Ths following article appeared in the Fall 1955 issue of the Antique Automobile magazine published by the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) and appears here by their permisson. Thanks to the AACA for allowing me to share this article here.
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Sears Motor Buggy
By Don McCray
Truly, we owe a great deal to Mr. Krotz for the active pioneering he has done in the automotive industry. He was not a publicity seeker, being content to develop his own ideas, always keeping himself busy at something, even in his later years. During his long life, he made a rich contribution to the industry that is little known to most of the younger generation.
It is difficult to pay tribute to such a prolific man as Mr. Krotz without recalling some of the more important contributions he has made to the advancement of automotive engineering. He graduated from Valparaiso University, and while still in his twenties, soon began to concentrate his efforts on the improvement of wheels, bearings, and other devised that could be used on either electric or gasoline automobiles. When he was only 32 years old he had filed his first automobile patent, on March 9, 1897. This first patent covered a steering and power control. In 1898-99 he built a couple of electric automobiles which incorporated the devices illustrated in his patent, and they were successfully operated.
In 1897 he also accomplished what was considered a major feat for such a young engineer, the building of the first electric street car line in Springfield, Ohio.
He designed the first storage battery for the Willard Storage Battery Company, and for Mr. A. T. Willard he built a few complete electric automobiles, one especially or Mr. Willard's personal use, in 1901.
He did this early experimental work in Springfield, Ohio, and it was there that he became interested in the improving of tires. He claims to have invented he first "mutilated" tread tire, and the tire machinery to make it.
He writes, "Nobody drove cars in the winter. Tire treads where smooth. Furthermore, there never was power enough to slip the wheels even with smooth tiers. Anti-freeze solutions were unknown. Therefore cars were drained and stored for the winter season, and during early spring ant late fall. And, if one was brave enough to drive to another city, or 'take a trip' as it was then called, his greatest difficulty was in finding places to by gasoline and oil. Gasoline was kept in the basement or grocery cellar, and carried out to the car in spouted and bailed cans. You can well believe the two strainers carried by every driver, one for gas and one or oil, were quite necessary before the advent of the filling station. "
He has also written, "Very few people now realize that up to 1903, most automobiles were equipped with solid tires, and all tires, solid of pneumatic, had smooth treads." His first notched tread, or mutilated tread tire as it was referred to in the patent, was sold together with the machine he devided for making this tread, to the Kelly-Springfield Tire Company in 1903. Many other tire and tire manufacturing machinery patents were issued to him from 1900 to 1915.
The first gasoline automobile he designed was built by the Grant Axel and Wheel Company directly after his return from France in late 1900, where he purchased several French Accessories. He was chief engineer for this company, and he perfected a friction reducing roller bearing they manufactured.
Although he held over 100 practical automobile patents, most members regard him as the designer and builder of the Sears Motor Buggy. When he came home from his trip abroad he was determined to build a gasoline automobile. He had said that is wasn't until 1906 that he was satisfied that he had designed a really successful car. In that year he had completed his plans for a car which was later to become known as the Sears. He claims that in September of 1907, he had the first one completed and road tested, and it was so good that in 1908, he built about a dozen of them. These were used for further testing and to demonstrate to Sears that a reliable car could be built which anyone could afford.
He was a keen scholar of automotive engineering principles, and his final conception of the Sears proved this fact. In all of his cars he employed heavier than usual components and this made them more reliable on rural roads. He made photographs of his cars going through sand, mud, and even hub-deep in snow, a feat he said was possible even with friction transmission if it was kept in the low ratio and the engine not raced. Racing the engine was apt to burn the contact wheel facing.
Although he made a few parts for the test car himself, the later production models were all assembled with parts he had designed, a few of which were his own patents. In those days it was more practical and economical to secure the various parts from suppliers who where specialists on certain units. The 1908 test cars Mr. Krotz sold without name-plates, and had he bothered to put a name on them they could have properly been called the "Krotz Motor Buggy." Sears had been convinced, and in the fall of 1908 signed their first contract with Krotz.
