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All posts for the month September, 2015

There have been many times that I have felt that throughout its history Lansing has been trying to eradicate parts of its history. Weird, I know, but too many buildings with unique histories or of a specific architectural style have been torn down, burned down or simply left to decay, and let us not ever speak of the cultural and architectural devastation that the building of I-496 entailed or the urban redevelopment of North Washington Avenue. The story of John W. Allen tends to reinforce the notion that Lansing has no sense of its own history.

1220 W Allegan

John W. Allen’s home 1220 W. Allegan Lansing, MI. (1915)

John Wesley Allen was born in Cass County, Michigan on December 17, 1860 the son of John Wesley Sr. and Harriett Francis (née Byrd) Allen. John Wesley Allen Sr. was the son of Green Allen one of the most successful farmers in Cass County, Michigan. The book, Michigan Manual of Freedmen’s Progress, describes the Allen family:

“The Allen’s of Cass County are all of mixed blood. “Uncle Bill,” as Wm. Allen is affectionately called, is hale and hearty at 80 odd years and here we find great great grandchildren, all healthy, alert, ambitious and industrious citizens who measure up favorably with the best the Nation affords” (Freedmen’s 37).

“Uncle Bill,” would have been John’s uncle. That explains why the census from 1870-1930 listed John W. Allen Jr. as either Black, Mulatto or White. John’s father made education a priority in the family. In 1884 John W. Allen Jr. moved to Lansing to begin working as a carpenter. On March 26, 1885, John married Miss Agnes A. Grady, who was born in Cass County, Michigan on January 26, 1866. There were no children from the marriage. John began his career in Lansing with almost no support. The Michigan Manual of Freedmen’s Progress, states that:

“He had started housekeeping with a bride two years previous at the age of 18 with a $32 outfit of household goods, and underwent many hardships daring his early married life. Being possessed of plenty of ambition and resourcefulness” (Freedmen’s 107).

John’s hard work as a carpenter paid off and he moved into the contracting business. The Michigan Manual of Freedmen’s Progress stated that he had constructed “many of the best and most substantial buildings at the Capital”. Just which homes and buildings he built I have been unable to determine, but I am working on that.

There were three main focuses in John’s life, his wife Agnes, his home at 1220 W. Allegan and his position in the local Masonic lodge. John’s home at 1220 W. Allegan was a beautiful home; the structure was a perfect example of an Organic Cottage. Ok that is an odd term but back in the day a custom home was called a cottage, while organic referred to the fact that the house was a mixture of architectural styles. The wrap around porch, which can be seen in the first image, was a standard feature for homes of this period. The porch columns were changed between 1915 and 1940 and east side of the porch was enclosed and the balustrade removed which changed the symmetry of the house. The small porch at the rear of the kitchen was extra detail as was the pediment over the stairs to the porch; John had an eye for pleasing architectural features. What tells the passerby that this was the home of someone substance is the second floor balcony. This was a pleasing and functional home that displayed a certain lightness as can be seen in the first image but unfortunately not the second image.

1220 W Allegan

John W. Allen’s home 1220 W. Allegan Lansing, MI. (circa 1940s)

John and Agnes lived in the home until John’s death on May 9, 1927 (LSJ 5/9/1927). John was an active member in the local fraternal lodges. He was a member of the Capitol Lodge Number 8, the local African American Masonic Lodge and throughout his life held many positions in the organization. After John’s death, Agnes lived in the home until the mid 1930s, at the point she moved in with her brother William Grady. Agnes passed away on July 17, 1957, thirty years after John (LSJ 7/15/1957).

So why all this fuss over the home at 1220 W. Allegan? Well the house seems to have just disappeared, an odd statement that I need to explain further. The home at 1220 W. Allegan was an important home in the history of Lansing’s African American community. Allen was a prominent member of that community and it is unusual that a home of this style and size would vanish without comment, especially in the 1980s. In 1986 John Allen’s residence evaporated from the historical recorded. In the 1985 Lansing City Directory the home is listed and occupied but in 1986, 1220 W. Allegan is gone replaced by 1218 W. Allegan. The structure at 1218 W. Allegan was not present prior to 1986; the Sanborn maps bear this out. The odd thing is that the Lansing City Assessor lists 1218 W. Allegan as being built in 1904 and it occupies the same lot as 1220 W. Allegan.

