After being owned by a Colorado rancher 1,700 miles from Martinsburg, the Norwalk was back home.
The bright yellow, six-cylinder 1914 Norwalk, with its underslung chassis and Vulcan electric shifter considered to be an advanced concept for its time, sat under a pavilion at Poor House Farm Park in Martinsburg, W.Va., Sept. 28. Those responsible for its return to the city in which it was built could hardly believe their eyes.
“It’s almost like a dream,’’ said Chris Breeze, vice president of The Friends of the Norwalk Foundation Inc.
“This is just a great opportunity and just a great day for Berkeley County and the city of Martinsburg. This car doesn’t need to be anywhere else but here,’’ said Martin Frye, treasurer of the organization.
Breeze, Frye and dozens of others were celebrating the successful acquisition of the only known Norwalk vehicle believed to exist in the world. The car offered a lasting glimpse of the automobile production plant that operated in a huge brick building near the intersection of Porter and John streets in the city.
The Norwalk Motor Car Co. started in Norwalk, Ohio, in 1910, but soon ran into financial trouble and folded quickly, according to a historical account from The Friends of the Norwalk Foundation. Investors in Martinsburg bought the company and its remaining parts, and moved the operation there, according to the account.
It was a unique, small-town story about a car company that struggled with money problems and had slow production, but was considered a pioneer in automobile design.
The car’s Vulcan electric shifter, which was only on 25 of the cars, allowed the driver to select speeds from a silver mechanism attached near the steering wheel. The driver would push button one to start the car and push the clutch to engage the gear. The driver would repeat the process by going to buttons two and three as speeds increased. It is not known how many Norwalks were made.
About six years ago, Breeze, also a member of the Norwalk Antique Car Club, said he discovered that the last known existing Norwalk car was owned by Shirley Hoffman, a rancher in Longmont, Colo.Breeze discovered that the car almost went to auction and contacted Hoffman, pleading with her that the car should be returned to Martinsburg.
Breeze said Hoffman told him the selling price was $300,000, but the Norwalk Antique Car Club didn’t have that kind of money. In June, a group of seriously interested members of the Norwalk Antique Car Club met and called Hoffman on a conference phone call, according to Breeze. Hoffman presented various terms for the $300,000 sale, although she was ultimately told by her attorney to collect the full amount at once.
Thirteen members of the car club formed The Friends of the Norwalk Foundation and collected donations for a $20,000 deposit on the car, Breeze said. Centra Bank gave the group a $280,000 loan for the balance, Breeze said.
On Sept. 10, three couples drove to Colorado to get the car.