I enjoy learning of the people who chose early Fords for their cars at the turn of the last century. I particularly enjoy learning of the people who chose to own a Ford Model K. Although only 1,000 Model K were produced, we're finding they reached many remote areas throughout the U.S., and in some cases, around the world.
This story is about a family in Montana and one of those Model K.
William G. Conrad was a wealthy Montanan, and appears to me, to be the epitome of a Montana success story. W. G. and his brother came to Montana from Virginia following the Civil War. Like the famous Virginian, Robert E. Lee, they fought on the side of the Stars and Bars. This 1914 obit tells much about the family patriarch:
In the 1908 Presidential election, W.G. was mentioned as a possible Vice-Presidential candidate, and even offered himself up as the Presidential Candidate if William J. Bryan chose not to run. In this article, he provides the press with a self interview:
In the fall of 1908, Arthur Conrad's car was unable to make the State Fair races. Arthur was one of the Conrad sons:
By the following summer, Arthur Conrad is back on the track with his Ford, coming in second behind a Buick, ahead of a Stanley and what may be a Packard (spelling?):
This sets the stage for the 1909 Montana State Fair races. While the races themselves are not spectacular, the famous people who attend made the event interesting to me, and significant in Model K history. Tomorrow I'll get to that, and a little more about the Conrad family.
Stan, if you happen to see this, I would appreciate any background you may have of the Conrad family.
(Message edited by Rob on April 01, 2016)
The 30hp Petrel was an actual high end car, very rare today(maybe only one copy known).
Thank you Gary. That's a marquee I had not heard of before.
In late September 1909 the State Fair rolled around again, this time with a special guest, newly elected President William Howard Taft. In addition to visiting several Montana cities, President Taft took in the State Fair. The headline on September 29, 1909:
In the same Helena newspaper, a description of the upcoming Fairground automobile race, between Arthur Conrad's six cylinder Ford nicknamed "Jack Rabbit," and Stanley Smith's Locomobile, "Baby Doll."
Coincidentally, two years earlier, the "Ford Six" and Locomoble had generated two world's records on one mile oval tracks in 24 hour races, Ford setting the record first with a 47.3 mph average, and three months later, Locomobile set a new record, averaging 47.7 mph.
Later I'll get to the results of the race, and the special relationship held between President Taft and the Ford Model K.
In August 1907, then Secretary of War Taft visited Oklahoma City. During his visit, he was escorted through the city, and on parade, in a 1907 Ford Model K touring car:
"The Daily Oklahoman," August 24, 1907
In late 1908, President elect Taft is advised by congressional leaders that money will be appropriated for a White House Motor Pool. The first presidential motor cars will be purchased.
Former Roosevelt advisor, and now Taft advisor Maj Archibald Butt suggests the president elect consider purchasing two Ford Model K, to stay on budget. Mrs. Taft says the future president will not choose Ford's, that Pierce, Locomobile, Packard or Peerless would be appropriate.
"William Howard Taft and the First Motoring Presidency, 1909-1913"pg. 50, author Michael L. Bromley:
In the spring of 1909, newly inaugurated President Taft would turn a key in Washington D.C., turning on lights in Seattle and signaling to New York the beginning of the Seattle World Fair. The signal would also trigger the firing of the starters pistol by the Mayor of New York, beginning the New York to Seattle, or Ocean to Ocean Race. With the start, a Ford Model K led the five racers, including two Model T, away from city Hall:
As it turns out, Secretary of War, then President Taft, would have several brushes and contacts with the Ford Model K. Probably most noteworthy is the idea (no matter how unlikely) that a Ford was recommended as the first motor car of the office of President. Now wouldn't that have been something?
Later I'll finish with the last link with President Taft, the race result between the Locomobile and Ford six on the day President Taft attended the Montana State Fair.
Rob, you're doing wonderful research. I thoroughly enjoy reading about peoples' experiences with the K as published in original period documents. Great stuff!
Thank you Gil.
