Celebrating Our Centennial: Part III Reedley Enters The Roaring Twenties

Jun 8, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Hometown History, Jim Bulls, Reedley News

by Jim Bulls

Welcome back to our continuing saga of one hundred years of Reedley transportation.

The start of the 1920s finds Drake Manufacturing moving to their new location at East and South Avenues (now Dinuba Ave.). Having perfected the Jadson Motor Valve, Drake closed the garage and Buick agency to devote all their efforts toward the valve business. The Drake Family still finds time for racing and a new hobby: barnstorming. In fact, on the roof of the new building “Jadson Motor Valve Company” is painted for anyone passing or flying by to see. 1920 was bittersweet for the Drake Family however, as family patriarch John Alexander passes away.

Dale Drake qualifying for a race at the Fresno Fairgrounds

Thiesen’s Super Service now gives out S&H Green Stamps with every purchase. Once a book was filled with stamps, it could be redeemed for merchandise at the S&H Green Stamp Store.

The Reedley Garage is bringing the Doble Steam Motor Car to Reedley. The Doble was a superior design compared to the Stanley Steamer. It answered all the concerns people had regarding fire, steam and exploding boilers. The car is on display in the garage on March 19-21, 1923 and customers can also view a demonstration of the Doble by movie star Colleen Moore at the Star Theater.

Across the street at Eymann Ford, the aging Model T, known as America’s bestselling car is advertised as “America’s Least Expensive Car” in 1923. A “raven black” sedan can be purchased for $595, a “tuxedo black” coupe for $530, a “midnight black” touring car for $298, and the small, just plain “black” roadster was $269.

Sylvester “Tibb” Smith reinvents himself as a toolmaker, opening Smith Tool Company. He manufactures valve grinding, seat installation and guide installation tools, as well as line-boring equipment, brake drum lathes and packaging and casing equipment.

Tibb Smith in his tool shop

Next door to Smith Tool is Marlar Chevrolet. Marlar and Eymann are now competitors, not business partners. Chevrolet is Ford’s closest competitor. In 1923, a Chevy sedan is nearly twice the price of a Model T at $1076.50. A coupe is $933.50, a touring car is $665.50 and the roadster is $644.50. Chevrolets come in a variety of colors, including their version of Ford “black”.

Barnstorming was the fad after World War I. Aviation was new and exciting to the public. Hundreds of surplus airplanes were available and affordable, veteran pilots returning home needed a job and many missed the adrenalin rush of aerial combat. These airmen bought a plane and went from town to town performing aerial acrobatics and giving airplane rides.

Dale Drake took barnstorming to a new level when his nephew, Marvin Drake, started performing acrobatics while hanging on the axle beneath the plane. This new air circus act was billed as the “Drake Flyers”. Officials at the time (c.1927), frowned on Drake as a “self-taught” pilot and kept hassling him on his lack of conformity, finally insisting that Drake take a flight test. Drake, on the other hand, having come across some literature and building plans for a man-flown glider, decided to build one. No motor, no regulations, no more flight inspectors?the plans were ordered and this was the beginning of the Reedley Glider Club. In addition to Dale Drake, members included Tibb Smith, Don Fair and John Thiesen. Construction on the Drake Glider was started in the Smith Tool Company.

Drake Flyers

In the mid-1920s, in an attempt to reinvent the Model T, Henry Ford began to offer a variety of colors. This was like putting lipstick on a pig?the old girl was just old. Finally son Edsel convinced Henry that Ford needed a new car. Reluctantly Henry approved the project. It was Edsel’s brain child, but when the car was introduced, Henry stepped up and took the credit. Henry Ford stamped the serial number on the first Model A.

By September 1927, the first ad for the Model A Ford appeared in the Reedley Exponent. The actual car wouldn’t arrive until December, but Eymann advertised “First Ordered, First Delivered”. In March of 1928, the Warner Family bought a Sport Coupe that Mrs. Warner drove to Reedley High School where she taught school.

