MASON CITY, Iowa (AP) — At the time that the Colby Motor Co. shut down its plant in 1914, about four years after cars first rolled off an assembly line in Mason City, the business had purportedly managed to sell about a thousand automobiles for anywhere from $1,400 to $1,800.
For years now, the Kinney Pioneer Museum, located near the Mason City Municipal Airport, has had what it touts as the only-remaining Colby car, a 1911 Roadster, that would’ve been made near 19th Street Southwest.
This summer, museum treasurer John Barron said that he got a call from someone who wanted to know if the Kinney Pioneer Museum would be interested in bolstering the four-wheel piece of Mason City history with a complete Colby engine and transmission.
“They’ve got the Colby car out there so I thought they ought to have a spare engine so they can get a good look at it,” said Lloyd Van Horn who operated the Van Horn Truck Museum in the Mason City area for 18 years.
The Mason City Globe Gazette reports that over time, Van Horn’s collection has included the only known 1912 American-made Saurer (a Swiss brand), a 1923 Model T Ford factory conversion snowmobile with skis and, eventually, a Colby engine with the transmission. Some he came by through auctions and others through informal negotiations over a three-year timespan. The latter method is how Van Horn acquired the Colby.
According to Van Horn, a gentleman wanted to sell him a “Colby truck” which included the engine and transmission. However, Van Horn insisted that the brainchild of William Colby never actually produced trucks and that what the gentleman had was a homemade rig of sorts. Eventually, Van Horn said the gentleman conceded.
“He said, ‘I won’t sell you just the engine,’” Van Horn relayed.
Once he got it, Van Horn refurbished the engine himself and Barron said that it looks like it would’ve the day it went into a Colby car.
When Barron got the call, he said Van Horn asked him plainly: “I’ve got the engine, would you like to have it?”
The local historian said yes and now the museum has a new piece on display that Barron said can serve as a tie-in with the Colby car.
“People can see things up close and personal. As it sits on a frame. They can see how it started. It’s kind of a tie-in for people to see an industry in Mason City and that particular engine in its entirety,” Barron said.
Along with the engine and the transmission, Barron said that Van Horn provided a framed photo of some industrious men working. Men who may well have had a hand in crafting a Colby or one of its engines.
Per a 2002 article in the Globe Gazette by Kristin Buehner, the Colby plant was shut down in 1914 and went into receivership in 1915.
An auction was held May 26, 1915, to raise money to pay off the estimated 100 to 200 creditors, many of which were banks.
A sale bill for that auction listed, among other things: radiators, auto frames, 25 auto bodies, springs, 9 partially completed automobiles, 10 mohair touring car tops, gasoline tanks, mufflers, windshields, numerous other auto parts, office furniture and one sewing machine.
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