Pictured here is a classic deluxe 1922 Model T Ford owned by George and Luella Hoar of the Ponoka district. Complete with running boards, kerosene headlamps, plush leather seats, ash-trays, hand-crank starter, five custom wheels and all the trimmings, this was one of the most popular early automobiles to appear in the area. The grand old Model T was popular for outings with family and friends, the long trip into town, for the doctor to make house calls and, of course, for courting the many available young ladies throughout the town and county districts. Photo courtesy Fort Ostell Museum

Reflections: When the automobiles invaded

The quiet streets of Ponoka and district were taken over by ‘new’ transport options in the roaring 20’s

Whether we may now possess one of those classic top of the line models of vehicles, roaring around in one of those ‘souped up’ diesel monsters or just the proud owners of a plain old reliable family car or pick-me-up truck, all of us in this rowdy era have now come to depend, pamper and dote on them a whole lot.

There is no doubt that some folks have a garage full of hot-rods along with all their bikes, boats and other assorted vehicles parked in and around them.

The humble beginnings of ‘motor mania’ came way back in the 1700’s when Nicholas Joseph Cugnot rolled out his first steam powered automobile and started transporting thrilled citizens around the community in a massive cloud of smoke.

By the turn of the 20th century, someone actually came up with a vehicle powered by electricity, but that didn’t last very long as the massive worldwide production of all sorts of automobiles, trucks, tractors, motorcycles and everything else that could be powered to move forward or backward had begun.

The magnificent lines of the first Model-T Ford took the nation by storm and were soon joined on the few rough and dusty roads by Austin, Dodge, Chevrolet, Rolls-Royce, Mitsubishi of Japan and countless other new models in a wild rush of buyer frenzy and the overwhelming need for added highways and byways to accommodate them all.

From peaceful Chipman to the roaring 20’s

When Ponoka officially became a vibrant little town in 1904, the streets were busy each and every day with new citizens on foot, arriving on horseback or by horse and buggy plus wagons delivering the fruits of their labour and picking up vital supplies for the month ahead.

Later, they likely dropped into one of the many livery stables to tend to their animals, while possibly stopping to warm up or socialize at the local hotels and taverns, the pool hall, the barbershop, restaurants or the ladies rest room.

One could only imagine their absolute horror when the peaceful tranquility of their dusty streets in town and around the pristine countryside — along with disturbing the calm disposition of their ever-reliable work horses — were totally shattered by the sudden invasion of a noisy and smoky assortment of automobiles that kept on arriving weekly at the always busy local Canadian Pacific Railway station.

As they made their initial trips in and around our friendly community with horns tooting and parts rattling, many of the early pioneers and citizenry likely first looked upon this circus-like atmosphere as the somewhat ridiculous introduction into their midst of a noisy, expensive and clearly dangerous toy.

The introduction of the ‘Automobile Act’ in 1906 featured a license fee of $10 as well as a dollar a year for plates. This new ‘auto frenzy’ would catch on really quickly, and by 1910, almost 700 excited Albertans owned some sort of a new automobile.

Among the first proud owners of one of those flashy new cars in the rural and urban areas of Ponoka were: Walter Gee with his 1914 Overland Convertible, which was really popular with the ladies; Roy Flegal and L.A. Sweet. And the list of proud owners grew as quick as you could say ‘crank her up.’

By 1911, a total of 1,700 vehicles had been registered — half of which were in Calgary — prompting The Calgary Herald to label them as poetry in motion and the ideal mode of future travel.

On the other side of the media hype was Bob Edwards — the flamboyant, but crotchety editor of the Calgary Eye Opener — wrote that he wanted them banned from the local parks so that the families would not have their humble pleasures spoiled by the selfishness and arrogance of these automobile fatheads.

Back in bustling Ponoka and in all communities throughout the province, the popular livery stables were now being displaced by the garages that would soon be selling and maintaining these ongoing models of four wheeled marvel that came in all shapes and sizes as they roared into the 1920’s.

Mr. Henry Taylor likely had the first real garage at the north end of Railway Street and when he set up shop in 1916, the local folks really wondered what this business was all about.

Some of the countless early local garages, dealerships and much needed body shops were run by: Bert Pendleton, Mr. Neff the Jeweller, George N. Field (who also put in the first gas pumps), Skinner and Wilkinson, Skinner and Labrie, Jack Wilders, Sev Brulhart, Hal Nelson, the Derksons, George Loucks and so many others along the way.

Throughout those wild and wacky decades of so many new and modern inventions of transportation, it soon became a mad,mad world of fancier and faster vehicles and toys that created a mechanic’s nightmare that would never slow down and only get a whole lot faster along the ever growing ribbon of cement highways and byways.

As traffic increased along the new Calgary and Edmonton trail — into the communities and out into the country — the rough corduroy roads became even more dusty and dangerous and there were many accidents and breakdowns along the way.

Way back then, when those cars or trucks got stuck, broke down, crashed or froze up, there was always a kindly neighbour or farmer there to help. And isn’t it totally ironical that in so many cases, these powerful new vehicles were usually had to be pulled out of the ditch, the mud, the snow or the river by a tractor or a trusty old team of horses.

Of course most of us, down through each of the wild and wonderful generation gaps, have adjusted to the overwhelming world and amazing and glitzy progress of motor mania.

But even more now, we need to ‘slow down’ and pay attention just a little bit more, respect those of all ages out there who still love to walk, run, jog, ride their bikes or push their strollers. As well, we need to safely ‘share the road and protect the load’ of each and every precious traveller, and we thank you as we roll into the future.

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