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The Maxwells, Perfectly Simple, Simply Perfect

Today's update comes courtesy of Mr. Eldon Pitts of Mooreland. He was a local reporter for a near-by local paper for several years until he decided to take life easy and semi-retire. Eldon is a freelance reporter now doing articles for the local papers and other venues. He very generously offered the following article to HCGS as our latest update.
Thanks Eldon!

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   NEW CASTLE, IN -- Maxwell motor car enthusiasts are planning perhaps the largest celebration of their prized automobiles ever.
   Organizers are gearing up for the "Maxwell Centennial Celebration Tour 2004," celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Maxwell-Briscoe Co., which is planned for June 21-24, in New Castle, Indiana.
   Jonathan Dixon Maxwell and Benjamin Briscoe formed the Maxwell-Briscoe Co. and produced their first 532 Maxwell cars in 1904, in Tarrytown, NY.
   The pair didn't build their plant in New Castle -then billed as the largest automobile manufacturing facility in the United States- until 1907, but organizers said they wanted to celebrate the centennial here.
   The New Castle facility -which later became part of the Chrysler Corp.- "is the only remaining building of the Maxwell factories at all," said Maxwell owner Vern Campbell, a Michigan resident and co-chairman of the celebration steering committee.
   "And that is a draw to a Maxwell car owner, to come to a place where at least many of the Maxwells were built," Campbell said. In addition, he said, New Castle is centrally located in the United States. "And we are going to get cars from both coasts."
   With about 500 cars listed in the Maxwell registry worldwide, Campbell said, "our goal all along was to see if we could get 100 Maxwells in the same location to celebrate the 100th anniversary."
   "We have names of people who are coming from east and west, all the way from California to New York."
   And, Campbell added, there are a lot of good country touring roads around the New Castle area for vintage automobiles. "A lot of these are 2-cylinder cars that travel 25 miles per hour, tops. And you just don't run those down (Ind. 3) in comfort. You get paranoid pretty quick." Several tours in East Central Indiana are planned during the 4-day event, reminiscent of tours that were made at the time. Organizers expect to attract thousands of people to the centennial celebration, and not just Maxwell owners and automobile enthusiasts.
   It will be an historic event, Campbell said. "Never in your life before have you ever seen that many Maxwells together, and probably never again will you see that many Maxwell automobiles in the same location," Campbell said.
   "It has never happened before, at least since 1911, and the 'run' that we are going to re-enact. It's a piece of history here that's going to be unfolding before you. So we think it's quite significant."
   And there are other reasons to celebrate the historic event in New Castle, according to Maxwell owner Paul Niles, a local resident who is co-chairman of the centennial celebration along with Campbell.
   "Maxwell is what really brought New Castle to the forefront. It was the 'spirit' of the community that started it," Niles said.
   A group of local business leaders raised money and convinced Maxwell and Briscoe to build their facility in New Castle instead of nearby Muncie. The facility covered four city blocks.
   "Without that (facility) where would New Castle really have been," said Niles, proud owner of a 1911 Maxwell AB roadster.
   In addition, Niles said, "there are so many people who have been involved in that (New Castle) plant in their lifetimes; not only they themselves, but their mothers and fathers."
   The cornerstone of the New Castle facility, which would then employ 1,500 workers, was laid on June 22, 1907, under the auspices of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, assisted by the Knights of Pythias.
   The 500,000 square-foot facility was built at a cost of $675,000.
   The event was significant enough to attract Charles W. Fairbanks, then Vice President of the United States.
   "This factory will give employment to many hundreds of wage-earners," Fairbanks said, according to historical accounts of the day. "It will open up a new avenue whereby workmen may make provision for themselves and for their families."
   "While you have given yourselves over to stimulating industry," Fairbanks told those gathered for the event, "while you have in a general way contributed toward the erection of this great factory, you have looked beyond the mere increase of population it will bring to this city.
