Dodge Brothers Club’s membership chairman propelled my story to the next level. Casual conversation at DBC’s Lethbridge, Alberta International Meet in July 2007 revealed an inquiry regarding possible sale of a 1915 Dodge Brothers touring car. The first DB automobile was produced mid November 1914 and this 1915 supposedly carried serial number 966 and included the original Dodge Brothers Bill of Sale. Mention of 966 sharpened my hearing considerably. Dodge Brothers Club’s membership number 966 was assigned to me when I joined in 1985. I quickly promised to follow up the inquiry. A subsequent email response from owner Nancy Wright indicated renewed family interest in the car and cancelled a possible sale, but extended an invitation to view the car if ever in the area.
The car had not run since 2009 and was snowed in at the Pioneer Acres Museum. The only way to get it out involved a lot of hand shoveling, skidding it sideways through a doorway and towing it along a walkway. I was to discover this hard part was easy. Fifteen days of grease and long hours followed. Blast, straighten, and paint rims. Install new tires, repair oil pump, repair carburetor, pull head and remove carbon, clean entire fuel system again, the list went on.
CAR 966, as recorded on original Dodge Brothers invoice 533, was sold to Joe W Morgan (Morgan Motor company), Dodge Brothers dealer in Lexington, NE. Historical documents note Joe Morgan’s garage was a control point on the Lincoln Highway, a point from which speedometer measurements were taken to the next town. This building still exists today. Joe Morgan himself was Local Consul for the Lincoln Highway Association.
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Plans for the 2008 DBC Meet in Kokomo, IN included my wife Debbie and I driving our ’29 model DA roadster to the event. We decided to travel portions of the Lincoln Highway through Nebraska. Turns out our intended route was only miles from the 1915 and luckily arrangements could be made to see the car the only day we were to be in the area. The car was stored in a dark corner of a remote garage, covered in years of dust and mud dauber nests. Racoons and mice had called it home. During inspection the car’s cute bug eyes seemed to regard us warily. Feelings were mutual! Pictures were taken for reference. DBC members at the Meet were very helpful in answering questions, reviewing pictures, and helping me learn more about early DB’s. Got to love Clubs! Nancy’s family knowledge and documents at the Dawson County Museum at Lexington NE provided insight into this car’s unique history.
On the Wednesday just before WOW move in granddaughters Keira and Brea and their Dad Curtis helped with final cleaning and polishing. Thursday Keira and Grandpa took a short ride. Both were thrilled! Keira then videoed loading into the trailer. Keira wanted to attend all three days of the show. We both really enjoyed WOW, the car was well received by young and old, and what a great bunch of Northern MoPar members!
People often ask, “ How did you find the car”? “The car found me” I reply.
Owning a six cylinder 1930 Dodge Brothers sedan brought me to the Dodge Brothers Club Inc (DBC). An appreciation for early Dodge Brothers 4 cylinder cars came while watching those models at Club Meets and learning of the significant contributions by John and Horace Dodge to the dawning of the automobile age. Another contributing factor was reading about motoring adventures of a few intrepid travelers on America’s early Lincoln Highway or Canada’s All Red Route, each a very early automobile path across the continent. The keystone to finally admitting I was entertaining the idea of owning an early Dodge Brothers automobile may well have been a friend’s casual gift several years ago of a garage sale ashtray. It featured a 1916 DB touring and once home was set upon on a coffee table where it remained. Each time I sat, the image was there to contemplate.
In December 2013 I received a call from Larry Gammon outlining Northern Mopar’s plans for the 2014 World of Wheels. Would I consider showing the car in their display honouring 100 years of Dodge? To say the least I was hesitant knowing the car needed a lot of work to even be presentable. A strong appreciation of Dodge Brothers place in automotive history and knowing the show’s deadline would kick start my preparations for a Detroit trip in June 2014 helped tip the scales.
