Crafted in Butler

Exhibit showcases rich history of automobile-building here

April 5, 2021 Cranberry Local News

John Pro, left, of Portersville, explains the history of the 1922 Standard Eight automobile, above, to Lincoln Paul on Saturday at the Harmony Museum's Indoor Auto Show. It was one of five vehicles built in Butler during the first half of the 20th century.

HARMONY — More than a century later, the history — of Butler's industry and of automobiles — is relatable.

That's at least what Harmony Museum President Rodney Gasch said of the museum's Indoor Auto Show, featuring five cars built in Butler in the first half of the 20th century, accessible in Stewart Hall until Sunday.

Featuring a 1909 Huselton, a 1922 Standard Eight, a 1930 American Austin, a 1939 Bantam Speedster and a 1941 Bantam Reconaissance Car — known as the “original Jeep” — the museum's car show tells the story of Butler's once-thriving automotive industry, its heights and its fall, through the motif of old cars.

The Huselton, built by Edgar Chandler Huselton Sr., owner of the first auto dealership in the county, was also one of the first vehicles built in Butler and was one of 13 Huselton cars made.

John Pro, of the Butler Old Stone House Region chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America, said the car was first built as a race car, and lengthened as Huselton's family grew.

1941 BRC 40 Bantam Jeep built in Butler on display at the Harmony Museum's Indoor Auto Show Satruday in Harmony.

Like the Huselton, as Butler grew, so did its automotive industry.

In 1912, the Standard Steel Car Company entered the auto manufacturing business, and produced, among other vehicles, the Standard Eight, a luxury car that looks more like a rail car on the inside than a modern automobile.

From blinds over the windows to interior lighting — a rarity in the 1920s — and heating for the rear seats, the car features a number of luxury items, making it a choice for any family who may have had a chauffeur.

Then came the story of the county's automotive growth and fall, according to Pro. The American Austin Car Co. was founded in 1929, using the same premises that belonged to Standard. By 1930, the company began assembling and selling lightweight automobiles similar to the British Austin company, including the 1930 model featured in the show.

The 1930 vehicle was a much smaller car than the Standard Eight, which today would be considered a coupe.

Being born in the Great Depression, the American Austin company didn't last long, filing for bankruptcy in 1934. In 1935, Roy S. Evans bought the plant and created the American Bantam Car Company.

1939 Bantam Speedster built in Butler on display with other classic Butler-assembled cars at the Harmony Museum's Indoor Auto Show Saturday in Harmony.

Two years later, the company was producing a coupe, roadster and panel truck, designed from existing Austin models. The AACA says the vehicle could go up to 60 to 65 mph and receive 40 to 50 miles per gallon, and were some of the least expensive cars around.

The Jeep prototype built by Bantam — the Bantam Reconaissance Car — actually was modeled after the roadster model, Pro said.

Unfortunately for Bantam and for Butler County, the U.S. Department of War wasn't interested in giving the reconnaissance car contract to Bantam, instead choosing Willys. Pro thinks that was a mistake, saying Bantam could have contracted production out if its capacity wasn't high enough — as Willys eventually did with Ford — and the vehicle was a solid one.

Gasch described the show as being more relatable than some other types of history the museum covers, such as the Harmonists or George Washington, and said he was happy with the turnout and the show itself.

“We're really happy with how the event turned out,” he added. “The cars look great.”

Alex J. Weidenhof

Alex J. Weidenhof