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Birmingham’s Premocar

—by: Craig Allen, Jr.


rom 1920 to 1923 Birmingham, Alabama was home to a locally branded automobile, the Premocar. Over five hundred cars were produced at the company’s Vanderbilt Road factory.

preston logo

The company that produced the Premocar was the Preston Motor Company (Preston Motors), organized in 1918 by Charles A. Dexter. Originally organized to produce trucks and cars, Preston Motor Car Company was located at the Sandusky Forging Company in Birmingham and the old Birmingham Boiler Works location. Originally the car was to be labeled as the "Preston". By 1919 the company was in default.

Reorganized in 1919 by Ross A. Skinner, Joseph T. Driver, and Preston Orr a newly designed car (and truck) was marketed under the "Premocar" brand. A public reception was held at the factory location at 18th Avenue and Vanderbilt Road in late 1920. Shortly after the reception, production was started with fairly brisk sales following the event.

The Premocar was a good looking automobile and was offered in several models. The Premocar was what the car industry designated as an "assembled" car, an automobile generally constructed from standard parts bought from other manufacturers. It was the job for the assembled car manufacturer to provide the individualism to the make.

Preston Motors Ad
1921 Premocar, Roadster

1921 Premocar, Roadster

Initially two models were offered, with two motor arrangements, one a 40 H.P. Falls-engine six cylinder and the other a 75 H.P. Rochester-Duesenberg four cylinder used in the company’s "special" model. Prices for the Premocar varied from $ 1,295 to $ 3,865 for the "Special".

The Premocar had some success in the southern racing circuits with their specially built racing vehicles. The race car most famously known in the racing circuits was the "Magic Six", a product of Preston Motors.

The high point in Premocar history was the assembly of a special ivory-painted tourer with ivory upholstery built especially for President Warren G. Harding’s visit to Birmingham (Birmingham’s Golden Jubilee celebration in 1921). The same car was furnished to John Phillip Sousa, an accomplished American music composer and conductor, when he visited Birmingham.

After exporting one vehicle to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Yugoslavia) in 1922, the company went into involuntary receivership in late 1923 with the reported indictment of the three owners of the car company for violation of Alabama’s Blue Sky Laws. A total of 563 cars and a small number of trucks were built during the cars production period. The Premocar plant at 18th Street & Vanderbilt Road in Birmingham was sold in May of 1924.

Works Cited:

Beverly, K. R., & Clark Jr., H. A. Standard Catalog of American Cars 1905–1942 (3rd ed.).

Marvin, K. (1986, July–August). Antique Automobile Magazine. The Rise and Fall of The Premocar, Volume  50, p. 4.

McMillian, M. C. (1975). Yesterday’s Birmingham. Preston Motors Corporation. (n.d.). Retrieved from Bhamwiki.



Recent History Center Acquisitions

—by: Jerry Desmond


n 1921, the Birmingham News published a thirty-two page insert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the city. A fairly rough copy of that insert was acquired by Tommy West and donated to the History Center. It contains some interesting articles about the early days of Birmingham, many advertisements of businesses long gone, including an ad for the Premocar, the lone attempt in Birmingham to produce an automobile, and an open letter from the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Many of the photographs in this rare insert have never been seen before, including an entire page dedicated to the employees of the Avondale Mills and the "Belles of Birmingham" seen below. Anyone wanting a copy of this publication on computer disk should contact the History Center at 205-202-4146.

Belles of Birmingham insert

Belles of Birmingham, Yesterday and Today Semi-Centennial
lnsert-Birmingham News, 1921

concrete eagle from the collection

On Memorial Day this year, the 90 year old concrete eagles on the 21st Street Rainbow Bridge, dedicated in honor of the 157th Infantry Battalion of the Rainbow Division of World War I, were replaced with new iron eagles. One of the old eagles (the one in the best condition) was donated to the History Center.

arrowheads collection

This nicely organized display of arrowheads was donated by Steve Gilmer of the "What's On Second" antique shop. All of these arrowheads were found in one location during repairs on the Fitzgerald field in Pinson between Highway 75 and Highway 79, very close to Rudd Jr. High School. They remind us that we were not the first people on this land.

To donate artifacts related to the history of the Birmingham region, please call 205-202-4146 or bring items to the History Center at 1731 First Avenue North, Birmingham, AL.


Birmingham’s Queen of Cuisine, Ewing Steele

—by: Thomas M. West, Jr.


efore Birmingham had Stitt and Hastings and all of our current crop of wonderful chefs, we had Ewing Steele. She ruled Birmingham’s food scene for 39 years at Mountain Brook Club, The Club and the Country Club of Birmingham.

No other person had so much influence here for that long a time.