An April 2009 business meeting in Kansas afforded an opportunity to stop by and confirm additional details of CAR 966’s authenticity (The serial number actually is stamped CAR 966). After careful inspection I was happy with the car but not necessarily convinced of a pending deal. As I closed the large garage door I took a quick look back. Those cute bug eyes stared back. I was smitten. A fair deal was easily completed with Nancy. Deb and I returned one month later to the day and freed CAR 966.
Selling price for Car 966 was $785.00 with a 15% dealer discount to $667.25. It was shipped January 22, 1915 via Union Pacific car number CMPS 207 402 to Dodge Brothers distributing dealer C.H. Hurst in Kearney, NE. Decking the car for shipment cost $3.33 and a car cover cost 25 cents. Freight cost $40.83. Total delivered cost of $711.66 included 13 gallons of gas, 1 gallon of “Lube Oil” and a Tool Kit. Documents found later confirm it as being in the first shipment of Dodge Brothers cars delivered West of the Missouri river. A picture in the Dawson County Museum at Lexington notes the car as first Dodge Brothers in the state.
Once at the Morgan Motor Company, the car was sold by employee Harold A. Kirkpatrick, Nancy Wright’s grandfather. It was the very first car he sold. Years later he decided to find CAR 966. It was located in possession of Mrs. Floy (John) Daul of Elm Creek, NE just twenty miles down the road and purchased on April 28, 1953. As can best be determined Mr Kirkpatrick replaced the car’s top and side curtains, and quite possibly some parts of the lower seat upholstery. Mechanical work was completed to the original components as necessary to be road worthy. The car was again registered in 1955. Mr Kirkpatrick died in 1960 while touring with the car at Dodge City KS.
Once home, efforts were concentrated on getting the car running, including cleaning the entire fuel system, changing oil, new spark plug wires and checking wiring. The car ran but the engine was noisy. It was shown but not driven on tours at the summer 2009 Dodge Brothers Meet in Tacoma WA. Two other later 1915 models also attended. CAR 966 then remained in storage at our home or on static display at Irricana’s Pioneer Acres Museum. Nearly five years passed while original and replacement parts were gathered. Somewhere along the line we named the car Della in recognition of John and Horace Dodge’s sister Della.
After the show some on-going issues with the water pump and oil leaks were reviewed and a decision made to pull the water pump and the oil pan. In the process I discovered that to pull the water pump shaft you need to remove the engine’s front chain case, to remove the chain case you need to pull the engine, to pull the engine you need to remove the transmission, to remove the transmission you need to move the rear axle with torque tube back several inches (basically remove the rear axle). To then lift the engine out it would be easier to first lift the body slightly. To remove enough body bolts to lift the body you need to remove pieces of the running boards and the rear fenders. I didn’t lift the body! Easy to discover the order in which these cars were assembled.
During final disassembly I was able to confirm that internal engine parts were stamped with numbers matching the engine serial on original invoice and the 100 year old engine while needing repair was still “standard”. The body as well as wooden floorboards had matching numbers of 1507, the front axle stamped 904, rear axle 955. A bonus find was original chalk marks on the engine block with date “10-5-14” While the various component numbers could be construed as a “made up” car DB Club has documented several original cars with indiscriminate numbers indicating that during factory assembly components were picked in no particular numerical order. It is very likely a complete chassis would be assembled then later fitted with a body as the all steel bodies became available from Budd.
The mission now is to complete repairs again including an engine overhaul before our planned June trip to Detroit. Time to call in the granddaughters
Perhaps our commitment to driving the ’29 from Alberta to Kokomo left an impression with Nancy and her family. A follow up conversation with Nancy re-opened the door for purchase. A comprehensive plan began forming in my mind. In 2014 wouldn’t it be great to celebrate 100 years of Dodge Brothers by retracing this early DB’s route back to Detroit, albeit this time moving by trailer rather than train. Driving it along the Lincoln Highway it had traveled from Kearney to Lexington in January 1915 could be our way of personally honouring the Dodge brothers as well as the men who in 1913 worked to establish the first highway spanning the United States of America from Washington DC to San Francisco, CA.