I haven't heard from Stan Howe, however another Montanan sent a pm, and it looks as though Arthur Conrad's father, William G., and his uncle, Charles were indeed well known in Montana, and were major land owners in the state.
A little more research revealed that not only were the brothers in the Confederate army, but rode with legendary raider Colonel John Mosby, of Mosby's Raiders fame. I'm frequently amazed at the major historical events many early automobile owners had taken part in. It would seem the Conrad Model K probably transported one or both former Confederate cavalrymen around Montana at one time or another.
This Link gives a good description of the brothers and their early lives growing up in the Shendenoah Valley, and eventual migration to Montana:
An excerpt from the link:
Authority Source: nwda
In 1868 two youthful Civil War veterans, William G. and Charles E. Conrad, first stepped ashore at Fort Benton, Montana Territory, headwaters of navigation on the Missouri River. Their enterprise quickly lead to employment by I. G. Baker, owner of one of two trading companies then dominating transportation and commerce in the American and Canadian northwest. Four years later the brothers became partners in I. G. Baker and Company; in 1874 they bought the company. Expanding this virtual empire of riverboat and overland trade and diversifying into banking, ranching, mining, real estate, diplomacy and environmental concerns for the next twenty-eight years, the Conrad brothers played a vital part in the development of the West and of Montana in particular.
Born on August 3, 1848 to Maria S. (Ashby) Conrad and Colonel James Warren Conrad, William was the eldest of thirteen children. Charles was born on May 20, 1850, also on “Wapping,” the family’s plantation in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The Civil War of 1861-1865 took Colonel Warren to his Virginia militia regiment, while William and Charles grew up riding for the final two years of the conflict as volunteers with the 43rd Partisan Rangers and their legendary commander John Singleton Mosby.
Their home devastated by the war, William and Charles first headed north to New York and then over 3,000 miles [66 days] up the Missouri River to find opportunity in the burgeoning U.S. and Canadian west. With I. G. Baker, they soon owned much of the riverboat and ox-drawn freight wagon transportation system then opening the regions which would become Montana and Alberta, including all logistic support for the initial Northwest Mounted Police. In 1877, the same year as the Nez Perce War and other disastrous massacres on the U. S. side of the border, Charles was a successful negotiator for the peace treaty, Treaty No. 7, which ended warfare between the British government of Canada and the five tribes of the high plains.
One of Mosby's famous raids is recanted below in a Wikepedia excerpt. I wonder if either of the Conrad brothers were on this raid?
"Mosby is famous for carrying out a daring raid far inside Union lines at the Fairfax County courthouse in March 1863, where his men captured three Union officers, including Brig. Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton. Mosby wrote in his memoirs that he found Stoughton in bed and roused him with a "spank on his bare back." Upon being so rudely awakened the general indignantly asked what this meant. Mosby quickly asked if he had ever heard of "Mosby". The general replied, "Yes, have you caught him?" "I am Mosby," the Confederate ranger said. "Stuart's cavalry has possession of the Court House; be quick and dress." Mosby and his 29 men had captured a Union general, two captains, 30 enlisted men, and 58 horses without firing a shot."
Col. John Mosby:
At some point I'll get to the race at the state fair........
William G. Conrad, about 1911:
Just read part of this thread. I know virtually nothing about them. Montana is a huge state and we were dirt poor ranchers about 50 miles west of the Montana - North Dakota border while the Conrads were 6 or 700 miles away in Kalispell/Whitefish. They were old men by the time my ancestors homesteaded in Montana in the 1910 era.
The Conrad mansion is open for tours in Kalispell ?? I think. I've never been to it.
thanks Stan. I saw photos of the Conrad mansion online, looks like quite a place. One thing from above, I mentioned that both Arthur's father William and uncle, Charles would have rode in his Model K. However that can't be true of Charles, he died in 1902.
The Helena newspaper gave a detailed report of the race that day:
Conrad's Ford won the race, averaging just under 50 mph in the five mile race: