1904 Rambler: A carriage without the horse

Staff reports
Farm Forum

During the automotive brass era of more than a century ago, many manufacturers began with something familiar: a horse-drawn carriage — without the horse.

One of the early cars was made by the Thomas B. Jeffery Company in Wisconsin, called the Rambler. Eight models were offered; advertising for the 1904 Model “L” Rambler rear door canopy tonneau boasted that the right-hand-drive Rambler was “a car that stands wear without constant repair — a car that you can rely upon year in and year out.”

Records show that Milton Stocking was evidently convinced such a Rambler was the car for him. He reportedly took a train to Kenosha, Wis., where he bought a 1904 Rambler Model “L” and drove the 1,725-pound car home. Leaf springs on all four corners of the car assisted in smoothing the rutted roads of the time. Since then, the car has had two other owners; the current one is Reggie Nash of Richmond, Va.

The claimed horsepower is 16 with a top speed of 40 mph. The 235.5-cubic-inch overhead valve engine is fed via two single-barrel carburetors.

What appears to be an engine hood at the front of the car is actually a tool cabinet. The hood is decorated with seven brass faux louvers on each side and four on top.

The engine is actually located under the front bench seat. The engine starter crank can be attached to the right side of the car, while a lever on the right side of the Rambler selects the low or high speed of the chain drive.

Three foot-operated pedals are unlike pedals on modern cars. The left pedal operates the rear brakes while the center pedal brakes the transmission and the right pedal controls the reverse gear. A brass “accelerator ring” encircles the steering column and is below the wooden steering wheel.

A brass kerosene lantern with a red lens is at the rear of the car. The front of the car has three lights: The two outboard lights are kerosene lanterns, while the center one is a more powerful acetylene light.

Nash says the willow baskets on either side of the 1904 Rambler are original. Access to the back seat is via the rear door with a convenient pull-down step.

Occupants of the car are (more or less) protected by the flat windshield, which originally was plate glass. For reasons of safety, the windshield has been replaced with safety glass.

Waterproof side curtains that can be unrolled are suspended with ties from both sides of the 16 wooden slats that form the flat top. The Rambler rides on 30×3.5-inch tires wrapped around 12-spoke wheels supporting its 84-inch wheelbase. To alert others of the approaching car, the driver can squeeze the rubber bulb on a brass tube horn.

Several lubrication steps are necessary prior to starting the car but the optimistic Nash doesn’t complain because, he says, “It’s still faster than saddling a horse.”

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