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Oklahoma Memories

First Car in Oklahoma City

2011-03-13

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"Well that was my father's brother, my uncle, J.H. Everest, who was always quite a mechanic, and when he first heard that automobiles were going to be manufactured, he always wanted one, and finally the Stanley Steamer company - I believe they were manufactured in Cleveland, Ohio - offered their cars, and he bought a Stanley Steamer. I think it was probably in 1903, I believe it was."

As a young child Harvey P. Everest and his parents made the land run into what became Oklahoma City. His father was a banker, his uncle was a businessman. And in the summer of 1903, his uncle purchased the first car to appear in Oklahoma City. It was a Stanley Steamer, so called because it was propelled by a steam engine.

"It had about 10 horsepower. You could travel about 50 miles before refilling the water tank, and the boiler, you sat out on top of the boiler, and of course in those days the steel wasn't very good, and you was always a little fearful that the tank might explode, which they did occasionally, but never with my uncle's family. But it was quite an adventure to move about Oklahoma City with its sandy and muddied streets in this little Stanley Steamer and excited lots of comments and admiration from everybody. They thought it was a wonderful thing."

Everest's father was intrigued by his brother "conveyance" as it was called back then that he also bought a car.

"And two years later my father bought a 1-cylinder Oldsmobile, had a curved dashboard and had a tiller instead of a steering wheel. It likewise had 10 horsepower, 1 cylinder, and would sometimes get up to 25 or 30 miles per hour going downhill. It had very little power, but it had a lot of fun in it, too.

Driving those vehicles on Oklahoma City streets was quite a challenge. Everest recalled the streets at the time his uncle bought that Stanley Steamer.

"There was no pavement at all, and it was about 1903 or '04, as I recall, that Main Street was paved between Broadway and - well between the Santa Fe tracks, really - and Hudson, and that was paved, as I recall, with brick at that time. Then they gradually extended the pavement north on Broadway to first up to 3rd Street and then as far north as 6th. I remember very well when 6th Street was the north boundary of any residences in Oklahoma City, and just beyond that where the old Central High School is, there was a corn field in there."

In July 1909, a car being driven by Anton Classen with John Shartel as his passenger collided with the back of horse-drawn wagon in front of the Threadgill Hotel on Broadway in downtown Oklahoma City. The horse was not injured, the wagon suffered a broken wheel, and Classen and Shartel walked away from that accident unharmed. That was one of the earliest wrecks reported in Oklahoma City.

Roads and highways in 1909 were virtually nonexistent, but two years later in 1911 the state legislature created the Oklahoma Highway Department, and this year ODOT is celebrating its centennial anniversary. The Oklahoma History Center is helping in that celebration with a major exhibit of very old cars from just after the turn of the last century. That exhibit will open on March 16th at the Oklahoma History Center on NE 23rd Street, just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.