A one-of-a kind automobile is ready to return to Grinnell as an exhibit in the museum that once was the factory where the car was built nearly 100 years ago. The 1913 Spaulding was one of only about 1,500 that were made at the plant. Restoration expert Pat Brooks says the rusted, dismembered Spaulding arrived at his Marshalltown workshop in boxes.
Two key parts had emblems that confirmed its authenticity. “Because of the graphics on the transmission and the engine…. where it says “Spaulding, Grinnell Iowa,” eventually a car enthusiast identified it and said, ‘well that’s a rare car.’ Indeed, this is the only surviving chassis in the world,” Brooks explains.
A Missouri collector found the remnants of the car. The engine was being used as a power source at Colorado sawmill. Brooks and a team of volunteers worked two-and-a-half years cleaning it up, polishing the brass and aluminum, and tracking down missing parts. Some components, like the wood-spoke wheels, couldn’t be saved and were rebuilt.
It cost $7,000 to recreate the radiator. “We had only one original hubcap but weren’t we lucky to have a sample and so a wonderful machine shop took time to make these hubcaps and they are absolutely like diamonds, they’re beautiful,” Brooks says. The transmission, with the Spaulding insignia, has three forward speeds and reverse.
The four-cylinder, 40 horse power, Buda engine was rebuilt and it is started with a crank. The Iowa car will be going home to Grinnell in April, where the old Spaulding carriage and automobile factory is being transformed into the Iowa Transportation Museum.
Chuck Brook is the museum director. “I have lived in Grinnell all my life basically people are always looking for a Spaulding car,” Brook says. “Everybody says ‘well if you look in some old bar you’ll find it someday’. Well I know people that’s been lookin’ for over 50 years and I guess we haven’t found that old barn yet.”
The four-million-dollar renovation of the old factory is the first activity on the Spaulding campus in years. In the early 1900s it specialized in buggies, and switched to automobiles from 1910 to 1916. Spaulding’s were used in wild publicity stunts. It raced a non-stop mail train across the state, and won.
For now, there are no plans to replicate the car’s body and interior, which were never recovered. The star of the exhibit is the near-complete chassis, from the rear-end to the headlights, showing the original components that muscled Spaulding’s through Iowa’s muddy roads a century ago.