1218 W Allegan

1218 W. Allegan

It is obvious that the two homes are in no way similar. John Allen’s home was in all probability designed by a local architect or Allen himself, in fact Lansing architect Darius B. Moon lived less then 1000 feet from the Allen home. Was the home at 1220 W. Allegan a Moon home? There is really no way to tell, my feeling is that Allen designed the house, he had the background and the skills to design the home. The structure at 1218 W. Allegan was a typical foursquare residence, a standard kit home. I also need to mention there is no record to the home being moved to the site, but it must have been. So you understand the conundrum, what happened to 1220 W. Allegan?

© Lost Lansing 2015

Red Arrow 2

The Red Arrow Four Wheel Drive Truck

Here is a bit of Lost Lansing History. The Slocum Photography Studios of Lansing took the images of the Red Arrow Truck in this post in 1919 or 1920. In the background of one of the photographs you can see the Cass Building in the early stages of construction. The problem is that information on the Red Arrow truck is extremely limited. In fact it is not unreasonable to state that the truck in the photographs was a prototype and that only a small number of Red Arrow trucks were built. An examination of the current reference material on the history of vehicle manufacturing in the United States reveals no listing for a Red Arrow Truck Company. This begs the question; just what was the Red Arrow truck and who manufactured it?

The Red Arrow truck was designed by Irving L. Stoney and Albert B. Bowman who sought investors to fund factory to mass-produce the vehicle. Stoney worked for the Duplex Truck Company (Lansing) and the Republic Motor Truck Company (Alma). While Bowman was previously employed by the Buick Motor Company (Flint) and worked as a mechanical consultant for the REO Motor Car Company (Lansing) in 1920. In 1918 Stoney and Bowman patented a Double Drive Gear Set used to drive all four wheels of a vehicle (Publication number US1285456 A). This undoubtedly formed the basis for the transmission and drive train of the Red Arrow truck. Construction of the first Red Arrow truck began in July 1919 with the machine work on the parts being started; assembly of the truck was completed on October 23, 1919. The truck then went through a testing phase at hills and gravel pits outside of Lansing.

US1285456.pdf

The Patent Drawing for the Double Drive Gear Set.

On December 2, 1919 Stoney and Bowman unveiled their truck to investors in Lansing. The truck was assembled in October of 1919, was four-wheel drive, weighed three tons and could haul loads between three and four tons. The truck differed from most four-wheel drive vehicles in that the front driving knuckles coupled with the four-speed double drive gear made the truck easier to handle. All controls and brake levers were within easy reach of the driver while the steering wheel was tilted to provide comfort for the driver. The designers were seeking funding to construct a 320,000 square foot factory in Lansing.[1] Although the proposal was well received by investors in Lansing, no one seemed interested in backing the fledgling company.

 

On February 9, 1920 Stoney and Bowman incorporated their business in Indiana as the Red Arrow Motors Company with a capitalization of $1,000,000. Stoney was elected President, Bowman was selected as Vice President and Louis O’Neil was appointed Secretary & Treasurer. The first meeting of the company was held in Ft. Wayne, Indiana at which it was proposed to establish a factory in Lansing, failing that they would explore three other sites for the factory.[2]

 

Red Arrow 1

The Red Arrow Truck in Lansing in front of the new Cass Building

Later in 1920 the Red Arrow Truck Company, just when the name change is unknown, visited Owosso, Michigan in the hopes of convincing the local Chamber of Commerce in a plan to erect a factory in their city. Several test trucks were built by local mechanics and the vehicle received high praise.[1] Yet again the product was applauded yet no one was forthcoming with funds to build a factory or to purchase stock?

