In the early 1900s, Buzz Wagons were controversial in Quincy, but not taken too seriously. One explanation defined it as “…a large iron and rubber contrivance for transforming gasoline into speed, excitement, and obituaries. It consists of a handsome upholstered carriage body, mounted on fat rubber tires and containing a gizzard full of machinery, suffering from various ailments…It can transport seven people from the front porch to the police station, bankruptcy court or the golden gate in less time than any other method.”
Technology was changing. In 1904, the Quincy Daily Whig proudly reported that due to the loan of J. W. Cassidy’s buzz wagon and chauffeur Bert Plank, they were able to send a reporter to Palmyra to cover a “mysterious tragedy at New London” and the journey of twenty-one miles only took an hour and twenty minutes.
The purchase of an automobile was itself news. Almost daily articles appeared in the local papers listing who had purchased a vehicle, including the make and often the price paid for it. In May of 1904, The Quincy Daily Herald reported that the Quincy Automobile company had sold three White Company steam cars for $2,300 each and listed their new owners as J. Will Gardner, Walter Williamson and Ben Bartlett.
That same year, Quincyian J. W. Cassidy purchased a lot to construct a “Buzz Wagon Headquarters.” The Daily Herald boasted that it would be “the only real thing of the kind in the state.” The paper went onto explain, “A garage is not a wild animal, or a new kind of drink, but is a complete automobile station where everything connected in any way with buzz wagons can be found…Also courteous attendants are on tap at all hours of the day or night to make repairs or go forth to sweep up the remains.”
Architect Harvey Chatten designed the modern building at 410-412 Vermont, which had a plate glass front, concrete floors and housed a repair shop, a warehouse, a sales room and a club room for owners. It was noted that the word ‘garage’ comes from the French institution invented when automobiles became popular. There would also be a ‘court’ where driving instruction could take place and chauffeurs for hire. The newest arrivals were J. W. Cassidy’s new “White Streak,” a steam car, as well as a new model of Cadillac.
By the following year, the Quincy Automobile Company set a local record when they sold three cars in one day. Harry Hofer purchased a Mitchell runabout for $900; John A. Thornton of Lima paid $1,200 for a Ford tonneau car and an advertising expert from Chicago, John A Mahan, ordered a Pope-Toledo for $3,750. In 1909, sixty cars were sold in the local area in four months and nearly doubled the total number of automobiles which had been standing at sixty-five. It took a full column to list each new owner along with the maker of the auto. The story noted with some surprise that several farmers had also purchased vehicles.
It was in 1905 that Dick Carle, actor-playwright, ordered what might be the first RV. He asked the White Touring Car company in Chicago to build a $32,000 vehicle in which he could tour. It would be thirty-eight feet long, have a one hundred horsepower steam engine, weigh three tons, sleep six plus the chauffeur and steward, and be as lavish as a Pullman rail car.
Mishaps and accidents did occur. In 1909 a motorist crashed into a car in front of the Occidental Hotel on Hampshire Street. Unfortunately, the car was owned by Police Chief Koch, who had stopped in the street to talk to a reporter. Koch had gotten out of the car and was cranking the motor in an effort to get out of the way of the on-coming vehicle when it slammed into the rear of his auto. The collision was hard enough to smash the “left fender, break up the tail light, and to batter up some of the woodwork in the rear of the machine.” To add insult to injury the motorist did not recognize the chief and was abashed at the answer when he inquired.
In 1911 the city took a test drive in a motorized fire engine made by the Seagrave Company at Columbus, Ohio. It was a 52.8 horse power engine and two fifty-gallon tanks for fire-fighting chemicals, one thousand feet of hose and two hand-held fire extinguishers plus twelve foot and two hundred foot ladders. It claimed to be fast, efficient and that “…any horse-drawn apparatus can have six blocks start and still be passed before it can make four more blocks.” It would hold five or six men,”…in case it is deemed advisable to send that many out on a call.”
In an early preview of tax-season complaints is an opinion piece in the Quincy Daily Herald concerned that a buzz wagon is subject to triple taxation. After paying the purchase price, and on top of the on-going cost of gasoline, the assessor assigns a state property tax of about $15-$20; the city of Quincy adds a $10-15 dollar tax for using the streets and on top of that is a yearly license fee. This comprises three taxes for one piece of property which was deemed by the paper, “…a burden of excessive taxation that is unjust and depressing.”
In spite of this, the buzz wagon market continued to increase. In 1912 fourteen automobile dealers in Quincy met at the Hotel Quincy and formed an association for mutual benefit. They adopted a constitution and by-laws and elected officers: President T.C. Nichols; Fist Vice President I. J. Welsenhorn; Second Vice President Ernest Dick; Secretary Tom Beatty and Treasurer Frank A. Fischer.
The term ‘buzz wagon’ was used less and less frequently over the years, and seems to have gone out of our vocabulary by the mid 1920s.
“A Buzz Wagon Headquarters,” Quincy Daily Herald, May 4, 1904
“Auto Men in New Club,” Quincy Daily Herald, January16, 1912
“Busy Day in Buzz Wagons,” Quincy Daily Herald, May 21, 1904
“Buzz Wagon is Popular,” Quincy Daily Herald, April 17, 1909
Buzz Wagons Going Swift,” Quincy Daily Herald, July19, 1905
“Dick Carle’s Automobile,” Quincy Daily Herald, August 14, 1905
“He Ran into Chief’s Auto,” Quincy Daily Journal, August 26, 1910
“The Buzz Wagon,” Quincy Daily Herald, July 12, 1909
“To Palmyra via Cassidy Route,” Quincy Daily Whit, July 31, 1904
“Trying Out New Auto Machine,” Quincy Daily Journal, February 22, 1911