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 NORTH MANCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
 North Manchester, Indiana

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Newspaper Clippings on the DeWitt--


Source: North Manchester Journal, January 7, 1909

New men are being put at work at the DeWitt factory this week, and they are making some of the parts of the automobiles that will be manufactured there, and are also making some of the tool holders that will be required on the machinery in the factory. By the first of February it is expected that the factory will be in full operation.

Source: North Manchester Journal, September 2, 1909

Ten Auto Buggies

Ten red auto buggies, not in one string but in two strings, is the exhibit of the DeWitt Auto Buggy company, of this city. The exhibit is in direct charge of S.B. Whittenberger, of Claypool, while Carl Thomas, superintendent of the factory, is chief demonstrator. The rigs are handsome ones, and show the output of the factory to good advantage. They are all made in North Manchester, and the appearance of them surprises many people who had not seen them, and who did not know that such machines were made here.


Source: North Manchester Journal, September 9, 1909

All of the machinists at the DeWitt factory were laid off Tuesday, and it may be several days before work is resumed there. The factory has a considerable number of completed rigs on hand, and several others on which all of the machine work has been done. The assemblers are still at work putting these machines together.


Source: North Manchester Journal, September 23, 1909

Sold Five Automobiles. Saturday was selling day for the DeWitt automobile factory in this city, and as a result the men there were busy Monday morning getting five machines in readiness to be sent from the shop. four of the machines were purchased by local people. Henry Hoover bought one, Calvin Ulrey one, A.L. Ulrey one, and the Eel River Telephone company one, while the fifth one was sold to George Calvert, of Huntington, a nephew of J.A. Calvert, of this city. All of the machines were the regular buggy machines excepting the one sold to the Eel River Telephone company and that has a longer bed than the regular machine, being designed for use in hunting and repairing trouble on the telephone lines.



Source: North Manchester Journal, September 30, 1909


Red automobiles with high wheels are getting to be numerous about North Manchester. They are of the DeWitt make, and the owners seem to be happy in their possessions, for the machines are running nicely. Otis Dickey is the latest to purchase one, while a long bodied machine is being hurried along for the Wabash telephone company.

Source: North Manchester Journal, October 7, 1909

The DeWitt Motor Vehicle company sent one of its rigs to Fort Wayne Monday. The machine was a special built one, and was sent from here without a body. It goes to a man in Fort Wayne who is going to use it for a milk wagon, and will equip it with a body after it reaches there.

Source: North Manchester Journal, October 28, 1909

The DeWitt automobile factory sold one of its famous buggy automobiles this week to the Sidney Hardware company at Sidney that the company will use in its business. The DeWitt machines are proving popular wherever used. Work is being finished on a specially built machine for the Wabash Telephone company, and it will be ready for delivery in a few days.

Source: North Manchester Journal, November 11, 1909

Another batch of thirty-five buggy autos has been started at the DeWitt automobile factory, and will be completed just as quickly as the parts can be made. Many of the parts are already completed, and it will not take long to get the machine ready for the market. As the machines have come into use locally it has been found that they are a mighty good machine, and that the man who invests in one of them is getting his money's worth. People who are using them speak well of the service they give, and this testimony is bringing new customers to the factory.


Source: North Manchester Journal, October 28, 1909 Ad:


A Motor Buggy for all Seasons.

The DeWitt Motor Buggy will come nearer giving you service every day in the year than any other motor vehicle on the market. It's engines are air cooled--no water to freeze and burst engine jackets. The wheels are high and strong, traveling easily over rough roads. Large cushion tires are used that are puncture proof. The finish in every respect is the best obtainable. Upholstering and trimming is equal to that used in cars costing three or four thousand dollars. Nothing but the best material is used in the construction of these machines, and the company stands back of its every machine and statement.

You are invited to go to the factory and see how they are made. You will be given every attention and full information.

There is Nothing Cheap About the Car But the Price..........
If you can use one, now is the time to get it. The DeWitt car is a winter machine as well as a summer one. It is the machine for the man who wants service. Let us show you why.

