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F.B. Pratt & Son, Elkhart Carriage & Harness Mfg. Co., Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Company, Elcar Motor Co.
F. B. Pratt & Son, 1871-1882; F. B. Pratt and Sons (aka Elkhart Buggy Co.), 1882-1888; Elkhart Carriage & Harness Mfg. Co., 1888-1915; Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Company, 1915-1922; Elcar Motor Co., 1922-1934; Elkhart, Indiana
Associated Firms
Indiana Buggy Company, 1890-1904; Elcar Coach Company, 1936-1940s; Elkhart, Indiana

Although virtually unknown today, the Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Co. of Elkhart, Indiana was responsible for creating the Elcar automobile, one of America’s finest assembled automobiles, and was also a major player in the bespoke taxicab field, a niche market that kept its employees busy after the market for assembled cars dried up during the early stages of the Depression.

The firm’s predecessor, Elkhart Carriage & Harness Mfg. Co., was founded by Frederick B. Pratt, a Vermont-born businessman who first became successful in the dry good business in the decade immediately preceding the Civil War.

Frederick Brooks Pratt was born in Springfield, Windsor County, Vermont on December 18, 1822 to Herbert and Caroline (Brooks) Pratt. Both sides of the family were involved in the dry goods business, his father established a Springfield shop prior to 1820, his uncle William Brooks was a partner in Emerson & Brooks which was established in 1825. Although young Frederick was groomed for a career in law, he elected to follow in his father’s footsteps and upon reaching his majority he took a position with one of Boston’s major dry goods retailers.

In 1846 he ventured west to join his uncle William Brooks who had relocated to Battle Creek, Calhoun County, Michigan, where his uncle was the proprietor of the town’s most popular hardware store. On March 7, 1850 the incorporated village of Battle Creek held its first election and William was elected its first president. 

On November 30, 1848, Pratt married Charlotte E. Byington (b.1827-d.1915) a native of New York state and a daughter of Rev. Joel and Delia (Storrs) Byington and to the blessed union was born five children; three of which were born in Battle Creek; William Brooks (b. May 23, 1853-d.1926), George Byington (b. May, 1858-d.1937), and Agnes L. (m. Wolf - b.1857-d.1882) Pratt. A fourth child, Edward (aka Eddie, b.1866-d.1873), was born in Elkhart, but passed away at the age of seven after contracting Scarlet Fever.

In 1855 Pratt left his uncle’s employ forming a competing firm - Pratt, Rue & Rogers - with two partners, but by 1858 was forced out of business and went back to work for his uncle as a clerk at a recently-established Brooks hardware store in Elkhart, Indiana. The business prospered and within a few short years Frederick was placed in charge of the Elkhart satellite which relocated to a new facility located at 82 Main St.

On the 10th of October, 1863, William Brooks sold his Elkhart hardware business to Alexander A. Pope, a partner in the Battle Creek hardware firm of Putnam & Pope. Pratt remained with the firm as manager and in June of 1871 purchased the business from Pope which was thereafter conducted in the style of F.B. Pratt & Co. with Pratt’s eldest son William B. officially joining his father upon reaching his majority.

According to Elkhart, Indiana realtor Charles H. Fieldhouse (b.1883-d.1969, the son of Elkhart banker John W. Fieldhouse), legend has it that sometime in 1873 Frederick Pratt was caught admiring a new buggy that was on display in front of a competing merchant’s showroom. Armed with a ruler and a notebook, Pratt proceeded to copy down its exact dimensions which attracted the attention of the buggy vendor who dispatched him with a stiff kick in the ass. Fieldhouse claimed that from that point on Pratt became determined to build his own buggies and soon afterwards hired master blacksmith Charles Hughes to lay up a simple buggy in a wooden structure located at the foot of West Marion street.

Apparently the results were satisfactory and in 1874 Frederick and his oldest son William began manufacturing buggies under the firm name of F. B. Pratt & Son., the July 22, 1874 edition of the Elkhart Observer reporting:

“F.B. Pratt is making arrangements to build up a large carriage trade here some day. Somehow or other everything F.B. Pratt puts his hand to turns into gold or its equivalent. He has already engaged the best mechanic in the country, and is located next door to Butterfield’s livery stable.”

The following advertisement appeared in the December 2, 1874 issue of the Elkhart Observer:

“F. B. Pratt & Co. are bound to do the largest wagon business ever done, in the county. They have concluded to build lumber wagons, sleighs, bobsleds and all kinds of work usually done in carriage shops. They are determined that their work shall be as good and well finished as any that can be got. Mr. Pratt has just employed Mr. Ogle, one of the best painters in the county, to scrape off all the varnish from the work they had finished, and repaint and finish it all again, as he thought they were not finished as they should be. Mr. Pratt says this is a part of the expense of learning the business, but when he gets it learned he shall know it all as well as any one. We guess he will. They are going to sell lumber wagons complete, double box, whiffletrees, neck yoke and spring seat at $65, old price $90. Cutters about half price. Knee bob sleds, with three knees, §35, old price $55. Open buggies, $75 to §100, old price §125 to $150. Covered buggies, §125 to §175, old price §225 §250. If these prices will not build up a large trade we don't see what can. They have cutters and bob sleds now on hand.”

Another in the April 23, 1875 Elkhart Democrat Union:

“More and More Extensive:

“The rapidly increasing notoriety of F. B. Pratt's experiment in the way of manufacturing elegant strong and substantial buggies and carriages, at about two-thirds the money purchasers have heretofore had to pay for them, is proof that some things can be done as well as others. Orders are now coming in from all quarters, both from individuals and dealers, and quite a number are now nearly ready to ship to parties in California from whom orders have been lately received. The usual style of a $150 buggy is sold by Mr. Pratt for $100, perfect in make and finish throughout. Top buggies and carriages are sold at proportionate reduction in price. The calls for vehicles have become so numerous that the capacity of his present shops is insufficient to meet the demand, and more room for operations will ere long be added. It is already one of the big institutions of Elkhart and is growing bigger all the time. Mr. Pratt says he has been bothered by a lack of expert carriage painters, and there is an opening for such if application is made soon. Also a couple of good blacksmiths are wanted. Address F. B. Pratt, Elkhart Ind.”

The carriage business now occupied most of Pratt’s time so during the same month (September, 1875) he sold his hardware business to Rawson & Raynolds utilizing the proceeds to construct a 3-story yellow brick manufactory for the carriage works at the south-west corner of Pratt and East streets, the March 17, 1876 issue of the Elkhart Democratic Union reporting on the building’s construction as follows:

“F.B. Pratt is rushing ahead his new carriage and buggy manufactory over at the east end of Pratt street.”

Ironically in June of 1877 Alexander A. Pope repurchased the former Brooks hardware store from Rawson & Raynolds and returned to the hardware business in a large way, doubling its capacity for doing business by adding 80 feet to the length of the building.

Just three years after completing their first buggy, the PRatt Works had evovled into a full fl;edged buggy factory, the May 25, 1877 issue of the Elkhart Democratic Union reporting:

“The Great Enterprise

“In concluding this article some reference may be made to the Elkhart Buggy Manufacturing Establishment of F.B. Pratt; and this institution is one of the largest in the State, and calculations are made to enlarge the area by an addition of 40 by 100 ft., the business covering three floors together with wood and blacksmith shops one hundred and fifteen feet long.

“The pay roll of the present company runs up to $300 a week, whilst their work finds a market all over the West, South, California, and some in the Eastern States. What is the reason of this success? Simply the chief employees are picked men. The Superintendent Mr. Thomas Gilfilan, whose whole, heart and soul is interested in placing Pratt & Co., ahead of anything in the Northwest, came from Erie Co., Pa, and in Cleveland held the position of superintendent in the leading buggy manufactory of that city, afterwards holding a good position in Indianapolis. Next in charge of the heavy work in Studebakers at South Bend, always respected and always ahead. While bravely fighting in the 83rd Pa.; he was twice wounded. He is now superintendent for Pratt & Co.

“Turning to the blacksmith department, we find C. G. Hughes. This gentleman, foreman of the ironing department; came from Snyder Co., Pa., to Elkhart, ten years ago, with thirty years’ experience. What he does not know in the blacksmithing line, probably is not worth knowing at all. Mr. Hughes lives on Pratt St., and has a reputation for mechanical skill that the best might envy and few ever obtain.

“The foreman of the trimming shop stands unrivaled. His name is J. Haywood, and he hails from New Haven, Conn. He also formerly held a position at Studebakers. Captain Hayward served gallantly in the 1st Conn. Cavalry where he won the esteem of his superior officers, also of the men he commanded.”

Frederick’s second eldest son, George B. Pratt, elected to pursue a career in medicine rather than work in the family’s carriage works. In 1874 he enrolled in the medical school of the University of Wooster, Cleveland, Ohio after which he studied surgery at Columbia College, New York City, finally returning to Elkhart in late 1877 to set up a local practice in partnership with Dr. Allen.

The firm was included in Chapman’s 1881 history of Elkhart as follows:


“The members of this firm have gained a high position in the world of manufactures. For a number of years they have been extensively engaged in the construction of vehicles and now employ from 60 to 80 men. Their carriages and buggies are well built and deserve the large patronage which has been accorded the company.”

Although George had become a successful Elkhart physician the sudden passing of his younger sister Agnes in 1882 caused him to re-evaluate his decade-long opposition to joining the family firm and soon afterwards he accepted a management position with F.B. Pratt & Son at which time he was given a third share in the firm, which was conducted thereafter as F.B. Pratt & Sons.

On May 24 1883 George B. Pratt married Miss Helen Higginbotham of South Bend at her home. George B. Pratt withdrew from the medical profession and joined the family business at about the same time (1882). His wife became quite ill in 1884 and she moved to Minneapolis to recuperate, with George dividing his time between Elkhart and Minneapolis for the next four years during which time he represented the firm at trade shows and exhibitions through the Midwest from Chicago to New Orleans.

(Mrs. Pratt’s health improved to the point where the couple moved back to Elkhart in 1888, but her illness returned and Helen Higginbotham Pratt passed away in October of 1889.)

The June 25, 1885 edition of the Elkhart Weekly Review reporting on the construction of another multi-story building that would eventually house the firm’s paint, upholstery and shipping departments:

“F.B. Pratt and Co. have begun the erection of a building 60x100, for the accommodation of their large business.”

A new four-story building followed soon afterwards increasing the firm’s usable floorage to 87,000 sq. ft., which was joined to the earlier structures by means of an enclosed walkway over East St.

Within a year after completing the new structures a disastrous fire destroyed a significant portion of the Pratt Carriage Works during the early evening of July 15, 1885, the July 16, 1885 edition of the Elkhart Weekly Review providing the following details:

“Details of the Fire

“The first seriously destructive fire that has visited Elkhart for some years wrought its destruction last evening. Shortly after 8 o'clock the cries of a small lad announced to the crowd of passers on Main street, that a fire had broken out in the paint shop of Pratt & Son's Carriage Manufactory, and before the cry had echoed along the streets to the city hall, dense black smoke, fringed here and there with a lace work of flame, was rolling upward. The volume came from a comparatively small center at first, but before the fleetest runner could go from Main Street to the scene it had increased, and the smoke filled the entire sky. The spread was rapid, and long before the fire department arrived, the entire building was wrapped in the destroying element.

“The alarm brought out the firemen but in putting the horses to the hose cart someone blundered, and as a result the double-tree was broken as the cart left the house, causing a delay of some minutes. Of course every delay was disastrous, and the flames were spreading from the single building to the surrounding structures.

“Finally the hose arrived, however, and streams were at once turned on the smaller fires and all except that in the blacksmith shop were quickly extinguished. Meanwhile, however, the paint shop was falling in, and as the walls went down the flames went up hotter than ever. Several times the houses across the street were on fire, and the occupants moved out, but finally the firemen were enabled to give the surrounding buildings sufficient attention to extinguish all flames on them. The office, a brick structure, with iron roof, was threatened, but fortunately the efforts of the firemen were rewarded.

“Only the policy pursued by Messrs. Pratt & Co. of detaching buildings avoided the destruction of the entire works. As it was, the paint shop was the only structure entirely destroyed. The blacksmith shop was badly burned, but the tools were comparatively uninjured. The storage houses were scorched, but none were burned, the damage to other property resulting entirely from its removal.

