By Thomas A. Bergbauer, Retired Courier-Post Editor; Additional notes by Phil Cohen
One hundred years ago change was on the horizon and new ideas were in the minds of many as the new century was still in its infant years.
As the years unfolded the automobile appeared on the scene, but as most of the people resisted change, horse power and the use of bicycles and public transportation still dominated the scene.
A newspaper article printed in the Trenton Evening Times on August 22, 1895 stated that two separate companies in Camden were developing electric cars. Several automobile manufacturing concerns were incorporated in Camden beginning as early as 1899. In 1900 the Camden County Freeholders considered banning automobiles from the streets and roads in the county, which would have effectively killed shore traffic. Fortunately for all this idea went nowhere.
By June 1 of 1901 Oscar A. Eastlack of Camden had purchased an automobile and was taking part in races in Philadelphia. It is unknown the make and model of what this car was. He later purchased a car manufactured by the Michigan-based Brush company.
Before the Model T Ford came off the assembly line, automobile manufacturer Alanson P. Brush tried to urge people of modest means to give up horses, bicycles, and streetcars and buy cars. Courier-Post files reveal that the Brush was one of the first cars to appear on the Camden scene in the early 1900s.
Brush put emphases on small size and lightweight as ways to reduce costs and adapt cars to dirt roads that were bumpy in dry weather and muddy in wet weather. Brush designed an automobile that was low-priced and suited to rural conditions.
According to the American Automobile and America on the Move websites, the first Brush built used a single cylinder 12 horsepower engine with chain drive and solid tires. The cost in 1907 was $780.00. But by 1908 competition drove the price down to $500.00 and in 1912 a stripped down version, called the Liberty Brush sold for only $350.00.
Power was provided to the Brush Runabout by a large single cylinder water-cooled engine. Additional features unique to the Brush automobile was a wooden chassis, actually wooden rails and iron cross-members, friction drive transmission and coil springs in tension instead of compression.
Oscar A. Eastlack, son of grocery storeowner, Charles F. Eastlack, owned the one-cylinder motor car with a top speed of 20-miles-per-hour. The Eastlack store was located at Broadway and Walnut Street and was called the Charles F. Eastlack & Son Grocery store.
Another early Camden auto enthusiast was Dr. Wilson Gill Bailey, who was also the first Camden resident to own an airplane in Camden, and who introduced the Borzoi dog breed into the United States, among other things.
While Eastlack may have been the first to own a car in Camden, Jeffery M. Dorwart says in his book Camden County, that Justice Cox Paschall of Pennsauken may have owned the first automobile in the county. In December 1901, Dorwart claims, the clerk of the board of freeholders registered autos in the county and required each motor car to display an official tag and observe a ten-mile speed limit.
It was said that Eastlack loved his vintage car, and he called it the “red devil.” According to early Courier-Post stories it was equipped with large wooden wheels with solid rubber tires. The car lamps were made of brass and burned kerosene. Records show that Eastlack could be seen holding the driving handle as he toured around Camden. He later had it fitted with a steering wheel. They say that men took a tighter hold of their horses' reins when they saw him coming at a fast 20-miles-per-hour.
According to eyewitnesses recorded in the Courier-Post pages of history, Eastlack was arrested for speeding on Broadway the very first time he gave his new car a workout. The fine was $20—$1 for each mile. The report stated that “the speed represented an infraction of the law and merited arrest and imposition of a fine on a driver who dared to propel his 'red devil' that fast.” Broadway, at the time, was largely a residential thorofare with a scattering of stores and markets and was paved with Belgian block.
Eastlack was reportedly a colorful character in the city at the time. It was said that when he drove around the streets of Camden, people would stop and stare at him and his car as it threw off dirty colored and heavy exhaust smoke, probably created by the use of unrefined grades of machine oil.
It was estimated that Eastlack paid about $600 for his car and later sold it for $100 to purchased a later model Brush.
Eastlack was also considered one of Camden's leading sportsman and was a fine boxer and runner. They say he had a great love of horses and was a familiar figure as he drove about town in a sporty horse and buggy. Records even claim that the buggy was manufactured at the old McCaffrey carriage factory that was located at 10th and Market streets. But he retained his love for fine horses even after he became a pioneer automobile enthusiast.
After Charles Eastlack retired his son carried on the business for many years and eventually turned it into Camden's finest and most modern confectionery and ice cream business. Oscar eventually quit the business and became a distributor of motor trucks.
April of 1902 saw the first many automobile trips to Atlantic City from Camden that would be reported that year.
The earliest automobile accident known as of this writing in Camden took place in September of 1902 when well-known letter carrier Harry Reir, his wife, son and sister were thrown from his newly-purchased car on Market Street. The four were treated for cuts and bruises.
On April 1, 1908 Samuel Bailey, a principal in one of Camden’s oldest and largest manufacturing firms, the Farr & Bailey oilcloth works, was killed when his automobile, a White steamer, was struck by a train at Mays Landing, New Jersey.
Dorwart says in his book that by 1906 there were 1,275 automobiles registered in Camden County and probably many more unregistered ones. By 1915, he reported, Camden City housed dealerships for Hupmobile, Ford, Buick, Overland, Flanders, Studebaker and Cadillac.