Here is what you need to know about the engine and how it found its way to the Kinney Pioneer Museum, where it is a source of local pride.
The history of the Colby Motor Company
The Colby Motor Company was a short-lived venture, having been around for only four years when it shuttered its Mason City, Iowa manufacturing plant in 1914. As such, the company itself is a footnote in American car history, making the discovery of the car engine so unlikely and valuable today.
Sales estimates for Colby are quite low, perhaps around 1,000 vehicles between $1,400 and $1,800 according to
The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, which is reasonable given the company's short life.
An article in the Globe Gazette cited by The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier notes that in 1915, Colby went into receivership and an
auction was heldto pay creditors. Various car parts including mufflers, windshield, and radiators were sold.
What makes the company such an historical gem is the fact that it was a pioneer in a class of automobiles that would later be widely known and loved:
What makes the Colby car engine so special?
The Colby Motor Company had a goal to build cars that went really fast. It made a variety of vehicles that could accomplish this, all with their own unique body styles. But the real muscle of the Colby cars was under the hood.
In their first year of manufacturing, Colby’s engines boasted a powerful 40 horsepower, as documented by the
Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum.
Of course in today's day and age, this could hardly be described as powerful. There are probably lawn mowers with the same amount of horsepower. But 110 years ago this was quite impressive.
Colby cars would be featured in numerous races, often driven by Billy Pierce who called one of them the "Red Devil." Pierce was a successful driver who had exceptional experience in numerous Indianapolis circuits. Sadly, Pierce was killed while racing the Red Devil.
How the Colby car engine was rediscovered
Despite the company’s pioneering spirit, it seemed that Colby’s car engines had been lost to history. According to The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, The Kinney Pioneer Museum in Colby’s former home of Mason City features a 1911 Colby Roadster—what it calls the last remaining Colby in existence—but without the engine to match.
At least, this was the case up until this past summer, when John Barron, treasurer of the Kinney Pioneer Museum, got a very intriguing phone call.
On the other end of the phone was Lloyd Van Horn, who ran a small
automotive museumof his own for a number of years. Van Horn got the vehicle after negotiating the purchase of a “Colby truck,” as its previous owner called it.
Van Horn knew this truck could not be a Colby because the company never made trucks, and the seller did eventually admit that it was not, but the engine inside was actually a legitimate Colby and he would not sell this component alone.
Van Horn agreed to purchase the vehicle in its entirety, and he immaculately refurbished the engine before offering it to Barron and the Kinney Pioneer Museum, where it now resides alongside the Roadster for car enthusiasts from far and wide to see.
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