“The street and adjacent vacant lots were literally covered with wagons, buggies and carriages in all stages of completion. Furnishings and trimmings were scattered about promiscuously, and it will be a wonder if the loss from removal is not considerable.

“Property Destroyed

“The building burned was used for different purposes. On the lower floor was the storage room for wheels and prepared wood-work. Several car loads of wheels were burned, and large quantities of wood in all shapes for buggy work were burned. Besides this there were large quantities of work under way for display at the fall expositions.

“Of course this work was very valuable, and its loss very great. On the same floor was the packing room. Over this was the paint shop in which were carriages and wagons in all stages of completion, and the loss here is very heavy. Some of the material it has taken years to accumulate, and it cannot be replaced in years.


“The fire when discovered was near the center of the east side of the paint shop on the second floor. It had no sooner appeared as a small beginning than it spread so rapidly that it was almost impossible to enter the building on that side, and before any work could be removed the entire building was filled with a dense smoke. The origin is a mystery. The alarm was brought up town by some small boys, but meanwhile men at work in the shops were doing all in their power to stay the flames. The watchman was on his way to the building when the alarm was given. The origin is supposed to be spontaneous combustion.

“The Insurance

“The building was insured in several responsible companies, and the loss therefore not total. Yet it would be impossible to insure such works to anything like their full worth. The property was insured in the following companies: Queen, North America, Pennsylvania, Westchester, New Hampshire, Home Mutual, German, of Freeport, Buffalo German, Rochester German. Total insurance; $20,000. The estimated loss is $30,000.


“The railroad fire boys did their duty nobly last night. The firemen showed excellent skill in handling the hose at the fire. The water works proved their utility to the satisfaction of the most exacting last evening. It did not take long to gather a very large crowd last night.

“The buildings on Division Street, to the east of the fire, were threatened from falling shingles and debris; the new house of Frank Sage was once or twice seriously in danger.

“The engine, boiler, and most of the machinery were unharmed. This will expedite the starting up of the works, if the proprietors' conclude so to do. Over 150 men are thrown out of employment. The harness department was not destroyed. The property in the trimming room was badly damaged by water.

“The labors of the L.S. & M.S. Fire Brigade were highly appreciated. The boys worked heartily, and considering the fact that they were obliged to be on hand at 6:30 this morning, they stuck to it well. They are entitled to all praise. Mr. Worcester, the new superintendent, was out among the boys as energetic as any of them.

“Dr. Pixley had just bought a phaeton and it had only yesterday been taken to the packing room for the thills, etc. It was burned. Dr. Haggerty lost a carriage left for repairs. Lan. McGowan's bus was burned in the paint shop.

“Most of the tools in the blacksmith shop were saved. The hose burst almost as soon as a stream was turned on from the Division street hydrant last night. No wonder, when the distance is considered. The wonder is that any water could be thrown at all. If the hose had not burst last night the destruction would have been limited to one building. Word from Pratt's shop at Goshen was he was on his way here, last night.

“The ruins were visited by a large number of people to-day. They presented a sorry sight, with the remains of months of toil piled in small heaps on the ground.

“It is by no, means certain that Pratt & Sons will rebuild here. It would be a serious loss to the community if they should go elsewhere. Pratt & Sons' began work in their harness department this morning. Over a hundred men are still out of employment by reason of the fire.

“F.B. Pratt & Sons have begun temporary repairs on their blacksmith shop, and will have it ready for the workmen in a day or two. The adjusters have all been here but one, and he will be here soon.”

The July 30, 1885 edition of the Elkhart Weekly Review reported that plans to rebuild the factory were well underway:

“F.B. Pratt & Sons will erect buildings enough to secure to them 70,000 of floorage. This would give them the equivalent of 55 rooms 70 feet long and 18 feet wide, the size of the average store. They will begin work in a few days on their building. The plans are not yet fully matured.”

On August 6, 1885 it was announced that the Board of Trade of the city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa had convinced F.B. Pratt & Sons to relocate to their municipality with the promise of cash, land and various subsidies and tax incentives. However the Pratt’s attorneys spent the next week looking over the offer and on August 13, F.B. Pratt & Sons announced they would remain in Elkhart and their new factory was 100% operational by the end of the year.

On January 17, 1888 the Pratts formed a new firm, the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Manufacturing Co., to take over the assets of F.B. Pratt & Sons, the January 23, 1888 edition of the Elkhart Daily Review providing more details about the new organization which now included Elkhart businessman Otis D. Thompson who purchase a 10% interest in the firm for $9,100 in cash:

“The firm of Bickel & Thompson has been dissolved by mutual consent. Mr. Bickel will conduct the Real Estate Exchange and their general office business the same as before their co-partnership. Mr. Thompson, who has always been a manufacturer in spirit, retires from the firm, with the best wishes of his late partner. Today he connected himself with the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Manufacturing Co. as a stockholder and active member of the company. The business of this popular firm has been growing very rapidly and a material enlargement has become an absolute necessity. We congratulate the Messrs. Pratt and Mr. Thompson alike, upon this happy union. It seems to be a splendid arrangement all around. Would it not be a wise idea for some of the rest of our young men to put their capital, brains, and hands into manufacturing in Elkhart. This seems to be the practical way to keep the city going. Of Mr. Bickel, who remains where he has labored for 14 years, it is unnecessary to speak. We all know he will continue to work for Elkhart.”

The January 30, 1888 edition of the Elkhart Daily Review provided a few more details:

“Today article of incorporation for the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Manufacturing with a capital, stock of $100,000, were filed with the County Recorder. The stockholders are Messrs. F. B., W. B. and G. B. Pratt and O. D. Thompson.”

The August 30, 1888 of the Elkhart Sentinel reveals some of the firm’s new capital was being put to good use:

“The Elkhart carriage and harness manufacturing company have broken ground for an addition to the south end of their harness manufacturing department. To look them over, one would suppose that the company’s buildings were plenty large enough to accommodate any business, but it seems that they must be continually enlarging and spreading out.”

Later that year Elkhart real estate developer Herbert E. Bucklen approached the Pratts to see if they were interested in relocating their carriage works to his new ‘Riverside’ industrial park, so named as it located on the north side of the St. Joseph River approximately one mile from the city center. The proposed removal was detailed in the October 23, 1888 edition of the Elkhart Daily Review:

“If our people desire the increased prosperity of the city they must bear in mind and put into practice the fact that it must be assisted, as is done in other cities that achieve marked commercial importance. This is especially true in the case of the removal of the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Works to the North Side which itself will be equivalent to two new manufactories, in the doubling of the capacity of that establishment and the immediate placing of an entirely new institution in the vacated buildings, as is guaranteed by Mr. H.E. Bucklen. So far all the money raised for this purpose has been secured on the North Side and it is but right that the community generally should assist in the enterprise in which it is immediately interested, consequently a general canvass will be made in a few days and should be liberally met.”

During the next few months final arrangements were negotiated between Bucklen and the Pratt family and on August 19, 1889 the Elkhart Daily Review announced the results:

“The Bucklen-Pratt Deal Consummated

“The most extensive business deal probably, that has ever been entered into in Elkhart, and certainly the one of the greatest ultimate importance, has just been consummated in the final settlement of the transfer of property by the Messrs. Bucklen and Pratt, the latter representing the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Manufacturing Co. The matter has been under earnest consideration for over a year, and now that it is settled it means much more than is apparent on the surface. The matter in brief is that Mr. H. E. Bucklen takes the property at present occupied by the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Manufacturing Co., while the present occupants will remove to the north side of the St. Joseph River, and occupy six acres of land contributed by Mr. Bucklen.

“This will allow the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Manufacturing Co. to enlarge their capacity even more rapidly than their growth in the past has compelled them to do, while undoubtedly the buildings vacated by them will be filled by some other manufacturing concern, and other establishments are soon to follow for the north side, as that is Mr. Bucklen's purpose, and purpose with Mr. Bucklen is synonymous with success, as his brilliant business career has amply testified.

“It will be necessary for the Carriage and Harness Mfg. Co. to begin at once the erection of their north side buildings, as they must begin operations in them December 1st, consequently there is a great prospect for employment for Elkhart workmen. The buildings are to be of brick, and some idea of the size may be gained from the fact that over one hundred thousand square feet of floor-room will be required.

“Mr. Bucklen, with his characteristic generosity has opened a new era of prosperity for Elkhart, and all public spirited Elkhartans cannot fail to feel a high degree of gratitude toward him. He has taken an interest in Elkhart's welfare that promises to make it more than ever the city that is the special pride of Northern Indiana. All honor to Mr. Bucklen.

“The work of developing the scheme and bringing it to a head has been in the able hands of Mr. E. C. Bickel, and that he has conducted the matter in a masterly manner is well indicated by its success.

“The new buildings on the north side are to be connected with the C. W. & M. by a switch which will be put in before the buildings are ready for occupancy.

“The Pratt shop now offers a splendid plan for some institution of importance. They are well arranged for the purpose for which they have been used, and are adapted for other purposes. At once a move should be made to secure some enterprise that would employ men and put these buildings to good use.

“The generosity of Mr. Bucklen in taking them off the hands of the present occupants should be supplemented at once vigorous efforts to put them up such use as will in a measure remunerate him, and at the same time add to the industrial establishments of Elkhart. The city is now on the eve of a rejuvenation, and there is no reason why its future should not be much brighter than its past. Now let every citizen take hold of this matter and help to secure some enterprise to occupy the Pratt shops as soon as that company shall take possession of its new ones.”

Further details as well as the exact location of the new factory - the northwest corner of W. Beardsley Ave. and N. Michigan St. – was provided in the August 22, 1889 issue of the Elkhart Sentinel:


“The Elkhart Buggy Works to Move to the North Side.

“A big deal was completed in this city Saturday evening, and one that means a great deal for this city. The Elkhart carriage and harness manufacturing company have transferred their factory building on Pratt street to Mr. H.E. Bucklen, that gentleman paying eighteen thousand dollars for them, and other interested parties five thousand more. The company also receives six acres of land situated at the southeast corner of the fairgrounds—thirty rods on Michigan street and thirty-two on Beardsley avenue. By the terms of their contract, the carriage company is obligated to erect buildings equivalent to three brick structures each three stories high and 60 x 200 feet in size.

“In other words, the buildings must contain one hundred and eight thousand square feet of floor room. The exact shape of the buildings has not yet been decide upon, but the company will send representatives to all of the largest carriage companies in the country to get ideas, and then they propose to erect the model carriage and harness factory of the country.

“The Elkhart & Western railway company also agree to build a track from the factory to the C. W. & M. road near the Cassopolis road, a distance of about a mile, and Manager Beckley of the O. W. & M. agrees to operate the road. This will give the carriage and harness company a railroad outlet, as well as the other factories that are expected to be located in the same vicinity in a short time.

“This deal is a big one, as it is understood to include several others which for obvious reasons are not in shape to be made public at present. The factory site that Mr. Bucklen gets possession of is a valuable one, and he does not propose to let it lie idle. Negotiations are now on to start it up as soon as it is vacated, and our people may be called on to give the project a lift. If they are, the Sentinel hopes that it will not be refused. There are great things on for Elkhart, and we must each one do our part. Another factory will probably be located on the new railroad near the carriage works. The deal is well along, and it will probably be closed.

“For a long time the shops of the Elkhart carriage and harness company have not been large enough to accommodate their business, and they have received several flattering offers to go west. Their trade is largely in the west, and a change of location in that direction could not fail to be advantageous in the matter of freight rates. But they, like everybody else, prefer Elkhart, and they determined to remain in this city, and were glad to make an arrangement whereby they can spread out to their heart's content. Their business has grown to an enormous extent, and they will now be situated so that they can reduce the cost of handling their work while in the process of manufacture to the lowest possible amount.

“The other details of this immense trade will unfold themselves gradually. But the Sentinel feels like congratulating Elkhart on the fact that Mr. Bucklen evidently meant it when he said that he would do more for Elkhart this year than he did last. This investment of twenty-five thousand shows that his confidence in Elkhart is not affected by the dull times, but that he proposes to push the city to the front.

“May he be more than successful.”

Construction commenced soon afterwards and the October 10, 1889 issue of the Elkhart Daily Review announced:

“The workmen are engaged on the fourth stories of the two main buildings of the Elkhart Carriage and Harness works, and the roofs have been put on some of the buildings.

The move to the new factory was completed in early December 1889 and within a few short months Bucklen’s new tenant, the Kalamazoo Cart Co., had relocated to Elkhart reorganizing as the Indiana Buggy Co., with both Mssrs. Bucklen and Pratt subscribing to significant portions of the firm’s new stock.

