The Mutual Wheel post to the forum got me thinking.
Today January 14, is the 87th anniversary of the 1926 Onaway fire at the American Wood Rim Company who made wooden bicycle rims, and car and boat steering wheels. Within ten days of the fire some manufacturers could not drive their cars off their assembly lines. Obviously Ford was not affected but many other companies were.
Four people died in the fire and the company relocated to a building in Alma, Michigan promising a job to any employee who would relocate. The town suffered a significant reduction in population with the loss of the factory.
Our '24 touring sports an Onaway accessory steering wheel and I have the Onaway Steers the World license plate bracket on my trailer wall.
All that remains of the original factory is the concrete walls. The building was supposed to be fireproof but this incident proved otherwise.
Thanks, Tom! I had no idea.
You're welcome Ed. I know Onaway is just up the street from you. I've been to Onaway every year since I was five. It's been an annual pilgrimage for my family. As a kid, I remember the owner of the Standard station taking his steering wheel off the wall and explaining about the company to me and my Dad. Later armed with a cheap camera and a can of bug spray, I went into the woods behind Brewbakers and found the remains of the place. When I went inside the ruins, I found a bent up piece of lineshaft and some rusty ductwork along with hundreds of brown glass pill bottles. The photos are somewhere in a box; someday I'll scan them and post them.
Over the years I have discovered many things about the area. The narrow gauge train was called the D&M and the locals referred to it as the Dummy Line. Coincidently, I can remember singing a song in elementary school about the same train. "Rise and shine or pay your fine when you're riding on the dummy, the dummy Dummy line." It also had references to St. Louis and Memphis so the song may have been about another train by the same name.
I've also seen alot of change. The lake is different due to zebra mussels. Someone has winched all the waterlogged hardwood trees off the bottom too.
I may finally get to see your car now that you've relocated it to Bay City.
Mr. Miller, I happen to come across this group while on a search to buy a wooden steering wheel that was made in Onaway. The owner of the Standard Station you mention, was my grandfather, Gray Harman. He also happened to work in the steering wheel factory as a young man-so I am sure he had some intresting facts & stories to share! What a small world! If anyone happens to come across one of them for sale, please send them my way! My husband restores antique gas pumps,(my grandpa's gas station got my husband intrested in the idea) and we would love to add a steering wheel to our collection.If you guys every come through Onaway, be sure to stop into the Village Corner store in town & check out the 1947 Bennett Mobil gas pump he restored. Thanks! Shena Harman Cooksey
It truly is a small world. I found our Onaway steering wheel some thirty years ago in Rockford Illinois where Bob Sr. of Bob's Antique Auto had it displayed. He said he bought it from a small museum going out of business. Later I found an Onaway Steers the World license plate attachment that the antique dealer on M-33 had re-cast. My wife has the wheel on her touring car and it's a crowd pleaser when I unhinge it and hand it to my wife or other passenger. I took the steering wheel to a locksmith, he looked at the Yale lock and came back to the counter two minutes later with the correct key. Over the years, I've managed to find a copy of the Onaway rim catalog and found they made all sorts of round wood rims including boat wheels and bicycle rims.
We usually make it to Onaway at least once a year. My late father built a place near Glennie and lunch at the Bluffs on Black Lake makes for a nice day trip from there.
How do you know if it is an Onaway wheel? Markings? Name printed?
Mine has a metal tag riveted to the aluminum spider. According to the catalog the wheels could have metal or wood spiders.