chicago 1908

As always, the full size print is worth the visit.

The vehicle is worth a look, too, for the mechanically minded among you. I’d want to tighten the drive chain a little if it was me, just for starters. The whole jalopy is driven just by the left rear wheel, I’d say. One bumpy ride, too, by the look of those springs. Love the horn. There’s some kind of fabric “bag” hanging under the whole rig there, and I have no clue what that’s about, unless it’s just to catch oil and grease that slings of the motor and other lubricated parts.

Even on a bright sunny day, the exposure time has to be so long that anyone moving appears blurred, again showing how slow photographic plates were in those days — even with an aperture wide enough to give this narrow depth of field, throwing the folks in the background out of focus.

Circa 1908. "Seeing Chicago, auto at Monroe near State." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative by Hans Behm, Detroit Publishing Company.

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25 Responses to chicago 1908

  1. Bluthner says:

    That chain probably needs enough slack in it to take account of flex in the chassis and movement of the rear axel on the leaf spring. Solid rubber wheels! On cobbles. That’s got to rattle bolts quite bit. And spines, despite the springs. Though I used to ride in a Model A Ford a lot which had leaf springs like that and they were surprisingly forgiving. But with big air-inflated tires. What I can’t work out is what kind of engine has it got. It’s old enough even to be electric, but the pipe-work under the running board suggests not. No stack so it probably isn’t steam. Must be gasoline?

  2. gunnison says:

    Yes, I was allowing for the flex from axle movement. It’s basically the same setup as the swing-arm on a motorcycle. You need a little slack in the chain, but that looks like a lot. Still, it’s not likely to be running at what you’d call high speed, so it will likely not throw off. What it will do, probably, is cause a lot of lurching on rough streets (and that’s all they had, by the looks of things) as the slack in the chain is repeatedly taken up and released.

    I wondered about the engine too. First of all, where the hell is it? Then, what the hell is it? I think it has to be gasoline (no stack, no firebox), but I don’t know what all the pipes and fittings are for, nor the canvas-looking bag.
    Those are acetylene lights, right? Or oil lamps.

  3. Bluthner says:

    This seems to be a 1908 studebaker electric omnibus, which isn’t identical but pretty damn close.

  4. NatashaFatale says:

    Yep, electric. The “bag” is there to protect dogs and children from shock, and maybe catch the stray fritz of battery acid. Acetylene lamps. Ever see an electric vehicle start up? Zero to five or six in exactly no seconds. Without all that play in the chain, you’ve got shrapnel city.

    It’s a tour bus. Maudie (2nd row left) is from Duluth, Hiram (back row right) from New York; they used to know how to dress in New York, didn’t they? Don’t recognize any of the others, except the Lutheran guy from Zenith (behind Maudie) sure looks familiar.

  5. Expat says:

    There is what looks like manifold piping just under the chassis rail – and could the doohickey just above it be some sort of gear pump?

  6. Bluthner says:


    I wondered if it didn’t look a bit too flimsy to be driving that rear wheel. but there doesn’t seem to be any other drive train in sight, nor any differential.

  7. KevinNevada says:

    A simple DC electric motor drive would have only a clutch, and the throttle is a rheostat. No differential and no gears, just a variable drive through the rheostat.

    With some practice, it can be driven safely. On those rough streets, with horses and wagons and with pedestrians who still think they live in a free country, and can cross anywhere, the top speed would be low anyway.

  8. Expat says:

    Kevin and Bluthner – the picture of the electric Studebaker had a big drum of a motor behind the axle with a chain, or chains, driving forward and a big brick of an underslung battery pack between the axles.

    The differential could be on the main drive shaft before the chains transfer power to the wheels – or if only one is driven and the other is freewheeling then there is no need for a differential.

  9. KevinNevada says:

    Another note: sure the Rom-bot’s aides can do the Earnest Denial Shuffle, and appear to be sincere while doing so.

    They all have good practical training in these skills, as LDS missionaries.

    For a bit of fun, when a pair of them next appear at your door, ask them about mitochondrial DNA – then watch them dance.

  10. KevinNevada says:

    Sorry, sorry, sorry . . . . prior entry in wrong thread . . . . need more coffee . . . .

  11. KevinNevada says:

    To redeem myself: here is a new design, for a human-powered city bus.

    A friend of mine designed this, and makes them. He’s the “Caz” in Caztek.