DeWitt Motor Vehicle Co.
NORTH MANCHESTER, INDIANA

Factory Near Big Four Station.




NEWSLETTER of the North Manchester Historical Society, Inc.


VOLUME XVII, NUMBER 4 (NOVEMBER, 2000)


 
 
   
 

DeWitt Produced in North Manchester

DeWitt Motor Vehicle Company produced highwheeler automobiles in North Manchester for approximately one year, in 1909 and 1910. Highwheelers usually resemble a standard buggy, equipped with high, solid-tired wood-spoked wheels, with the following additions:

* Steering mechanism, either tiller or wheel operated

* Simple engine, usually 2 cylinder opposed air-cooled

* Simple transmission, usually planetary or friction drive

* Final drive to the rear wheels by chain

Advertisements for highwheelers often claimed a top speed of 30

 
 
 
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mph, but a more realistic cruising speed was about 15 mph.

Highwheeler automobiles were a short-lived phenomena, with demand running from about 1907 to 1911. It is likely that approximately 100,000 highwheelers were built. At the peak of highwheeler popularity in 1909 there were 41 major, nationally known makes of highwheelers. This is up from 15 in 1907, and 31 in 1908. By 1910, it had fallen to 24, and then down to 9 makes in 1911. DeWitt Motor Vehicle Company would not have been counted among the major makes

Contrary to popular belief, highwheelers were not the most common type of automobiles in the very early days of motoring. The earliest cars quickly evolved into elaborate and expensive playthings of the wealthy. Highwheelers evolved out of a demand for cheap practical cars that ordinary people could afford, and that could be drive out in the farm country of the midwest over the incredibly bad roads of the period. Highwheelers became obsolete as road improved and pneumatic-tired cars became more practical (Model T Ford, for example).

Kiblinger, of Auburn, IN, was one of the predominant manufacturers of highwheeler automobiles. This company was a major manufacturer of buggies and wagons in the late 1800's and progressed into automobiles. In about 1909, the firm changed ownership, and the name changed to McIntyre. McIntyre produced a myriad of models of motor vehicles, ranging from simple highwheelers, to luxury pneumatic-tired automobiles, to commercial trucks.

Mr. Virgil DeWitt was a Swedish immigrant who ended up settling in Auburn, IN. He married an Auburn woman and was associated with the Kiblinger company, and later, the McIntyre company. As the boom in highwheeler cars got underway, Virgil DeWitt arranged to build a manufacturing facility in North Manchester and produced at least two models of highwheelers under the name of DeWitt Motor Vehicle Company. The DeWitt vehicles were virtual copies of McIntyre vehicles. The engine, mechanism, and chassis appear to be identical to McIntyre models, with perhaps minor differences in bodies and accessories. In fact, Mr. W. H. McIntyre was the major stockholder of the DeWitt Motor Vehicle Company. 

 
   
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The two models that are known to have been produced by DeWitt Motor Vehicle Company are the two seater runabout and the two seater light truck.

In the early 1970s several interested persons researched the history of DeWitt Motor Vehicle Company. A few of the key milestones will follow, quoted from articles in the Manchester Journal between 1908 and 1910.

  • July 9, 1908

Contract closed between the Manchester Industrial Association and V.L. DeWitt

 

This contract provides that the association shall turn to Mr. DeWitt what is known as the Eagle lot, lying west of the Big Four tracks, and south of Main street, which is valued at six hundred dollars, and shall pay him fifteen hundred dollas in money, he on his part to erect a building of brick or cement blocks not less than 35 X 125 feet two stories high, to be used as a factory for auto buggies, of the same kind that Mr. DeWitt has been using on the street here for some time.

  • August 27, 1908 
A force of five masons is at work under the direction of Elsworth Hamilton, of Auburn, who has the contract, and the blocks are being placed rapidly in position. Within two weeks with favorable weather it is expected that the building will be ready for the roof, and from then the work will go rapidly.

