We are indebted to Franklin B. Tucker and his thorough research and gathering of Holsman Automobile History photographs, research and advertisements. We also thank the Museums, Curators, Collectors, Associations and Archives who have helped by sending photographs, advertisements, stories and research.
We welcome readers who wish to contribute additional research, photographs, newspaper clippings or a story. Please e-mail us and we will put it on our website.
HOLSMAN – FIRST CAR IN BEND, OREGON (The Bend Bulletin, October 25, 1907) –
The local newspaper of Bend, Oregon, The Bend Bulletin, on the 25th of October 1907, carried the following article:
H.C. Ellis is running around town these days with a new HOLSMAN automobile that the Pioneer Telegraph & Telephone Co., has just purchased for use over its territory. The machine resembles very closely a common buggy only it is truly horseless. It carries a 14 horsepower gasoline engine and weighs 1,100 pounds. Mr. Ellis says the machine is giving perfect satisfaction. He went out to the Dales and drove it into Bend, and made the run from Grass Valley to Bend, a distance of 135 mils, in 23 hours, with five hours out for one night’s stop. The machine climbed McPherson Hill and Grizzly Mountain with never a falter and carried up two passengers and 150 pounds of baggage. The Telephone Company has the exclusive agency for the HOLSMAN machines throughout Central Oregon.
In 1955 this same paper carried the following article concerning the same subject:
Bends first automobile, purchased in Chicago, shipped by express to The Dales and brought here under its own power from the Columbia River over rutted wagon roads, still operates under its own power.
It is the ancient car now owned by E.A. Smith which only last summer was the transportation used in taking Mrs. J. Alton Thompson, the queen of the Deschutes Pioneer Association, to the group’s annual picnic, at Pioneer Park.
In 1906, (this article was in error in using the 1906 date, it should have been 1907. Also, the company who originally purchased the Holsman was then going by the name of the Pioneer Telegraph & Telephone Co.), the Deschutes Telephone Co., of which H.C. Ellis was manager, found it difficult to obtain horses in the area and decided to buy a horseless carriage. The car was ordered from Chicago. It was a HOLSMAN, a two-cylinder affair with high wheels. This type was purchased because of high centers in road in the Bend, Prineville, and La Pine areas served by the company. Some of the high centers were caused by lava rocks. Others were stumps of trees. The only use made of Central Oregon roads in those days was by freight wagons, stage coaches and hacks or buggies.
Ellis found it impossible to get fuel in The Dales to bring the new car to Bend. Finally, after a wait of several days, a supply was obtained from Goldendale, across the Columbia River on the Washington side. Some of this supply was shipped up the line, where it could be picked up in transit. The fuel was in five gallon can, two to a case.
The brand new HOLSMAN caused considerable excitement in The Dales that day in 1906, (1907), when it chugged up the Columbia to a crossing of the Deschutes River at Freebridge. At that time, there was only one other car in The Dales, a Reo owned by Dr. J.A. Reuter, a one cylinder vehicle. From Freebridge, the HOLSMAN headed for the little known village of Bend, moved up Rattlesnake Canyon to Moro at the pace of a buggy team. There was a temporary delay at Moro while more canned gas was taken aboard. Finally, the car reached Cow Canyon, at night.
The car moved slowly down the rugged canyon, with the driver picking the “trail” by the dim illumination of the primitive headlights. As the grade narrowed, fenders on one side of the car were ripped, and in going through the narrow cut, fenders on the opposite side were torn, By the time the car reached the bottom of the grade, its fenders were in scraps., were taken off at the pioneer Heisler stage station, on Trout Creek, and remained there as a relics for years. They were still in evidence at the site of the old station in the early 1920’s.
The car was used by Judge Ellis and members of his crew for seven years, in line maintenance work. Gas for the car was freighted in from Shaniko by E.A. Sather, who operated a store there. Incidentally, gas in those days cost 75 cents a gallon in Bend, and $1.00 in Roseland, the present La Pine area.
This car now reposes in the Deschutes Historical Center, 129 N.W. Idaho Ave., Bend, Oregon 97701.
HENRY TUTTLE HOLSMAN RECOLLECTS –
H.K. Holsman had three sons. Henry T, born in 1901, and twin boys, born in 1905. His oldest son, recalled the time when, as a very young boy, he accompanied his father on a test run of one of the Holsman cars. The elder Holsman drove on the road for a while, then took off through a field which had some ditches. This was to prove the ability of the car to ford such obstacles. However, he came to one which he had not traversed before, and drove toward it so as to have the car go on through. Unfortunately, this ditch had a span just a bit longer than the wheel diameter, and about half as deep. The front wheels dropped into the ditch up to their hubs. Of course, this caused an abrupt stop which threw the young Holsman over the dash to the ground. Fortunately, he was not injured.