In the meantime Bucklen was busy lining up a tenant for the soon-to-be vacated Pratt Street carriage works, finding a good prospect in the Kalamazoo Cart Co. who was looking to expand their operations.

The prospect was first mentioned as a possible tenant in the following letter which was published in the September 14, 1889 edition of the Elkhart Daily Review:

“KALAMAZOO, Mich, Sept. 12, 1889

“HON. 0. Z Hubbell, ELKHART, Ind.

“Dear Sir — Since I was at your place our people have considered the matter carefully and decided that to move to Elkhart would entail a heavy burden on us which would be a dead loss. We do not believe this would be counterbalanced by any advantages which Elkhart as a place of business seems to offer. This being the case, we do not feel warranted in making the change at present, unless Elkhart is willing to offer other inducements than those of location and a good plant.

“The only reason for our looking elsewhere at all, is to secure more room which we are obliged to have at once. This need first led us to consider the advisability of occupying the Pratt buildings. I am well pleased with the plant, and very favorably impressed with Elkhart, and if your people would raise us $2,500—this being the estimated cost of moving—we will move our entire works there and take a large portion of our help with us. In this case we would enlarge our present business and add other vehicles than carts and road wagons, our object being to work at once into the carriage business.

“This would result in our employing a largely increased force of workmen, most of whom would be mechanics. Our pay roll for the first six months of this year was over $13,000, and with the large increase in our working force required, this amount would very much larger the coming year.

“If your people do not desire to pay cash down, we will agree to take notes of responsible parties, payable as follows:

“One thousand dollars when we begin operations in Elkhart, and five hundred dollars every six months thereafter until the entire amount is paid, it being the understanding that if we fail to conduct the business on as large a scale as at the present time, the notes shall at once become void and payment on them be stopped. We shall be obliged to make definite plans for the future at once, and while we do not wish to show undue haste in the matter, yet we shall look for an early reply from you.

“Trusting that you will see the justice of our position, I remain,

“Very truly yours, C. H. GLEASON, Secy.”

As the Kalamazoo firm was considering other offers from Goshen, Indiana and Niles, Michigan, a group of Elkhart businessmen saw to it that the required $2,500 was raised in the next few weeks and on October 31, 1889 the Elkhart Sentinel reported the following result:

“The Kalamazoo Cart Company – or, as it will be known hereafter, the Indiana Buggy Company – has filed its articles of incorporation with the county clerk.”

Indiana Buggy Co. officers and shareholders included George B. Pratt, J.L. Wolf, and C.H. Gleason, its secretary & general manager.

Unfortunately the new buggy maker did not enjoy the success of the former occupant of the Pratt street factory and was forced into bankruptcy within the year, the September 18, 1890 edition of the of Elkhart Weekly Truth reporting:

“A receiver was appointed by Judge Van…et last Friday for the Indiana Buggy Co. by mutual consent between certain of their creditors and the company. Cashier W. Knickerbocker of the First National Bank was made receiver, under a $50,000 bond. This action is no indication of decreasing business, but was taken simply to protect outsides who have added to the capital of the company, who anticipate no trouble in taking care of their indebtedness.”

The February 12, 1891 issue of the Elkhart Weekly Truth reported on the findings of the receiver:

“Mr. Knickerbocker, the receiver of the Indiana Buggy Company, has deemed best for the creditors to close it up until some arrangement is made to place the tools, machinery and effects of the concern in the hands of parties who will give it new life. And manage its affairs successfully. There can be no doubt of Mr. Knickerbocker’s wisdom in pursing this policy, and in a reasonable length of time the company will probably reorganized and the factory started up with renewed vigor. Mr. Gleason, the late manager, has returned to his home in Kalamazoo.”

The receiver held a sale of the Indiana Buggy Company’s assets on Friday, June 19, 1891.

During the summer of 1891 Frederick B. Pratt decided to retire, his withdrawal from the day-to-day affairs of the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Co. coinciding with a reorganization of the Indiana Buggy Company, of which he was a major stockholder. The new firm’s budget-priced Indiana-brand buggies were distributed by the Elkhart Carriage Company, allowing the Pratts to compete directly against the nation’s low-priced vehicle manufacturers without suffering a loss of prestige.

The Pratt family had long been active in the civil affairs of Elkhart, with Frederick B. in particular providing city blocks full of housing and campaigning for improvements to the city’s infrastructure that would benefit all of its citizens. Attorney and Pratt stockholder and board member Otis D. Thompson served as Elkhart County Clerk starting in late 1882 after which he served as mayor of Elkhart from 1892 until 1894.

At the January 1894 board meeting of the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Co. Frederick B. formally announced he was relinquishing control of the firm to his two sons; George B. and William B. Pratt, at which time he sold them his entire holdings in the firm, 18 shares of which were presented to Otis D. Thompson, in honor of his years of service to the firm as its attorney.

In May of 1895 Otis D. Thompson sold his approximately 10% share in the firm to the Pratt brothers giving them complete control of the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Co. of which William B. Pratt served as President – George B. Pratt holding the position of plant manager at the associated Indiana Buggy Company across town.

Midway through 1897 George B. Pratt announced he was withdrawing from his participation in the Indiana Buggy Co., and would henceforth devote his whole time and attention to the business activities of the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Co., the June 17, 1897 issue of the Elkhart Weekly Truth reporting:

“Largest On Earth

“Pratt Carriage Works to Lead All Competitors.

“Important Changes Being Made.

“Elkhart Carriage and Harness Concern to Be Vastly Enlarged - George B. Pratt Withdraws From the Indiana Company - Force Increased.

“It has been known for some time that the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Company has been contemplating a change in its business which would necessitate the erection of several new buildings, and an increase of its force sufficient to double the capacity of the factory. The matter has been somewhat of a secret as the company did not wish to disclose its plans until they had been fully matured.

“That time has now arrived and the company is ready to announce the plans which will mean a great deal to its employees and the city in general.

“Heretofore the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Company, which is composed of W.B. and George B. Pratt, has used a vast amount of work which has been turned out; by the Indiana Buggy Company, in which George B. Pratt is a large stockholder, and in which factory he has been acting in the capacity of superintendent and business manager.

“When the change mentioned has been accomplished all this work will be performed in the new factory of the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Company. Mr. George B. Pratt will withdraw from the Indiana Buggy Works and devote his whole time and attention to a part of the business of the Riverside factory.

“The new buildings to be erected will more than double the capacity of the present factory and will furnish about 130,000 feet of floor space. They will consist of two new structures, one of which will be 80 x 208 feet in dimensions, the other 80 x 144 feet and each will be four stories in height. Besides these two entirely new structures, one of the present buildings, which is 60 x 144 feet in dimensions and only two stories in height, will have two new stories added.

“The force of employees will be doubled and the business which has hitherto been so successful under the unique methods pursued by this company will doubtless assume greater proportions than ever before.

“The Indiana Buggy Company will continue to conduct its business on the plan now pursued by it and it has been so arranged that the withdrawal of Mr. Pratt will in no wise inconvenience the management of that factory.”

As the board of the Indiana Buggy had recently rejected an offer by the Pratts to take over their firm, it seems as if the preceding announcement was a calculated move by the Pratts to force the board of the Indiana Buggy Co. to sell out, a strategy that ultimately proved successful as indicated by the following article which appeared in the next issue (June 24, 1897) of the Elkhart Weekly Truth:

“Buggy Works Sold

“Indiana Buggy Works Absorbed in Pratt's Riverside Plant.

“Both Factories To Run On One Plan

“The Final Papers in the Sale Were Signed Today - Erection of the Proposed New Building Indefinitely Postponed.

“The business of the Indiana Buggy Company has been purchased by George B. and W.B. Pratt. The transfer will have the effect of postponing for an indefinite length of time the erection of the proposed large addition to the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Company's factory in Riverside.

“The announcement, which was made exclusively in ‘Truth’, that Mr. George B. Pratt would withdraw from the management of the Indiana Buggy Company was received with astonishment by the employees of that company and the information that the Pratts will soon assume absolute ownership and control of the business will doubtless be equally surprising to many of them.

“It has been stated that the manner in which the Indiana Buggy Company has conducted its business was not in conformity with the ideas of Messrs. Pratt. The unique methods pursued by them in the management of the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Company's business have proven so successful and satisfactory that they concluded to withdraw from the Indiana Buggy Company and devote their whole time and attention to the control of the Riverside factory.

“When this course was determined upon a proposition to purchase the Indiana Buggy Company's business was made by the Pratt Brothers, but at that time the other stockholders thought it advisable to continue the business under its present name and the proposition was rejected.

“It was at this point that the Pratts decided to enlarge the Riverside factory to accommodate their rapidly increasing business, and arrangements were made to proceed with the erection of the necessary additions.

“The present change of plan was finally brought about through the acceptance of the Elkhart Carriage Company of a subsequent proposition made to them on last Monday by the Indiana Buggy Company. These gentlemen say they knew nothing about the carriage business and that the success which the company has achieved has been largely due to the energy and business ability of Mr. George B. Pratt, the retiring manager. This condition of affairs has induced them to reconsider the matter, hence the proposition made to the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Company.

“The lease of the building now occupied by the Indiana Company at the foot of Pratt street extends for several years and the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Company will manage the business of both factories under the plans now employed only at the Riverside works.

“It is probable that Mr. George B. Pratt will remain at the downtown factory and that the office business will be transacted at the Riverside works. It was expected that the building of the new additions to the Riverside factory would furnish employment during the greater part of the summer to a large number of workingmen and for this reason the present change of plans will be greatly regretted, but it is argued, that the increase of-business which will probably result from the consolidation of the two factories will come sooner than if it had been necessary to wait for the erection of new buildings.”

In the years 1895 through 1898 the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Co., and Indiana Buggy Co. jointly produced an average of 10,000 buggies a year. The 1899 Annual Report of the Officers of State of the State of Indiana reveals that at the time of their June 1899 factory inspections the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Co. employed 250 males, and 6 females while the associated Indiana Buggy Co. employed 100 males and 6 females, putting the total employment at the Pratt’s two enterprises at 362 hands.

Fire apparatus became another product of the firm in 1899 when they were awarded a contract to produce hose wagons for the City of Elkhart. The wagons were highly regarded and orders for similar vehicles were fulfilled during the early part of the Twentieth century.

The June 22, 1899 edition of the Elkhart Weekly Truth announced a further expansion of the Beardsley Ave. factory of the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Co.:


“Elkhart Carriage & Harness Company Will Erect a New Building.

“The Elkhart Carriage and Harness company is preparing to build a large addition to its already mammoth factories in Riverside. The new structure will be 66 x 150 feet in size and four stories high. It will furnish 42,240 square feet of floor space and will be used as a warehouse building. It will be connected with the main factory building with passageways on each floor. The largely increased business of the company makes the erection of this building a necessity.”

During 1900 George B. Pratt acquired the rights to a much improved pole and shaft coupling designed by Elkhart native Robert O. Neville, the September 13, 1900 edition of the Elkhart Weekly Truth announcing the formation of a firm to exploit the device:

“The Elkhart Carriage Specialty Co. was incorporated yesterday with the following officers: Pres., G.B. Pratt; Vice Pres., C.T. Swaffield; Sec., Robt. O. Neville; Treas, I.W. Short. The above officers together with Alex. Montgomery constitutes the stock holders. The object of the company is the manufacture and sale of the Neville Pole and Shaft Coupler.”

The February 9, 1901 issue of Scientific American described Robert O. Neville’s invention (US Patent No. 666,206 - filed June 15, 1900 – issued January 15, 1901) as follows:

“Pole Or Shaft Coupling - Elkhart, Ind. Mr. Neville has devised a simple anti-rattling coupling which holds the pole-iron or thill-irons connected with the draw-shackles, while the pole or thills are in use, or when they have been placed in an upper or lower position for the storage of the vehicle, or when the animals are unharnessed. The device is so constructed that the thill iron or pole iron may be quickly disconnected from the draw-shackles. The coupling is manufactured by the Elkhart Carriage Specialty Company and Indiana Buggy Company, of Elkhart, Ind.”

The 1902 Annual Report of the Officers of State of the State of Indiana reveals that during the previous year the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Co. employed 154 males, and 21 females while the associated Indiana Buggy Co. employed 125 males and 6 females, putting the total employment at the Pratt’s two enterprises at 307 hands.

