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Automobile Adventures

Cars were scarce in North Dakota at the turn of the 20th century. They were expensive. There was not a single new car showroom in the state. A buyer could wait for over a year for a new Peerless or Locomobile.

This did not stop adventurous North Dakotans from taking to the open road. In 1902, Frank Jaszkowiak built a three-horsepower runabout, the first horseless carriage in Bismarck. Frank noted that he could make it go, but the trouble came when he tried to make it stop. On his maiden voyage, he smashed into a tree. And no wonder! His runabout could speed along at eight miles an hour on a level road.

North Dakotans embraced the sport of creating their own horseless carriages, primarily for family and friends. In 1900, Ora Beeman of Valley City built the Beeman. It was a four-seater that cost $750. Beeman made good money by charging spectators 25 cents to go for a ride. Robert McKeller of Grafton designed a car with two engines. It provided extra power to go up hills, and the second engine could also kick in if the main engine broke down.

All this speeding about began to annoy farmers. They pressed lawmakers to enact restrictions on traffic. On this date in 1905, the state legislature announced new laws for automobiles. The speed limit was eight miles per hour in towns and 25 miles per hour on rural roads. Drivers were required to blow a horn when approaching animal drawn vehicles from behind. The law enshrined the tradition of driving on the right and passing on the left. Drivers who broke traffic laws and caused an accident could be held liable for damage.

Farmers also had responsibilities. The driver of a horse-drawn vehicle had to signal by raising his hand if he wanted an oncoming automobile to pull over. If he failed to signal and his horses spooked, the driver of the automobile would not be held responsible.

Early North Dakotans demonstrated their self-reliance by building their own horseless carriages, but then came the affordable and readily available Model T. The convenience of the mass-produced automobile quickly led to the disappearance of the homemade horseless carriage.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Emmons County Record. “In Town and Out.” Williamsport ND. 4/11/1902. Page 4. 
Hope Pioneer. “State Automobile Law.” Hope ND. 11/30/1905. Page 5.
North Dakota Horizons. “Early North Dakota Automobile Adventures.” https://ndhorizons.com/articles/44/early-north-dakota-automobile-adventures.aspx  Accessed 10/29/2020.

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