Jeffery Steam Car

Richard Edgar Jeffery (photo, upper right), a local steam engineer, property owner, and inventor was the owner and superintendent of the Gold Blossom mine in Gold Flat. He was born in 1865 and first appeared on the county assessor roles in 1895. In 1901, he constructed a steam automobile at his house near the intersection of Race Street and Clark Street. This car is certainly the first one built in Grass Valley and Nevada County and one history of the gold country proclaimed it the first automobile manufactured in California. (1)

img30054444ef361c16931891 Wheel Patent

Mr. Jeffery invented a unique wagon wheel. Wheels of the day usually had wooden spokes that fit tightly around a central hub. The wheel assembly was held in place by a steel tire that was heated and shrunk into place. After heavy use, the tire could work itself loose and put the entire wheel in jeopardy of collapse. Repairs usually required the services of a wheelwright.

The ingenious wheel invented by Jeffery added a metal cone within the hub and a steel outer wheel equipped with the recently invented pneumatic tire. By turning a nut inside the hub, the cone exerted pressure against the end of the wooden spokes, forcing them outward against a steel wheel. With this arrangement, one could remedy loose spokes in minutes at the side of the road without the ministrations of wheelwrights or blacksmiths.

Mr. Jeffery received United States Patent No. 446,559 for Vehicle Wheels on February 17, 1891. On May 11, he received Canadian Patent No. 36578.

1901 Steam Carimg28466444ef29d35e98

Mr. Jeffery built his automobile at the house on Race Street in 1901.

The car was tested on Grass Valley streets on October 21, 1901 as reported in the October 24 issue of "The Union". The second outing on December 21 also was reported in the newspaper. The October ride took the car on Race and South Auburn Streets, the December excursion reached Main Street.

In 1904 (we believe) the car was taken to Piedmont where it remained for the rest of Mr. Jeffery's life. At his death he owned a 1915 Pierce Arrow automobile so it is unlikely that the steam car saw any use while in Piedmont.

img32243444ef305101c02001 Excursion

The car was donated to the Nevada County Historical Society in 1947 and was placed on display in the Firehouse Museum in Nevada City.

During a remodel of that museum, the car was removed to a garage on Main Street and stored in the attic with the Cal Palmer carriage collection. In 1999, the car was again moved, this time to Terry Horlick's garage on Miner's Trail, about one block away from its original construction site on Race Street.The steam plant was missing so the engine was converted to run on oiled compressed air.

A "Centennial Drive" by Dr. Horlick on October 21, 2001 recreated the vehicle's first steam powered car1outing of a century before.

The Jeffery Steam Automobile is on permanent display in the museum.


Excerpted from: "1901 Jeffery Steam Automobile" by Terry Horlick, D.M.D.
Note (1): "A Pictorial History of the Mother Lode and Sierra Nevadas", Vol. 1, ca. 1954


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