While in its 150-year history First Christian Church of Cleburne has provided the town with spiritual uplift, it also gave the town a pastor who, but for Henry Ford’s assembly line, might have made Cleburne the Detroit of the Southwest.
In 1908, the Rev. Eugene Luck, the church’s pastor at the time, designed and built a prototype motorcar, the Chaparral, named after the roadrunner, or chaparral, according to Texas writer and historian Mike Cox. The car was powered by a 20-horsepower, two cylinder air-cooled engine and friction-drive generator rather than a battery.
That same year, Henry Ford brought out his Model T.
A Sept. 16, 1911, dispatch from the Associated Press reads, “Steps were taken here today to organize a company for the manufacture of automobiles” and by Sept. 25 the Houston Post announced the company had been chartered with capital stock of $10,000, Cox writes. Incorporators were listed as Luck, G.A. McClung, O.L. Bishop “and others,” while Luck was listed as president.
Cars weren’t new to Cleburne, according to Eddie Sewell, whose brief history, “The Automobile in Cleburne, Texas,” notes that in 1904, L.R. Coleman established the town’s first car dealership, converting his bicycle and motorcycle sales and repair shop to Coleman’s Garage, an automobile sales and repair shop.
No original cars, however, were put together in that shop.
Even before Luck’s company became fully chartered, the company was in the process of rolling out its first models, beginning with the Chaparral. The plant was on South Anglin Street, near what’s now the Times-Review.
“It was a classy convertible,” Sewell writes, “and sold quickly to a local purchaser.”
The company drew its skeptics, most of whom were in rival transportation businesses. Rail, for instance, was still a primary source of transportation and at that time an interurban electric railway ran from Fort Worth to Cleburne. In their minds was the question: With the possibility open that anyone – and maybe everyone – could conceivably buy a motor car, why would they commute by rail?
It would, of course, take years and the development of the mass production of vehicles and a drivable highway system for railroads and even horses to get supplanted by automobiles.
Even with its detractors, business for Luck’s company briefly boomed. More cars were built, nine in the first year of operation. Eight of those sold immediately. In addition to the Chaparrals, the company also brought out a Luck Utility Vehicle and a Luck Truck.
On average, according to manufacturing histories, early car production was time-consuming: it took around 12 hours to put a car together.
That is, until Henry Ford borrowed an idea developed and used by other manufacturers like flour mills and breweries – continuous flow production – and created the assembly line.
When Ford’s assembly line went online in 1913, it reduced production time by almost 10 hours. Now, a car could roll out about every two and one-half hours.
Within 10 years of operation, Ford’s assembly line produced 10 million Model Ts.
Mass production also made cars cheaper, so more people could buy them. A Ford could be bought for $400.
As Cox reports, two car makers, Ford and Chevy, were leaving smaller manufacturers in the dust. “Those brands and some others flourished but for whatever reason, the Texas-built Chaparral, no matter its catchy name, did not acquire enough market share to turn a profit.”
Additionally, some stories relate that Luck became discouraged with becoming a great car manufacturer after one of the cars his son was driving broke down on the way to the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.
Four years after the company formed, it dissolved. On May, 17, 1915, the Texas Secretary of State’s office accepted a certificate of dissolution from the company.
Until 1962, the Cleburne Motor Car Company was pretty much forgotten, as Cox notes, even in Cleburne.
That year, Six Flags in Arlington opened a ride with replica Chaparrals that visitors could ride over a one-third mile “highway.” The ride is still in service.
Source: Cleburne Times-Review
Featured Image: New Georgia Encyclopedia
Inset Image: Courtesy photo/Layland Museum