Over the country generally there is more attention being paid to the landing of this factory by North Manchester than there is at home. It is known that it is connected with the Kiblinger factory at Auburn and that factory is having more work than it can handle. Reliable information states that the Auburn factory recently landed an order for nearly a million dollars worth of these machines. Many of the Kiblinger auto buggies are in use in this state, and are recognized as one of the best, if not the best of buggy automobiles.

  • April 15, 1909
The first automobile to be built in North Manchester was completed last week, and it is red. The machine is easily the prettiest of the buggy machines ever seen hereabouts and is neat and attractive in
 
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every way. The top, storm front, and upholstering all harmonize nicely with the color of the rig, and it is a beauty.

Another feature about it is that it is all made in North Manchester. The machinery part is machined and fitted together here. The body was finished and decorated here. The top was made here, and the upholstering was done here. It is not certain as yet where the machine will be sent, but there is a demand for this type of rig that will take all of them that can be made this year. It was about three months ago that work was first commenced in the factory, but all the time has not been consumed on this one machine. There are about a dozen others that are nearly ready for completion, and after this bunch is made, work will be hurried along faster, and more machines will be kept under way all the time.

At present there are about twenty people employed in the factory, and it is a busy place. A considerable amount of curiosity not only on the part of the employees of the factory but from the citizens of the town as well has been centered around this first machine manufactured. It has met the demands made of it and was given some rigid tests before it was finally finished, painted, and varnished. It met all these tests, and the machine seems to be an ideal one for any one wanting a light machine for good general service.

 

May 6, 1909 

Sympathy Strike at DeWitt Automobile Factory

As the Journal gets it, the discharge of (Irvin) Kessler was on account of disobedience of orders. His duty has been to wire and test the machines before they were painted and crated for shipment. In testing one of the machines he had run it to Huntington in fifty minutes, a rate that is said to be too fast for a new machine that has not had its bearings smoothed by use. The result was that the bearings were burned out and the machine had to be rebuilt. This was putting the factory behind, and to catch up Mr. DeWitt told him to wire a couple of machines, and he would go out and test one of them himself. Instead Kessler wired only one, and without saying anything to Mr. DeWitt he took it out on the street, leaving the other one unwired. This following the other blunder was too much for the management to stand, and he was discharged. The other machine men quit in

 
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sympathy.

...The men who quit were all drawing their three dollars a day, and their places cannot be filled at once. None of them went to the management to make any inquiries whatever as to the cause of the dismissal of Kessler.

It causes a considerable amount of inconvenience to the factory as it was really just getting started and in a few days would have been turning out the machines rapidly. As it is now only a few men are working, but it is the intention to secure more as quickly as possible, and to soon have another force at work.

June 10, 1909 So far as the DeWitt automobile factory is concerned the sympathy strike of a few weeks ago is now only a memory. There is a full force of men at work there now, and all of the machines are running full time. Automobiles are being made at the rate of four a week or a little better, and are being sold as fast as they are being made. So far none of the machines have been put into service in this immediate vicinity, but one is going through the course of construction there now that will probably be used by a local man. The machines are handsome and are showing excellent results as light drivers. A short time ago one of the leading automobile journals in speaking of the so called buggy automobiles gave the Kiblinger car the highest standing among the machines of that character. The DeWitt machine is really the Kiblinger, being made from the same designs, and same patterns, and by the same company, though the Kiblinger is made at Auburn.

  • October 28, 1909 

(Advertisement in the Manchester Journal)

A Motor Buggy for All Seasons

The DeWitt Motor Buggy will come nearer giving you service every day in the year than any other motor vehicle on the market. Its engines are air-cooled, no water to freeze and burst engine jackets. The wheels are high and strong, travelling easily over rough roads. Large cushion tires are used that are puncture proof. The finish in every respect is the best obtainable. Upholstering and trimming is equal to that used in cars costing three or four thousand dollars. Nothing but the best material is used in the construction of these

 
[Continued on Page Six] Page Five
 


machines, and the company stands back of its every machine and statement. You are invited to go to the factory and see how they are made. You will be given every attention and full information. There is nothing cheap about the car but the price. If you can use one, now is the time to get it. The DeWitt car is a winter machine as well as a summer one. It is the machine for the man who wants service. Let us show you why.

