Automobile History

Frank Clark started to build the Clarkmobile in 1902 and the first model appeared in 1903.  The Lansing newspapers, on June 6, 1903 ran a story on the ‘Unbreakable Clarkmobile’, driven by Will Newbrough, and how the car and driver survived a bad accident.  Does the name of the driver seem familiar? The 1903 Clarkmobile was a marvel of innovative features.  It had wheel steering, a front end, (yes it had a hood) and a perky little engine.  Frank Clark’s father, Albert, was unsure about this new-fangled form of transportation, so Frank stayed away from the automobile industry until after his father’s death.  One interesting facet of automotive history is that Clark & Company Carriage Works built the body for the first test car produced by Ransom E. Olds in 1896.

A Close up of the 1904 Clarkmobile

Frank Clark sold his rights to the Clarkmobile to the New Way Motor Company in 1905.  Frank Clark went into business with Claude Furgason and established the Furgason Motor Company in 1909 to create the next generation motorcar, which would be known as the Clark. The problem is the image clearly states the vehicle was produced by the Clark & Company?  Why not the Furgason Motor Company?

New Way Motor Company


Here is an ad for the New Way Clarkmobiles.  Clark sold his interest in the Clarkmobile to 1905 to the New Way Motor Company.  It is interesting to note that the models being sold are from the previous year.

The New Way Motor Company was formed in January of 1905 as a successor [?] of the Clarkmobile Company.  The Lansing Journal 1/26/1905 explains that, “The Clarkmobile Co. has been reorganized for the continuation of the business under the name New Way Motor Co.” The initial capitalization was $100,000; Arthur Cortland Stebbins was president of the company, Joseph W. Knapp vice president, William H. Newbrough treasurer, Earl W. Goodnow secretary and finally Charles H. Way was the mechanical engineer. Chester D. Woodbury, Harris E. Thomas and Homer D. Luce also facilitated the incorporation of the company, which would also produce gasoline engines. This is odd, the sale of the Clarkmobile was almost an afterthought, was the production of engines was the main focus of the company? Or was the intent to sell off the Clarkmobiles and concentrate on the production of engines? Just what type of engine did the Clarkmobile use? They had a 7 H.P., 4 cycle single cylinder gasoline engine. Did Frank Clark design the engine? Why wasn’t Frank Clark part of the new company? These are questions I have not been able to find answers to. What is known is that New Way was briefly housed in the old Clark plant on South Grand Avenue until its move to Sheridan Street. One curious note in the State Republican from January 26, 1905 stated that a new auto car was being perfected in their shop. Did that mean they were improving the Clarkmobile? The article also stated that Newbrough owned 137 shares of the company, Stebbins 110 shares, Thomas 45 shares, Woodbury 55 shares, Knapp 55 shares, Goodnow 28 shares and Luce and Way 15 shares each. Did Frank Clark sell his entire interest in the company or was it lost to the initial investors? Just a note, the company was named after William H. Newbrough and Charles H. Way. (LSJ 2/11/1931)

The names of several prominent Lansing families are mentioned as having an interest in the New Way Motor Company.  The real driving force behind the company was William H. Newbrough and Charles Way.  By June of 1905 there is no mention of the Clarkmobile when the Lansing Journal described the move of the New Way Plant to Sheridan Street. The article only discussed the New Way Air Cooled Engine. Did the company sell off the remaining Clarkmobiles to cover the cost of their acquisitions? There was no reference to the new vehicle that was being perfected in January 1905. (LJ 6/26/1905 and SR 6/27/1905) It is interesting to note that a Will Newbrough is mention in an early newspaper account of the ‘Unbreakable Clarkmobile’. Just what the relationship between Newbrough and Clark was is still unknown.

The Charles Way, Engine Patent filed in 1904 Approved 1907

The New Way Motor Company essential was in the production of an air-cooled engine that was the brainchild of Charles Way. The company used the old Clarkmobile chassis and fitted it with the new engine [I can find no documentation for this statement which appears in several encyclopedias on automobiles]. The Clarkmobile Company transferred its patents and other properties to New Way Motor in 1905 [the transferred patents were # 776,708, 870,001 and 768,162]. The New Way Motor Company survived until 1930 when it was placed in receivership and its assets were put up for sale.  A company with the name of New Way Engine and Machine Company continued until 1940. After that there is no record of the company. See LJ 9/26/1908, LSJ 10/9/1930 and LSJ 3/7/1936

Charles Harvey Way, the mechanical engineer/designer behind the New Way Engine, which seems to have been designed while he was an employee of the Clarkmobile Company. I am not an automotive engineer but the engine appears to be impractical for use in an automobile but perfect for a stationary engine. This may be the reason why New Way was interested in acquiring the Clarkmobile Company, not for the vehicle but for the stationary engine that Way designed.


