For a long time Elkhart has been known as the RV capital of the world. But long before RV's made their debut, cars were made there. About a decade after the turn of the century, there were about 14 companies making cars in Elkhart --- it was by all accounts, an automotive hub. One car, the Elcar, was owned by world leaders, and was made locally in Elkhart.
If you want to know something about Elkhart, ask the guy who has lived here for 89 years.
"I've lived it," says 89-year-old Paul Thomas.
Thomas, Elkhart's city historian, was born in 1923. By that time Elkhart was already producing and selling a steady stream of cars for people around the world. One of the largest companies in Elkhart was The Elkhart Motor Company. They set up shop in a factory on Beardsley Avenue. Most of it is still standing now although part of the factory compound is set to be demolished.
At first the company made buggies but introduced its first motorized buggy in 1908. It would eventually be called the Elcar.
"It was well manufactured and well run," says Thomas, "and it was shipped all over the world by the way."
According to Thomas, the Elcar was so popular the president's of Equador, Venezuela and Cuba each bought one. An Elcar was even raced in the Indianapolis 500. The company, at one point, also made boats and motorcycles.
By the late 1920s though, the Elkhart Motor Company had begun to slow down and declared bankruptcy in the 30s. Part of the company's demise, says Thomas, was their dealings with mobsters. In fact, one of the company's managers was killed for stealing money from a notorious gangster.
"He was shot and repeatedly stabbed. Was found along a road leading to the public dump near Troy New York," says Thomas.
The company later resurfaced under new ownership decades later making electric cars in the 1960s and 70s. Thomas says, Concord mall even had electric charging stations installed in the 70s to accommodate. Eventually though, even that business would close.
But the company hasn't been forgotten...at least not by Thomas.