906 as Ford’s entry into the inexpensive car market, and was priced at five hundred dollars. During its two years of production seven thousand cars were built. This included two other upgraded models of the Model N, the Model R, which was a more expensive version of the N with a larger body and other perks such asrunning boards and oil lamps; and the Model S, with even more unique features such as an optional extra, third, mother-in-law seat (and what red blooded American husband wouldn’t want that?).
The Model N came only in maroon, the Model R only in red. I have seen pictures of the Model S in both colors. And that quote by Henry Ford regarding the Model T? “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Not only did he probably not say it, but the Model T was available in a wide range of colors, including hunter green and fire-engine red—and black.
These three models were the last ones produced by Ford for sale in the United States with right-hand drive (such as is now used in Europe).
In 1920, motivated by his desire not to rely on Myrtle to have to drive when they went on a date out of town, George Salmon, the town mayor, purchased a new Briscoe, manufactured by the Briscoe Company located in Jackson, Michigan. The touring model, priced at eleven hundred and eighty five dollars, was elegant.
Like Myrtle’s Model N, the Briscoe boasted a convertible top, leather covered seats, headlights and a horn, and came in a variety of colors: George chose robin-egg blue, which matched the color of the bow tie he wore when he came to pick up Myrtle to go to Red Jacket. He’d purchased the car at the plant, but to get it to Booker Falls, he had to cross the Straits of Mackinac at Mackinaw City. Since there was no bridge there at the time, the crossing was made by ferry, a sometimes dicey ride.
In spite of his aversion to these new “infernal machines,” Henri de la Cruz, the town constable, decided that if he were to compete with George for Myrtle’s attention, he also needed an automobile. His choice was a 1920 Packard Town Car, which he had shipped from a dealer in Dayton, Ohio. To outfit it as a police car, Henri made several modifications, including the word “POLICE” painted on either side, and a bell mounted on the front of the hood that he could ring using a chain attached to a lever next to the steering wheel.
The Packard Motor Company was regarded as one of the top three automobile manufacturers in America, along with Pierce-Arrow of Buffalo, New York and Peerless of Cleveland, Ohio. Like George’s Briscoe, the Packard Touring Car came in a variety of colors. Not known to be ostentatious, Henri chose black.
In 1920 there were over 200 manufacturers were producing automobiles in the United States (not including truck and motorcycle manufacturers). Today, there are less than 50, including about a dozen major ones, and three dozen minor ones. 7 ½ million vehicles were on the road in this country in 1920, compared to 250 million today.
Next month’s blog topic is “What’s In A Name – Red Jacket, Calumet, Laurium?”
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