Saturday, October 28, 2017

Double Back: Tracing Histories of the Red River Ox Cart Trails

Norman Kittson, as painted by Kit Leffler...

The Artist Statement for the Double Back: Tracing Histories of the Red River Ox Cart Trails series: "This project explores the road stories of the Red River Ox Cart Trail, a network of paths joining the Red River Colony (aka the Selkirk Colony) and its north-flowing watershed with the south-flowing Mississippi River. The paths were a thoroughfare for early fur trade, and ran from current day Winnipeg, Canada to Saint Paul, MN. Rather than a strict historical resurrection of the trail, the project is intended as a learning experience: an attempt to create a historical and artistic narrative that balances on the unclear line between the past and present." - Kit Leffler

Among the local characters highlighted in the exhibition: George Bonga, Pierre Bottineau (below), Little Crow, and Norman Kittson...

Monday, October 16, 2017

Little Minnesota in WWII

I just got my copy of Jill Johnson's newest book, Little Minnesota in World War II:  The Stories Behind 140 Fallen Heroes from Minnesota's Littlest Towns.  As readers may know, Jill also wrote Little Minnesota:  A Nostalgic Look at Minnesota's Smallest Towns.  As in that book, so too does the newest book feature St. Vincent.  This time, in the form of two brothers who fought and died, one in each theater of the conflict...

The two entries about the Gooselaw brothers of St. Vincent, tell a fascinating and eventually sad story, all too common among many American families during World War II.  I can only share images of the entries in the book, but I encourage all readers to buy a copy, or borrow one from your library,and read these stories for yourself...

"The Gooselaw family endured much tragedy during World War II. When Adele Gooselaw's husband died in 1942, she could not imagine that she would lose two sons in battle in World War II: Jerome in the New Georgia Campaign in 1942, and Arthur in the Battle for Metz, France, in 1944. Three other sons, Lewis, Edmund and Nazareth, also served in the army during World War II..."

Pembina County at 150: Historical Automobile Dealers

Where Have All The Car Dealers Gone?
by Jim Benjaminson

Gregory Ford's announcement last week that they are giving up their Ford Motor Company franchise after 58 years of sales brings to a close a long history of Ford sales in Cavalier —stretching all the way back to 1906. As Gregory's fold their tent for new car sales, Pembina County is left with just two automobile retailers – Soeby Motors (also Ford dealers) in Walhalla and the recently opened Birchwood Motors (GM dealers) in Cavalier.

Several years ago, the late Maxine (Fiedler) Least approached me during the annual Pioneer Machinery Show at the Pembina County Museum and asked if I had ever compiled a list of the implement dealers that had done business in Pembina County. Maxine's father was one of the principals in Fiedler & Moe, a John Deere agency in Cavalier. I had to admit that I hadn't but since our conversation I've made it a practice to note the names of various automobile and implement dealers—a random collection of notes that is far from complete – but continues to grow. The automobile and farm equipment business has changed over these past 111 years. In the old days nearly every community had an “agent” selling the latest car or tractor of some sort. In memory of Maxine and all those who have been involved in selling cars, trucks, tractors and motorcycles here is an incomplete history.

Pembina County's first Ford agency was granted to James Lang of Cavalier in 1906. His appointment named him “agent for Pembina County”. The first Fords sold, three identical 14-horsepower Model N “Light Tourings” arrived by rail in Cavalier that March and were sold to merchants D. E. Schweitzer, Charles Burgess and banker Ed Stong. They were not, however, the first automobiles sold in Cavalier but were the seventh, eighth and ninth automobiles in the city. Two years later (the same year the Model T Ford debuted) Lang and business partner Thomas G. McConnell formed the “Cavalier Garage & Automobile Company”, doing business out of a large brick building on the corner of East Main and Division Streets. Their business announcement stated they would continue selling Fords and “other favorite autos” in addition to handling “auto fixtures and supplies” and “do all kinds of repairing” plus add an “auto livery business”.