Clark Power Wagon

Frank Gunnison Clark was born in Lansing in 1866 to Albert and Hannah (née Gunnison) Clark. Frank attended Lansing Public schools and he graduated from the Michigan Agricultural College in 1890 with a B.S. in the Mechanical Course. After he completed his studies Frank work for his father at the Clark Carriage Works. On August 21, 1897, the Olds Motor Vehicle Company was formed with Frank J. Clark being named as a stock holder with 125 shares. Just what Frank Clark and Ransom E. Olds relationship was is unclear, Olds was born in Ohio in 1864 and his family came to Lansing in 1880. Undoubtedly the two young men knew each other, the families lived within three blocks of each other and both their fathers Pliny and Albert we familiar with each other’s business. The story goes that Ransom and Frank formed an agreement that Ransom would furnish an engine, while Frank would build a body, together they hoped to create a motor vehicle. Their parents were stunned and forbad the two you men from working together. What Frank and Ransom did was to work together on the vehicle late at night away from the oversight of their parents. It seems odd the Olds family would prohibit Ransom from working with Frank, Ransom was 32 years old and was part owner with his father in the machine shop, while Frank was 30 and had married in 1893, but lived with his parents and wife in 1900 at his father’s home. I am not sure what happened between Clark and Olds and why Frank Clark was not part of Olds Motor works or later REO. Frank designed and built the Clarkmobile, which was later sold to New Way Company, Frank later founded the Clark Motor Company, neither company brought Frank success. He later built a truck called the Clark Power Wagon and helped to establish the commercial truck industry in the United States. The Clark Power Wagon Company was the successor to the Clark Motor Company and the Fergason Motor Company using the old Clark Carriage Works plant as its production facility. (Motor Age 4/21/1910) The Clark Power Wagon Company stopped operations in 1912, REO began manufacturing trucks in late 1910, I have never compared the designs of the Clark Power Wagon and the first REO truck, but I am sure it would be interesting. In 1913, Frank left Lansing for Pontiac where he founded the Columbia Motor Truck and Trailer Company a business he managed until his retirement in 1929. Frank settled in Mason, Michigan after his retirement and died of a heart attack while visiting Bloomfield Hills, Michigan on August 14, 1952, he was 85. (LSJ 8/15/1952)

© Lost Lansing 2018


Bates Model B. 1905, 3-Cylinder Touring Car. Price $2,000

The Bates Automobile Company (1904-1905) was formed on May 27, 1903.  The investors in the new corporation were Madison F. Bates, Bliss Stebbins and J.P. Edmonds.  The initial capitalization was $60,000.  The company, as stated by Mr. Edmonds, was entirely separate from the Bates & Edmonds Company.

Bated Model B. 1905, 3-Cylinder

The Bates automobile was the brainchild of M.F. Bates.  A local paper stated, ‘For a long time M.F. Bates has been perfecting an automobile and it is claimed that he has made several important inventions that will be used on the new vehicle’.  The article also mentions that Bates had recently patented a new carburetor that is claimed to be one of the best on the market. See patent #729,254.

The Bates Two Passenger Runabout

The Bates Automobile Company had an interesting history.  Just a side note, an interesting ad campaign.  ‘Buy a Bates and Keep Your Dates’, I wish that was true I would have bought one of those cars immediately.  The company produced a two-seat runabout and later a four-seat automobile.  The plant was in the 300 block of South Capitol Ave, in the old Armory building.  The Bates Automobile Company only produced about 25 vehicles and ceased the manufacture of automobiles in 1905.  Other investors in the company were J. Edward Roe, R.W. Morse and H.A. Hayse. There is rumor that when the Bates Automobile Company closed Madison F. Bates gather all the materials related to the company and burn them on the shop floor. I have not been able to substantiate the rumor.  So why did the company fail? Well the price of their vehicles was much higher then those of their competitors.

