French Canadian

The 1901 Oldsmobile at 103 Wakeman Ave., Grafton ND, about 1920. Josephine (standing, 4th from left) and Henry (6th) hosted visitors from Winnipeg. Standing at left is their teenage son, Henry; in front of Josephine is their youngest son, Frank Peter, later to die on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor; 7th from left, next to her father, is their daughter, Josephine (Josie).

Long time a-runnin'
Grandpa Bernard's 1901 Oldsmobile

By Dick Bernard, Woodbury MN

Back in the 1940s and 50s we would come to Grafton, usually during the summer, to visit our Grandparents Henry and Josephine (Collette) Bernard, who lived in a tiny house at 738 Cooper Avenue.

At least once in my childhood memory, Grandpa took his old 1901 Oldsmobile out of storage at the City Hall, and rode it in the annual July 4 parade down Grafton's Main Street. While he was very gregarious, it was said Henry did not like to drive the old car in the parade, since he preferred to be a spectator. At some point in the cars history, Grandpa trained a man whose name I've heard was 'Sam' to drive the little horseless carriage.

The 1901 Olds in a long ago parade in Grafton ND (Henry Bernard at the left in the photo)

The 1901 was in Henry Bernard's possession for most of its first 56 years. Initially he stored it for the owner, who apparently left town and left the car behind. For more info, click here.

The little cars salvation was the fact that Grandpa stored it in his barn behind the Wakeman Avenue house on the bank of the Park River, directly across from the Mill where he was engineer for many years. After they sold the Wakeman Av property, apparently an agreement was reached to store the car in the city hall facility.

Grandpa died in 1957, and Grandma in 1963, and likely in that general time the Olds was sold.

It seems to have next appeared at Wilcox and Malm in Grand Forks, where it resided for many years. Then, much to my father's dismay, it disappeared, apparently purchased by a collector in Colorado.

For years the little car was out of family view until a San Diego area subscriber to the Walsh County Record, Oakwood native Rene Collette, noticed that the car had been purchased by a collector in suburban San Diego, and that this collector had visited the Walsh County History museum in Grafton in the summer of 1997, following the little cars participation in the Centennial of the founding of Oldsmobile in Lansing MI. The car had become a 'celebrity' - apparently the 369th Oldsmobile ever made.

It was a simple matter to contact Tony Bowker, the new owner of the little car; and it was a matter of great excitement for my father, Henry, who was then near death, to learn that the car still existed. He took time from his hospital bed to tape-record his memories of learning to drive in Grafton at the lever of that 1901 Olds.

Tony and Heather, English by birth, and long-time residents of San Diego area, had purchased the car specifically to participate in the 100th running of the famous London-Brighton veteran car run, open only to ancient vintage automobiles. As a youngster, Tony had viewed the 1948 running of London-Brighton from a vantage point at Redhill, and the run held fascinating memories for him. He and two others shipped their vehicles by ship to England, and in 1996, the little Olds successfully ran the 60 mile course from Hyde Park, past Parliament, across the Thames and south to Brighton Beach.

In 2001, this 'grandson' of the little car, and my wife, Cathy, went to London to be there for the Nov. 2 London - Brighton. Along with Mr. Bowker, we traveled the 60 mile London-Brighton route in a double decker bus, in the company of the ancient vehicles puttering and sometimes sputtering along. It was a long and very fascinating day.

Back home, Tony put the car back in storage, in his own barn. Along the way, he had learned of a Minnesota rally, the New London-New Brighton event in mid-August, which was modeled on London to Brighton. This became a new objective for him.

He had registered the car for the 2002 meet, but had to scrub plans due to mechanical problems.

The Olds barely escaped destruction in the devastating Ramona fires of Fall, 2003.

2006, the 20th running of the New London - New Brighton, was the new date with destiny for Grandpa's 1901.

This run looked to be a challenge for the little car. Its route through the farmland and suburbs of MN is over 120 miles, twice the distance of London-Brighton, and a daunting prospect even for an optimist. But 2006 was to be the year.

And on August 12, 2006, late in the afternoon, Henry Bernard's and Grafton's 1901 Olds putt-putted across the finish line in New Brighton MN, and along the way had given a ride to four of Henry and Josephine Bernard's great-great-grandchildren!

What a wonderful treat that was...for them, and their own Grandpa!

Tony and Heather Bowker on parade with the 1901 Olds at New London MN August 11, 2006.

Great-great-great grandsons of Henry Bernard, Spencer Hagebock and Teddy Flatley, ride in the 1901 Olds at Buffalo, MN, Aug. 12, 2006. This and following photo courtesy of Judy Goepel, city of New Brighton, MN

Tony and Heather Bowker cross the finish line at New Brighton, MN August 12, 2006.

Copyright 2006
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