The little town where I spend the summer -- Gaylord, Michigan -- had early origins in the logging industry. But some are surprised to learn that there used to be an automobile manufacturing company here in the early 1900s -- the Gaylord Motor Car Company (1911-1913).
In the Chamber of Commerce office on Main Street, one can still see one of the original cars.
Although there were several styles of vehicles -- a convertible four-seat car for private drivers, a two-person roadster and a larger vehicle with storage space for luggage among them -- only one is in the Chamber office. It is fully restored and quite handsome.
Families who have been here at the lake for close to a century will recognize the names of some of the original trustees of the company, including those of Kramer and Shipp. (The Shipp cottage was next door to the original family cottage now owned by my cousins.)
Why a car company in Gaylord? The story is actually one that combines community spirit with a pressing economic needs. The lumber industry, which had been the backbone of the Gaylord economy, was coming to an end and the auto industry was making its early start. Fifty-three town residents raised $50,000 in a month (now about $1.35 million) to build a factory and the parts and equipment to build new cars. (The assembly plant was located near the railroad near a cemetery on Wisconsin Street, which is now the southern edge of downtown Gaylord.)
The first demonstration car was actually made in Detroit and was driven to Gaylord in 1910. The cost for one of these cars ranged from $1,000 to $1500. (The $1500 price would be equivalent to $40,910.68 in today's dollars.) It arrived in Gaylord from Detroit, on August 15, 1910, driven by the president and general manager of the Gaylord Motor Car Company. Remember -- at this time, the four hour trip from Detroit would take at least two days on the roads of the day.
By 1912, the factory had moved to Gaylord and the car had been featured at the National Auto Show, which brought orders from the national exposure. Hoping to break apart from competitors, the utility wagon had a higher road clearance, which made it useful on the more rugged roads outside cities.
But there are challenges to any new business. One big one is keeping it up and running to build your reputation before it fully maximizes its financial potential. As money ran out, it was difficult to find new investors.
Those with capital and the inclination had many investment options in this new industry. Many chose new new Ford Motor Company whose Model T sold for $550. This was less than half the price of the Gaylord vehicle. It led to the company's bankruptcy.
A man named Ivan Polus in Elmira, Michigan was responsible for finding the only known Gaylord car in existence and restoring it.
The Gaylord Motor Car Company may not have saved the Gaylord economy (which, thanks to tourism is doing quite well) but it did reveal how several forward-thinking members of the community pooled their ideas and resources to take a chance and create something new.
And these days, that thinking outside the box and looking toward new seems to be something many will be doing as we juggle the challenges we face today.