First View of an Automobile

By Zola (Bellis) Sample.

(Newspaper column published in 1975.)

I was 11 years old when I first laid eyes upon an automobile. It was the year 1912 on the streets of Old Mannford. My folks had made some kind of deal for a two-story green lumber building on Main Street in the second block south of the depot. It was known as the Farmers’ Hotel.

My mother and sister Bessie ran the establishment while my father, Bill Bellis, worked for Bill Simms at the livery stable located back of the Buchanan Hotel.

It was on a Sunday morning about 11 o’clock. We kids had just come from the Methodist church Sunday school. Down the main street came this vehicle that looked like a one-seater surrey, putt, putt, putting along (driven) by a John Shipley. The horseless carriage had high red wire wheels. The body was black with lantern lights up front. It was going probably 10, 12 or maybe 15 miles an hour.

Mr. and Mrs. Shipley were in the front seat and Mary and sister in back. Folks who were not already on the street or not out front were alerted to come see. Soon the street was lined with observers. The automobile made the two blocks north with Mr. Shipley driving with care and turned toward the two cotton gins he supervised at that time. I remember seeing the vehicle again only once all the time he owned it. Some said he kept it all covered up in a shed or small barn.

Cotton ginning was the main industry at that time in Mannford. I have seen cotton wagons lined up two blocks long waiting to unload at the gin. Farmers ate their noonday meal at my mother’s hotel while waiting. Meals were served family style for 25 cents, if I remember right. The hotel had a lobby where mother’s organ sat corner-wise in the northeast corner.

There was a dining room, kitchen and small living quarters downstairs. About 10 or 12 rooms with lobby on second story. A stairway led up to them from the north side. Mother had one or two steady roomers and boarders. John Findley (he had one leg) was one of them. I remember him as a kind man to us children.

Our electric lights were furnished by the Gill Bros., who ran the dray (heavy delivery cart) in those days. Their names were Aaron, Walter and, for the life of me, I can’t remember the other. They had some kind of dynamo the started up in the evening. I can remember watching the lights come on in the long, slim-like electric bulb, as the wires turned red.

There were also street lights to play under, along with the bugs and toad hoppers that collected there, with the Bellis kids and Dale and Violet Poulter, who lived across the street. Together we made quite a troop. We played in the alley, between the buildings that had a foot or so runways, and in Mr. Clifford’s granary until he locked us in one day. We experienced many other excursions too numerous to mention.

My folks had made some kind of deal with Bowlin to rent our old homestead to his son-in-law and his young wife for a year. We bought the two-story hotel building for mother and Bessie to run. It was a trial and error deal that only lasted about eight months.

Mother saw that raising children on the street wasn’t to her liking. They traded the hotel to Mr. Williams for a place that joined the Gilman property. We lived there a month or so until we could get possession of our homestead back in the Basin. Mother and father were both homesick, and so were we kids.

We had never been used to confinement. We were a happy bunch that moved back to old Basin after 11 months in the town of Mannford. To be able to holler again as loud as we wanted to and let our voices echo against the hill east of our house was something else. The Stonemans were glad to have the Bellis kids come running barefoot across the meadow. And never again did my parents want to make a deal to move away.

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