The death of the firm’s 81-year-old founder appeared on the front page of the Saturday July 18, 1903 issue of the Elkhart Daily Truth:

“Death Relieves Mr. F.B. Pratt

“Passed Away at 6 O’Clock This Morning Aged 81 Years

“Suffered Long With Paralysis

“Retired From Business About Ten Years Ago – Funeral Monday at 4 O’Clock

“Frederick B. Pratt, one of Elkhart's oldest and most respected residents, died this morning at 6 o’clock of paralysis. He had been, an invalid for the past year; and during last month was unconscious most of the time. He was 81 years old, and lived in this city for about 45 years.

“Mr. F.B. Pratt was born in Springfield, Vt., December 18, 1822. His father was anxious that he study law after leaving school, but he thought he would prefer the mercantile business, and left school at eighteen to go to Boston, where he was with one of the largest dry goods houses for five years.

“He came west when he was 23 years old, and started in business at Battle Creek, Mich. He married Miss Charlotte E. Byington when he was twenty-five. When he was about thirty a company was formed called Pratt, Rue & Rogers. When Mr. Pratt was thirty-five years-old his health gave out, and for some reason about a year later the firm was forced to make an assignment. It took some time to close out the business, and unfortunately there was nothing left for any member of the firm.

“When Mr. Pratt was about thirty-six years old the family moved to Elkhart, and he started in the retail hardware business with the help of his uncle, Mr. Wm. Brooks. After he had been in Elkhart a few years the block occupied at this time by C.E. Crane & Co. was built, and the hardware business has been carried on in this building for more than forty years. About thirty years ago Mr. Pratt took his son, Mr. W.B. Pratt, into business with him, and the company was known as F. B. Pratt & Son.

“Very soon after this change was made, the new company began the manufacture of vehicles, and sold out the hardware business to Messrs. Rawson & Reynolds. Twenty years ago Mr. Pratt's second son, Mr. G.B. Pratt, came into the business, and a stock company was formed called the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Manufacturing Co.

“Ten years ago when Mr. Pratt was seventy years old, he decided he did not care to remain in business; in fact, he had not been very active in the business for several years previous. He felt that he did not longer care to assume the risk that there is in doing quite a large business, and sold his stock in the Carriage Co. to his two sons.

“Mr. Pratt united with the Presbyterian church in Battle Creek when he was twenty-five years old, so that he was a member for fifty-five years. He was not a member of any secret organization.

“The only near relatives living are his wife, his sister, Miss Louisa J. Pratt of Detroit, Mich., his two sons, W. B. and G. B. Pratt, and six grandchildren.

“The funeral will be held at the family residence Monday afternoon at 4 o'clock, Rev. Dr. Frazer officiating.”

The senior Pratt’s passing coincided with the cessation of manufacturing activities at the old F.B. Pratt carriage factory which were repurposed as storage facilities, one of which was destroyed by fire in mid-July, the July 20, 1904 issue of the Elkhart Daily Review reporting:


“Indiana Buggy Storage and Crating Building Badly Damaged.

“Fire was discovered on the top floor of the big storage and crating building of the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Mfg. Co.'s "Indiana Buggy" plant near the east end of Pratt street a few minutes after 1 o'clock this afternoon.

“For a time the entire plant, consisting of this building and those on the east side of East street, and the planing mill of Newman Bros, on the south were thought to be inevitably doomed.

“The building is a four-story brick with slate roof, with a Pratt street frontage of 60 feet and a depth of 100 feet, reaching almost to the Newman mill, which fronts on East street. It contained finished stock, crating and packing material. The flames were first discovered by Charles Hatch, who saw smoke issuing from the roof when he stepped from his boarding house on Pratt street. He ran to the building and notified the employees, who plied the company's private fire-fighting apparatus, and in the meantime gave the alarm. The first city alarm was sounded at 1:05, and at 1:20 a general alarm summoned all the four call companies. The South Side company, which was the last to arrive, was on the scene at 1:40.

“The early efforts of the firemen were handicapped by low water pressure, it being impossible to reach the points of danger from any vantage points which the firemen could gain. That this lack was not due entirely to the force of the pumps at the pumping station was evidenced by the fact that the streams from two of the lines reached to the gable of the building from the ground, while others did not reach further than twenty-five feet.

“One explanation is that five streams were drawn from the Pratt street main, which is but 4 inches in diameter. There were also two streams from the Franklin street main and one from the Division street main, and these were the ones that gave as much pressure as could be expected. The gauge showed that the pressure on the system was 85 pounds beginning soon after the first alarm was sounded.

“Against these discouragements the firemen had to battle, but they were aided by the excellent construction of the building, and at 1:45 to 1:50 it began to appear as though the fire would be confined to that building.

“A wind direct from the north made it advisable for employees of the Newman mill to continually throw water on that building so that falling sparks could not start a blaze. Residents of houses just west of the burning building began to get their effects together, preparatory to moving out.

“Soon after the discovery of the fire the electric current running into the building was shut off. The employees carried considerable of the crated products out of the building before the flames rendered further entrance to the building extremely dangerous.

“The east side of the roof fell in at 1:30, and it was then that spectators at a distance began to realize the possible scope of the danger. By 2:15 the firemen were certain they had It under control, and with the subsidence of the flames they were enabled to approach closer to the source of heat. Increased water pressure also aided. The entire roof fell in, but up to 2:20 none of the floors had fallen and at that time were not expected to. The elevator, however, made a great crash as It fell.

“At 2:35 a large portion of the fourth floor fell in. At 2:45 the firemen were rounding up the work of extinguishing the flames. At 2:45 a portion of the east gable wall fell, carrying Charles Shupert down with It. For a time there was much excitement, but he finally emerged apparently unhurt. Fifteen feet to the east, and connected to some extent with the damaged building, was another of similar construction, two stories high with 37-foot frontage and 100-foot depth. It is used for similar purposes and for the office. The fire did not extend to this, and the minor damage done there was by smoke.

“The plant is a part of the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Manufacturing Co., whose main works are in Riverside. One of the members, George B. Pratt, was on the ground, but the other member, William B. Pratt, is at his summer home at Wilnocqua, Wis. The buildings belong to H. E. Bucklen.

“The exact cause of the fire is unknown. Spontaneous combustion was suggested, but employees thought this improbable. Livy Chamberlain, who carries all the Insurance on the building and contents, says that it is ample to cover the loss, but he does not deem it advisable this early to quote estimates.


“A barn on Division street nearly caught from a spark, but the flames were extinguished with a garden hose. Fireman Will Curtiss was overcome for a time by the smoke and heat, but quickly recovered. Mac Dotson injured one hand during the fight.”

July 21, 1904 Elkhart Daily Review:

“Indiana Buggy Co. Filling Orders Regardless of Fire Damage.

“The loss to the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Mfg. Co. caused by the fire at its Indiana Buggy Factory Wednesday afternoon is estimated at $15,000.”

The firm soldiered on through the early part of the 20th century doing business as usual although profits were being negatively affected by two separate forces. Large multi-product catalog retailers such as Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward were slowly encroaching upon the once strong sales of the Pratt’s line of budget-priced carriages and buggies. The profits created by the sale of such vehicles were already minimal and increased competition had driven the prices so low, that it made little sense to continue their manufacture. The second problem affecting the firm’s future was harder to pinpoint, but a gradual decrease in orders for the firm’s fine carriages, their most profitable product, was more troublesome. Those vehicles were historically purchased by wealthy Americans, and as time wore on, those wealthy Americans were forgoing the purchase of new carriages in favor of new automobiles.

Even the Pratt family was not immune to the new mode of transportation, as evidenced by the following item in the September 10, 1908 issue of the Elkhart Daily Review:

“Bought Fine New Automobile.

“When G. B. Pratt and family returned the other day from their touring trip to the Berkshire Hills in Massachusetts and other eastern points they came in a new Locomobile of sixty horse power—a machine that is attracting much attention from those who are informed on such matters. It is of the 1909 model.”

Included in the very same newspaper was the following article, announcing that the firm was officially abandoning the Indiana Buggy plant, which it continued to lease from Herbert E. Bucklen:

“A Change Of Methods

“Plan of Utilizing Big Plants Is Modernized

“Elkhart Carriage & Harness Mfg. Co. Will Abandon Manufacture In Indiana Plant – Latter For Storage.

“The Elkhart Carriage & Harness Mfg. Co. has decided to do all its manufacturing in the Beardsley avenue plant and to use the old Indiana Buggy Co. plant at the foot of Pratt street simply for warehouse purposes during the next two years of the company's lease of that plant. After that the company expects to build whatever buildings are necessary on the grounds contiguous to its present big plant on Beardsley avenue.

“The above change has been in contemplation for some time, but the decision was not made until last night. It is expected to be in full operation by October 1.

“The new plan follows the trend of the times in industrial administration, and is expected to prove of advantage to the company and to the employees. In certain instances there will necessarily be changes because of the present duplication of certain kinds of employees where, under the new plan, but one will be required in the same position.

“But the manufacturing force at the Riverside plant will be practically doubled, while the cost of running the machinery portions will be greatly reduced, nearly split in two.

“The change now announced is the logical result of the progress of events tor some years back—there has been no Indiana Buggy Co. for several years, and what has popularly been called the 'Indiana buggy works' has simply been adjunct to the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Mfg. Co. plant.

“The Elkhart Carriage & Harness Mfg Co. is a corporation of $150,000 capitalization, with only the three legally required incorporators— W. B. and G. B. Pratt and Miss Mary Pratt.

“The Indiana plant was built by F.B. Pratt, deceased, father of W.B. and G.B. Pratt and founder of the larger carriage industry in this city, and was used as the 'Prattshop' until 1889, when H.E. Bucklen, as one inducement to locate a new and bigger plant in his "factory section" of Riverside, bought the Indiana plant. In 1891 operations were resumed in the Indiana by a reorganized company, and the factory has remained in continuous operation. In 1897 the Pratts bought up the Indiana stock held by all others, and since then only that family has been interested. Four or five years ago the Indiana company was technically wiped out by an arrangement between the brothers.”

In 1906 the firm began construction of prototype motorized buggies and by the end of March, 1909 its first product, a 2-cylinder air-cooled number selling for $430, was placed on the market, the March 25, 1909 issue of the Elkhart Daily Review reporting:

“Making An Auto Buggy

“Elkhart Institution Offers On Market Vehicle That Should Sell Readily

“The Pratt Motor Buggy is the name of the newest output of the Elkhart Carriage & Harness Mfg. Co. For several years this company has been experimenting with auto buggies with the view of beginning their manufacture as soon as a cheap practical model could be obtained. The buggy that is now to be put on the market is not an experiment, but has been tested in every conceivable way for the past three years. The auto buggy has already been given a space in the regular advertising catalogue and its manufacture started. Several machines have been sold, and one is being used daily by members of the firm.

“The machine sells for $430. It is so constructed that it can be used every day in the year, being air-cooled to avoid freezing up in cold weather. It looks almost exactly like an ordinary buggy, having hard rubber tires. The engine gives sufficient power to travel over all kinds of roads, and gives a speed of from five to twenty-five miles on country roads and thirty miles an hour on paved streets. One gallon of gasoline will carry it about thirty miles. The buggy is made in only one style now, but arrangements are being made to build surreys.”

Although it’s inconceivable that Frederick B. Pratt’s sons could have approved of their actions, on December 2, 1909, the Elkhart City Council passed ordinance #472 officially changing the name of the street on which the elder Pratt had constructed his first buggy works from Pratt Street to Marion Street, the very same name that it goes by today. The original buildings were razed many years ago, the properties currently housing the Elkhart Police Dept. to the north and its bi-level parking garage to the south.

By that time a decision had been made to forgo the manufacture of any more horseless carriages and to concentrate on a conventional Mercedes-type motor car which was christened the Pratt-Elcar and debuted in late 1909. As was the practice common at the time, only the car’s wooden coachwork was constructed from scratch, the rest of the components being sourced from various third parties and assembled in the factory – an assembled, rather than manufactured, automobile.

The right-hand-drive $1800 (medium-priced) Pratt-Elkhart 30-35 was built on a 113-inch wheelbase chassis equipped with a full-floating rear axle with ¾ elliptic springs and wood-spoke wheels shod with 34” x 4” rubber tires. A Mercedes-type honeycomb radiator was mounted up front, with power coming from a Waukesha ‘Unit Power Plant’ 4-cylinder gasoline engine equipped with a Bosch and Remy electrics and a Schebler carburetor. Lighting was furnished by Gray & Davis and power to the rear wheels was transferred via a Johns Manville clutch and Cotta transmission.

