For a brief time early in the auto age (see Part 1 and Part 2), Cowtown had the shake, rattle, and roll of a Detroit on the Trinity. Between 1916 and 1922 Fort Worth had three auto plants: Ford, Chevy, and Texan.
Just Call Cowtown “Ford Worth”
On July 6, 1916 the Star-Telegram announced that Ford would open a “factory branch” on August 1 at 200 Commerce Street (now the site of Wells Fargo Tower).
At the factory branch sixty employees provided sales and service (photo from Mack Williams’s In Old Fort Worth).
But Ford’s Fort Worth factory branch also assembled cars. Ad shows a 1915 Ford.
In 1908 Joseph Becan had been a boy working at the Swift packing plant. That’s Becan in the upper right of the photo. (In the lower left is this blogger’s grandfather.)
But by 1916 Becan was working at the new Ford factory branch. He started out washing cars and polishing brass radiators. But later, Becan recalled, he assembled cars as parts “were unloaded from the flat cars [from Dallas], and we’d take them to the shop and put them together.”
From a 1915 Ford owner’s manual.
Chevy Near the Levee
On May 12, 1916 the Star-Telegram announced that General Motors, lured to town by the promise of tax breaks, would build a Chevrolet plant on Arlington Heights Boulevard (West 7th Street).
In April 1917 the auto plant opened on the south side of West 7th Street just west of Trinity Park.
On May 23, 1917 the first roadster produced by the new Chevrolet plant was wrecked by Star-Telegram publisher Amon Carter. Clip is from the May 23 Star-Telegram.
You might remember the big U-shaped building with lots of windows. It stood until 1986 (photo from Amon Carter Museum).
This 1917 ad mentions the Fort Worth factory. The factory employed five hundred workers, assembled 4,700 cars in 1920.
But in 1922, when GM lost some of its tax breaks, it closed the plant and announced plans to sell the property. The Chamber of Commerce hoped that the building would find a new life.
And it did. In 1924 Montgomery Ward leased the building and moved from its East 7th Street location downtown.
Montgomery Ward occupied the old Chevy plant until the new Ward building was completed on the other side of West 7th Street in 1928.
The Other Model T (“T” for “Texan”)
Back in 1917 brothers Will and James Vernor of Dallas formed the Texas Motor Car Association and began selling stock (photo from Mt. Pleasant Public Library).
The Vernor brothers advertised and raised enough money to build a factory (1918) on the Cleburne Pike (now McCart Avenue), and the city of Fort Worth agreed to extend streetcar service for the 125 employees. The factory built cars and trucks called “Texan” (“first in endurance, durability, and speed”), which were designed for Texas driving conditions with oversized tires (thirty-three inches) and oversized engines (a beastly thirty-five horsepower). The cars had a wooden dashboard, a rumble seat, and a sticker price of $1,000. At its peak the Texan factory turned out twenty cars and trucks a day.
The Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Company of Elkhart, Indiana manufactured the Elcar (1916 model shown in photo from Wikipedia) and supplied coachwork for some Texan cars. In fact, the website Coachbuilt says the 1918 Texan was just a rebadged Elcar.
Despite poor sales in the automobile market nationally in 1921, the Texas Motor Car Association was optimistic, expanding the Fort Worth plant and opening a branch in New Orleans.
But that optimism was short-lived. By 1922 the company had ceased production, hurt by a factory fire, the post-World War I flu epidemic, and competition from Ford’s Model T and Chevy’s Four Ninety (named for its original list price).
In 1922 the Monkey Grip Rubber Company took over the Texan factory and sold off the remaining inventory at reduced prices.
Only about two thousand Texan cars and one thousand Texan trucks were built. This rare survivor is on display in the building that housed the Texan factory, which still stands as the home of . . .
Martin Sprocket and Gear Company (notice the “T” on the corner of the building) (black and white photo from University of Houston Library).
Oh, and over in Dallas County, Grand Prairie had the automobile plant of the ill-fated Texmobile: Kruisin’ in a Texmobile: “K” for “Kar,” “K” for “Konvicted” (and “K” for “Knickers”).