The DeWitt was advertised for the sum of $592.50 This price includes:

* Fenders over front and rear wheels

* Foot board

* Timken roller bearing axles

* Solid rubber tires

* Top and storm front

* Pair of brass oil burning lamps

* Brass horn

Only one grade. Not how cheap, but how good.

  • May 5, 1910
Fire that started in the second story of the DeWitt automobile factory Friday evening completely gutted the building and badly damaged the cement walls. The Fire was discovered just as the men were leaving the factory after their days work. Charles Ulrey was the first to see it, and he saw a little smoke coming from the floor under the paint room. He called to others that there was a fire, and grabbing a bucket of water ran to the second floor. There he found that the fire had such a start that there was no use even using his bucket of water. The east partition of the paint room was made of light lumber. By the side of this and outside of the paint room was piled a lot of bodies for automobiles. These were blazing like a furnace when he reached the head of the stairs.

The fire department made exceptionally good time in getting to the fire, but because of insufficient water pressure could do little and soon abandoned all efforts to save the front part of the building and worked to save the floor from falling onto the machinery in the south half of the building. This they were successful in doing , and machinery is uninjured except for the water that fell on it. The

 
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building burned rapidly. The side walls were of cement, but the second floor was of light pine, while the roof was of tarred paper and burned fiercely giving off huge clouds of black smoke.

The start of the fire is a mystery. Rodney Sherman, the painter, had been working in another part of the building and had not been in the paint room during the afternoon. He had walked past the pile of bodies as he left the building at quitting time, and there was no indication of fire then, but it was discovered before he was more than a block away from the building.

In the building were seven automobiles completed or nearly completed, and these were all burned. There was a considerable quantity of the various part for automobiles and all of these that would burn were lost. The iron working machinery is not injured except by the water and the dampness to which it has been subjected. Practically all of the books and papers of the institution were destroyed. An effort was made to get into the office by breaking a window from the outside, but the building was so full of smoke that no one could enter it. Mr. DeWitt had been keeping many of his papers at home, but a few days before had brought most of them to the office to get some information from them for the assessor so the books and accounts of the concern were practically all destroyed. The walls are badly injured, and will have to be half torn away before they can be rebuilt to any advantage. Insurance on the building and stock is about $13,000. The managers were unable the first of this week to make an estimate of the loss in dollars and cents, as it will take considerable work to arrive at the value of the goods destroyed and what it will take to replace the building.

The DeWitt Motor Vehicle Company was incorporated, the heaviest stockholders being V.L. DeWitt of this city, and W.H. McIntyre, of Auburn. They have been manufacturing an auto buggy, and commenced operation over a year ago, their machine being recognized as one of the best of the buggy machines ever placed on the market. The factory is well equipped with the very best of machinery.

The first of this week Mr. DeWitt was unable to determine what would be the future of the plant. Mr. McIntyre was here Saturday but they did not arrive at a conclusion then, and probably will make no

 
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plans until the insurance is adjusted. One thing is agreed, however, and that is their new machine will be a different pattern, being built on standard automobile lines with low wheels.

Thus we see that DeWitt and McIntyre realized that the highwheeler era of automobiles was coming to a close. The DeWitt factory was never rebuilt.

By an interesting coincidence, three DeWitt automobiles were exchanged for fire insurance coverage shortly before the fire occurred.

The DeWitts sold their home in North Manchester in 1912

*****

 
In the early 1970's, North Manchester native and local businessman Pudge Egolf became very interested in the DeWitt automobile history. Pudge had located one original DeWitt, located in Ottawa, IL. This DeWitt is still the only original known to exist, and is the two seater light truck model. It was not for sale at that time, but the owner did allow persons from North Manchester to view it on a few occasions.

In 1973 Pudge Egolf took the challenge of fabricating a working facsimile of the DeWitt automobile. His team did this job in the remarkably short time of 30 days, having the vehicle ready for the Fun Fest parade. This vehicle has been operated for special occasions over the years, and was subsequently donated to the North Manchester Historical Society. In 1981 Pudge approached me with the idea of producing a high-quality reproduction of DeWitt automobiles for sale. The two of us did tackle this project, and between 1982 and 1985 twelve automobiles were completed and are now scattered around the world.