For 1911 the bore of the pair-cast Waukesha L-Head Unit Power Plant increased from 4 ¼” to 4 ½” (the stroke remained the same at 4 ¾”) as did the car’s wheelbase which increased 4” to 117”. Also included in the $1800 advertised price was a pair of front doors which had not been included on the touring car coachwork the previous year.

Also introduced that year was a line of 4 h.p. 1-cylinder Motorcycles marketed under the Pratt moniker for a reasonable $235.  Unfortunately sales were less than anticipated and the line was not continued the following year.

The Elkhart moniker was dropped from their automobile line in 1912, and a new $2,250 six-cylinder model, the Pratt Model 50, joined the $2,000 4-cylinder Pratt Model 40. Both of which were fitted with a standard Prest-o-lite acetylene starter, a new 120” wheelbase chassis and a choice of coachwork all of which was painted Richelieu blue with pearl gray striping unless special ordered. A pressed steel double-channel front axle was paired with a full-floating rear axle that utilized internal expanding hand and foot brakes mounted side-by-side. Roller valve lifters and a helical gear-driven camshaft were part of the 4 and 6-cylinder Waukesha Unit Power Plant engines which was marketed as the ‘nickel-chrome motor’ due to the fact that a nickel-chrome alloy was utilized where wear was a factor.

The 1913 Elkhart line included the new budget-priced Model 30 which mated a block-cast 4-cylinder to a separate unit gearbox all riding on a 114”wheelbase. The Model 40 was largely unchanged while an all-new Model 50 debuted which continued as the firm’s sole 1914 offering. The Model 50s hood blended seamlessly into the cowl and the spare tire was moved to the rear of the tonneau in an early attempt at streamlining. The 122” wheelbase senior model was also available as an enclosed-drive limousine which was priced at $3,000.

A new Pratt Model 6-50 debuted in 1915 whose 347.8 cu. in. Continental 6-cylinder engine, Brown-Lipe gearbox and Timken axles were fitted to a spacious 132” wheelbase which rode on 37” x 4 ½” Goodyear rubber. Prices were cut substantially with the roadster and 5 –passenger touring priced at $2,150; the 7-passenger at $2,250; and the enclosed-drive limousine no longer available.

During the year the factory’s board transferred the firm’s harness manufacturing equipment to the LaPorte Harness Co. LaPorte, Indiana who would continue to supply the firm with harnesses until carriage production ended during the war. The also decided to enter the medium-priced field with an all-new car which would be marketed as the Elcar, a trade name derived from the firm’s corporate name, (EL)khart (CAR)riage. The $795 4-cylinder Elcar’s debut coincided with a $300,000 recapitalization (from $100,000) and reorganization of the firm as the Elkhart Carriage and Motor Co., the November 22, 1915 issue of the Goshen Daily Democrat reporting:

“The petition of the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Manufacturing Company to change its name to the Elkhart Carriage & Motor Co. was granted.”

Powering the $795 114” wheelbase 5-passenger touring and 3-passenger cloverleaf roadster was a 37.5 h.p. Lycoming 4-cylinder, Model DXU engine, a popular engine which was also used by Crow-Elkhart, Partin-Palmer and Tulsa. The block-cast L-head 4 included a 2-bearing crankshaft and a detachable cylinder head.

The all-new 1917 Elcar was announced in the pages of the January 4, 1917 issue of Motor Age:


“The Elcar for the coming season will be furnished in five-passenger touring car, four-passenger touring roadster and a two-passenger roadster designated as models D, E and F, all on the same chassis. The chassis is quite different from that of 1916.

“The wheelbase has been increased to 115 inches and the design of the frame itself is different. The cone clutch is replaced with a dry-disk type and the position of the gearshift and emergency brake levers is such as to be more convenient for the driver. The new spring suspension is semi-elliptic front and rear and spiral bevel gears are used and a new floating axle with roller bearings at each end of the wheel hubs.

“Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Co., Elkhart, Ind.”

By this time Elcar had begun limited production of automobile bodies for third parties, a line that included jitney bodies for taxicab operators and panel van bodies for commercial cars and trucks. The production of bodies for commercial use was not reported as a distinct category until 1916 although it’s likely small numbers had been constructed at various times during the previous decade.

Although the production numbers of complete taxicabs during 1916 are unknown as they were included in the completed motor car totals, ‘jitney body’ production was listed at 330 during the same period. During fiscal 1917 sales of complete taxicabs amounted to $61,444, or approximately 50 units. Sales of jitney bodies to third parties were now included in the commercial bodies total which also included utility and delivery van bodies. The firm’s 1917 carriage catalog included a line of 2- and 4-wheeled trailers as well as an assortment of utility bodies designed for Ford Model T and TT chassis.

A similar number of Elcar taxicabs (approximately 48) were constructed during 1918 and from 1919 on taxicab production was included with regular automobile production, although a number of large orders (one for 1,000 complete cabs) were announced in the trades during the early 1920s.

Not only did Elcar supply coachwork for others firms, they even constructed complete automobiles - the 1918 Texan automobile was a badge-engineer Elcar and fully 5% of the firm's pre-war revenue came from work for third parties.

The 1918 Elcar line was announced in the January 3, 1918 issue of Motor Age:

“Elkhart, Ind. - ELCAR has added a six to its line for 1918 which in addition to the newcomer includes a five passenger touring of improved design, four passenger roadster with small doors for the rear compartment and a five passenger sedan. These bodies fit either the four- or six-cylinder chassis, because the frame is the same in each case. Detailed improvements include a longer radiator core, heavier frame, better tank support and tire carrier and Timken bearings for all wheels. The front springs are 2 in. wide now and Hotchkiss drive has been adopted for both models There. are many refinements in the engine also.”

A new Elcar body style, the Sportster, was announced to the trade in the May 30, 1918 issue of Motor Age:

“New Elcar Sportster

“A new four passenger sportster model in both four and six cylinder types is announced by the Elkhart Carriage & Motor Car Co., Elkhart, Ind. The sportster takes the standard Elcar four or six chassis and differs from the regular models only in body and exterior refinements. The body is custom built with beveled edge, giving a clean cut appearance. Beveled plate glass curtain lights with nickeled rims are used in the rear and the steering column has been extended to give a racy appearance and afford more room in the driver's compartments. Nickeled door handles are on the outside each handle operating with a companion reached from the interior. The front doors are square instead of U shaped and the same sharp lines are carried out in the rear doors. The beveled body edge is in a darker color than the body, affording a rather pleasing effect. The sportster models are finished in olive green, coach blue, olive brown, maroon, beaver brown, and moleskin colors. The standard Elcar chassis is identified in both four and six outside the powerplant unit. In the four the Lycoming engine is used, developing 37.5 hp at 2100 rpm. The six uses the Red Seal Continental engine. The wheelbase is 160 in.; axles are of the Salisbury type and the bearing equipment is Timken. The price of the four passenger sportster with four cylinder engine is $1,175 and with the six cylinder engine $1,375.”

An across the board price increase was instituted midway through the year, the June 20, 1918 issue of Motor Age reporting:

“Elkhart, Ind. June 17 - The Elkhart Carriage & Motor Car Co has advanced the price of its Elcar four cylinder touring and roadster models from $1,095 to $1,175 and the six cylinder touring and roadster models from $1,295 to $1,375, effective June 10. Improvements have been added to the models and include the adoption of beveled plate glass with nickeled rims in the rear curtains as regular equipment.”

At the end of fiscal 1916, only 1,345 buggies and carriages had been produced, an amount which dropped to 533 in the following year (1917) and by 1918 only 300 carriages were shipped by the time the firm started working on a 4,500 piece rush order for ambulance bodies for the US Government at which time what remained of the firm’s buggy and carriage making jigs and tooling was disposed, the contract being announced in the October 24, 1918 issue of Motor Age:


“Chicago, Oct. 21 - The Elkhart Carriage & Motor Car Co., Elkhart, Ind., is devoting a large part of its equipment to finishing a Government order for 4500 ambulance bodies and is running night and day, Sundays included. Production of the Elcar also is being continued.”

Although hostilities between Germany and the Allied ended on November 11, 1918, the following article from the January 22, 1919 issue of the Elkhart Review makes no mention of the fact that the 4,500 piece military ambulance body order was canceled shortly after the Armistice:

“Elkhart Motor Co. To Complete Army Contract March 5

“The Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Company will have completed its contract for the construction of army ambulances by March 5, and will then return to the manufacture of automobiles exclusively, it was announced today.

“Lieutenant W.S. Downey and his staff consisting of Sergeant J.B. Wait, Sergeant J. M. Steinau, Sergeant R.K. Bowerman and Sergeant Allan Olson, who were sent to Elkhart by the government to inspect the products of the Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Company, took their medical examination for discharge this morning. It is thought they will be discharged about March 5.”

Although the firm constructed $250,000 worth of ambulance bodies and shipping crates it's unlikley that any of them ever made it to Europe before the conflict  ended. While some were undoubtedly placed into military service, it's likely the remainder of the crated knocked down bodies were sold as Army surplus.

For 1919 the Lycoming Model DXU 4-cylinder engine was replaced by the lighter and more efficient Model K although the 6-cylinder Continental remained unchanged. Like a number of its competitors, Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Company enjoyed its best year ever during the post-war boon of 1919, selling 4,000 cars during the model year.

The restyled Elcar lineup for 1920 featured the same straight-line coachwork that had been introduced on the 1918-1919 Sportster and was notable for the debut of a new 3-passenger coupe and five-passenger sedan in both the 4 and 6 cylinder lines. An updated 50 h.p. Continental Model 713 Red Seal motor was introduced in the 6-cylinder line which was competitively priced at $1,595 in touring form, the Lycoming-equipped 4-cylinder priced at $1,395.

The boon of 1919 quickly turned into the bust of 1920 and Elkhart Carriage’s executives sought out new avenues of revenue to keep its factory busy. Rampant deflation brought about a drastic drop in wholesale prices and the consequent drop in orders for new cars put the automobile industry in a panic. Fortunately the demand for taxicabs remained steady and late in the year Elkhart Carriage’s engineers had a new 7-R Continental 6-cylinder equipped Elcar L-6 taxicab ready in time for the January 1921 Chicago Auto Show.

As Elkhart was located just 110 miles due East of the nation’s second largest city, the L-6 cab found favor with operators in the Windy City, many of whom placed orders for the attractive new taxicab which also offered a distinct performance advantage over its mainly 4-cylinder equipped competitors.

The disc-wheel equipped Model L-6 cab shared the new for 1921 Elcar 117” wheelbase with the rest of the Elcar lineup and early in the year a second taxicab, the M-6, was introduced. Designed exclusively for New York City operators, the M-6 included a lower-price Rutenber 6-cylinder engine and replaced the right front passenger seat with an external exposed baggage compartment all of which was priced at a competitive $2,200, a $300 savings over the firm’s Model L-6 taxicab. The cabs were also available with a closed or open driver’s compartment and in October of 1922 an attractive landaulet (collapsible rear quarter, very popular with sightseers) debuted in both the L-6 and M-6 taxicab lineup.

The firm issued a taxicab brochure that included testimonials from L-6 users that boasted that after travelling 75,000 miles on two sets of tires, they were trading in their old Elcar cab on a new one solely because they wanted their loyal customers to enjoy a brand-new taxicab once a year.

Also offered during the year was a budget-priced, Rutenber-equipped ‘Export Special’ that found favor with many overseas customers, some of which were outfitted with taxicab coachwork.

Elkhart Carriage & Motor Car Co. only sold 2,000 vehicles in 1921 and the Elcar lineup remained virtually unchanged into 1922 save for a 1" increase in wheelbase (to 118") and the adoption of drum headlamps on its passenger cars.

An Elkhart Carriage & Motor Car Co display ad in the June, 1922 issue of National Taxicab and Motorbus Journal:

“ELCAR Taxicabs Are Standard Fleet Equipment of the Diamond Cab Company.

“The highly successful and rapidly growing Diamond Cab Company of Chicago, after thorough tests of various Cabs, has adopted the ELCAR Taxicab as its standard fleet unit. About 125 ELCAR Cabs are now used by this Company and more are being added weekly. The ELCAR is also used by several other Chicago Companies.

