Bourbon Sesquicentennial


Billy Erwin, left, is "at the stick" of the first car in Bourbon which he purchased in early April 1902 for $850. Erwin and his steam-powered Sterns are pictured in front of the Erwin house at the south end of Bourbon. Mr. Erwin was a victim of the 1918 influenza epidemic. The wrap-around porch was later removed from the home. The passenger is unidentified at this time.

Glory Days of the Automobile

The Bourbon News Mirror, dated April 10, 1902, carried a small news item regarding what may have been the first automobile owned by a Bourbon resident. "Wm. Erwin, Jr., has delighted a number of his young friends by giving them a ride in his new automobile. The handsome vehicle arrived last week and up to date has furnished its proprietor an endless amount of pleasure. It is of the Sterns make, with motive power of steam and the price is $850. Will has been in a halo of smiles sent his way by Bourbon's pretty girls since its arriv(al) and he is not selfish with his favors. Bourbon is certainly proving metropolitan in its tastes."

Two weeks later, in the April 24th issue, a front page article appeared prominently in the center-top of the page with a title, "The Auto Shouldn't." It read: "What we have been waiting for has happened. Mr. Erwin has tried the automobile belonging to his son Will. The critter stood in the yard one day last week as docile and meek as a little lamb. Steam was up, no one was looking and Mr. Erwin's curiosity was aroused. It seemed a most propitious time to take a little whirl. In a mule one can detect by the roll of its eyes whether it harbor's any ill will toward he who has the desire to mount, and likewise in a Texas bronco, but if an auto has a green apple pain, and designs against any who desires to ride, it never whimpers, and you only know "where you are at" when the family talk in whispers around your bed, the house is filled with the aroma of liniment and camphor, or the coroner gets out a search warrant for you. Mr. Erwin got it. A simple twist of the wrist threw on the power, and in less time than a collar button slips down your back the pesky crifter's ire was up and it made for the nearest pine tree and up it started. Bang! It went; then it backed off, made a side step to the right, the back wheels slinging the sand like a Kansas cyclone, and started for the tree again. Mr. Erwin wasn't scared. He was simply getting the gait of the thing, and didn't shut off the steam. Boom! an explosion! the tire blew up! Will then appeared and put a stop to the proceedings. Mr. Erwin conquered the thing at least, for it is now in the hospital while he is telling how it happened."

Motorists today, young and old, would find it difficult to imagine what it would be like to drive one of the early automobiles in the conditions that existed then. Dirt roads were less than friendly to automobiles. They were mud bogs in wet weather and dust bowls when it was dry. The first vehicles were open so that the driver (and passenger) was at the mercy of the weather and the road. Early vehicles had narrow tires similar to a wagon and were almost as tall in order to navigate the ruts in the dirt roads. A driver's license was unheard of and there was no such thing as driver's training. Common courtesy was the only "rule of the road". Regardless of how courteous a driver tried to be (and many didn't bother to try) they were often considered a pure nuisance to those trying to keep a horse drawn carriage under control. It is very likely that those in control of both types of conveyance probably had an "aftitude" and an equal disdain for each other at least while sharing the same road.

Even a dozen or more years later, when there were a number of autos in the hands of local citizens, their driving habits were still quite unregulated. When Charles 0. McCollough bought his first car, he was still farming with horses. The family waiting to greet him as he was driving up the lane with his new auto heard shouts of, "Open the gate ..... open the gate." The girls got the gate open just in time for their dad to drive into the pasture where he drove around in circles for quite some time before the car came to a stop. He had run out of gas. His only comment - "Durn fools! showed me how to start the car; they didn’t show me how to stop it."

Early models were not very complicated. Some were so simple, even a woman could drive them, but not many did. Those who were able to drive the auto were often not physically strong enough to turn the crank and start the engine. We’ve come a long way since then. Not until the advent of the self starter were women able to take over the highways. Just kidding fellas!


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