Reedley suffers another disastrous fire as the roof and third story of the Hotel Grand is destroyed. Gallantry of our volunteer fire fighters saved the second story, but it was evident to all that the two Model T Ford fire trucks were no match for such a fire. A drive to purchase a new pumper truck was started.

Years of seasonal floods have taken their toll on the Manning Avenue Bridge. Construction of the new steel and reinforced-concrete bridge begins in 1928 and was completed in 1929. The dedication ceremony was a glorious affair, featuring the Governor of California, brass bands and a ribbon cutting ceremony, with vehicles vying to be first in line to cross the new bridge. It was all a dress rehearsal for the dedication of the Golden Gate Bridge in the next decade.

The Jadson Motor Valve Company was short-lived in Reedley. By the end of the decade they moved to the city of Bell in Orange County. The reason given for the move was that they would be closer to suppliers, closer to customers and to the racing crowd, but in reality the City of Reedley would not give the company a permit for expansion.

When the company first moved to Reedley from Traver, their building was located in the center of town. Not too long after opening, the foundry caught fire and burned down a fourth of the town. The Drakes rebuilt and the factory grew; the boys were testing their race cars on the city streets, the drop forge (used for developing the new valve) was very noisy and shook the town. The Drakes expanded the original machine shop, adding more drop forges, more noise and ground shaking thuds.

Incorporation in 1913 brought the foundry a new neighbor?City Hall. The Drakes did move their business to the south edge of town, but didn’t endear themselves to some of the city folks. Dale began using the streets surrounding the factory as a runway for his plane. He even taxied down G Street to gas up the plane at a service station across from the Hotel Grand. When the Drakes applied for a permit to expand, the City denied the request and the end of an important chapter in Reedley history closed. When Dale Drake had his glider towed to Los Angeles, he set a record for the longest towed flight that stood until World War II. Dale was also part of establishing the aero program t Reedley College.

Five thousand auto makers started out at the beginning of the industrial revolution. By the end of the 1920s there were approximately 65 auto makers left. This ad was placed in the Reedley Exponent in 1929 by Eymann Ford.


Ford………… 63061
Chevy……… 28046
Essex………… 8989
Buick………… 8745
Studebaker…. 6443
Pontiac………. 6251
Dodge……….. 6153
Nash…………. 6070
Durant……….. 5452
Chrysler…….. 5156
Oldsmobile…. 4279
Hudson……… 4262
DeSoto……… 4214
Graham……… 4106
Whippet…….. 3979
Willis…………. 3431
Packard…….. 2608
Plymouth……. 2545
Hupmobile….. 2063
Oakland…….. 1916
Chandler……. 1414
Reo…………… 1217
LaSalle………. 1199
Cord…………. 1363
Auburn………… 844
Franklin……….. 685
Roosevelt…….. 666
Erskine………… 488
Lincoln………… 480
Marquet………. 468
Pierce Arrow… 443
Pearless……….. 305
Gardner……….. 225
Viking…………. 216
Moon………….. 192
Jordan…………. 132
Sterus Knight… 109
Elcar…………… 101
Black Hawk…… 40
Locomobile……. 35

Additional car makers showing less than 30 cars in 1929 produced 116 cars.

The new Model A put a dent in Chevrolet’s sales. In 1929, Chevy introduced a six cylinder engine. A higher number of cylinders meant the engine ran smoother and it was also a status symbol. In the 1920s, the least expensive cars had four cylinders, most medium-priced cars had six and eight cylinders. The most expensive cars started with eight cylinders and then offered twelve and sixteen.

Just a side note, a new Reedley High School campus was built on North Avenue and classes began in 1922. In 1928, Reedley was granted a charter for a junior college which occupied a third of the new high school. Reedley was considered quite progressive when it came to education.

We end this decade with the stock market crash in 1929. Stay tuned for the 1930s: the Depression, the Dust Bowl and the dark clouds foretelling another World War.

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 you article, Jim, and am looking forward to the next installment. Thanks for taking the time to write.

  2. Great article! Do you know where I can find more info on the Drakes? My mom is the great-granddaughter of Robert ‘Dutch’ Drake and would love to know a lot more about her family. Thank you.


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