“The success of the ELCAR is due to the fact that it is a real Cab built by a Company that has specialized on high grade vehicles for 50 years and knows exactly how to build a Cab that will stand years of hardest use.

“The quality and endurance of the ELCAR has been completely demonstrated in scores of leading cities.

“The ELCAR Cab is a superfine Cab that costs less than ordinary ones. Let us send you complete information: ELKHART CARRIAGE & MOTOR CAR COMPANY Elkhart Ind., Builders of Fine Vehicles Since 1873.”

Family-owned since 1873, the Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Co. was sold midway through 1922 to a group of Auburn, Indiana businessmen who included Arthur M. (Mike) Graffis; George W. Bundy; Flay B. Sears; and Wilson H. Denison, the July 13, 1922 issue of Motor Age reporting:


“FORT WAYNE, Ind. - July 10 – The controlling interest in the Elkhart Carriage & Motor Car Co. has been secured by four Auburn men – A.M. Graffis, G.W. Bundy, F.B. Sears, and W.H. Denison, who are now managing the plant. W.B. Pratt and George B. Pratt have retired from the company, which manufactures the ‘Elcar’ automobile.

“In the reorganization of the concern Sears will become president and general manager; Graffis will be secretary Denison will be treasurer and Bundy will act as general superintendent.”

The October 5, 1922 issue of Automotive Industries announced that the Driggs Ordnance & Mfg. Co. of New Haven, Conn. had been awarded a contract to produce taxicabs for Manhattan's Diamond Taxicab Co.:

“Diamond Cab Built by Driggs Company

“Contract Given to Produce Vehicles—Expected Production of 2,000 Within Year

“NEW YORK, Oct. 2 — Driggs Ordnance & Manufacturing Corp., with a plant at New Haven, Conn., whose connection with the automobile industry has been featured by the production of the Driggs passenger car, has contracted with the Diamond Taxicab Co. of New York to produce the vehicles which this new concern will put into operation. It is expected that 2000 taxicabs will be turned out inside the next year.

“Inasmuch as the Diamond Company has announced that it will furnish transportation at 20 cents a mile, Driggs has been called upon to produce a light vehicle that will give from 20 to 25 miles to the gallon in the way of fuel consumption and capable of economical operation.

The contract between Driggs and Diamond was mysteriously withdrawn on October 23, 1922 and two weeks later Driggs announced they were going to produce and market their own line of cabs.

Unhappy with Driggs’ decision to market their own line of taxicabs, the Diamond Taxicab Co. of New York, elected to take their business elsewhere, selecting the Elcar Motor Co., which was already producing taxicabs for an associated Diamond organization in Chicago. A photograph of the A.M. Graffis-designed Elcar Landaulet taxicab appeared in the November 14, 1922 issue of Motor Age with the following caption:

“New Elcar Landaulet Taxi - This new Elcar Landaulet is a special job designed for the taxicab business in New York City.”

The very same cab had previously been featured in the October 28, 1922 edition of Automobile Topics:

“New Elcar Taxicab Is Landaulet Type

“To meet the demand of taxicab service in cities where taxis are used largely for sight-seeing trips the Elkhart Carriage & Motor Car Co. has designed a landaulet body for its Elcar six cylinder taxicab chassis. The top is readily lowered giving the cab a distinctive appearance. For theatre parties the generous interior room and comfort make the cab ideal. The Elkhart company has been building coaches for fifty years.”

The pictured vehicle was the very same design that Elcar produced for Diamond, with news of their contract being announced in the December 14, 1922 Motor Age:

“Elcar Makes Diamond Cabs

“ELKHART, Ind. Dec. 11 - Contracts have been signed by the Elcar Motor Co. of this city and the Diamond Taxicab Co. of New York City under which the local concern will build the vehicles which will be operated by the New York organization. The Diamond company's initial order is for 1000 taxicabs of the landaulet type and it is expected that the first shipment of five carloads will go east within a week. The cab is the creation of A.M. Graffis, the Elcar engineer, and the feature of it is an adjustable top which can be quickly lowered without interfering with protection from wind and dust from any angle. After the New York installation, the Diamond company plans to invade other big centers like Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore.”

The 1,000 unit contract with Diamond called for the delivery of 100 cabs per month, which made it the largest operator of Elcar taxicabs, with Chicago second. The rest of the firm’s output during the year went to smaller operators in Buffalo, Long Island City and St Louis.

The 1923 Elcar line featured smoother lines, new fluted one-piece fenders and two separate chassis, a 112” wheelbase for the 4-cylinder 4-40 and 118” for the 6-cylinder 6-60. The former equipped with a new 206.4 cu. in. (3-3/8" bore x 5" stroke) Lycoming Model CF engine, the latter with a 242 cu. in. (3-3/8" bore x 4-1/2" stroke) Continental Model 8R Red Seal engine.

The 4-40 was available in four body types, two sedans and two touring versions. On the 6-60, there were three sedans, including a five- passenger, three-door brougham as well as the "Speedway" phaeton and a touring car. The Sport Sedan, easily the most chic of the lot, was also the most costly and sold for $2,195. Conversely, the bare-bones touring car could be had for a modest $1,395.

The upcoming 1923 Elcar line was previewed in the December 28, 1922 issue of Motor Age:

“Elcar Line Includes Fours and Sixes; Lycoming Elcar Engine Used in Four Cylinder Models and Continental 8R in Sixes

“The new Elcar line comprises both four and six cylinder models. The line includes a five-passenger phaeton and speedway sport, three-passenger roadster, five-passenger sedan and brougham. The three-passenger roadster is designed for practical use. It is very roomy, seating three passengers comfortably, and has three ample storage spaces: One In the rear deck with large opening, provided with lock and key; another with door on right side, also fitted with lock and key; and a third back of and extending the full length of the seat, provided with hinged lid.

“The interior of the four-door five-passenger sedan has every necessary provision for luxurious comfort, deep soft cushions, upholstered attractively in a neutral shade of all-wool broadcloth, lighted by a cut crystal dome light and corner lights, and equipped with oxidized silver hardware. Handy pockets on either side for gloves or packages provide extra convenience, while silk curtains on rollers Insure seclusion or shut out glaring light.

“The brougham is compactly comfortable and cozy. A good style luggage trunk with suit cases inside of same Is regular equipment. The rear seat of the brougham is very wide, extending across the car. The two front seats are separate, of the Pullman type. The right-hand seat has a hinged back and the seat itself is also hinged, permitting it to be readily folded and tilted out of the way to permit access to the rear seat.

“The Elcar fours are available in the following models: Five-passenger touring, sedan and sport car. The Lycoming Elcar engine is used. The sixes use the Continental 8-R engine.

“Prices on the Elcar sixes are as follows: Brougham, $1995; Speedway Sport, $1595; Sedan, $1995; Phaeton, $1395. All prices are F. O. B. Elkhart, Indiana.”

During early 1923 Elcar introduced a Lycoming 4-cylinder Model CF powered taxicab for budget-minded fleet operators. The new Elcar 4-cylinder taxicab was available in both standard (L-4) and landaulet (M-4) versions, with the latter selling for $2,100. Both models were constructed on a 112” wheelbase chassis, specifically reinforced for taxicab service. Its 1923 taxicab brochure boasted that Elcar was:

“... the largest manufacturer of 6-cylinder cabs in the world... The average man or woman wants to ride in as much style and comfort as is possible to obtain, even though the conveyance is a public one... The Elcar Taxicabs are not converted passenger models. They are built on especially constructed chassis in a factory fully equipped for the purpose."

1923 sales were down slightly from the previous years at 1,800 units, with taxicabs estimated to make up approximately 50% of sales.

Movie buffs may recognize the circa 1923 Elcar Model L-4 taxicab that was prominently featured in the 1939 Warner Bros. feature ‘The Roaring Twenties’, which stared James Cagney as Eddie Bartlett - a hard working WWI veteran that painstakingly builds up a taxicab corporation in the years immediately following the end of the First World War.

Elcar's updated 1924 automobile and taxicab bodies were a noticeable improvement on the firm’s earlier cars, most noticeable was the faux-Rolls-Royce radiator shell appearing on the firm’s passenger cars. Most attractive was the $1,650 Model 6-50 Brougham which included disc wheels, cycle fenders, running board-mounted trunk, cowl lamps, ‘cadet’ sun visor, oval opera windows, and a padded top with landau bars.

The all-new Model 6-50 was powered by a new 195.6 cu. in. Continental 7U engine mounted on a 112-inch wheelbase chassis shared with the Model 4-40 which was powered by a 206.4 cu. in. 42 h.p. Lycoming Model CF engine. The 1924 Model 6-60 sported all-new coachwork mated to a 118” wheelbase chassis powered by a Continental 8-R engine.

Elcar management believed a new flagship 8-cylinder would produce more sales for its passenger car division and in August of 1924 introduced the all-new 1925 Model 8-80, which was powered by Lycoming’s new 261 cu. in. 65 h.p. in-line 8-cylinder Model H engine. The flagship 8-80 was priced from $2,315 to $2,865 depending on the body style which ranged from a two-seat roadster to a 7-passenger brougham. Constructed on a 127 ½ wheelbase chassis, all Elcar Model 8-80s were fitted with Lockheed hydraulic brakes and the Elcar Rolls-Royce-style radiator shell.

The 1925 Elcar lineup remained basically unchanged from the 1924 models save for the substitution of a more powerful 70 h.p. Lycoming Model 2H engine in the Model 8-80.

The firm’s taxicab business was reinvigorated by a large order from a new Manhattan operator named Jules (aka Julie) Martin (originally Julius Modgilewsky) who ordered a fleet of 4-cylinder cabs constructed on a 117” wheelbase chassis to his specifications, and bearing the name of his firm on the radiator shell. Martin and his partner, John Ulman, had recently founded the Royal Martel Corp. and had received a Federal trademark on the name on February 25, 1925. They hoped to get a small piece of the lucrative Manhattan taxi market which was dominated by Checker and Yellow, both of whom were directly related to similarly-named Midwest taxi manufacturers.

Elcar cabs were popular with independent Manhattan operators, and Martin, who gained notoriety as a hack union organizer, was hoping to get union member into one of his Royal Martel cabs. Elcar’s Mike Graffis incorporated Martin's requirements into the standard production Elcar taxi and production commenced on the Royal Martel-badged taxicab in November of 1925. During the following 18 months 300 Royal Martels – in both limousine and landaulet versions - would make their way to Manhattan.

Martin, who had gained much notoriety during the Manhattan Taxicab strike of 1924, paid homage to the union struggle by placing a ‘Unity’ shield on the side of each Royal Martel, which were often referred to as ‘Unity Cabs’.

For 1926 Elcar replaced their Continental 6-cylinders with a new 207 cu. in. 55 h.p. Lycoming 2S 6-cylinder engine. They consolidated their 6-cylinder offerings into one model, the 6-65, which was offered in 3 body styles on a new 116” wheelbase chassis equipped with hydraulic brakes and balloon tires. The firm’s 4-cylinder Lycoming migrated to the same 116” chassis and received a new Model designation, 4-45. The flagship 8-80 became the 8-81 thanks to a new 74 h.p. 297 cu. in. Lycoming Model 4H straight-8 engine. 3- and 5-passenger models were constructed using the 127” chassis introduced the precious year while the elegant 7- passenger models rode on a new 132” wheelbase chassis.

The Elcar Motor Co. sponsored a supercharged Miller-engined ‘Elcar Special’ at the 1926 Indianapolis 500. Although the team suffered a tragic setback when the team’s original driver, 23-yo L. Herbert (Herb) Jones, was killed in testing on May 27, 1926, the team’s mechanics put the wrecked car back together in time for 1924 LeMans winner John Duff, to qualify it 28th – and by the time the race was called due to rain on lap 160, Duff had moved up to 9th position.

Despite the new models, strong Indianapolis finish and 300-unit taxicab order, Elcar's total sales failed to exceed the 2,000 unit mark for 1926 and in September of that year Flay B. Sears hired and outsider, R.A. Rawson - the former manager of the Indianapolis Stutz factory branch, as sales manager.

During the late Twenties Elcar enjoyed a small business in rebuilding Elcar taxicabs for regional operators. Used straight-8 Elcars were popular with Chicago liveries who converted the reliable Lycoming-powered cars for taxicab service. Elcar's service manager, Forrest Liest, had all the required parts in stock and very often a cab could be returned to service a day after its arrival in Elkhart.

