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From the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: The Arrival of the Automobile

A PJ Thompson photo of Fay and Smith’s Auto Co. garage in the 800 block of Main Street taken between 1917 and 1923.

by Susan Couso

In 1903, when Clinton Walker arrived in the first automobile to venture into the ‘wilds’ of Lassen County, it made a huge impression. The modern world had reached northeastern California!

Soon, automobiles were everywhere. In Susanville, speed limits needed to be established to insure the safety of the community, and someone needed to be able to maintain these new modes of transportation.

A few far-sighted local men took the effort to establish garages.

Many scoffed at the idea of automobiles taking over the future, but these men were betting that their investment would not only sustain a pleasant income but would continue to grow in future years.

A 1915 advertisement for Lassen Auto Company

One of these establishments was the Lassen Auto Garage. By 1913, the Lassen Auto Garage was well established. The solid brick ‘fireproof’ building was located in the 800 block of Main Street across from the Sierra Theater.

The garage contained everything needed to service or repair automobiles including automatic air pumps, self-metering gas pumps, and pneumatic jacks. All parts were kept in supply so that any emergency could be dealt with, and five mechanics were employed to service the automobiles.

The garage even owned eleven autos for rentals.

The Lassen Auto Garage also maintained a separate garage in Doyle, and the two were connected by the stage line that the company owned.

The ‘stage’ was a Winton Six, 16-passenger auto stage which made daily runs to and from Doyle. It was considered an easy ride to hop on the stage and motor to Doyle to board the Western Pacific or NCO Railway and travel anywhere.

This Winton Six auto stage had been designed by one of the Lassen Garage owners, Clayton Joslyn, and specially built for him at a Studebaker plant in San Francisco. It made it’s debut on the stage line in June of 1913.

Clayton Joslyn had built the first garage in Susanville at a time when only two automobiles were owned in the Honey Lake Valley, and Joslyn owned one of them!

The other owners of the Lassen Auto Garage, Nobel McKinsey and Samuel Damon, were really ‘into’ automobiles also, and the Winton was their favorite.

In June of 1913, they took the Winton on a tour to Sacramento to test its worthiness. They left Susanville at 4:00 p.m. and arrived in Truckee at 9:00 p.m. They spent the night in Truckee, and in the morning began the leg to the summit through recently fallen snow.

In some places the snow was six feet deep, and their pace was slowed considerably.

Finally at the summit, they encountered rain, which lasted for two days and turned the roadway into a clay and mire muck. But the Winton surged on, finally reaching Colfax, Auburn and Roseville. From Roseville on, the roads were great, and as they arrived in Sacramento, they realized what a fantastic auto the Winton Six was.

This auto stage ran up to two trips daily between Susanville and Doyle, filled with passengers and luggage. It was a rough strenuous ninety miles each time, but the Winton continued.

As with all new ideas, it took brave people to make a start and others to follow.

Inside the Tremain Garage around 1914. CSUChico Digital Collection

If you are a fan of our weekly history stories you should join the Lassen County Historical Society! It’s a fun way to be a part of our county’s rich history. When you sign up, you’ll receive regular Historical Society newsletters with interesting stories and information. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in area history.

Through your membership you help preserve local history. You can download a membership application by clicking here.

Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso
SusanvilleStuff.com Publisher/Editor
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