… actually, one hundred and seven years ago.
This article is from the Clearfield Progress, Friday Evening Edition, October 22, 1937. The article would have been reporting on motoring 35 years prior to 1937, which would have been 1902. I must say, Leonard Gearhart looks quite sophisticated in his brand new 1902 Locomobile.
Few are the motorists who ride along our thousands of miles of smooth highways in luxurious steamlined sedans today who can recall in their memories the hardships undergone during these pioneer days 35 years ago when motoring was in its very first stages of infancy.
In those yesteryears motoring was a far cry from the pleasures it now affords millions of people in this country. Today we jump in our car and think nothing of making a trip of more than 200 miles in a day with plenty of extra time to visit, go to a ball game, or make a shopping tour in some distant city. Our machines are so nearly perfect mechanically that seldom does a motorist give it much more thought than seeing that there is plenty of gas in the tank, the oil is sufficient, and the water is all right in the radiator.
But what a different picture 35 years ago when the first car made its appearance in Clearfield County. Motoring in those days was only for the more courageous persons who didn’t mind a few hardships, such as dust, heat, rain, and risk of running out of gas at most any minute and the nearest supply several miles away, and the constant trouble encountered in the mechanism of the “horseless buggies.”
We are indebted to Leonard Gearhart, H.F. Reese, and Fred B. Lee for the information from which this little story is born and which is believed to be of keen interest to many persons who lived during those early motoring days, as well as the thousands who know only from hearsay of the pioneer motorists and what they encountered 35 years ago.
Mr. Gearhart was the owner of the first automobile in Clearfield County. This was a Locomobile car, propelled by steam and capable of doing the amazing speed of slightly over 15 miles per hour. In another column is a picture of Mr. Gearhart in his first car, which tells more than perhaps a thousand words.
The machine was purchased by Mr. Gearhart in 1902 at a price of $1,800. And one only needs to take a glance at the picture to see that the owner was all puffed up with the pride over his new machine. The picture was taken near the old Creek Bridge which served prior to the erection of the concrete span which was recently torn down to make way for the present fine plate girder structure.
Although this machine was driven by a steam engine, Mr. Gearhart stated, gasoline was necessary to supply heat for the boilers. The car seldom got more than four miles to the gallon of gas and it required a full tank of 15 gallons to make a trip to Pete Browns and back, which in those days was a major trip.
Even though gasoline was more essential then, or was used in greater quantities, than is necessary today, a motorist found his tool kit just as necessary. No big trip of at least 10 miles was ever attempted without taking along the necessary tools for repairs which comprised about half the load of the car. A breakdown was expected on almost every jaunt and after every trip it was necessary to spend considerable time making repairs and adjustments. Fred Lee was the first auto mechanic in town then and with the arrival of other cars he got lots of work.
Mr. Gearhart recalls that he paid two fines for speeding in Curwensville while he had his first car. He exceeded the 12-mile-per-hour limit on these occasions. In some towns the speed limit was the same as for horse drawn vehicles, eight miles per hour. And to take a cre out on the streets or highways on Sunday usually meant a fine, for then they were considered a disturbance of the Sabbath calm, and right well they might be, Mr. Gearhart said, because the approach of a car usually sounded like one of today’s cement mixers.
Pictures are also included in this issue of the first license tag issued to a Clearfield County motorist. This was issued to Mr. Gearhart for his Locomobile in 1902 and bore number 1. Mr. Gearhart said this tag was procured from the County Treasurer and during the years of 1902 and 1903 no charge was made. Later the charge was $3. This tage was merely a piece of metal and the car owner fastened it it a piece of leather hanging it on his machine. A third picture, the keystone shaped tag with a number, date and the name of the state and the words “Licensed Driver” theeron, is the first paid driver’s license issued in this county. it was issued to Mr. Lee in 1910 for the price of $1.50.
Information gathered from Mr. Gearhart, Mr. Lee and Mr. Reese is a bit uncertain regarding when the state took over the licensing of cars and drivers. However, it was stated that when the county issued a license for the car no operator’s license was necessary. Later, when the state issued the licenses, a license for the car also served as an operator’s license for the owner. One who did not own a car could get a paid driver’s license and this was the keystone metal shield which was worn on the gauntlet of the driver’s motoring glove or his sleeve.
We who ride in the efficient cars of today know little of conditions early motorists encountered because of lack of good roads and the numerous mechanical defects of those early machines, but out of these early experiences car makers learned from the owners the fundamental lessons which were the groundwork for later developing, through the years, our deluxe sedans of the present time.