1927 marked the debut of Elcar’s ‘shock-less’ chassis, which was standard across the entire line which now included the 6-70 six (60 hp Lycoming Model WS straight-6); 8-82 light eight (62 hp Lycoming Model GT straight-8) and flagship 8-90 series (84 hp Lycoming Model 4H straight-8) – the slow-selling 4-cylinder line was no more. ‘Shock-less’ referred to the Beiflex rubber/fabric shock insulators (oil-less rubber shackles) that were used in place of metal shackles on the front and rear springs.

The Beiflex system promised noiseless suspension and better isolation from the vibration associated with irregular road surfaces. The Beiflex shackles were supplemented by rubberized engine mounts, oversized wheels and tires and cork body insulation, which made the 1927 Elcar line the smoothest-running marque on the road.

Elcar sponsored another supercharged Miller-engined 'Elcar Special' at the 1927 Indianapolis 500. Piloted by Al Cotey, and qualifying 29th the car retired on lap 27 due to a failed universal joint, finishing 21st overall.

Elcar somewhat re-aligned its lineup for the 1928 model year, introducing a new budget-priced light eight Model 8-78 which used the same engine and 123” wheelbase as the previous year’s Model 8-82 but with smaller wheels and tires. The 1928 ‘Travel- Air‘ Model 8-82 was fitted with a new 70 hp. Lycoming Model GS straight eight and the flagship Model 91 (127” wheelbase) and Model 92 (134” wheelbase) soldiered on with the 84 h.p. Lycoming Model 4HM straight eight.

A new flagship Model 120 ‘Big Eight’ was introduced mid-year that was easily recognized by its vee’d upper radiator shell. Originally fitted with the 84 h.p. engine of its predecessors, a new 120 h.p. Lycoming Model DM straight-8 replaced it by the end of the year.

For 1929 the Model 8-78 was re-numbered as the Series 95 and the Model 8-82 as the Series 96 to keep in line with the new easier to decipher system introduced on the flagship Series 120 one year earlier. The faux Rolls-Royce radiator shell was dropped in favor of a new ‘radiator modern’. A complete choice of body styles was offered in all the Elcar lines with optional extra-cost paint and trim packages such as ‘Royal’ and ’Princess’ supplementing the standard equipment.

Although Elcar made a continuous effort to improve upon each previous years’ product, a lack of a strong dealer network put it and its ‘assembled-car’ competitors, Gardner, Jordan, Moon and Roamer at a distinct disadvantage in the marketplace. Historically the above firms would take whatever distributors they could get. In smaller markets the dealers’ primary source of revenue was the service of all makes and models, with Elcar sales often a low priority. In larger markets, more often than not, the Elcar dealer handled numerous competing franchises, all housed in the same showroom.

Although Elcar management stated production would be doubled for the 1928-29 model year, the reality was an increasing number of unsold cars forced the plant to substantially reduce its workforce in mid-1929, months before the Wall street crash forced it into insolvency.

Although sales of new Elcars were close to non-existent, the firm continued to introduce new models and prepared a new ‘Lever-Engined’ Elcar for the 1930 model year. Designed by engineer Alvah L. Powell, the engine featured two shorter connecting rods joined together by a lever attached to the side of the extremely tall crankcase via a pivot.

The February 1930 issue of Motor announced Elcar’s new lineup and its adoption of Powell’s engine, of which its correspondent was not impressed:

“Elcar Adopts Powel Lever Motor

“Elcar sprung an innovation at the New York Show by announcing two chasses equipped with the Powel Lever Motor. Both are L-head sixes. One has a bore of 3 inches, a stroke of 8 inches and a piston displacement of 340 cubic inches. As show below, the crankpin rotates through a 4-inch diameter circle on both engines, a lever being used to double the piston stroke. Due to the increased piston displacement the smaller car, Model 83, is geared 2.4 to 1, and the larger car, Model 85, Is geared 2.1 to 1. While these unusually high rear axle gears are interesting, MoToR has been unable to discover why the Powell Lever Motor offers any notable advantages over conventional engines of the same piston displacement. Both these chasses have four speeds.

“Elcar has also added the model 140, an eight with a 135-inch wheelbase, rated at 140 horsepower at 3300 revolutions per minute. It has an underslung worm-drive rear axle which permits a low chassis, the overall height being 66 inches. A vee-shaped radiator is used and body lines are unusual on the two types comprising the line – namely, the sedan and convertible sedan.

“In addition, Elcar is continuing its previous models, including three eights and a six. The models 130 and 96 eights have a four-speed transmission while the 95, similar to the 96, has a three speed transmission. The six-cylinder model 75 has a three-speed transmission.

“The 140 and 1930 have a 3 3/8 by 4 ½ - inch engine; the 96 and 95 and the six have a bore and stroke of 2 7/8 by 4 ¾ . The price range is $1,095 to $2,750.”

Surviving photographs of the Elcar Model 140 reveal it was a very attractive car, but unfortunately only a handful of the expensive cars were constructed and there were no survivors. The handful of Lever-engined Elcars fared little better, the sole surviving Lever-engined Elcar chassis was parted out, its engine going to complete an equally rare Lever-engined Kissel.

The collapse of the economy did nothing to stop the precipitous decline in sales and by late August when production was halted only 900 Elcars had been constructed for the 1930 model year. July saw the merger of the Powell and Elcar interests into a holding company called the Lever Motors Corp. of Indiana, but the Lever-engine manufacturer quickly realized how bad Elcar’s financial position really was and began courting Hartford, Wisconsin’s Kissel Motor Co., which was a more viable partner.

Although Elcar should have failed during 1930, they were buoyed by an order for additional taxicabs from an acquaintance of long-time Elcar customer Jules Martin named Lawrence Fay (b.1888-d.1933). Like Martin, Larry Fay was a long-time Manhattan fleet operator who by 1924 operated a reported 400 taxicabs.

Fay was an admirer of Martin’s Elcar-based Grand Martel taxis and in early 1930 expressed an interest in having Elcar construct a line of cabs with his name on the radiator shell. Like Martin, Fay did not shy away from money-making illegal activities, and early in his career gained a reputation as a run-runner, specializing in importing hooch across the Canadian border. The profits were poured into various enterprises which included his cab company (Fay Cab Corp.) and two well-known nightclubs, ‘El Fey’ on West 47th Street, and the Del Fey, which opened up down the street when the El Fey was padlocked during a well-publicized prohibition raid.

Fay also had an interest at one time or another in ‘El Vie’, the ‘Parody’, the ‘Silver Slipper’, the ‘Cotton Club’ and most famously the Casa Blanca at 33 West 56th Street. The El Fey was the longest lived and best-known and featured ‘Queen of the Night Clubs’ Texas Guinan as erstwhile ‘manager’ and emcee of the nightly floorshow which was produced by Nils Thor Granlund.

Unsurprisingly, the taxicabs constructed for Mr. Fay wore an ‘El Fay’ radiator badge, and were based upon Elcar’s standard Lycoming-powered 6-cylinder 128” wheelbase taxicab which included a padded top and a sliding roof over the driver. The well-accessorized cabs included a unique chrome stone guard over the radiator and chrome spare tire covers on the fenders. Also included were the same counterclockwise swastika logos that adorned his El Fey nightclub, which prior to 1933 were simply symbols for good luck.

The dawn of the depression years took a toll on Fay’s wealth and operations and it is unknown if he took delivery on all 100 of the ‘El Fay’ cabs he ordered from Elcar in 1930. The following year he began working as a manager / partner at the Casa Blanca night club, 33 West 56th street, and following a New Year’s Eve celebration was gunned down by the Casa Blanca’s disgruntled doorman, dying the next day, January 1, 1933.

On December 15, 1960, The Untouchables (1959 TV series) during its second season did 'The Larry Fay Story'. This episode (the 37th for the series) dealt with Larry Fay's activities in the New York City milk price-fixing case. Also, Fay's life served as the basis for James Cagney's character, Eddie Bartlett, in the 1939 gangster film, The Roaring Twenties. Texas Guinan, his longtime girlfriend, was given the Hollywood treatment in 1945’s ‘Incendiary Blonde’ a Paramount production that starred Betty Hutton as ‘Queen of the Nightclubs’.

Elcar constructed taxis for another Manhattan operator during late 1930, this time the cabs were badged Paragon, and their purchaser was M.A. Lichtman, president of the Paragon Cab Manufacturing Corp., 1836 Broadway. The firm had been incorporated earlier in the year as follows:

“New York — Paragon Cab Mfg. Corp. has been incorporated with $10,000 capital by M. A. Lichtman, 152 West Forty-second street.”

The Paragon shared many of the accoutrements of the El Fay taxicab adding Ryan head and cowl lights and an illuminated banner above the windshield.

In August 1929 former Durant and Chevrolet distributor Harry M. Wahl announced he was reviving the Mercer Motor Co., announcing that 3,000 all-new Mercer automobiles would be constructed during 1930. During the fall of 1930 two Mercer prototypes were constructed in the now-underutilized Elcar plant, an attractive convertible coupe and a demonstration chassis.

Wahl had made an arrangement with the Massachusetts coachbuilder Merrimac to supply its coachwork which would be mostly shared with the duPont automobile to cut costs, and an attractive catalog was put together in time for the car’s debut in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Montclair during the 1931 New York Auto Show, which was held during the first week of January, 1931.

The Beiflex-equipped 135” wheelbase chassis and 140 h.p. Continental Model 12K straight-8 drivetrain were shared with the Elcar Model 140, and save for its one-off Merrimac convertible coupe coachwork and Mercer badging, the car displayed was a 1931 Elcar Model 140. Despite the fact that the attractive car was given a number of positive reviews and Wahl claimed to have signed up some enthusiastic dealers, the car never entered production. One month later Wahl suffered a heart attack, two months later Merrimac entered into bankruptcy and Elcar was in such severe financial straits it cancelled its planned production of Model year 1931 automobiles and was declared insolvent that Fall.

After the show the two Mercers were sold to a Dover, New Jersey Elcar distributor named Minarchi, remaining there for the next quarter century when they were discovered and subsequently purchased by Elcar enthusiast and historian William S. Locke, who remained their custodian for the next half century. The Merrimac-bodied 1931 Mercer is currently owned by Dave and Denise Sanders who displayed it at Pebble Beach in 2012.

However, Elcar was not done yet. Former Elcar executive Arthur M. (aka Mike) Graffis was appointed receiver on October 10, 1931, and was instructed by the bankruptcy court to continue to complete cars, including taxicabs, that were already in the process of manufacture. Also retained were a few key office workers, as well as a short-staffed parts and service department.

During 1932 a skeletal crew of a dozen Elcar mechanics stayed busy constructing ‘Paragon’ and ‘El Fay’ taxicabs in batches of 35. Once paid for, the revenue was used to finance the next batch of cabs, and the process continued into the summer of 1933 when their old Manhattan-based taxicab customer, Jules Martin, proposed that Elcar build him an all-new streamlined taxicab. After hashing out the details with Graffis, Martin returned to Manhattan to sell the concept, which looked unlike any cab built before, to his independent operators/drivers.

Martin’s Allied Products Mfg. Corp. would handle the manufacture of the vehicle which he christened the ‘Prosperity’ in hopes of turning the current economic tide around. Back in New York he formed the Prosperity Taxicab Corp. to handle the sales and marketing of the vehicle and on October 31, 1933 he returned to Indiana in order to reveal the completed prototype ‘Prosperity’ at a special ceremony at the Elkhart Hotel.

As soon as the photographs marking the ceremony were taken, Martin hopped into the ‘cab of the future’ and took off for New York City where he would hold a series of similar events during the coming weeks. Shortly after Martin’s arrival in Manhattan he learned that the man in charge of building the Prosperity, Elcar receiver Arthur M. (Mike) Graffis, had been killed in a November 4, 1933 traffic accident.

The bankruptcy court replaced Graffis with C.L. Sawyer and Martin forged ahead his planned introduction of the Prosperity, which took place at a gala dinner for 100 on November 21, 1933 in a rented ballroom inside the General Motors Building, which was also the home of the Prosperity Cab Corp. offices (1777 Broadway). Two days later he held an open house for the public which was well-attended by both taxicab owners and operators. Taxi Age included pictures of the taxicab in its November 27, 1933 issue describing it as ‘stupendous… colossal… sensational’. Although I’m a big fan of the Prosperity, a more appropriate description might be ‘odd...’.

