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How the Car Changed the County, Town by Town

In 1903, in Winfield, Kansas Mr. H. T. Trice is seen standing in from of the first car in town. Actually it was more like a truck and was used to haul customers out to see land. The railroads brought potential customers to town and Mr. Trice picked them up at the depot and took them out to his new developments.

Steam power was widely used in the 1880's and 1890's on the farms of America. Cowley County had its share of these behemoths and had a large group of people with the ability to use, and the skill to fix and repair them. The smaller, less expensive automobile, with an internal combustion engine provided a new avenue of interest that was much more personal than the steam engine with its team of attendants.

Mr. Martin Baden of Winfield, Kansas and his new eight-cylinder Cadillac roadster. This car was especially built for Mr. Baden, and was equipped with all modern appliances. Driving an automobile required a high degree to technical dexterity, mechanical skill, special clothing including hat, gloves, duster coat, goggles and boots. Tires were notoriously unreliable and changing one was an excruciating experience. Fuel was a problem, since gasoline was in short supply. Mr. Baden became interested enough to become a self-taught geologist and eventually discover major oil deposits in Cowley County, Kansas, and surrounding area.

The drivers of the day were an adventurous lot, going out in every kind of weather, unprotected by an enclosed body, or even a convertible top. Everyone in town knew who owned what car and the cars were soon to become each individuals token of identity. The dirt roads were a challenge in any weather. By 1910 Winfield paved the downtown streets with brick, horses were no longer welcome. The mule drawn trolleys were upgraded to electric streetcars.

By 1915 racing had become a passion all over the United States. A typical local race track was at the Cowley County Fairgrounds in Winfield, Kansas. The local obsession with horse racing, started by the earliest settlers in 1870, turned to the new technology of auto racing. Local farm boys who were familiar with motors and equipment used their talents on cars and motorcycles to go faster than anyone in the county.

The horse racing facilities were quickly converted to the new, faster, more dangerous, and thus more exciting, motor racing. See Bob Lawrence's Home Page for new sections on both Auto Racing and Motorcycle Racing in Cowley County, Kansas.

Eventually the automobile change the face of small town America. The town gentry bought cars, albeit fashioned to match their station in life. In Winfield, Kansas, Main Street went from a gathering place for people and horses and wagons to a parking place for the ubiquitous automobile. The Trolley Cars were displaced to make room for more cars. The brick streets were covered with asphalt to provide a smoother ride for the automobile. The old fire maps of Winfield show the inexorable spread of the automobile and all of the supporting businesses. Filling stations, auto dealers, battery stations, oil depots all grew and expanded to displace to older technologies of the day. R. B. Sandfords Winfield Carriage Works appears on the fire map of Block 127 in 1918. But on the same spot on Block 127 in 1925 it has been replaced by a Battery Station and an Auto Storage facility.

Midway through the century, cars had become a central feature of life for young people. The cars owned by the students of Winfield High School in the fifties are typical of every where in America at that time. It was mobility, status, challenge, and social freedom. It certainly hurt our football team at the time. A typical excuse for not playing on the football team was that a student had to work to earn money to pay for their car. When asked why they needed a car, the answer was invariably: to get to work!

After a century of the automobile, we can begin to assess the effects of long term transport by internal combustion. Nearly every aspect of our lives has developed around this technology. Only now, are we seeing new digital communications technologies, of the internet and beyond, that may eventually displace some of the functions of the automobile and replace our current problems with a new set that you, our grandchildren, will be charged with solving. Ask your grandparents about their first car. I'm sure you will get to hear a great story.

Material elaborat de Dragos Narcis Ene

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