Mrs. Steele authored a cookbook in 1974 which was sold by the Episcopal Church of the Advent which noted rare book dealer Patrick Cather calls, "truly one of the great Birmingham cookbooks." There was a follow-up edition published and one or both are usually for sale on eBay or the book site Abebooks.com. This little 82-page book is well worth having especially when entertaining.

Mrs. Steele passed away in 1980 at age 84. Her funeral was held at the The Church of the Advent and she rests at Elmwood Cemetery.

She dedicated her book to her mother, who was also in the food business and the following is excerpted from her book:

"I would like to dedicate this little cook book to my beloved mother, Ewing Hulsey Elmore, who was a landmark in the food world of Birmingham. Her memory will remain in that field for years to come. She worked until she was 81 years old and inspired me to follow in her footsteps. She loved everyone and everyone loved her."

"My friends in Amarillo, Texas say I got my start in preparing and serving foods at the Episcopal Church there. We had so much fun and worked so hard—even washing the dishes together."

"During World War II, I was in charge of the Officers Club at Ft. McClellan, Alabama. All my employees were young German prisoners of war and they taught me some good native dishes. Every few years they have a reunion in Germany to which I am invited."

Secrets of Cooking book

"I have talked, fixed and served food at Birmingham clubs for 39 years. This book contains those recipes requested by many people since my retirement January 1, 1973. It is a pleasure to share this knowledge with my friends."

"I have tried to make the recipes simple enough for you to use in your kitchens."

Probably everybody’s favorite Ewing Steele recipe, still being served after all these years at The Club and Mountain Brook Club, is her famous poppy seed dressing for fresh fruit and here it is:

2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp salt
1 tbs paprika
1/4th cup sugar
Dash Tabasco

4 cups Mazola Oil
1 cup vinegar
2 cups strained honey
2 tbs poppy seed

Put all ingredients in electric mixer except oil and poppy seed. Blend well. Add oil very slowly, beating on medium speed. Finish on high until all oil is used up. Add poppy seed last.

Or you may like her recipe for sausage casserole:

2 pks sausage meat
2 large onions
1 stalk celery
1 green pepper
2 cups raw rice

3 pks Lipton dry
Chicken Noodle Soup
1-1/2 cups slivered

Crumble and fry sausage till slightly brown. Drain on paper towel. Pour off 1/3 of the drippings. Add cut-up onions, celery, pepper and rice. Brown slightly. Prepare soup as directed. Combine all ingredients and add last slivered almonds. Put in large casserole and cook covered 1 hour at 350˚–stirring 3 times while baking.
—Serves 10–12.


Lady of the Lake

—by: Jim Bennett


he Tennessee Coal & Iron Company built several model villages for its coal mining operations in the early 1900s including Bayview, just west of Docena where the company created a man-made lake by damming Village Creek at a point where there was a steep gorge.

The Bayview Dam, from which water was diverted for use at the Ensley Steel Mill four miles away, was considered an engineering marvel of its day towering 500 feet wide and 90 feet high. The lake it created covered more than 500 acres along Village Creek which is still in place.

Bayview was the last of TCI’s town-building ventures.

Although the old bridge was replaced in 1977, the Bayview Bridge is still considered a local haunt. It is said a woman has been seen walking across the bridge in her wedding dress, since the 1940s. She ran away from her wedding and when she was crossing the bridge her car ran off the bridge and she drowned.

Various stories refer to reports of a ghostly looking white dress floating in the water. Some nights she can be seen in her wedding attire near the bridge looking for her groom.

Other strange happenings have also occurred at the site. One man reported his new car suddenly stopped on the bridge and strange misty looking figures could be seen on the bridge. Was it fog or something else?

Students were told to look at their windshield before leaving because the ghost would leave handprints. Sure enough, it looked as if they were there.

They say the lake lady will eat a cookie off your trunk if you stop on the bridge and cut off the engine and the lights. Many high school students, especially from Ensley and Shades Valley High Schools tried it.

Another version of the lady in the lake story is that she had walked to pick up her wedding dress and had it in her arms on her way home. Somehow she either jumped or was pushed off the bridge on her way back to Mulga and her body was found the next day floating under the old iron bridge. Her wedding dress was found the following weekend.

Bayview Bridge

Bayview Bridge on Mulga Gap Road at night, 1960s (Tim Lindberg).

One man said he picked a lady up once on the bridge to take her home but by the time they all got to where she said she lived she was gone.

Because of its crate-like floor construction, the bridge would make a strange tire noise as you drove across it. You could see through it to the water below. The truly brave would roll down their windows and call for the ghost. Some said her name was Betty. Except for the voices calling in the darkness, it was deadly quiet.

It was great fun to drive over the bridge and blow your horn. High school boys used to take dates to the bridge to scare the girls. Sometimes they got scared themselves.

(This story appears in Tannehill Ghost Stories, a new book by Jim Bennett published by Seacoast Publishing Company and available at Little Professor Bookstore.)



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