Rozzlyn Shipp is a volunteer Collections Assistant at the Museum. Her weekly diggings through the objects and stories of the collection have uncovered an interesting tid-bit or two. She’s offered to share some throughout her time with us – aren’t you lucky?
Living in the early 1920s and having just spent your savings of about $250 on a new shinny black Model T Ford – black because it was the only colour it came in – you might have worried about someone else taking it for a joyride. Earle E. Chapman had the same concern so he dutifully designed a patent for a ‘Shackle for Automobile Wheels and Spokes’. Chapman’s chunky shackle was made to wrap around the front felly of the wheel and through the spokes to keep it safe.
Rest assured that great care was taken in the design to ensure your spokes would not be damaged from the shackle, however a new paint job might be needed if the shackle was left on while the car was driven away.
Like most car alarms today, with their annoying repetitive beeping sounds, the ‘Auto Theft-Signal System’ also made an unmistakable sound: cast iron against wooden tire against road. Its design prevented the perpetrator from speeding off into the distance (72km/h was top speed then), and your shackle would leave a very visible trail in the street. No bread crumbs needed!
An added bonus was clearly labeled on the shackle: “$100 reward for the arrest and conviction as a thief for grand larceny of any person operating the car or tampering with the signal for period from 1919-1922″. Not really sure what happens after 1922. I guess you need to invest in a new shackle!
The VPM has two Auto-Theft Signal System wheel locks in it’s collection:
Now I know this all sounds a little silly but one in ten cars manufactured during this time were stolen. Chief Constable Anderson and the VPD finally got tired of the complaints in 1920, and a one-man operation was established to determine whether the thefts were a result of ‘joy riding’ or the work of organized criminals. Constable Higgenbottom was the entire Stolen Auto Squad, and he worked out of the Detective Office. His duties included paying regular visits to auto-wrecks, garages and ‘other places where stolen auto parts may be located’. (VPD Annual Report, 1921)
Findings showed two common culprits… Mistaken Identify, being that your shinny new black Model T Ford looked very similar to everyone else’s. People often drove off in someone else’s car. The second suspect was often YOU! People would often steal their own cars and strip them for parts. Claiming their insurance, they could double the value paid. Don’t forget the $100 reward too!
Looks like a wheel shackle wasn’t a bad idea after all.