I was in town to make a presentation at a fund raising event for the
Hackett Auto Museum and had a few hours to kill. So, I decided to seek out my grandfathers grave at the Mount Evergreen Cemetery on Francis Street in Jackson, Michigan. Even though I never met my grandfather, he is the man that led me to become a writer.
My father was born in 1928. At the time my grandfather was sixty-three years of age. As a child, and into my early teens, on every visit to my grandmothers I was drawn to a photo on the mantle, a picture of my grandfather and Henry Ford in rocking chairs on the front porch. Who was my grandfather? Who was this shadowy man that had powerful friends like Henry Ford? It was that search for information that led me to David Buick (grandfather was a machinist for Buick in 1900), and the lifelong fascination with the infancy of the American auto industry that has manifested in an array of feature articles and numerous books.
While searching for my grandfathers final resting place, I found a head stone that simply read; Byron J. Carter 1863 – 1908. I was brought up short, though he died quite young, Carter was a giant during the infancy of the American auto industry. During the 1890’s, when bicycle mania was sweeping the nation, Carter, was the manager of a successful bicycle shop in Jackson, Michigan. On July 19, 1902, he partnered with George A. Matthews, a buggy manufacturer, and Charles Lewis, owner of a Lewis Spring & Axle Company to form the Jackson Automobile Company, at a factory on Hupp Street. Carter was the company’s first vice president. In 1905 he sold his share of the company and used the proceeds to form the Motorcar Company in Jackson, featuring a unique friction drive of his own design. The vehicle was named “Cartercar.” The variable speed transmission used friction discs rather than gears, and also had a brake assist by using a reverse lever.
Shortly afterwards he relocated the company to Pontiac, Michigan, where he and his innovative company attracted the attention of William C. Durant, the man who would found General Motors. In 1909, Cartercar was one of several brands being developed and produced by G.M. but the man behind the car didn’t live to see the acquisition. In early 1908, while cranking a stalled car, he was severely injured. A short time later, on April 6, 1908, he succumbed to complications including lumbar pneumonia. It was his death that inspired Charles Kettering, the man who would give us leaded gasoline, the first auto recall in history, and Freon, and Henry Leland, the man behind both Cadillac and Lincoln, to initiate experimentation and development of an automotive electric starter, a device that debuted on the 1912 Cadillac and led to abandonment of hand cranking.
From my youth I have been fascinated with cemeteries. Ornate stones or simple stones are the final chapter in what are often some quite amazing stories. Dead men do tell tales, it just a bit of patience and a great deal of curiosity to read the story.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America