The 1st automobile in San Bernardino County arrived in 1899

Circa 1910 photo of A.J. Happe’s Pony Stables on Orange Street, in Redlands, shows the co-existence of the horse and automobile culture in the early 1900s.
Circa 1910 photo of A.J. Happe’s Pony Stables on Orange Street, in Redlands, shows the co-existence of the horse and automobile culture in the early 1900s. Courtesy photo
Cass Gaylord, Redlands orchardist and owner of the first automobile in the Inland Empire.
Cass Gaylord, Redlands orchardist and owner of the first automobile in the Inland Empire. Courtesy photo

On August 10, 1899, residents and shopkeepers rushed into the streets of downtown Redlands to investigate a commotion they had never heard before. The foreign commotion was the rhythmic chugging of a 2-cylinder gasoline engine, and clattering gears that were propelling the Inland Empire’s first automobile through the city streets.

Redlands orchardist Cass Gaylord was the proud owner and pilot of the brand-new Haynes-Apperson automobile that was making a historic debut.

The Redlands Daily Facts newspaper reported on the automobile’s debut in their August 10 issue, and declared; “Tommy was upon the streets today.” The reporter was completely unfamiliar with automobiles and how to address them, so he shortened the word “automobile” into Tommy, and simultaneously created a usable nickname for the vehicle.

The Facts reporter described some of the excitement created by the new phenomenon; “A crowd of boys followed Tommy about the streets upon their wheels as they would the band wagon in a circus parade.”

In the era of equine-dominated transportation, many people were skeptical of how the noisy, exhaust-spewing automobile would affect the horse population. The Facts reporter wrote; “The effect upon horses was noted. Most of them did not appear to take any interest whatever in the new vehicle: but there were a few that were prepared to make trouble as they were evidently frightened by it.”

Anticipation to see the horseless carriage in operation had been building since the vehicle arrived on a railroad freight car on July 26, 1899. Gaylord had placed his order 6 months earlier, and paid over $1,200 for the Haynes-Apperson, two-seater, automobile. Gaylord must have been a reasonably successful orange grower, since the $1,200 price tag in 1899 translates to more than $33,000 in 2017 dollars.

Gaylord’s excitement about the delivery was quickly dampened when he realized the automobile had been damaged in transit and needed repairs before it could be driven.

With no existing automobile repair facilities or spare parts, it took two weeks to fix the damage, and prepare the vehicle for its maiden voyage.

The Haynes-Apperson company built their first automobile in 1894, preceding Henry Ford’s first gasoline-powered “Quadricycle” by about 2 years. Gaylord’s 2-cylinder, five-horsepower automobile was hand-built at the Haynes-Apperson factory in Kokomo, Indiana. The automobile had a tiller bar for the steering mechanism, and it looked very much like a basic horse-drawn carriage, minus the horse and rigging.

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There was a bit of intrigue surrounding a delay in delivering Gaylord’s vehicle. When he placed his order, Gaylord was hoping to claim the honor of owning and operating “the first automobile in Southern California.” It seems the Haynes-Apperson was delayed in transit for unknown reasons, which allowed Mr. S.R. Henderson, of Los Angeles, to have his automobile delivered first, on July 24, 1899.

Some Redlanders believe the delay of the Haynes-Apperson was intentionally caused by rivals in Los Angeles. Whether by luck or subterfuge, Henderson’s three-wheeled “Duryea Motor Trap” claimed the title of the first automobile in Southern California.

The Los Angeles Daily Times described the Duryea’s arrival; “The automobile has come. A horseless carriage was received from the East Saturday by S.R. Henderson: yesterday it was uncrated and set up, and today, it will be run for the first time.”

It seems likely that Gaylord intended to use his new vehicle to support his orchards, and conduct business in the area. The Haynes-Apperson performed adequately on level ground, with speeds of 10-15 miles-per-hour. However, Gaylord was disappointed when he found the vehicle was too underpowered to negotiate the steeper grades in the surrounding hills.

Cass Gaylord drove his new vehicle from Redlands to San Bernardino (over generally level roads) on October 8, 1899, and the Haynes-Apperson became the first automobile to operate in that city.

Gaylord’s disappointment in the vehicle’s performance continued. Eventually, he found the vehicle to be so underpowered, that it was not useful, and he sold it to a doctor in Riverside.

The second car in the Inland Empire was a steam-powered Locomobile purchased in 1900, by Dr. Christopher Sanborn, of Redlands. The Locomobile only cost $600, and could easily conquer the steep grades of the surrounding areas. According to “Saga of the San Bernardinos,” written by historian Pauliena LaFuze, Sanborn’s Locomobile was the first car to climb the steep logging road up to the mountain rim communities of Crestline and Fredalba.

Cass Gaylord’s noisy first drive through the streets of downtown Redlands in August of 1899 was the beginning of the automobile era in the Inland Empire. Other larger Eastern towns were already dealing with the new benefits and problems caused by the automobile’s arrival.

The new machines were generally loud, and created exhaust fumes, but that seemed to be an acceptable offset to flies and horse manure in the streets. The early automobiles also tended to leak oil and gasoline, which melted the thin layer of Macadam (an early version of asphalt) that coated some streets.

Gasoline was a common stove fuel, but in most towns, it was only available at the general store. As automobiles became more common, the entrepreneurial store owners started installing bulk gasoline dispensers outside the store, along the road. There were no spare parts available, so hardware stores filled the void, and began carrying replacement parts.

Forward-thinking livery stables quickly started catering to automobile repairs, and the horse-and- buggy industry began a rapid decline. Things like automobile permits, speed limits, and driver’s licenses became issues needing immediate solutions. Road improvements and signs to accommodate the automobile became the major challenge of the early 1900s.

Today, the automobile is a centerpiece of our society, and it’s hard to imagine a world without cars and easy transportation. But just imagine the shear amazement the people in downtown Redlands must have felt when they rushed out into the streets on August 10, 1899, and saw that first automobile rumble through their city!

Mark Landis is a freelance writer for the Sun. He can be reached at: Historyinca@yahoo.com.

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