The Holsman High-Wheeler

Spotting this vintage 1909 ad for sale on EBay reminded me how much I love the Brass Era of automobile manufacturing, and the Holsman High-Wheeler in particular. If you have the brass, you can put in a bid for it; it’s up for bidding until the middle of January, and the bid at press time is a mere $36.95 — a pittance for a hundred-year-old newspaper ad, right?

The Brass Era is one of the names for the pre-World War I period when cars were fielded with many brass fittings. The Holsman model was part of a class of American cars known as high wheelers that were shaped, more or less, like the earlier horse-drawn buggies. Their high wheels (with solid rubber tires) made it easier to drive over the very rough roads that had been designed for horses, and for horse-drawn carriages with wooden wheels. Many of those tracks still had the ruts left by said wooden wheels.

Controlled by joystick, the Holsman High Wheeler, manufactured by Chicago’s Holsman Automobile Company in Chicago from 1901 to 1910. It was controlled by joystick, rather than wheel, like many old cars. According to, a tribute and resource page for collectors and historians, the motto of the company was “High Wheels Travel All Roads Because All Roads Are Made To Be Traveled By High Wheels.” Holsmans are rare. Of at least one model, the 10K, there is only one example in existence.

Creative Commons image by James Tworow

The Holsman page has some wonderful excerpts from period descriptions of the car. Here’s a sample that helps give you a sense of what it must have been like to operate one of those beauties:

The gasoline tank is placed in the seat back.  Steering is by means of a horizontal lever, similar to those used by many of the electric vehicles.  Throttling is accomplished by twisting the end of the steering handle.  The gear changing is done by means of a small hand lever shifting a short distance along the front of the seat.  A large side lever swings the countershaft to start, stop and reverse the movement of the vehicle in the manner previously explained.  The springs are all full elliptic, and the carriage is claimed to be absolutely vibrationless.  In front of the dash is a compartment, which holds the batteries and furnishes a storage space in addition.  There is also room for storage behind the seat.  The forward mudguards are arranged to swing with the front wheels.  A tool box is arranged under the floor just back of the dash.  The weight is about 900 pounds.  No differential is used, as the belts will slip enough to accomplish the object sought.

…Is it just me? Does that make you long for the glorious stink of mud and cow manure as you race at a breakneck speed of eight miles per hour to stop that scoundrel Dr. Berpopple from tying your fiancee to the train tracks so she can’t inherit the mining concessions from her ill father…or what?

High Wheels Travel All Roads Because All Roads Are Made To Be Traveled By High Wheels.”

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