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Only known Alpena Flyer restored

Many may not realize it, but for a short time in the early 1900s, Alpena jumped full fledged into the rapidly growing automobile industry with the production of a light, inexpensive car called the Alpena Flyer.

Alpena Motor Company, once located at the site of the current Besser Company, built the early vehicle from 1910 to 1914. Today, only one known Alpena Flyer still exists in the world, and thanks to the determined efforts of local resident Ron Winter, it has found its way back home.

Though the manufacturing capacity of the Alpena Motor Company was said to total 2,500 cars a year, it is believed only about 500 were ever produced. Winter, who gave a presentation on the car’s history and restoration efforts at a recent Association of Lifelong Learners gathering, spent years trying to locate one.

“I talked to virtually every car museum in the country over the course of years trying to get a lead on an Alpena Flyer,” Winter said.

He finally managed to track down a viable lead in the state of Washington and in 2002, acquired the remnants of an original Alpena Flyer. What he ended up with in the purchase was the bare bones of the car, plus bushel baskets full of the cars parts, such as original lamps, the radiator and the horn. All were in poor condition.

Winter, the CEO of Omni Metalcraft, also located three pages of an original 1911 advertising brochure for the Alpena Flyer, which happened to be the same year of the four-door, five-passenger model he ended up purchasing. That model featured many brass parts, including side lamps, hubcaps, horn, shift lever and hand brake.

According to information Winter shared with ALL, the brochure indicated the car should be given a quart of oil every 100 miles and that it was capable of reaching speeds up to 60 miles an hour, though that would have been questionable given the car’s wooden spokes. He is still hoping to eventually find a complete brochure for the Alpena Flyer.

After Winter took possession of the badly deteriorated car, he disassembled everything, cleaned each part and made sketches of it all. He then opted to contract with a professional company in Chicago to do the actual restoration work.

“The restoration guys looked at it and said the brass stuff is in rough shape,” Winter said. “They knew a guy in Tennessee who was reputed to be the best in the country at restoring brass parts, so I sent the brass parts to him.”

The whole process took years to complete, and it wasn’t until June of this year that the fully restored vehicle arrived back in Alpena and is now a true show piece. Winter already has shared it with the public on several occasions, including at the city’s 4th of July parade and at an anniversary celebration at Besser Company.

Ultimately, the car is destined for the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan where museum staff members currently are working on a historical exhibit about the car and the company that made it. The car is expected to come to the museum in November.

“It is such an honor to be able to exhibit and celebrate this part of Alpena’s unique history,” said Besser Museum Executive Director Chris Witulski. “We would never have been able to do this without the generosity of Ron Winter.”

Winter also did considerable research on the Alpena Motor Company. His research efforts indicate the company had $239,500 in common stock and $62,500 in preferred stock, which he said in today’s numbers translates to $7.5 million.

“That was fairly substantial for a start-up company,” he said.

He also learned the company went bankrupt in February 1914 due in part to a $450,000 judgment for patent infringement. Ultimately, the Alpena Motor Company property was auctioned off and Besser Company bought it for $5,200, while the car parts are believed to have been sold to a company in Canada.

Winter has only been able to track down one photo taken inside the manufacturing plant. He also possesses a photo of a test car with a 1911 engine.

“It’s a one of a kind,” Winter said of his 1911 Alpena Flyer, whose engine also was restored so that the car now runs again. “I’m not interested in selling it. The plan is that the car should be at the Besser Museum by the middle of November.”

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