Wyoming’s Automaker #ThisWeekInWYHistory

Elmer Lovejoy with his horseless carriage

(Gillette, Wyo.) Wyoming could have been Ground Zero for a transportation revolution. For a brief moment, Wyoming was jumping on the development bandwagon of the horseless carriage. One young innovator in Laramie set out to develop a practical, functioning automobile.

Elmer Floyd Lovejoy was born in Illinois in 1872. He and his family moved to Laramie when he was 12. As an adult, he owned Lovejoy Novelty Works, a shop where he sold, among other things, bicycles. He even built his own tandem bicycle in 1893, which he’d ride around Laramie with his wife, Nellie.

Elmer Lovejoy seen here with the tandem bicycle he built himself

It was in his bicycle shop that he built the first-ever Wyoming car, starting near the end of 1897. In the days of the Spanish-American War, this noteworthy event was pushed off the front page, with only minor mentions in the back pages of the Laramie Boomerang.

Apparently, one of his biggest challenges, according to the Boomerang’s coverage, was what type of material to use for the wheels. In Dec. 1897, Lovejoy was of the opinion that pneumatic tires would not be practical.

By Feb. 1898, Lovejoy was working full time on his horseless carriage and a prominent local company, W.H. Holliday Company, was considering using Lovejoy’s contraption to deliver goods.

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At the time, this was pretty exciting stuff, similar to stories you read today about drones delivering pizzas and Amazon packages. In a similar way people question the drone’s potential for such applications, some people were dismissive of the practical possibilities of Lovejoy’s device.

One observer told the Boomerang, “the machine was regarded as an interesting toy by the townsfolk.”

By that point, Lovejoy was waiting for delivery of the single-cylinder, two-cycle marine engine that would provide the horsepower for this horseless carriage.

It would arrive the following May and the first test drive was conducted on May 7. Because pneumatic tires were expensive, Lovejoy had opted for iron tires. The iron tires were built special order by a bicycle company in Chicago, and there was no spare to be had anywhere in the world. The iron wheels must have produced one bone-jiggling ride considering this was the days when even main roads were not paved.

This first-ever car ride in Wyoming was reported on page 3 of the Boomerang, receiving a whole paragraph. Lovejoy was reportedly satisfied with the

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Elmer Lovejoy’s bicycle shop in Laramie

test, except he came to the conclusion that air-filled tires would be necessary for the 940-pound machine. The iron tires cut into muddy spots and slowed down the progress of the drive.

The two-speed transmission allowed for speeds of up to 5 mph in low gear and 10 mph in high gear. Lovejoy speculated the pneumatic tires would allow for speeds of 15 mph.

Lovejoy’s machine would become a common sight around the streets of Laramie, but it wore out after only two years.

Nothing more came of his horseless carriage. Lovejoy would go on to be a dealer for the Franklin Motor Car Company, and invented a steering mechanism that is alleged to still be in use in cars today. In 1917, he invented an automatic door opener and manufactured them for several years.

In 1953, he moved to California and died in Jan. 1960.

Originally from New Mexico, Killough began his career writing freelance for a weekly magazine in Albuquerque while completing his undergraduate degree. In addition to reporting on uranium mining in western New Mexico, he spent three years reporting in western North Dakota during the height of the oil boom. He can be reached at kevin@county17.com or 701-641-6603.