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


Clark Carriage Works circa 1904. The office building, the three-story structure to the left was torn down in 1926, the rear of the building, barely visible survived. The angled building to the right housed the wheel storage section and the packaging and shipping plant.

The buildings that once stood at 235-237 make for interesting viewing. The site once was the home of Clark Carriage Works, famous for the fine carriages it produced but also for creating the first body for Ransom E. Olds’ horseless carriage.


The Clark Carriage Plant on South Grand Avenue. Notice the footprint of the angled building and location of the administrative office. Sanborn Map 1906

On July 4,1906, the Clark Factory was partially damaged by fire, but was quickly rebuilt, the firm was engaged in the production of carriages and bodies for Oldsmobile. In 1911 Lansing Wagon Works purchased the Clark & Company Carriage Works. By 1912 part of the plant was acquired by the Lansing Sanitary Ice Company (LSJ 3/25/1912) Later, in 1919 John Bohnet Company, manufactures of truck bodies and automobile accessories acquired the Clark Plant (LSJ 6/12/1919). The John Bohnet Company was acquired by the Briscoe Motor Company of Jackson, Michigan in 1919-1920.

Notice the location of the John Bohnet Company and the Lansing Sanitary Iceless Plant. Sanborn Map 1913.

So, you may be asking yourself, what does this all mean. Well this whole post is centered around a 1939 image of the property.  The background may not seem important, but it is. This was one of the most important structures in the history of Lansing and no attempt was made to save it, by either city government or the public. Is it odd or just me, that the plant that was so integral to the birth of the automobile industry just leveled? No one seemed to care, so much for history.

The Clark Carriage Works plant in 1939. The building to the right was the original plant. The three-story building to the left was added in 1926 to replace the old office building. Notice the service station on the ground floor. (CADL/FPLA)

In 1926, the office building for Clark Carriage Works was torn down and replaced with the new structure by F.J. Blanding, ironically Lansing’s first Ford dealer. (LSJ 6/3/1926) What is important is that the eastern part of the Clark Carriage Works survived. Years later in 1948 that area that was the gas station was enclosed and converted to office and showroom space (LSJ 2/15/1948). Alas it was not to survive, in December 1962 the building was torn down and replaced, with you guessed it a parking lot (LSJ 12/27/1962). Today it is the site of the Grand Tower.

So instead of examining the life of Frank Clark or John Bohnet, both of whom are well known in Lansing, I thought it would be interesting to review the life of Fred J. Blanding, Lansing first Ford Dealer.

Fred (Fritz) Blanding when he played for the Cleveland Naps (LOC)

Frederick James Blanding Jr. was born in Redlands, San Bernardino, California, on February 8, 1888 to Frederick James and Emma (née Sly) Blanding. Tragedy had struck the family, just eight days prior to young Frederick’s birth when his father died.  Fredrick’s mother Emma, decided to return to Michigan and settled in Bloomfield, Michigan where her parents lived. Frederick (Fred) attend Detroit Central High school and the University of Michigan where he was a standout pitcher. He was drafted by the Cleveland Naps in 1910 and is best known for his first outing when he faced the future Hall of Famer, Walter Johnson. Fred threw a 6-hit shut-out and the Naps won 3-0. Fred’s career was quite varied and to save time it is far simpler if one reviews the excellent Wikipedia article on Fred Blanding’s baseball career. Let’s just say Fred left baseball under his own terms and deserves a lot of respect for that.

When his baseball career ended, Fred opened a Ford dealership in Lansing, Michigan, the home of Oldsmobile, REO and later Durant Motors. That took some guts. On a personal note, Fred married Miss Clara M. Shields on November 28, 1914 in Cuyahoga, Ohio, the couple had three children; George, Robert and Katherine. Not only was Fred involved in business, but he kept a hand in baseball, serving as president of the short lived, Lansing Senators and helping to teach young pitchers at Lansing Central High School. In 1935 Fred and his family left Lansing and moved to Roanoke, Virginia where he worked for a variety of automobile dealerships. Frederick James Blanding died of a heart attack on July 16, 1950 (Daily Press, Newport News, Virginia 7/18/1950).

© Lost Lansing 2018