One Family: 1907 Richmond comes back home

T he Wayne County Historical Museum in Richmond, Ind., will celebrate the centennial of one of its more recent acquisitions, a 1907 Richmond Merry Widow. The Richmond was manufactured by the Wayne Works, a company located on the eastern border of Indiana that has a long history in the county.

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The Richmond in its new home, which it shares with a locally manufactured Davis airplane.

    Wayne Agricultural Works started making farm implements in Dublin, Ind., on the western edge of the county around the time of the Civil War. In 1875, it was lured away to the fast-growing city on the eastern side of the county where most of the railroads met. The company grew continuously, and for much of the 20th century, it was one of the largest bus manufacturers in the world. During World War II, it produced military ambulance bodies. The transition from reapers and seed drills to busses was not a straight shot. Just before the turn of the century, Wayne Works began manufacturing wagons and carriages, and from there it was a matter of adding an engine to make an automobile. Like many companies during this period, it tried its hand at the new technology, but by 1911, it stopped manufacturing cars and concentrated on busses.

    This particular car is a Richmond Merry Widow, Model J-1 Runabout, complete with a “mother-in-law seat.” The Merry Widow also came in a J-2 Surrey Type and J-3 Light Touring Car, both of which carried four persons.

    In 1908, Edwin Chase of Hebron, N.D., bought it from a salesman of the More Brothers agency of Wimbledon, N.D. Chase family legend says the salesman stayed at the Chase farm after getting caught in a storm, then tried to sell the car to Edwin for $1,000. Not one to let a salesman off easy, Edwin is reported to have said, “If the car can make it to the top of that muddy hill in the morning, I’ll buy it for $950.” It did, indeed, make the grade.

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A “Richmond-drawn” buggy in a 1910 parade.

    Edwin never sold the car and passed it on to his son, Herbert, who also kept it. After a while, it became a local institution, appearing in parades and special events on a regular basis. After Herbert’s death in 1986, his son, Jerry, continued the tradition. Jerry, having no heirs, wanted the car to be cared for and enjoyed by others, and in 2003 he and the rest of his family decided finally to sell the car. In December 2003, they listed it on eBay, and that’s when Glen Reeves learned of its existence.

    Glen is a retired Richmond businessman and a rabid car enthusiast, and he thought it would be wonderful to bring the car back to its birthplace, so to speak. The Richmond failed to meet the reserve price and was removed from eBay, and that’s when Glen really got going. He contacted the family for more information, then spearheaded the local drive to raise the $35,000 needed to purchase the car.

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Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Chase celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in 1980.

    By January 2004, Glen had succeeded in rousing community interest and had raised the necessary funds. A local casket company donated the use of one of its semi trailers, and in early February, two drivers drove to North Dakota to pick up the car. Glen flew up and spent hours with the family getting as many details as he could. The family gave the museum the original bill of sale, along with other papers, clippings and photos. It turns out the family had been offered a larger sum, but they turned it down so their grandfather’s automobile could return to Indiana to a museum where it would be treasured.

    And treasured, it is.

    One of the strengths of the Wayne County Historical Museum is its car collection. Richmond manufacturers produced a total of 14 different models, and the museum owns eight local cars that represent five of those models. The Richmond made a perfect addition to the museum’s collection, illustrating a part of Wayne County’s industrial heritage as well as automotive history. The car itself is in original condition, except for the tires. It even includes one of North Dakota’s original 1911 license plates, interesting because the numbers are painted, not stamped, on the plate.

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A 1910 view of the Chase North Dakota home. Edwin and his wife are in the new Richmond, and the youngster on the horse is their son, Herbert.

    The museum will be celebrating the anniversary of the Richmond this year with a visit and reunion from the Chase family over the Memorial Day weekend.

    The Wayne County Historical Museum is located just a few miles east of Centerville, Ind. In 2008, Centerville will host the international Model T convention, and if any readers are planning to attend, they might want to take a break from Model T’s and drive over to see a Westcott, Davis, Pilot and a 1907 Richmond.

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