This was a large undertaking. The reproductions were intended to be very authentic, with the exception that modern engines, bearings, brakes and paint would be used. Patterns were fabricated for the numerous castings required. Iron castings were produced by the North Manchester foundry, and brass castings by the Vice Brothers foundry in Wabash. Fortunately, the Amish still manufacture buggy wheels, seats, and tops, and several Amish shops in northeast Indiana were used for these items. Nearly all of the remaining fabrication was performed in North Manchester.

 
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Both the two seater runabout and the two seater light truck were reproduced by the new DeWitt Motor Company. In addition, a four seater touring car was developed. It is not known whether the original DeWitt was ever made in this configuration, but it is typical of highwheelers, including the McIntyre. The S/N 1 test car, a two seater runabout, was used and abused by Pudge and myself, and was driven more than 10,000 miles. It has been driven on two excursions of more than 1,000 miles each, one to Florida, and one up through Wisconsin and back through Michigan.

The remaining 11 new DeWitts ended up scattered around the country from Vermont to Florida, to Arizona, to Washington state. About half of them ended up in automobile museums which we took as quite a compliment to the quality of the reproduction. One was used daily for many years in the Shepherd of the Hills outdoor playhouse in Branson, MO, and never missed a performance. A four seater is still in use at Dollywood theme part in Tennessee, used to carry Dolly Parton and other celebrities around the park. One DeWitt eventually found its way to Germany. The owner lives in Wisconsin, but enjoys traveling to Germany about once a year and touring in his DeWitt light truck

One notable high point was the feature article on DeWitt Motor Company which appeared in the July 1984 issue of Car and Driver magazine. We took two DeWitt runabouts to Chrysler proving grounds in Detroit for performance testing and photographs. Of course, the zero to 60 MPH test had to be deleted from the test plan. The DeWitt has the honor of achieving the lowest lateral acceleration in the skid pad testing of any car that Car and Driver had ever tested. The Car and Driver editors had a great time!

Unfortunately, the endeavor to reproduce DeWitt automobiles did not turn out to be financially self-supporting. Production ceased at the end of 1985, but there was nothing as spectacular as a fire this time.

A brief resurgence occurred in the mid 1990's, A production company in Canada contacted us with the desire to procure a DeWitt for use in their planned production of the Broadway play "Showboat. A major modification would be required, as a gasoline engine would

 
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not be appropriate for stage use. We ended up designing and fabricating an electric-powered DeWitt, and in fact the play was successful enough that two additional electric DeWitts were purchased, to support simultaneous productions of "Showboat" in Toronto, New York, and Chicago. Following eventual closure of the productions, the three electric DeWitts were repurchased by Pudge Egolf and returned to North Manchester

The only known original DeWitt has finally returned to North Manchester. In 1998, Pudge Egolf negotiated purchase of the vehicle. Its return to operating condition will be an ongoing project. The vehicle is nearly complete, and in original condition. It was believed that it was last driven in the 1950's at which time there was a catastrophic engine failure. Two rod bolts sheared, resulting in the following damage:

*Severely bent connecting rod

*Broken Piston

*Broken cylinder

*Bent crankshaft

*Crankcase broken into several pieces

It will operate again, but it is not a trivial undertaking. It has not yet been decided whether to preserve the original condition of the automobile, or to undertake a restoration.


Newspaper Clippings on the DeWitt--


Source: North Manchester Journal, Jan 7, 1909

New men are being put at work at the DeWitt factory this week, and they are making some of the parts of the automobiles that will be manufactured there, and are also making some of the tool holders that will be required on the machinery in the factory. By the first of February it is expected that the factory will be in full operation.


Source: North Manchester Journal, Sept 9, 1909

All of the machinists at the DeWitt factory were laid off Tuesday, and it may be several days before work is resumed there. The factory has a considerable number of completed rigs on hand, and several others on which all of the machine work has been done. The assemblers are still at work putting these machines together.