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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Automobile Early Years
or
Those Crazy Drivers

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr
The present and future of transportation mingled in plain sight along Fredericksburg's Main Street in 1917. A customer in need of a new set of wheels had to decide between a Pekin Standard 2-horse wagon from Edward and Louis Oehler or walk a few doors down to Louis Kott's Ford dealership and drive off the lot in a new 20 horsepower Model T. Welcome to the 20th century.

The transportation landscape was changing fast. In 1917 William Hoffmann was a blacksmith, wheelwright and farrier with a shop next to Otto Kolmeier's on Main Street. By 1920 he spent most of his time repairing gasoline engines.

Before WWI the Joseph Brothers, Max and Fritz, ran a blacksmith and wheelwright shop at 132 East Main Street. They also did horseshoeing. By the 1920s they were fixing cars and selling Dodges.

Fredericksburg TX - Automobiles On Main Street
Automobiles on Fredericksburg's Main Street
Photo courtesy Gillespie County Historical Society

To be honest, citizens had mixed feelings about the changes. Fredericksburg was a quiet, orderly village until automobiles came thundering down Main Street without regard for public safety, scaring the daylights out of horses and pedestrians.

Some of those drivers were crazy. They enjoyed knocking down wooden street signs. The Fredericksburg Standard reported that mischievous drivers "seemed to take a special delight in giving the street marker a jolt that usually incapacitated the wooden structures and necessitated their continuous repair. In order to enforce an observance of the rule of the road on the streets of the city, the wooden markers have been reinforced by a granite marker weighing half a ton. The driver that now attempts to give the markers a gentle jolt for pastime will very likely come to grief and his car sent to the garage doctor."

In the culture war between people and machines, the government took sides with the automobile. People felt they were being snowballed by a slew of new laws that favored machines over ordinary citizens.

"Again the rights of pedestrians have come under the review of the Court of Appeals," a Fredericksburg Standard reporter wrote, "and the drivers have won. The Court emphasized the duty of the man afoot to keep his eyes open and to look out for vehicles. The admirable restraint of the Court is shown by its forbearing to rule that an auto driver is entitled to damages from the man who musses the vehicle by getting run over."

In a move that delighted drivers, the County Commissioners Court voted to tar and gravel Main Street in January 1922. Three months later the Commissioner's Court voted to cover Main Street with a hard surface topping, 60 ft. wide, from the Nimitz Hotel to Jacob Kraus Corner.

By 1923 just about everyone understood that, for better or worse, automobiles were here to stay. That year a bill came before the state legislature that would increase the legal speed limit from 25 mph to 35 mph. The same bill proposed a 2 cent tax be added to the price of every gallon of gasoline, the proceeds used to build and maintain roads.

The local Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to State Rep. Sam Johnson, asking him to oppose the bill. It passed anyway.

In 1941 the city responded to increased automobile congestion by installing 5 traffic lights on Main Street at the intersections of Washington, Llano, Adams, Orange and Edison Streets. At the same time the council voted to allow U-turns at cross streets where there was no traffic light. Those intersections included Main and Lincoln (Keidel Hospital), Main and Crockett (Post Office) and Main and Milam (also known as Schneider's Corner).

As a safety measure the city painted pedestrian lanes at the traffic light intersections so that people on foot could safely cross the street "when favored by the green light." Cars waiting for the light to change were to stop behind the pedestrian lanes.

"Heretofore," the newspaper reporter complained, "some motorists have driven half way into the intersection before coming to a halt."

The transition from horse power to automobiles wasn't smooth or easy.

I drove down Main Street just this morning, and it's still crazy out there. I think we have a few more kinks to work out.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" March 1, 2023 Column



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