1905 was about the time that the automobile tipped from being a novelty to becoming a familiar sight -- and sometime nuisance -- on the streets and roads of Sonoma County. That year Santa Rosa imposed its first speed limit (8MPH, slower at street corners) on the 21 autos registered in the city. Sonoma County overall had at least 41 "antomobiles" (yes, the typo is in the original headline below), and nearly as many licensed drivers. Except for two vehicles owned by different Petaluma poultry businesses, all belonged to individuals. Santa Rosa also had two women drivers; licensed Shirley D. Burris had her own car, and Gertrude Savage was likely the driver of the C. W. Savage vehicle.

In Santa Rosa, you were far more likely to have an auto than a license to "chauffeur" a car:


Luther Burbank owned a car, but had no license


Dr. J.W. Jesse had two automobiles, but no legal ability to drive either


Three of the twelve licensed drivers apparently owned no car (at least, under their family name) : J. D. Gemmill, Henry R. Jenkins, and speed-crazy Fred J. Wiseman.

There were also scofflaws with unregistered cars. Healdsburg Dr. H. P. Crocker is unlisted as either having a car or a license, although he was involved in a nasty accident earlier that year, running into a horse-drawn wagon carrying a family of five. The wagon was destroyed and at least one passenger was seriously injured. Crocker was fined $250, but appealed -- not because he denied being at fault for the accident, but because he claimed that auto regulations were unfair. The law allowing someone with a horse or buggy to signal an approaching driver to "stop and remain stationary" gave that person "arbitrary power to control and direct the conduct" of the car's driver, his lawyer, J. Rollo Leppo argued. The law didn't specify how far away the auto had to be from the horse(s) before it could be ordered to stop, or even that it was applied only to public roads; in theory, Leppo suggested, a horse rider could order cars on a private property race track to screech to a halt. The appeals stretched through the year. (Story update available here.)

But at the same time, autos still were rare enough that a tire stuck in the mud could be newsworthy. In the final story below, note that the road of hopelessly muddy ooze wasn't somewhere deep in the sticks, but between downtown Santa Rosa and the scene of " The Battle of Sebastopol Avenue." Also appreciate the sardonic subhed about the "horseless vehicle" being spooked.

Registered Antomobiles

July 1, 1905, there were 2475 automobiles and 1413 chauffeurs in this State registered at the office of Secretary Curry, Sacramento, as such are required by law to do. Sonoma County sends up a list of forty-one machines, the property of the following owners: [Santa Rosa 21, Petaluma 12, Healdsburg 6, Cloverdale and Geyserville, one each].

Thirty chauffeurs have registered, which in some cases are also listed as owners. They are as follows: [Santa Rosa 12, Petaluma 12, Healdsburg 6].

- Santa Rosa Republican, July 1, 1905

Dr. Crocker of Healdsburg Is Charged With Violating the County Automobile Ordinance

Tomorrow a complaint will be filed against Dr. H. P. Crocker, a prominent citizen of Healdsburg, and he will be haled before the court of Justice H. N. Latimer at Windsor. He will be charged with running an automobile on the county road and not stopping when notified, which is contrary to the ordinances of the county.

Behind this statement lies an accident which took place on the first day of the present year, in which Dr. and Mrs. Crocker ran into a vehicle containing five persons, and demolished the vehicle. Mr. and Mrs. C. M. Phillips, and their son and brother-in-law and the latter's wife were in the vehicle at the time of the collision. Mr. Phillips' brother-in-law, whose name could not be learned today, was seriously injured. He was thrown from the vehicle and rendered unconscious, and was taken to Burke's sanitarium for treatment. At that place he remained in a comatose condition for a number of hours. The ladies of the party were thrown out into the mud and water alongside the road, and were badly bruised and their nervous system demoralized by the accident. They have not entirely recovered their usual state of health as yet.

The accident occurred near Fulton, and Mr. Phillips, who was driving, declares that when he saw the automobile coming down the road he endeavored to control his horse, which was unused to the motor vehicles. He alleges that he held up his hand and shouted a warning to the automobilists, but that the chauffeur did not slacken his sped [sic] at all. Mr. Phillips declares that the chauffeur had his head down, and did not pay any attention to the warning.

Mr. Phillips declares that Dr. Crocker gave him no satisfaction after running him down and demolishing his vehicle. He further declares that Mrs. Crocker informed the ladies of his party that in the spring there would be six more automobiles in Healdsburg, and that if the horses could not get used to them the drivers had better keep off the county roads.


- Santa Rosa Republican, January 17, 1905

Dr. Jesse's Horseless Vehicle Takes Fright at Electric Car -- It Threw Water in Air

Dr. J.W. Jesse had an unpleasant experience this morning on Railroad street with his automobile, and to release him from his predicament several men of brawn and a stout iron rod were requisitioned.

While in his automobile this morning on that thoroughfare, near where the electric car "Woodworth" stands, his horseless vehicle took fright at the electric car, and sidestepped into a large mud hole alongside the track. The auto sank into the ooze and mud up to the axles on one side, while the other was apparently free. The engine came to a standstill when the machine struck the bed of mud.

The medico repeatedly started the engine, and one side of the horseless vehicle churned the mud and threw great streams of water and mud high into the air from the revolving wheels. The other side remained motionless imbedded in the mud. Persons in the vicinity thought some hydraulic mining was going on in their midst from the clouds of vapor that settled over the vicinity and hastened to the scene of difficulty to make investigations. The machine refused to respond to its engines, and Dr. Jesse stepped out and place his broad shoulders against the back of the vehicle to move it from its place of lodgement. In this he was likewise unsuccessful, and the fact that several by-standers grunted for him did not give the required assistance.

Finally a long iron rod was secured and a number of men took hold of the same and pulled the machine from its muddy position. The medico and auto each received a generous mud bath.

- Santa Rosa Republican, January 20, 1905


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