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The Curved Dash rolls along

May 24, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - "Come along with me, Lucille, in my merry ... Curved Dash?"

cont. from news page

The first line of that old song really ends with the word "Oldsmobile," a tribute to the earliest Oldsmobiles that were built around the turn of the 20th century.

Judging by old photos, those first cars were little more than carriages without horses. The early Olds sported a tiller instead of a steering wheel.

The car made a comeback of sorts in Waynesboro In the 1950s when local resident William Barnhart opened a small assembly plant on Grant Street he called the Antique Auto Co. He built replicas of the 1903 Curved Dash Oldsmobile.

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According to Harold G. Martin, who bought Barnhart's defunct company in 1963, Barnhart got the idea for his replica after seeing a real 1903 Curved Dash Oldsmobile that was on display in a local Oldsmobile dealership.

"He took the measurements and duplicated the car," Martin said.

Barnhart opened his plant in a building on Grant Street, hired a handful of retired machinists and started to make his own version of the Olds. He even affixed a 1903 Olds emblem to the side of his cars.

It looked a lot like the original, but Barnhart's car was powered by an 8-horsepower Cushman Motor Scooter engine and a transmission that drove a chain to the right rear wheel.

Barnhart called his car the Curved Dash after the early Olds model.

Barnhart made about 150 cars before he went out of business in the late 1950s, said Martin, 78, of Anthony Drive. Martin bought Barnhart's company from his widow for $600. The deal included the company's name and all the parts that were still in the Grant Street building.

The Hess Planing Mill in Waynesboro made the bodies for Barnhart's cars. The fenders and metal castings were also made in local shops and the springs came from a company in Hagerstown, Martin said.

Steel for Barnhart's cars came from Bethlehem Steel. The company used his car and plant in a national magazine ad in 1961 that read, in part, "A 30-foot-long auto assembly line in Waynesboro, Pa., is turning out a 1961 car in a style that was the rage in 1903. Made up of five part-time or retired machinists, the Antique Auto Co. has already produced nearly 70 cars."

The full-page color ad shows a red Curved Dash in a field. A young couple is relaxing in the grass near the car. A smaller photo shows the assembly line on which it took about 50 hours to complete one car.

Barnhart closed the plant late in the 1950s. "He died sometime in the 1960s," Martin said.

It had been closed for about six years when Martin bought it.

There were enough parts for one car, Martin said. "I put one together and got it running," he said. "I still have 15 plywood bodies in my crawl space that I don't know what to do with."

Martin ran his car around his neighborhood for a couple of years . "I used to take the kids around for rides," he said.

Around 1968, he put the car in storage and it stayed there for more than 30 years. He got it out two years ago and put it in his garage, where it shares space with a Mustang convertible he bought new in 1966.

The Curved Dash wouldn't start Wednesday. "I need to get it running again," he said.

The car has brakes only in the rear, so it can't be licensed for the road, Martin said.

"I don't know what I'm going to do with it," he said. "I guess I'll just keep it.

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