Celebrating Our Centennial Part II: Transportation

May 11, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Hometown History, Jim Bulls, Reedley News

by Jim Bulls

America may have been a late comer to the industrial revolution, but the country had the advantage of possessing the raw materials needed to excel in manufacturing. The only thing imported was cheap labor. The industrialization of transportation began with the “horseless carriage.” These vehicles were propelled by three types power.


Steam was the number one source of power in the 1800s and made a huge impact in the development of our industrial revolution. The Stanley twins developed the most popular steam powered car, known as the Stanley Steamer, between 1907 and 1924. There were, however, quite a few disadvantages with steam fuel: needing to heat the engine with an external flame, a long start-up time, extensive maintenance needed on the engine and the possibility of an explosion. The Dobie Steam Car was the answer to most of these concerns in the 1920s. In 1970, William Lear (of Learjet fame) experimented with steam and achieved some interesting results, but nothing materialized automobile-wise.


Baker Electric Vehicle ad (c. 1914)

A century ago, there were no such thing as a lithium battery. Batteries were large and heavy, needed to be charged frequently and had a short life span. However, the Baker Electric Car was quite popular in large cities, especially with the ladies. They did not need to shift gears, smell exhaust or gasoline fumes, and could leave the chauffeur at home polishing the Packard.


It didn’t take long for the internal combustion engine, with the fire and fuel contained inside the power source, to make great strides and out run all the competition. Its humble beginning was a simple, one cylinder engine in a horseless carriage and it grew to the V-16 of a classic Cadillac. The engine was widely adapted to many uses, and soon the power to weight ratio would make the development of the airplane possible. Gasoline engines powered everything, including grandma’s Maytag.

1916, The Gasoline Motor Comes to Reedley

The Reedley Exponent didn’t advertise much in the way of transportation in early 1916, but then ads for the auction of farm livestock (draft horses and mules) became more frequent. The Farm Equipment Company (formerly known as Moncrief & Sons–no address given) began advertising Denning Farm Tractors along with John Deere plows and implements.

In early 1916, Standard Oil advertised Zerolene gasoline as being refined from an “asphalt” blend of crude oil that burned cleaner than “regular” gasoline. Later that same year, Standard begins advertizing Red Crown gasoline (but no mention of what kind of crude it was refined from). Unfortunately we don’t have an address for this business.

The Drake Garage (today it is Big Val’s Napa Parts) sold Buicks. A 4-cyclinder car ran $750 to $785, and a new Buick “Six” 5-passenger touring car cost $1170. In 1916, Robert “Dutch” Drake, son of the Drake’s Garage owner, won the Valley Race Championship over W.S. Campbell from Visalia. The stripped down Buick known as the “Drake Special” led every lap, soundly defeating Campbell. Throughout the next month, the Reedley Exponent would advertise Drake’s car as having Goodyear tires and a Stromberg carburetor, both items sold at Drake’s Garage: “Come on in and get your tires and carburetor installed and YOU can be a WINNER too!”

Drake's Garage with the first Drake race car, a stripped down Buick dubbed the "Drake Special"--Dutch Drake at the wheel (c. 1916).

Sylvester “Tib” Smith and his wife arrived in Reedley in 1912 via the Union Pacific. Smith began working at Wicks’ Reedley Garage, and within the year he had purchased a half interest in the business. By 1916 he was the sole owner. The Reedley Garage initially sold Maxwell cars, but Smith soon added the Reo and Studebaker automobile to his dealership. The garage was located where Kings River New Holland is today.

Tibb Smith's Garage featuring a new Studebaker (c. 1916).

Directly across the street, south of the Hotel Grand, was Marlar’s Feed and Coal. Marlar also ran the town scale. Marlar and Eymann became Reedley’s first Ford dealers. Schultz and Wright opened the Reedley Chandler “6” dealership. The Exponent does not list an address for this business.

1917, Dealers Expand and Dealers Arrive

J.A. Drake expands his garage and machine shop, adding a 50×100 foot brick building that extends to the Santa Fe railroad tracks. Marlar and Eymann erect a new building for their Ford dealership in their former coal yard.

The Willys-Overland dealership moves to Dinuba. Eymann Hardware of Parlier starts selling the Saxon automobile. The Dodge Brothers’ line of cars is added to the P.J. Schultz dealership. The DeVaux Motor Car Company comes to Reedley to sell Chevrolet and Abbot-Detroit automobiles.

On August 2, 1917, the Reedley Exponent reported that a suspected arson fire started at the Grand Theater, destroying the theater, the Noodle Kitchen Cafe and the Reedley Garage. Tib Smith was at the bedside of his ailing mother in Kansas at the time. He returned to find his business a total loss, estimated at over $15,000. A bankrupt Smith, held a “fire” sale to liquidate stock and cars saved from the fire.

ARSON! 1917 fire destroys Reedley Garage, the Grand Theater and the Noodle Kitchen Cafe in the 1200 block of G Street. Steeple on right side of photo is the Methodist Episcopal Church (present day Armenian Apostolic Church).

F.F. Tenhunen takes over the Reedley Garage dealership and rebuilds in brick. He adds Maxwell trucks and Reo heavy duty trucks, Hudson and Oldsmobile to his line of vehicles.

A grudge race was held at the Fresno Fair between Reedley’s “Dutch” Drake and challenger W.S. Campbell from Visalia. Once again, the Drake Special was victorious, winning the silver cup. Sadly, in a race later that day, Campbell was killed. According to Charles Drake, Dutch’s wife gave him the ultimatum to give up racing–the Drakes and Campbells had been very good friends. Dutch gave up racing and handed the driving over to Lem and Dale.

Until next time, when we explore Reedley, transportation and the Roaring 20s. You might want to practice up on your Charleston!

For more local and California history articles & more Reedley Centennial articles, be sure and check out our Hometown History section.

Jim Bulls is a contributor to our Hometown History section, being a charter member of the Reedley Historical Society; he also restores vintage cars.


  1. Enjoyed the reading cousin Jim. You are certainly well qualified regarding cars etc. Enjoyed my apricots from your fair city.

  2. Thanks, Jim, for sharing about Reedley history in the 1910’s. Enjoyed your article.

  3. Great article!

  4. Talk about car history. I’m a fan of history myself. wish i were there when we this was happening.


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