© Lost Lansing 2018

Bohnet Steam Automobile

George J. Bohnet was an intriguing young man, who from all indications his education was all his own doing, basically he taught himself how to be an engineer and an electrician guided by, in all probability William Lansing. Born in Francisco, Jackson County, Michigan on January 10, 1875 to Peter and Christina (née Oesterle) Bohnet, George lived on the family farm in Sylvan, Michigan until the age of 18 when he moved to Lansing with his family. His first job was working in the Holmes’ Music store at 122 N. Washington, oddly enough the music store also sold bicycles. By 1900 he worked as a bicycle repair man at a shop in the rear of the Armstrong Music store at 227 N. Washington. He began tinkering with automotive design in 1900 and had as a silent investor Usa H. Forester. Why was Forester an investor, well the steam engine used in Bohnet’s vehicle could be removed and installed in Forester’s boat which he used on the Grand River. Bohnet would build two steam automobiles; the first had a double expansion 8hp steam engine with 410 flues. The engine was powered by gasoline to heat the fuel; a five-gallon tank located under the front floor of the vehicle while the engine was under the seat and the boiler was placed directly behind the seat. In the rear of the automobile was a water tank, which could hold 20 gallons of water. The water sustains the vehicle for 20 miles while the gasoline could power the automobile for 40 miles, meaning the driver would need to stop after 20 miles to refill the water tank. The steam pressure reached 120lbs within three minutes allowing the automobile to reach a speed of 40mph with a safe speed of 25mph. Bohnet designed several interesting features for the vehicle. The water from the reservoir passed through the muffler, preheating the water before it entered the boiler resulting in a savings in fuel. After the steam is used it returned via a condenser to the reservoir to save water. The vehicle could turn in a 15-foot circle with tiller control (?) with a lever that operated the throttle and brake. After previewing the vehicle three orders were placed. (SR 6/4/1901) In July of 1901 Bohnet began the construction of another steam driven vehicle at the Lansing Electrical Engineering Company with the assistance of William Lansing. (LJ 7/18/1901, SR 8/1/1901 and SR 8/2/1901)


Bohnet Steam Automobile

On May 28, 1902 George J. Bohnet’s second steam automobile made its appearance on the streets of Lansing. The vehicle had a 10 HP steam engine with copper tube boiler 18×19 inches containing 600 flues. The engine used gasoline as a fuel and had a gas tank with a capacity of eight gallons, which was located under the front floor of the dashboard. The engine was located under the seat a fact that undoubtedly made for a comfortable ride; I wonder what Consumer Reports if it existed would have made of this configuration? The fuel allowed for a range of 80 miles or 10 miles per gallon, while the water capacity of 36 gallons lasted only for 35 miles, which would explain the problems faced by Mr. Fuller in the next article. The boiler generated a steam pressure of 175lbs and was automobile was capable of speed of 40 mph. The vehicle had an interesting feature, that if the driver was thrown from the automobile the throttle shuts down and the vehicle stops. This raised and interesting question, just how many drivers were hurled from early automobiles? The design also had an added safety feature which when the boiler hit 175lbs of pressure it shut down and did not resume until it dropped to 170lbs of pressure when it reignited and provided power to the vehicle. The gross weight of the steam automobile was 1,450 pounds. (SR 5/29/1902)

Lansing Automobilist had Troubles of His Own.

“A Lansing man named Fuller bought a new steam automobile about two weeks ago, and last Friday started for Jackson to exercise it. He forgot that the boiler needed a supply of water occasionally, and north of Leslie discovered that the boiler had gone dry and burned out. He called W.N. Rogers [William H Rogers], who went out with his dray and hauled the beast into town [Leslie]. Rather then ship it back to Lansing for repairs and buy the cigars for his friends, he loaded it into a car and took it to Jackson to get a new boiler.” (SR 6/1/1902) Why is this important well it tells us that either a Bohnet vehicle was still in the area, it may still exist. Just who Fuller was is unknown.

Just why the Bohnet Steam Automobile failed, it may have been just a matter of simple economics, a Curved Dash Oldsmobile sold for around $650 while other manufactures produced a two-seat runabout at a lower price then Bohnet. George sold his first car to a DeWitt physician for $1000 while the second vehicle was sold to William Lansing and the Capital Electric Company. Just who the Fuller was who drove the vehicle to Leslie and how he obtained the use of the car described in the above article is a mystery that may never be solved. The Leslie paper shed no light on this incident. George J. Bohnet was an up and coming young man, William K. Prudden took an interest in George and offered him a job as his secretary, but as George explained he did not know anything about shorthand and the position went to Harry Harper, the future head of Motor Wheel. Prudden did not forget George and employed him as treasurer of the Capital Automobile Company. After the company was sold in 1932 George along with his brother Herman opened the Bohnet Brothers manufactures of flashing beacons and other electrical fittings. George John Bohnet passed away at his cottage at Eight Points Lake, Michigan on July 20, 1961 at the age of 86. (LSJ 7/21/1961)

© Lost Lansing 2018