The beltline of the cream-colored car was almost a foot higher than other cars of the day. The car’s A-, B-, C- and D-pillars were correspondingly cut down, the raised window openings looking similar to those found on the chopped tops of brothers Sam & George Barris. The car included rear spats with the centers cut out and the front and rear of the car made extensive use of chrome accessories, which included the radiator shell, rear luggage rack and 3-bar taxicab bumpers. Passengers rode on an overstuffed Pullman-style bench seat which was affixed to a Continental straight-6 mounted to an Elcar taxicab frame.

Apparently Martin was pleased by the reception as within the week he was back in Elkhart where he leased a portion of the factory from the receiver, purchasing what remained of Elcar’s parts, tooling and inventory for a mere $2,000. Allied Products Mfg. Co. was now in the cab manufacturing business.

The first batch of Prosperity cabs were scheduled to be delivered midway through January 1934, but the New York City Police Department wasn’t happy with the cab’s ‘peek-a-boo’ windows, causing the City’s Hack Bureau to bar the Prosperity from operating within the city limits.

On February 4, 1934 an irate Martin parked two Prosperity cabs smack dab in the middle of City Hall Plaza so that Mayor LaGuardia and his associates could get a first-hand look at them, an event that was recorded in the February 10, 1934 issue of the New York Times:

“An effort to persuade Mayor LaGuardia to overrule a police order barring a fleet of seventy-five ‘Prosperity Cabs’ from operation was made by Jules Martin. The cabs were barred after Second Deputy Police Commissioner Harold L. Allen had reported that they were of the ‘peek-a-boo’ type, designed more for concealment than for beauty.

“Two of the cabs were inspected by Paul J. Kern, one of Mayor LaGuardia’s secretaries. Aldermanic President Bernard S. Deutsch and other members of the Board of Estimate also examined them. The vehicles were parked in City Hall Plaza all day, but Mayor LaGuardia did not see them until he was leaving for the day.”

Unfortunately no further action was forthcoming from the Mayor’s office, forcing Martin to take the City to court. The hearings and ensuing trials took months to be resolved, with large competitors such as Parmalee testifying that "In this city, there isn't any room for a peek-a-boo cab." The matter was eventually placed before New York Supreme Court Justice William T. Collins who issued an order for the New York Police Department to show cause for the banning of the Prosperity.

During that time “fewer than two dozen” Prosperities had been completed, and with the negative attention the cab had received in Manhattan, the majority had been sold to small operators in Cleveland and Philadelphia and Martin pulled the plug on the Prosperity project. However, he did not abandon the Elkhart factory.

By this time the supply of Elcar parts had been exhausted so Martin made arrangements with the Chrysler Corp. who in the Fall of 1934 agreed to supply him with Dodge taxi cowl & chassis. A prototype was approved by the New York City hack bureau and Martin began taking orders for the attractive Allied-Dodge taxicab, which he boasted in a February 1935 trade advertisement were already sold out.

In the mean-time Martin had procured a 1935 Graham Model 69 4-door sedan which was transformed into the ‘Super-Allied’ taxicab by the crew back in Elkhart. At this point in time, Jules Martin’s cab-building operation came to a dramatic end due to his involvement with one Arthur Flegenheimer, who was better known as mobster Dutch Schultz.

Martin had started out in the taxicab business as a Checker Cab driver / manager and like his fellow Elcar Cab aficionado, Larry Fay, had long-standing ties to bootleggers and at one time owned a nightclub called Chez Evelyn at 228 West Fifty-Second Street. Martin’s longtime partner in the taxicab business was Jess Donatella, another cab driver who helped Martin organize the independent hacks via a series of strikes in the late 1920s. Martin was also connected with the White Horse Cab Company, which incidentally operated a fleet constructed by the Checker Cab Mfg. Co.

His success with the taxi strike brought him to the attention of Flegenheimer, who gave him a job as one of his enforcers, and later his most trusted lieutenant. Both men were subsequently indicted (and subsequently cleared) in connection with an investigation into illegal activities involving the Manhattan Cafeteria Workers Union.

Martin’s association with Flegenheimer made him quite wealthy, and he allegedly used his ill-gotten gains to finance the Allied Products Mfg. Co., the firm which purchased Elcar’s assets from the receiver in 1934. Martin’s taxicab manufacturing operations came to an end on March 5, 1935 when his stabbed and bullet-riddled body was found dumped alongside a service road leading to the Troy, New York dump, the March 06, 1935 New York Times reporting:

“TROY 'RIDE' VICTIM WAS ST. ALBANS MAN; Wife Identifies Body of Julius Martin, Head of Indiana Taxicab Body Plant.

“TROY, N.Y., March 5. - The 'ride' victim found in a roadside ditch just over the Troy city line Sunday morning was identified by his wife today as Julius Martin of 116-26 222d Street, St. Albans, L.I., a taxicab body manufacturer. The Department of Justice at Washington identified him as Jules Magelfsky of New York, arrested on a charge of desertion June 2, 1917, from Fort Slocum and fingerprinted at that time. Mrs. Martin said she never knew him by any other name than Martin. They were married at the City Hall in New York City in January, 1920.

“According to a check-up by District Attorney Ranney, Martin, a former New York city taxicab driver and union organizer, was head of a concern in Elkhart, Ind., which makes taxicab bodies, he traveled frequently between New York and Elkhart, sometimes by taxi, but since an injury to his foot he had been using a New York Central train via Albany.

“Mrs. Martin said he left home Saturday morning for such a trip and when she did not hear from him by Sunday she started inquiries. On reading the story of the Troy crime in a newspaper, with the name Martin, she arranged to come here and investigate. She said her husband, who was 36 years old and did not drink, smoke or gamble, and she could think of no motive for his murder, as she knew of no enemies.

“The wife admitted that Martin usually had from $500 to $2,000 in his pocket on his trips to Elkhart and that he carried a wrist watch, which was missing.

“John Martin, known also as Jules Martin, lived with his wife, Ida, and two children at 116-26 222d Street, St. Albans. Although his home, a one-family frame structure of two stories, was closed, neighbors said Mr. Martin had been in the house a week ago when he returned from Elkhart, Ind. A taxicab with Indiana license plates is in the Martin garage.

“The Martins have lived in St. Albans three years. The children, Priscilla, 13 years old, and Berel, 7, attend school there. Mrs. Martin’s maiden name was Ida Vernick.”

At a May 11, 1937 Luncheon, New York State Attorney General Thomas A. Dewey 'fondly' recalled him as:

“ of the worst gangsters New York has ever produced, and the actual operating head of the racket... Jules Martin was so successful as a modern racketeer that his name was unknown to the press, the public, or the court and little known even to the police.”

A number of subsequent trials and investigations surmised that Martin was killed because Schultz suspected that Martin was skimming from the Cafeteria Workers Union (aka Café Racket) putting the money into his taxicab business. The accusation stems from his accountant, Otto Berman, who discoved a $70,000 disparity in the union books, while preparing for Schultz' upcoming trail for income tax evasion.

Martin’s ‘last ride’ started at Manhattan’s Grand Central Station where he was seen in the company of Flegenheimer associates George ‘Bo’ Weinberg and J. Richard (Dixie) Davis (Flegenheimer’s attorney). What exactly happened next is open to conjecture, however the generally accepted story was provided by eyewitness J. Richard (Dixie) Davis, Flegenheimer's attorney, while he himself was on trial in 1937.

On the evening of March 2, 1935, they (Weinberg & Davis) escorted Martin by train from Manhattan to the Troy, New York station after which they proceeded to the Harmony Hotel in Cohoes, New York (a suburb of the twin cities of Albany/Troy) where Flegenheimer was holed up awaiting the upcoming trial.

A belligerent Martin denied Berman's charges and began arguing with Dutch - both men had been drinking heavily - and things took an ugly turn when Schultz sucker-punched Martin, who eventually fessed up to taking $20,000 of the $70,000, money he felt he was 'entitled to'. Attorney Davis related what happened next:

"Dutch Schultz was ugly; he had been drinking and suddenly he had his gun out. The Dutchman wore his pistol under his vest, tucked inside his pants, right against his belly. One jerk at his vest and he had it in his hand. All in the same quick motion he swung it up, stuck it in Jules Martin's mouth and pulled the trigger. It was as simple and undramatic as that - just one quick motion of the hand. The Dutchman did that murder just as casually as if he were picking his teeth."

As Martin contorted in his final agonies on the floor, Schultz apologized to Davis for killing a man right in front of him. Davis later admitted his shock when he read a newspaper story about Julie Martin being found shot to death on a snow bank but also with a dozen stab wounds to his chest. To which Dutch Schultz dead-panned:

"I cut his heart out."

Actor Mike Star portrayed Martin in the 1991 Gangster drama ‘Billy Bathgate’, which starred Dustin Hoffman as Dutch Schultz. Loosely based on factual events the film was based on E.L. Doctorow’s historical novel of the same name.

A handful of unfinished vehicles that remained at the Allied Products factory in Elkhart were sold off and the plant shuttered until 1936 when Elkhart businessman Milo Miller, who had relocated his Sportsman Trailer Co. from Mishawaka, Indiana to Elkhart in 1934,sold that firm to Schult Trailer and began manufacturing travel trailers under the Elcar trade name. The business was later relocated to nearby Bourbon, Indiana and after the Second World War was acquired by Divco-Wayne – the last Elcar-branded trailer being produced in 1968.

The Elcar plant later became the home to the woodwind division of Selmer, who manufactured Bundy clarinets and flutes there into the 1980s. Plans for razing the long-vacant factory were announced on November 29, 2012, although it’s unknown if they’ve been carried out.

Anyone interested in reading more about Elcar and its predecessors should pick up a copy of William S. Locke's 'Elcar and Pratt Automobiles; The Complete History' before it goes out of print and gets expensive.

Click here to get your copy today!

©2013 Mark Theobald for with special thanks to William S. Locke and Karl S. Zahm

Appendix 1 - Brands of Taxicabs manufactured by Elkhart Carriage/Elcar:

Allied, Allied-Dodge, Diamond, Elcar, El Fay, Grand Martel, Paragon, Prosperity, Super-Allied, Unity.

Appendix 2 - Similarly-named firms:

F.B. Pratt & Co. was unrelated to the similarly-named Plainfield, Wisconsin drug store operated by Fletcher B. Pratt.

Also unrelated to the firm discussed above were the following Elkhart-based automobile manufacturers:

Elkhart Carriage & Motor Car Co. (1909-1912 Sterling); the Elkhart Carriage & Mfg. Co. (1908 Elkhart) and it's successors: Elkhart Carriage & Motor Co., Elmer Automobile Co. and H. Elmer Co. (1909-1912).








Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark - Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942

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A Biographical History of Eminent and Self-made Men of the State of Indiana, Vol II, pub. 1880

Charles C. Chapman - History of Elkhart County, Indiana, pub. 1881

George W. Butler - Manual of Elkhart, pub. 1889

Anthony Deahl - A Twentieth Century History and Biographical Record of Elkhart County, Indiana, pub. 1905

Elkhart Carriage & Harness Mfg. Co. - Horse-Drawn Carriage Catalog, 1909 – facsimile catalog, pub. 2001

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Emil V. Anderson - Tap Roots of Elkhart History, pub. 1949

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William S. Locke - The Brand-New Mercer... Vintage 1931: A History From Then To Now, Automobile Quarterly, Vol. 19 No. 2

Ken Gross - The One and Only 1931 Mercer, Special Interest Autos No. 72, December 1982 issue

Karl S. Zahm – Elcar: A Well Built Car (part I), Cars & Parts; June, 1983 issue

Karl S. Zahm – Elcar: Some Sharp Products… But Lean Times Nonetheless (part II), Cars & Parts; July, 1983 issue

Karl S. Zahm – Elcar: A Fast-Fading Glimmer of Hope (part III), Cars & Parts; August 1983 issue

Walter O. MacIlvain – Elcar and Its Antecedents, The Bulb Horn; April-June 1989 issue

William S. Locke - Elcar and Pratt Automobiles; The Complete History, pub. 2000

Dennis E. & Terri Horvath - Indiana Cars: A History of the Automobile in Indiana, pub. 2002

Larry J. Hoefling - Nils Thor Granlund: Show Business Entrepreneur and America's First Radio Star, pub. 2010

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