He built the cars for Sears in a substantial-looking factory at Harrison and Loomis streets, in Chicago. The building still stands today and is now occupied by the General Outdoor Adv. Co. Webmaster Note: This building no longer exist. It was torn down years ago. A piece of history gone.
Actual sales promotions of the Sears line of cars did not begin until 1909 when a "Special Motor Buggy Circular" was offered to customers receiving the Spring general catalog. Six Months later, in the Fall and Winter 1909-10 catalog, the Sears vehicle was listed for the first time as a regular mail-order item. Page 1150 of this catalog shows the car listed as item No. 21R333, "Sears Motor Buggy," $395.00 or $25.00 less without fenders and top.
Cars sold locally were delivered ready to run, but mail-order customers received their car ina crate, and had to assemble it on the freight platform where it arrived before they could drive it home. The crated car weighed about 1400 pounds. A gallon of lubricating oil and an instruction book were included. All the new owner had to do was to pry off the heavy crate, put on the wheels, fenders and top, put in the oil and some gas, and the car was ready to run.
The engine was two-cylinder, air-cooled, direct opposed, with a 4 1/8" bore and 4" stoke, developing almost 14 horsepower. The transmission was selective friction type with the contact wheel being shifted on the countershaft by slide lever. Contact of this wheel was effected against the driving disc by only a slight pressure on the foot pedal, without ratchet to hold it in position.
The differential was Mr. Krotz's own patent, a friction clutch type working like a coaster brake on each end of the countershaft. It would pull both wheels forward or in reverse, allowing the outside wheel to coast in rounding a turn. With left-hand tiller steering, and the gas and spark controls at the top of the steering post, it was an easy car to control.
The speeds claimed were quite flexible, from 3 to 25 miles per hour without shifting the contact wheel. The timer was Mr. Krotz's own patent, as were the mufflers used. He mentioned that replacement mufflers cost only 85 cents each (Webmaster Note: I'll take 100).
In the spring and summer 1910 general catalog, the Motor Buggy was referred to simply as the Sears Automobile. A special catalog titled Automobile was issued in 1910, offering 6 models, all the same basic car with optional equipment, and model designation wee used for the first time. In the 1910 general catalog only four of these models where shown, large full color reproductions of Model H and K, with smaller black and white illustrations of Models J and L. Four full pages where devoted to these cars in this catalog.
The complete line was shown in the special 1910 Automobiles catalog as follows:
In the spring and Summer 1911 general catalog a surrey was offered for the first time. It was called Model P, and sold for $495.00 without top, fenders and running boards. This year the price of the basic Model G was lowered to $325.00.
Extra available were a magneto, two kinds of speedometers, combination acetylene and oil lamps, or regular acetylene headlamps with a generator. Top, fenders and running boards could also be bought later for the basic models if desired.
There was no charge for the heavy, expensive crate the car was shipped in. and the customer saved on freight cost compared to having it shipped assembled. Mr. Krotz has said that Sears never did make much money on his cars - they considered it a good prestige builder, and as such they felt it was worth at least a million dollars a year in added business for them.
The last time the Sears line of automobiles where offered was in the Spring and Summer 1912 catalogue on page 1213. In this year, the Lincoln Motor Car Company assumed the assets and the factory, continuing to make cars under their name until the remaining stock of parts was exhausted, and then they specialized for a brief time on a light truck based on Krotz's design. These cars and trucks were not sold by Sears.
Although Mr. Krotz was not a racing enthusiast, one of his cars did win a round trip race from Chicago to Milwaukee in 1909, and a truck he designed was on the Chicago to Detroit race in 1911. Considering the condition of the roads, reliability rather than speed counted most in those days.
He was recognized in 1946 by the National Automotive Golden Jubilee Committee as one of the fourteen men who helped inaugurate the automotive age in America.
In recent years Mr. Krotz had been a patent attorney and consulting engineer in Rockton, Illinois, where he lived for the past twenty-eight years. Prior to moving to Rockton he was with the Janesville Machine Works in Janesville, Wisconsin, a forerunner to the present Chevrolet plant.
Alvaro S. Krotz made a rich contribution to posterity. He has proved there is no better way to stay young and cheerful than by keeping busy - a wonderful philosophy for all of us.