Another time, around 1909, H.K. Holsman was driving himself and his wife to the opera in Chicago, using one of his closed coupes. In those days, delivery wagons had extended front hubs to that the delivery boys could use them as a step when getting back into the wagon. H.K. Holsman was driving along 55th Street when he drove a bit too close to one of these delivery wagons, which was parked at the curb. The Holsman’s wheel rode up onto and over the extended wagon hub, turning the Holsman over on its side, throwing H.K. and his wife out. They did finally get to the opera, on time, without injury.
After H.K. left the Holsman Automobile Company, he purchased a Stanley Steamer so that his wife would be able to start without cranking. Stanleys were used by the family from 1909 through 1918. Following World War I, in which his oldest sib Henry T. saw service, the family desired to drive to California, but assumed that it would be impossible to obtain water in the desert for the Stanley. So, they purchased a Ford, which was the first family car of a make other than Holsmans and Stanleys.
The family spent summers at Lauderdale Lakes, Wisconsin, about 20 miles north of Lake Geneva. H.K. would drive a Holsman from the factory to the lake on Fridays, a distance of 100 miles, and return on Monday, taking from 3 to 4 hours to do so in each direction, as most of the road were dirt and quite rough. According to H.T. Holsman, it was not until the 1930’s that the more modern cars could travel these roads in this same time. H.K. drove a car without a top using a poncho for stormy weather.
H.T. Holsman also said that his father delighted in driving his own cars in the many hill climbing contests around Chicago, especially the Algonquin Hill Climb, and was proud to show off his various gold and silver medals won on these climbs.
Island County Historical Museum in Coupeville, WA – 07/2015
1902 Holsman – It was the first auto on Whidbey Island. Came here in 1904.
The 1902 Holsman was bought from an Army Sergeant, and brought by boat to Whidbey Island in 1904 (it had a new set of 1904 Firestone tires installed at that time). It was purchased by Judge Lester Still, a popular man in the region, known as an honest judge, and a fun, social person. Judge Still never learned to drive the Holsman. His neighbor would shuttle him around in it. The judge had the bulb horn moved to the passenger side, so he could honk at his friends when out and about. The car has no reverse gear, but the Judge said backing up was never an issue, since there were usually 3 or more boys following him to see and hear the new contraption, who were more than happy to assist. Still’s relatives, who also ran one of the first car dealerships on the Island, still own half interest in the auto (Island County Historical Soc. owns the other half), to make certain it stays in the museum in Coupeville. It was a regular attraction, being driven in local parades until about 20 years ago, when it was retired to the museum, where it is now on permanent display in our front lobby. It is all original (not sure about the candle-powered headlamps) with the exception of some pinstripes which are believed to have been added by high school students – probably sometime in the 1930’s or 40’s.
You can find out more about Judge Still and the Captain Whidbey Inn on Wikipedia.
Des Chutes Historical Museum – 07/2015
We do have a Holsman on display at the Deschutes Historical Museum. It’s serial number is 2167V. It’s patent date is 1902. We do not know the specific manufacture date of the automobile.
We do know it was purchased by the Deschutes Telephone Co. in 1906 by H.C. Ellis, manager at the time, and was delivered by train to The Dalles, Oregon where it then was driven to Bend via Cow Canyon. It was used as transport for electricians, while stringing telephone lines in the areas of Bend, Prineville and La Pine. In 1907 Ernest Smith, an electrician for the Deschutes Telephone Company, acquired the automobile as part settlement for wages. After the financial panic of 1907, the Deschutes Telephone Company could not always meet their payroll.
The automobile has been driven many times in parades and was used as the official “carriage” for the Deschutes Pioneer Association queens, transporting them to the annual picnic. Today it lives on the second floor of the museum, in the room dedicated to Deschutes County commerce. It is said that this car could drive from Bend to Prineville in just over two hours.