By May of 1920 the Red Arrow Truck Company, still had not found a home. The company’s officers still felt that their best prospect for a factory was in Lansing. Why the officers believed that Lansing was their best prospect for a factory is never explained. What is known is that the Read Arrow Truck plant was never built in Lansing. With that the Red Arrow Truck Company disappeared from the historical record. Just what happened to the $1,000,000 and the trucks that were built is unknown?[2] What is intriguing is that the Indiana State Archives has no record of the Red Arrow Motor Company or the Red Arrow Truck Company incorporating in the state of Indiana. So what did happen? I can find no reason why this occurred. Was the company’s balance sheet so disjointed that it scared off investors? Or was the company over-capitalized? Based upon what has been unearthed by this researcher it remains unknown. It may be worthwhile to look at the lives of the three principals involved in the Red Arrow Truck, Bowman, Stoney and O’Neil.

Red Arrow 3

Take a look at those tires. No tread which explains the tire chains.

Albert B. Bowman was born in Kent County, Michigan on October 7, 1884 to Frank S. and Ada F. (née Green) Bowman. On May 4, 1921 Albert married Miss Ethel G. Lobdell in Flint, Michigan. After the demise of the Red Arrow Trucking Company, Bowman worked as a mechanical consultant for the REO Motor Car Company, he later moved to Janesville, Wisconsin where he taught automotive repair to students. Bowman returned to Ingham County, settling in East Lansing at 214 Kedzie Street. Albert worked as tool designer and was a member of the Peoples Church. On May 25, 1966 Albert passed away at a Lansing hospital at the age of 81, survived by his wife Ethel and daughter Marion J, Webb and eight grand children (LSJ 4/25/1966).

The story of Irving Lorain Stoney’s life was far more varied. Irving was born in Spencerport, New York on September 19, 1882 to Thomas and Eliza M. (née Boughton) Stoney. On September 26, 1906 Irving married Miss Amelia L. Lee in Laingsburg, Michigan, the couple had three boys, Lee Bernard, Carl L., and Fred T. L. Stoney. Oddly enough given Irving’s manufacturing background, in 1910 he was charged with offering ice cream for sale in Lansing that had an added preservative. Stoney was fined $25 plus costs.[1] Just when Irving met Albert Bowman or what their relationship was is unknown. In all probability they met when they worked at REO Motor Car Company. After the failure Red Arrow Truck Company, Irving worked as a real estate and insurance broker for the remained of his life. On August 17, 1950 Irving died at a Lansing hospital at the age of sixty-seven, long forgotten by the people of Lansing.

Red Arrow 4

A close up shot of the linkage for the four-whel drive.

But what happened to Louis E. O’Neil the former Secretary & Treasurer of Red Arrow Truck Company? Louis was born in Charlotte, Michigan on May 1, 1891 to Edward and Clara (née Saier) O’Neil. After the death of his father, Louis’ mother moved the family to Lansing where he attended Lansing High School. After graduation Louis managed the Commercial Service Company, which provided blue print reproduction and stenography services to business. Louis was a young man who was going places. Later Louis organized and managed both the Community Service Company and a Typewriter Sales Company. On August 11, 1917 Louis married Miss Mary Widmeyer, the couple had one child, a daughter Ruth. Louis E. O’Neil died suddenly at his home on December 28, 1929 a the age of thirty-eight (LSJ 12/28/1929).

So where did the name Red Arrow come from? Well it the Red Arrow truck may have been named after Red Arrow Road in Flint. Or after the famous 32nd Division in World War One, which consisted mainly, consisted of citizens from Wisconsin and Michigan. But only Stoney and Bowman know the answer to that question.

© Lost Lansing 2015

 

[1] Automotive Industries December 18, 1919 p 1238 Vol. XLI No 25 LSJ 11/28/1919 and LSJ 12/2/1919.

[2] Automotive Industries, February 12, 1920 p 481 Vol. XLII No 7. To be honest I am unclear what the $1,000,000 capitalization meant in 1920. Did it represent stock sold or stock offered?

[3] Manufacturer & Financial Record May 1, 1920 Vol. 25 No 18.

[4] Motor Truck May 1920 p 206. Based upon the articles at least three trucks must have been built in total by the firm.

[5] Annual Report of the Dairy and Food Commissioner of the State of Michigan, 71.