   "You have looked beyond the increase of the aggregate payroll of your manufacturing establishments to the improvement of the community along social, educational, religious and patriotic lines."
   Maxwells were among the earliest motor cars on American roads. The cars were designed by Jonathan Dixon Maxwell (1864-1928), a native of Howard County, Indiana.
   Maxwell and Benjamin Briscoe formed the Maxwell-Briscoe Co. in 1903, and produced their first automobiles in Tarrytown, NY, in 1904. The New Castle plant was built in 1907, with the first automobiles produced in 1908.
   In 1910, Briscoe formed the United States Motor Co., which failed in 1913. The Maxwell assets were then purchased by Walter Flanders, who reorganized the company as the Maxwell Motor Company, Inc., and continued to produce the popular Maxwell cars.
   In 1920, Maxwell Motor Co., owing some $43 million, was on the verge of bankruptcy. Walter P. Chrysler, who had retired as president of Buick and vice-president of General Motors, headed a reorganization committee.
   The committee arranged for purchase of the combined assets of Maxwell and the Chalmers Motor Co., to which Maxwell had leased one of its facilities in 1917.
   The Maxwell Motor Corp. was formed in 1921, with Chrysler as chairman of the board, and continued to build Chalmers cars and an improved Maxwell, advertised as the "good Maxwell."
   Chrysler continued to use the Maxwell name until 1925, then phased it out, according to information from Wilmer B. Maxwell, Carlisle, PA.
   For several years, what had been the Maxwell was called the Chrysler Four, which became the Chrysler Plymouth and eventually the Plymouth.
   In their heyday, according to Wilmer Maxwell, Maxwell motor cars were prized by their owners and sported the latest innovations. A 1921 advertisement touted the Maxwell's "side curtains on really solid rods and supports, and a special curtain compartment in back of the front seat."
   The Maxwell is perhaps most famous and best remembered as the vehicle driven by the late comedian Jack Benny on his radio and television programs decades after the Maxwell ceased production.
   Actually, Benny never owned a Maxwell.
Schedule of events for the 4-day "Maxwell Centennial Celebration Tour 2004" in New Castle, Indiana, includes:
Monday, June 21 -- Scenic drive to Knightstown, Indiana, with lunch at the historic Hoosier Gym, a restored piece of Indiana basketball history, which was the site for filming part of the movie "Hoosiers." A train ride is an afternoon option. Every Maxwell driver may make a lap around the Mt. Lawn Speedway, which has summoned race fans since 1932. A swap meet for Maxwell era parts and vintage clothing will be the evening event in the host motel parking lot. There will be an optional gaslight tour following the swap meet.
Tuesday, June 22 -- The day begins with a recreation of the Broad Street scene at the beginning o the 1911 annual Maxwell Run. Vintage clothing is encouraged, since many photos will be taken. Then, it's off to the New Castle plant, where each Maxwell will be photographed in front of the Maxwell-Briscoe cornerstone of the original building. A tour of the factory will include lunch and will pass some of the factory workers' housing built in the early years. The evening will feature a pig roast and "Maxwells In The Park" at New Castle's showplace Baker Park. This will be a program involving the community, with all Maxwells participating in a "pass in review."
Wednesday, June 23 -- The run for the day will retrace as much of the 1911 route as possible, with a morning stop at the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home in Knighstown. Lunch will be in Roberts Park, Connersville. Total distance for the tour is about 75 miles, with a couple of service stops on the way back to the host motel. The evening will feature seminars on Maxwell authenticity, repairs and documentation.
Thursday, June 24 -- More scenic take the tour through the Blue River Valley to the Wilbur Wright Birthplace & Interpretive Center, birthplace of the aviation pioneer and a fine aviation history museum, near Millville, where lunch will be served. The evening will feature a celebration banquet, with vintage clothing encouraged.

For more information, contact:
Vern Campbell, 4491 St. Anthony Road, Temperance MI, 48182;
734-854-3622; dvcampbell@toast.net.
Paul Niles, 3215 E. Brown Road, New Castle, IN, 47362;
765-529-4272; prniles@msn.com.
Tom Reese, 5641 Bartlett Blvd., Mound, MN, 55364;
952-472-4435; twrcars@winternet.com.
Richard Wilcox, 2704 15th St., Columbus, IN, 47201;
812-372-2307; rjwilcox@tls.net.

Eldon Pitts - 2004

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