Crank up the Flivver Fever (Part 3): The Big Two (Plus One)

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

chevy site 5-12-16 stOn May 12, 1916 the Star-Telegram announced that the Chevrolet corporation, lured to town by the promise of tax breaks, would build an assembly 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.

chevy amon 5-23-17 stOn 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. (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.

flivver chevy plant to be soldBy 1922 General Motors owned the Chevrolet company. In 1922, after GM lost some of its tax breaks in Fort Worth, it closed the plant and announced plans to sell the property. The Chamber of Commerce hoped that the building would find a new life.

flivver mw leases gmAnd 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 Chevy building later was a repair center for GM’s Frigidaire refrigerators, a distribution center for GM auto parts, a factory for cardboard shipping containers, and Radio Shack headquarters. The building was demolished in 1986.

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.

flivver texan expandingDespite 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).

flivver monkey gripIn 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”).

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5 Responses to Crank up the Flivver Fever (Part 3): The Big Two (Plus One)

  1. Gus says:

    Fascinating article. Wonder if the move to establish all these auto plants in widely scattered locations might have been the prototype for what we were able to do as WWII came on 20-years later? It’s amazing how quickly we were able to build and commission so many large wartime aircraft plants around the country in the first couple of years of WWII.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Gus. From today’s perspective it is amazing how quickly people got things done back then.

  2. David Lanford says:

    When I worked at “Monkey” Wards in the 1960’s some of the older warehouse workers called the buildings on Foch St the peanut warehouse.

  3. David says:

    The automotive plant on West Seventh was also the headquarters for Radio Shack before they moved downtown into the Tandy Center. I remember it as sitting vacant for a long time until Radio Shack moved in.

    • hometown says:

      I remember the building being lighted at night during the late 1950s or early 1960s. Maybe that was Radio Shack.

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