At the turn of the last centuries, from the 1800’s to the 1900’s America was a vast and largely empty country. There were pockets of industry in the Northeast and the upper Midwest but the rest of the country was agrarian with small pockets of habitation separated by square miles of homestead land and barely above subsistence level farms.
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As Amazon revolutionized commerce in the early 21st Century, commerce a century ago was revolutionized by Sears, Roebuck and Company. Its voluminous catalog, 532 pages in1895, was the source of items that small general retailers couldn’t stock while also serving a well-known alternate function in outhouses.
Sears, as it was known, offered to supply nearly everything a family, ranch or farm needed, arriving reliably at Post Offices or Railway Express depots that were ubiquitous throughout America’s network of railroad tracks.
Roads, as we know them today, did not exist between the coasts. There were wagon tracks across the prairies, etched by years of horse- and oxen-drawn wagons where potholes and high centers were the norm.
Into this environment Sears, Roebuck introduced its first automobile in 1908, a simple buggy-based vehicle, a high-wheeler with an opposed 2-cylinder engine and an ingenious infinitely variable friction transmission. The wood spoke wheels were huge, creating generous road clearance.
Sears vehicles arrived at Railway Express depots knocked down and crated with detailed assembly instructions that could be effected by a mechanically inclined farmer with the screwdrivers and monkey wrenches every farm in the period had. It was a buggy-styled vehicle that was familiar to its audience, but without expense of maintaining the horse when it wasn’t working.
Sears, Roebuck offered their Motor Buggy from 1908 to 1912 making this 1913-dated Sears Model K one of the last built. It has been thoroughly restored with a red chassis and wheels, dark green body with gold striping and the standard features of the Model K, top of the line for the Sears with green painted fenders (with red inside the fenders), running boards and a cover over the handy utility body for groceries and bags of feed behind the buggy seat. It has the 14 horsepower 127 cubic inch air cooled opposed twin engine and infinitely variable ratio friction drive transmission with dual chain drive to the rear wheels. “Cushion” rubber tires are a distinguishing feature of the Model K (another $20 to the $475 price would have added pneumatic tires). The engine and undercarriage are in clean, orderly condition, with a light patina that is appropriate for the age and quality of the restoration.
Steering is by a tiller with a bulb horn on it from the lefthand side of the leather upholstered seat. Instrumentation is confined to a clock. There are black-painted brass kerosene lamps and a similarly black-painted tail and utility light. A badge on the body identifies it as equipped with a “Motsinger Faultless Plug Switch” to choose between a pair of batteries or a battery and a magneto.
Sears Motor Buggies were, in essence, agricultural machinery. Designed and constructed to be built and maintained by tech-savvy (not a term used in 1913, but nonetheless applicable) farmers, their restorations are usually consistent with harvesters and tractors.
This Sears is better that that. There are a few cracks on the wooden body panels and some of the iron pieces are thoroughly repainted but show evidence of prior pitting. The seat upholstery shows some use and the top, probably a later addition that is not included in the Model K’s standard specification, is sound but older. The patent leather dashboard (the shield in front of the occupants’ feet that traces right back to horse drawn buggies where the dashboard deflected dirt thrown up by horses’ hooves) is in excellent condition.
It is indisputable that taking a ride or participating in a parade will make every onlooker smile. On display the infinitely variable friction transmission and otherwise simple mechanics will fascinate spectators. It is a fascinating piece of American history, a rare and charming machine from a bustling period for the American motoring industry when everyone from barnyard engineers to the nation’s most successful retailer tried their hand at the automobile business.
Stock number 7644
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