In this 1963 photo

In this 1963 photo

A salute to our early wild and woolly automotive era

Reflections - a look back at how the automobile impacted the region

It was around 1901 when the fabulous but noisy ‘motor age’ roared into Alberta, as newly motivated automotive dealers from North America and throughout the world began to flood the markets with countless models of cars and trucks to serve the needs of a rapidly growing and rambunctious population.

Included in this overwhelming invasion of the ‘metal monsters’ were mass productions of Henry Fords’ famous $825 Model ‘T’, the humble beginnings of General Motors in 1907, the flashy 16 horsepower ‘Baby Rexes’, the arrival of the powerful Benz and Mack trucks and all sorts of slow and rumbling tractors.

There was even a pair of electric cars from Canadian General Electric that promised top speeds of 70 kilometres per hour, and this sudden explosion into the ‘auto age’ would roll on and on into our fast and furious future.

Our history books tell us that by 1906, when the Government of Alberta had passed the ‘Automobile Act’, there were a total of only 41 cars in a vibrant province that for decades had relied solely on the always reliable horse and buggy for their transportation and power.

This milestone legislation also set the speed limits at 10 miles per hour in town and 20 mph on the already rough and dusty country roads, as well as generously announcing a half a million dollar budget for roads and bridges, with 60 per cent of that going to the bridges that would be required over our countless rivers.

During this amazing transformation from live horse-power to the gas and steam revolution, it was claimed that there were still 806,000 active and working horses in 1921. But, by 1936, Alberta had been invaded by over 100,000 vehicles and the politicians were forced to unveil an extensive and ongoing program of hard-surfacing to create thousands of miles of ‘dustless’ roads.

The onslaught of these hundreds of vehicles on these new highways and country roads were a boom to the rural folks, who were called upon many times to assist a stranded motorist with fuel or a boost, as well as pulling them out of the mud or the floods with tractors or horses and many times giving them overnight shelter from the storms.

The arrival of ‘motor-mania’ in Ponoka district

With the rapid arrival of the automotive era in the thriving Town of Ponoka and County districts, fewer horses were being used for transportation, field work, road building and many other day to day tasks.

This would create less need for the many and very busy early local livery stables and their spots were quickly taken up by a growing list of garages, most with their unique steel and glass gas pumps out front. They would serve all the repair, fuel, and maintenance needs for the new vehicle owners as well selling the fancy new lines of autos and trucks.

Some of these early garages and dealers included Henry Taylor, Bert Pendleton, G.N. Field, Ed Cannon, Milton and McGuire, Lux and Stephens, Donar Clark, Jewel Stretch, Hector Skinner, Johnson and James, Derkson Motors, Midway Pontiac, Jack Wilders, George Loucks and so many others over the years.

This new found automatic industry rolled along at a great pace during the beginning of the century, until the horrific arrival of the dirty 30’s when everything slowed down and the landscape turned to dust.

Many of the new vehicle owners had to park them because they couldn’t afford the fuel, while the truck owners took the heavy motors out and hooked the body up to their reliable horses, mules or oxen so that they could get on with their hectic daily workloads.

Following the depression, the economy improved at a rapid pace once again and resulted with the sudden arrival of new citizens, businesses and industry to the province, as well as a steady growth and great successes in the areas of farming, ranching, construction and, of course, employment.

In our area, George Hinkley Sr. was likely one of the first gentleman to haul cattle by truck to the markets in Edmonton. But, was quickly followed by the Strause Brothers and Spike Johnston as well as countless farmers who trucked just about everything back and forth from the districts and the Town of Ponoka.

The first school bus for the Provincial Mental Hospital was a makeover of a heavy-duty truck that was initially used by a ‘rum-runner’ in southern Alberta.

Those first local trucking businesses through the 1930’s and 40’s included Gibb Thompson, Doug Carswell and Tom Hughes.

Tom’s Transport would specialize in cattle hauling and was later joined by his son Tom in the 1960’s in a flourishing business that served the Ponoka area for over 25 years.

Red Weir arrived in Ponoka in 1946 for gravel trucking and then later added cattle to his long time career behind the wheel.

Bill and Idris (Shorty) Jones took over Gibb Thompson’s trucking business in 1946, then sold to Tom and Ron Crawford in 1950 to pursue other local business opportunities as well as play hockey.

Crawford’s Transport hauled daily supplies between Edmonton and Red Deer for 18 years and then sold out to Doug Nelson and later Gordon Rose.

During this very busy growth period in and around Ponoka, Bill Brodie started to haul local milk by the can to the Alpha Plant in Red Deer, the Turney Brothers had a freight hauling operation and several generations have proudly carried on or became involved in the rugged trucking business over the years.