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December 22, 2000

General Motors has announced plans for phasing out its Oldsmobile division, and we have to look upon that decision with mixed feelings. Currently, we do not own an Oldsmobile but through the years several of them have graced our driveway and they have been exceedingly good automobiles. Comfortable, roomy, reasonably economical, and always with classy design features. Now it appears the Oldsmobile is going to vanish, just like Pierce-Arrows, DeSotos, Packards, Studebakers, the Tucker, and the Edsel. If you have one, you might be well advised to hang on to it. They will become collectors’ items someday. We will miss the Oldsmobile, but, like the Volkswagen Beetle, perhaps it will have a renaissance one day.

Owning one of those cars from time to time helped me learn that they were originally created by Mr. R.E. Olds. His initials also were used on another defunct car, the REO, and that acronym is often useful when you’re doing a crossword puzzle. Another sudden thought: What will now become of that popular singing commercial from years ago, the one that goes – “Come along with me Lucille, in my merry Oldsmobile.…”

My family’s association with the Oldsmobile goes back quite a way, not that we have always owned one. The earliest connection I can find has to do with a daring automobile race around the Perry square as a feature of the September 16th celebration in 1907. The participants were Mr. O.H. Hovey, a printer, and my Dad, who ran the City Drug Store on the north side of the square. Evidently, Dad was a rather dashing figure around town at that time. In 1906 Mr. Hovey brought to Perry the first automobile seen here, and it was an Oldsmobile. It had one cylinder and bicycle tires that were inflated with a hand pump. Dad then had the town’s second car when he bought a new Ford from a shop in Red Rock. (Perry did not have a Ford dealership at the time.)

The race took place around the Perry square on the day of the 1907 celebration. Several versions of what happened have been offered from time to time, but the one that seems to have been closest to the truth was recorded by Judge E.W. Jones, publisher of a Perry newspaper, who witnessed the contest. He published the account in his paper and later in a booklet, “Early Day History of Perry, Oklahoma,” containing 30 pages of his recollections. Here’s how Judge Jones described it:

“Mr. Hovey’s car could make about 18 miles an hour at top speed. He put on some wonderful exhibitions around the square and was stopped often by (Police) Chief Boright for engaging in dangerous and reckless driving. Hovey went to work in the printing business and later acquired a job shop of his own…. In the first automobile race staged during the (September) 16th celebration in 1907, no one having a car to compete with Beers’ (Hovey’s being out of commission), a dare-devil driver from Oklahoma City was imported. Fred and the visitor started around the square at the crack of the gun. A speed of possibly eight miles an hour was attained, but neither finished the lap. Fred skidded around a corner against the hitch rack after negotiating half the distance, and the dare-devil quit, exhausted, coming west up the hill on the North side. For the effort, however, the purse of $20 was divided and the race called a draw.”

It must have been quite a sight to behold, back there some 93 years ago on the streets of Perry. You can see, however, that the Oldsmobile was not quite perfected or it would not have been in the shop that day. Maybe that’s why GM is taking it off the market now. Anyway, we surely will miss those cars, and that jingle.