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Lansing museum offers a look at R.E. Olds' auto roots

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Lansing museum offers a look at R.E. Olds' auto roots

By Jenny King / Special to The Detroit News

November 27, 2010

LANSING, Mich. -- The R.E. Olds Museum here gives an interesting, look at the local manufacturing businesses that helped spawn the auto industry in Lansing and at ways struggling auto makers tried to keep their companies afloat in difficult times.

Ransom Olds drove his first "car" as early as 1887. A full-scale reproduction of the tiller-steered three-wheeler steamer is tucked in a corner of the museum. Olds actually formed his car company in 1897, making it an entity separate from the family's Olds Gasoline Engine Works, a very successful engine maker with no time to devote to the automobile business.

Late 19th and early 20th-century engines are available for museum visitors to scrutinize. So it a handsome white 1919 Bates Steel Mule tractor that descended from the Bates & Edmonds Motor Co., which had its operations on the site the museum now occupies.

Vehicles also share floor space with items like a Reo snow thrower, power lawn mowers promising "ezee-start" and an icebox-turned-refrigerator with the Reo name on it.

One museum room features early furnishings from the Olds family in a set decorated for the holidays with a lighted Christmas tree. In the Reo room, visitors can admire a stately deep-blue 1906 Reo as well as the small-size replica of it built for marketing and promotion. The 238-pound Little Reo has a two-cycle, two-horsepower engine. It cost $3,000 to produce - over twice the price of the "Mama" Reo.

This full-scale reproduction of Ransom Olds' three-wheel steam vehicle developed 1883-87) was done by the Joseph Merlie Carriage Company in New York in the late 1990s.

The curved-dash Oldsmobile -- like those in the museum -- lays claim to being America's first car built in significant numbers. A little curved-dash, seven-horsepower single-cylinder car was only vehicle to be rescued from the 1901 fire that destroyed Olds' fledgling Detroit operation. Oldsmobile climbed from 425 in 1901 to 5,508 in 1904. The Curved Dash was not the only model offered by the company.

Olds left Olds Motor Works in 1904 following a disagreement with his partners and commenced producing the Reo. The museum collection includes Reo passenger cars like the mother-and-kid 1906 tourers to the 1936 Reo Flying Cloud. A Reo from 1905 -- among the earlier produced by the new company -- is on loan to the museum from a family in Dublin, Ohio. Reo got out of the car business in 1937 to concentrate on building trucks. The refrigerator with the Reo name on it dates from 1936.

Oldsmobile built its last cars in April of 2004. While there is no '04 currently on display, there is a 1996 EV-1 electric vehicle, one of about 1,100 produced. With a stated price of $33,995, the EV-1 had a range of 70-90 miles, and required 3 hours to recharge at 220 volts, 15 hours on a 110-volt circuit.

Visitors to the museum will enjoy a panorama of vehicles, images and industrial artifacts that span the 20th century and tie together innovations that kept the auto industry rolling along the way.

From The Detroit News: http://apps.detnews.com/apps/joyrides/index.php?id=865#ixzz16gLHPDCy

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