James Lang has the distinction of placing the first ad for an automobile in the Cavalier Chronicle in the June 26, 1908 issue. Found on page 4 the ad featured a line drawing of two Ford runabouts – the ad ran for the next six issues without change. Lang also gets credit for placing the second automobile ad in the paper, beginning with the March 19, 1909 issue, advertising both a $500 Maxwell and an $850 Ford, this ad running for twelve weeks. Lang was a busy man as he, along with partner George Horn, started the Cavalier electric light plant. By 1916 the local Ford dealership was taken over by G. A. Westline and Peter Freschett. Two years later Westline and Freschett were out of the Ford business, being replaced by Akra's Thorwaldson Brothers who would run the business until the mid 1930's, Westline took on the Essex line in 1919 while Freschette later picked up Pontiac and Oakland.
Trivia [answers at bottom]
  • How many automobiles were in Cavalier in 1905?
  • What year did the new hotel in Glasston open? 
  • What year did Cavalier remove the hitching posts from Main Street?
Following the end of World War Two S & T Motors opened a Ford agency in Cavalier on September 18, 1946. Owned by Bob Tomlinson of Devils Lake and Clarence Smerud of Minneapolis, a new brick building was built to house their facilities. Tomlinson soon left the business which operated until 1958 when Mr. Smerud passed away unexpectedly. The agency was then sold to Oliver Gregory who took over the business April 1st, 1959. A new dealership facility was built on the south of edge of Cavalier, opening in 1962 where the business is still located.

Soeby Ford of Walhalla, which can proudly claim the distinction of being the oldest dealership in Pembina County traces its roots back to 1926 when C. K. Soeby acquired the Oakland and Pontiac car and International truck franchise. C. K. Soeby became a Ford dealer in 1930, passing the business along to his son Jack in 1948 who in turn passed it on to his sons in 1986. Another long time Walhalla dealer was A. O. Tetrault, whose Walhalla Motor Company held the Ford franchise in 1926, a year that would see a first in the delivery of new Fords when the first load of “completely built up” Ford cars arrived—previously dealers had to install items such as lights, wheels, tires and fenders before delivery could be made to a retail customer.

Harold Morrison and Freeman Levi built a new building “two blocks south of the post office” under the name of Cavalier Implement, selling Case farm equipment in May of 1944. By 1952 they added the Pontiac and Willys line of automobiles using the business name Cavalier Motor & Implement. Discontinuing selling farm equipment and moving to a new location on the west edge of Cavalier the new building was lost to fire Christmas Eve, 1959. Rebuilding on the same spot and re-named Cavalier Motors, it had the distinction of being named “Studebaker's newest dealer” in 1960. The business, which continued to sell Pontiac, was sold to Olson Motors in 1962. Down the street, Page Oil Company, which had been selling Oldsmobiles since 1941, took on the Rambler line in time to introduce the 1959 models.

Like S & T Motors several other dealerships were opened in Cavalier following WWII. Melsted-Olson Motors built a new brick building one block further south of the new S & T building, selling Chevrolet cars and trucks as well as Massey-Harris farm equipment. Kuball & Andrews, which had been in operation since before the war (Ole Andrews having been a Chrysler dealer since 1927), continued to sell Dodge and Plymouth cars in addition to Lehr's “Big Boy” tractors. Utilizing a Chrysler engine, Dodge truck 5-speed transmission and 2 speed differential, the “Big Boy” sold for $2,136 in 1948 and had a “road gear” good for 22 miles per hour. Letzring Motor & Implement which had previously sold Hudson and Terraplanes in Neche was also selling Chrysler products along with Allis-Chalmers tractors in Cavalier. Kuball's sold the Dodge-Plymouth agency to Erwin Herzog in May of 1956. Twenty years later Erwin sold the business to his son Tim, who later sold the business to Swanson Motors in September of 1999. Jack McPherson began selling Kaiser automobiles in 1950 and its companion compact car Henry J in 1952. A post war start-up company, Kaiser-Fraser dealers also included Andre Gratton at Walhalla and Hughes & Shaver at St. Thomas.