Des Chutes Historical Museum – 07/2015
As Registrar here at the museum, I have always wondered about the Holsman’s manufacture date, since the title says 1906 and the DMV paper says 1907. Our director told us that a man calls up every year to remind us that ours is a 1904, not what our current exhibit signage states. I recently contacted an old friend, Randy Ema of Orange, CA, who deals with and restores old cars, to ask for help in identifying the car in a photo in our collection, and happened to mention the Holsman. He offered to try to date it for us, as it turns out that he has a Holsman also – either he is the third owner or bought it from the third owner. In his email, he states, “Yes, this car looks just like mine, and mine is a 1904. I think it is a model 3 with the steel cable rope covered drive.” (I had sent him photos of the car from every angle.) So ours may be a 1904. If you have someone there who could verify the year for us, we would appreciate the help and expertise.
Our Holsman hasn’t been driven in parades since the 1960’s, and is indeed a permanent part of the collection and has been on exhibit since the early 1980’s. However, we recently received an offer to restore it so it could be driven in parades in 2016, which will be the centennial of the creation of Deschutes County. We are considering the offer but no decision has been made, nor will there be one for a month, at least. If we decide to go ahead, the Holsman will be dismantled, removed from the second floor of the old school that houses the museum, (the way it came in), be restored off site, used for the year and then returned back as part of the permanent collection.
We feel lucky to have such a wonderful vehicle, besides its historical value as being the first car that came to Bend.
Richard Schlosser, Radioreporter (Bayerischer Rundfunk / a public Radio) from Bavaria-Germany – 11/2015
Our Holsman-story: in summer 2015, Mr. Bienert found a Holsman-offer on a oldtimer-site in internet. Immediately he took contact and already the next day, he was driving to the garage nearby the German city Kaiserslautern. There, in an old corrugated-iron hut, some kind of metal-shelter, was the storing place of this Holsman-High-Wheeler. For about 40 years not any more moved or started, he believes. The owner, in summer 73 years old, got some problems with a lot of things he bought while many years and he made bunkrupt. He was not anymore able to manage his things. So other people had to „use“ or to sell everything of his goods. Not good destiny, because this man was not anymore able to tell the story, how he bought the Holsman and who was the earlier owner. Mr. Bienert visited him with his wife Elke. The impression of Mr. Bienert was, that this man got some disease of age (maybe something like Alzheimer, but this is not a medical diagnose.) So we don’t know too many informations about the history of this Holsman, how it came to Germany and where it served as a early „car“. But now, it is going to be restored by oldtimer-spezialists in our nice region „Allgäu“ in the west of Bavaria (about 80 km near to the beautiful castle Neuschwanstein).
Mr. Hans Bienert is 73 (!) years old, his former profession was independent master painter, his obsession in retirement are oldtimers. In his garages you will find a dozen of old cars like a Ford Tin Lizzy 1912, Adler Trumpf Junior 1936, a „Berliner Taxi“ also from the 1930th, two Borgward Coupe (Cabrio) in very good condition, the famous Volkswagen bus T1 50/60 years old with windows left and right in the roof and so on…and also four old Traktors like a famous Lanz, an Allgaier or a McCormick from the 1960th with the robust and tough 3-zylinder-engine.
About his activities you find more on the site of the association Traktorfreunde Illerwinkel (Illerwinkel ist the region at the river Iller, where the village Lautrach is situated nearby the city of Memmingen, in the neighbourhood of Illerbeuren-Kronburg, where ist a big open-air-museum of agriculture and every-day-culture of former times (Bauernhofmuseum Illerbeuren) – good place to show sometimes old traktors and old cars. (http://www.traktorfreunde-illerwinkel.de)
Bend’s first car may be up and running soon By Ted Shorack • The Bulletin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Engine repairs are underway on what is believed to be Bend’s first car, in anticipation of bringing the early automobile out for the public to enjoy during Deschutes County’s centennial year.
The Holsman “motor buggy” arrived in Bend in 1907 and was shipped from Chicago by train to The Dalles.
The black vehicle was displayed at the former Deschutes Pioneer Museum on NW Greenwood Avenue after being donated by a local family in 1971. It has also been featured in exhibits at the Des Chutes Historical Museum in the former Reid School building.
The Deschutes County Historical Society board of directors decided last year to get the Holsman running again for events later this year celebrating the county centennial. The county was created on Dec. 13, 1916.
The first event will be June 4 at a Bend Elks game. The historical society also plans to bring it to car shows, the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show and the Deschutes County Fair.
“It’s going on its own little tour,” said Kelly Cannon-Miller, executive director of the historical society. “We want to make sure we make it around the county.”
Few original Holsman automobiles remain today. The Holsman Automobile Company was based in Chicago and went out of business after less than a decade of production.