    The design is much improved from that 1908 thingee, and it can top out at 22-25 MPH, with a healthy set of “passengers” on level pavement.

  12. Expat says:

    Appealing to bike riders, beer connoisseurs…….

    LoL :)

  13. KevinNevada says:


    a really cool beer spigot comes standard, and there is (insulated) space for a keg in the back.

    Pipe connections included, standard.

    And room for a dog to ride along too.

  14. Bluthner says:

    But there would be liberal socialist commie freeloaders! Riding along and not really pedaling! Expat and Dog would be doing all the works and everyone else would be sucking down the beer :)

  15. Bluthner says:

    I like the way we all concentrated on the machine and Nat actually paid attention to the riders. Humbling….

  16. Expat says:

    I like the way we all concentrated on the machine and Nat actually paid attention to the riders. Humbling….

    Can I claim being an engineer?

  17. Elena says:

    they used to know how to dress in New York, didn’t they?

    Still do, Tash.

    Love this picture. Love the sign “luncheon” – does anybody serve luncheon anymore?

  18. Bluthner says:


    When I was a boy Oscar Meyer used to sell slices of something called ‘luncheon meat’. I hate to think what might have been in it, probably not much beyond connective tissue cornstarch and red dye. Don’t think I’ve heard anyone call a meal ‘luncheon’ for forty years. And even then it was only really old ladies.

  19. gunnison says:


    …does anybody serve luncheon anymore?

    Yes. Me. Around noon or a little after. Y’all can drop in anytime.


    …slices of something called ‘luncheon meat’.

    It’s still common around here to hear the term “lunch meat”, and in that context it can mean anything that is “sandwich ready”, ie, sliced.
    As for the “real” luncheon meat”, In the South, they are bolder and call it “head cheese”.
    It is a species of “Spam”, basically snouts, ears and floor sweepings, with the occasional body part from a careless human machine operator. Yum!

  20. Bluthner says:


    Real honest-to-goodness head cheese is gorgeous! I’ve even make some from scratch now and then, but it can be a fiddly business.And yeah I get what you mean about lunch meat, but if it isn’t luncheon ‘meat’, well… it’s just not the same thing!

  21. NatashaFatale says:

    …I’ve even make some from scratch now and then…

    Gunny: Whaddya wanna do t’day, Bluth?

    Bluthner: I dunno…wanna boil us up a pig’s head?

    Gunny: Sounds like a plan! I’ll just step outside and cut one off for us…

  22. gunnison says:


    Sounds like a plan! I’ll just step outside and cut one off for us…

    Now you’re catching on. But the slaughter and dismemberment was a couple of weeks ago, of one of Zimmerman’s beautiful free-ranged hogs.
    We picked up the processed results just the other day, and Big Ted is now snugly in the freezer. All of them are called Big Ted, incidentally;

    Big Ted’s dead, he was a great old pig,
    He’d eat most anything and never wore a wig.
    Now he’s gone like snow on the water,


  23. NatashaFatale says:


    they used to know how to dress in New York, didn’t they?

    Still do, Tash.

    Ever notice how some people can’t accept a compliment without immediately putting it on red and letting it ride?

    Evening. Speaking of dress. Grace and picturesqueness drop gradually out of it as travels away from New York. . . It makes no difference which direction you take, the fact remains the same. Whether you move north, south, east, or west, no matter: you can get up in the morning and guess how far you have come, by noting what degree of grace and picturesqueness is by that time lacking in the costumes of the new passengers — I do not mean of the women alone, but of both sexes. It may be that carriage is at the bottom of this thing; and I think it is; for there are plenty of ladies and gentlemen in the provincial cities whose garments are all made by the tailors and dressmakers of New York; yet this has no perceptible effect upon the grand fact: the educated eye never mistakes these people for New Yorkers. No, there is a godless grace and snap and style about a born and bred New Yorker that mere clothing cannot effect.

    –Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, Chapter 22, I Return to My Muttons

    Still true, ain’t it? I mean, whenever I step over a Yankee Tee-shirted lump on the barroom floor, one glance is all I need to know whether he’s the real thing from the Bronx or another imposter from Scarsdale.

  24. NatashaFatale says:

    Big Ted’s dead, he was a great old pig…

    Wow. Ted cheese.

  25. Bluthner says:

    And his brother pigs who were, for the moment, spared?

    The grateful Teds.

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