Milton O. Reeves

Milton O. Reeves, another son of William F., was born in Rush County in 1864, married in 1882 and early pioneered in the automobile industry as the builder of either the fourth or fifth American auto, and even sold some of them. But his work on the horseless carriage he did without directly tying it to the Reeves Company. He called his vehicle a “motocycle” (not motorcycle). Largely because of its variable speed transmission (based on belts and pulleys), he believed it was superior to Henry Ford’s “quadricycle” which had only one speed.

His first recorded test of the transmission in an auto took place on 26 September 1896, before all the coach work was complete. It worked perfectly, as did the power train, but it was noisy and emitted nasty fumes and vapors. A double muffler, later installed, was probably the industry’s first. Later that fall when the car was driven to Indianapolis, it attained a top speed of 15 mph, and was reportedly “the first auto in the city.” (In a later test the vehicle would attain 30 mph.) Nonetheless, in 1898 Milton confessed in a Board meeting that he had lost momentum in his work because of matters of vibration, odor/vapor, exhaust-and “other [problems] too numerous to mention.” “I have been discouraged,” he acknowledged, “with the machine as a whole.” His distress however probably grew out of the almost complete lack of sales from his intended wealthy customers.
Two auto models, more the product of Milton Reeves’ own initiative than of the Company itself, deserve mention. His eight-wheel Octo-Auto was hailed by writer and editor Elbert Hubbard for its comfort and durability. Traversing Chicago streets, including those with ruts six inches deep, it brought “ease to the passenger and . . .length of life to the auto, “remarked Hubbard. Its tires reportedly should last eight times as long as one might expect because eight wheels carried the load and eased the car in and out of road furrows caused by horse-drawn wagons. With 40-horsepower and a length exceeding 20 feet, this 4-passenger vehicle retailed for $3200.00.
The Sexto-Auto, a six-wheel version of the Octo-Auto and in the luxury class, had variable speed and reportedly made several cross-country jaunts. It never caught on with the American public, probably because of its price: in 1910 it sold for $4500.00. The second motocycle he built was called “The Big Seven,” for the number of adults it held. The last such vehicle which came from Milton’s plans was perhaps the “grandfather” of modern buses, for 20 passengers could squeeze into five soft, leather seats. More like a bus than a passenger car, its wheels were too far apart and the engine did not run well when it encountered wagon ruts in dirt or gravel roads. Milton’s vehicles were not successful but he jump-started a new era in land transportation with his variable speed transmission, important both to automobiles, to lathes, and other Reeves engines…
Nonetheless, the Reeves name was firmly entrenched in the manufacturing world. When Milton died in 1925 at the age of 60 he held more than 100 patents. In 1910 his gifted designer and builder was awarded the Edward Longstreth Medal for pioneer work in the development of the variable speed transmission, so important was it in the country’s first automobiles.

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