H.C. Ellis, the manager of the local telephone company that bought the Holsman, went to The Dalles to pick up the car. It took more than 24 hours to reach Bend, which included a five-hour break overnight to sleep, according to historical accounts.
Wade Bryant, an old car lover and owner of Wade Bryant’s Auto Repair & Service Center in Bend, is donating his time to restore the Holsman at his shop.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “It’s an honor to be able to work on it. It’s a great piece of Bend history.”
Bryant said he believes the vehicle is about 90 percent original. The car’s engine hasn’t run for decades. Bryant has been working to bring it back to full power. The wood wheels will be sent to a South Dakota shop for a tune-up on the spokes. The only components that are not original are the hard rubber tires.
“It’s pretty well-preserved,” Bryant said. “Hopefully we can get it running.”
Bryant also worked to restore the Bend Fire Department’s original 1918 American LaFrance fire engine in 2013.
The Holsman’s two-cylinder engine and two-speed transmission could have gotten up to about 15 mph in its day, Bryant said. It can also go in reverse. The headlights are detachable and run on kerosene oil with a wick that had to be lit.
The design of the early car nearly resembles a horse-drawn carriage or buggy without the horse.
“When this would have come to town, it would have been the talk of the town,” Bryant said.
Bryant said the two-passenger Holsman was popular in rural areas. It was known as a “high wheeler,” able to withstand bumpy roads. On the trip from The Dalles, however, the leather fenders were ripped off on a rugged canyon trail.
Bryant has his own collection of old cars and grew up working on them. His grandfather worked at a Ford garage in John Day. Bryant, who is now 54, also remembers seeing the Holsman on display at the pioneer museum when he was 12.
The telephone company used the Holsman as a service vehicle. The ownership was transferred to E.A. Smith, an employee, in 1910 to settle a wage discrepancy. The car became a local attraction over the years and was brought to Central Oregon events by the Smith family. They eventually donated the car to the Deschutes County Pioneer Association. The association’s museum was combined with the historical society’s Des Chutes Historical Museum in 1980 because the county wanted to use the pioneer museum building as a law library. The Holsman has since been with the historical museum.
“It’s such a great artifact,” Cannon-Miller said. “It’s really fun to have this (centennial) event to share it more broadly.”
Cannon-Miller said the Holsman is one of the most appealing pieces of local history when the museum puts it on display.
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A little story from our wonderful friend, Ray at Restorations Unlimited (http://ru2inc.com/index.html) – June 2, 2016
I want to fill you in on a little bit of old time trivia. Now days all the car makers bragging rights revolve around their cars ability to do 0 to 60 mph in “X” amount of seconds. In the early 1900’s the benchmark was the automobile’s ability to climb a certain degree of incline or hill. Therefore hill climb and reliability rally events were more common than speed races for automobile makers. You will notice in some of the ads that I send the Algonquin Hill Climb is mentioned quite often.
This was as big as or bigger than the Indy 500 of its day. The Holsman was represented in this contest on more than one occasion and did quite well. It just so happen that I live about 5 minutes from Algonquin Illinois and the two hills that they used are still there albeit paved now. It is now the intersection of Rt. 31 and Rt. 62. One hill, Rt. 31 northbound was used for a running start and the other, Rt. 31 southbound was for a standing start.
For a couple of years, the town tried to celebrate/recreate the event. It was a good turnout for the old cars but then the “circus like” atmosphere took over and it died off after a short run. I have an extra poster that I’m going to send you for the archive. – Ray
In 1953, early pioneer, and former phone company employee, E.A. Smith told KBND’s Kessler Cannon that getting paid for work sometimes proved difficult. “When I came to Prineville, I had several checks that I had not cashed as yet. I took them into Mr. Baldwin’s bank, and Mr. Baldwin says, ‘Well now, Mr. Smith, about $20 is all we can let you have on these checks.’ So I took the $20 gold piece and I kept working for the telephone company, and I’d get a few dollars to live on.”
Smith told Cannon that he got the car after the phone company went bankrupt. “In the final settlement of my wage account in 1910, I took the old Holsman automobile, which I now own, as part payment for my account.” Cannon asked, “It’s still in good running shape today? [in 1953].” Smith responded, “Oh, yes. It runs, as far as I can tell, just about as good as new.” The more than 100-year-old car may not be “good as new,” anymore. But, Wade Bryant Automotive and the Deschutes Historical Society spent months getting the car running again.
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