Auto and implement dealers weren't just centered in the larger towns of the county. Robert Halcrow, whose address was Nowesta, was an agent for the Lambert automobile in 1913; he is noted as having “brought a cow to town in a box wagon behind his auto”. It's claimed he made the eleven mile trip to town “in one hour and went home considerably faster”. In later years Halcrow Ford would be one of Drayton's leading automobile dealers. Drayton's early pioneer car dealer R. J. Moore began handling the E-M-F line in 1912 - named after the three principals of the company, Everitt, Metzger and Flanders - detractors claimed the initials stood for “Every Man's Failure” or “Every Morning Fixit”. It was later absorbed by Studebaker.

Over at Hamilton C. A. Morton's Auto Livery advertised they were agents for the Vulcan, Buick and Marathon brands and had “one 25-horsepower Marathon touring car used a little for demonstrating which will sell at a nice reduction." Any of the cars on hand could be bought “on one years time with first-class security at 7 percent interest.” By 1921 E. K. Evenson was selling Fords at both Hamilton and Neche. H. C. Thomson of Bowesmont was also selling the popular Ford line. George Paxman had been the Hamilton Ford agent as well as the Overland and Willys-Knight dealer. A disastrous fire July 7, 1918 destroyed the Paxman building but 5 new Overland cars were saved. At Hensel, H. J. Norman & Son were also selling Fords while Graham & Ross sold Republic trucks. In later years Frank Gillis would handle the International line in Hensel, eventually selling out to Art Anderson. Other International dealers included Glenn Morrison in Cavalier, and Neche Farm Equipment in that city.

Crystal's Bradley & Hunter were sales agent for the Racine, Wisconsin built Mitchell in 1912 while the Crystal Auto Company was selling Hudsons by the car load, adding the Studebaker line in 1917 and Essex, Overland and Willys Knight two years later. A man by the name of Bymaster later took over the Crystal Mitchell agency. G. G. Thompson of Pembina was also selling Mitchell's in 1912, with his territory carrying over to St. Vincent, Minnesota. By 1915 Thompson was a Maxwell dealer. At Mountain S. F. Steinolfson was selling Ford's while G. M. Benjaminson (his name was always misspelled as C. M. Benjaminson in newspaper ads) was selling Pontiac's and Oakland's in Gardar. Peter Freschette, earlier Cavalier's Ford dealer also took on the Pontiac-Oakland line in 1927.

As small town America dwindled several dealerships continued to run successful businesses. Louis Byron Motors sold Pontiacs after the war and were long-time Chrysler-Plymouth dealers in Mountain. Likewise, Dietrich Motors in Crystal sold DeSoto's and Plymouths while Christopher Motors at Pembina, which dated back to the 1920's sold Chevrolets well into the 1960's.

Among the more noted implement dealers have been Cavalier's Fiedler & Moe (John-Deere), Pembina's Meagher Brothers (Massey-Harris), Glenn Morrison (International Harvester), Hamilton's Frank White & Ernest Einarson (Minneapolis-Moline), and J. J. Myers, Mountain (Holt combines).

At least three Pembina County residents saw the demand for motorcycles, with B. S. Thorwaldson of Akra (a partner in Thorwaldson Brothers at Cavalier) selling the 11-horsepower Harley-Davidson Twin, Martin Brothers of Hamilton handling the Indian line (ride it to work and ride it for fun) and Svold's August Vivatson offering Wagner Motorcycles at prices ranging from $160 to $200.

There was always something special about going to “show day” - when the new models were introduced to the public. Coffee, doughnuts, trinkets, colorful brochures and new cars. What could be better? Sadly there's not as many places to go anymore.

Trivia answers