By Carol A. Powell

Adapted by Carol A. Powell from the book “From Oxen to Oxide” by John Fletcher Fairchild Jr., 2013, Sedona Historical Society

One day early in the 20th Century, young John Fletcher Fairchild Jr. was in his family home in Flagstaff when he heard chattering and laughter of other children.  Running to a window, he couldn’t believe his eyes as he viewed a small elaborate house on wheels.  It slowly and noiselessly glided by with several kids in hot pursuit.  He quickly joined the parade.

The conveyance turned out to be an electric automobile.  Fletcher, as he was called, had heard of automobiles but this was the first he had seen.  All of the children followed until it parked in a buggy-shed.

Later, when he learned that his Uncle Bill who lived in Prescott had acquired an Elmore touring car, Fletcher was on a train bound for Prescott as soon as possible.  When he arrived in Prescott he questioned his uncle about his car.  Later he realized his questions made it appear that he came to spend this time in Prescott more to see the automobile than to visit family and, he had to admit, that was halfway correct.

Uncle Bill took the young man for a 38-mile ride in the Elmore, over a gravel road that took them through Jerome junction, then west and came back into Prescott via Miller Valley. They got up to 35 mph, a high speed for those times, and after that the lad was hooked on cars.

An old-time blacksmith and machinist named Arthur E. Hendey who had a shop in Prescott worked with automobiles as a sideline.  Fletcher spent all his free time at Hendey’s shop where Uncle Bill’s car spent almost as much time as it did in its own garage.  Hendey hired the youngster part time, to do cleanup and maintenance chores. Fletcher was an apt student and loved the work, and when Hendey was doing an intricate job, he would call Fletcher away from assigned tasks so he could watch while his boss explained what he was doing.


This 1918 family photo shows John Fletcher Fairchild Jr.’s sisters with their children by an early automobile (Photo Courtesy of Author – Carol A. Powell).

Fletcher took rides with both his uncle and Hendey when feasible.  He watched intently every move they made in the manipulation of the vehicles.  He felt sure he could drive a car if given a chance and told Hendey this.  Hendey said “I think you can, kid, but I think you’re a little too short.”

Fletcher was small but he was certain he could drive because he had tested this when no one was looking by sitting on the edge of the seat, with a firm grip on the steering wheel.  He found he could reach the clutch and brake pedals with his feet, the gearshift and hand brake with his hands.  Hendey closed up shop in the middle of a slow day and they proceeded to a straight stretch of graveled road where Hendey secretly began giving the boy driving instructions [there were no age restrictions for driving lessons at this time].

The time arrived to let the secret out one day when Uncle Bill was in the shop with the Elmore and was ready to leave.  Hendey set the throttle and spark on the Elmore and gave the crank a pull.  When Bill started to climb in, Hendey stopped him “Bill, I noticed last time you backed out of here, you almost hit the side of the door.”  Bill assured Hendey he would be more careful this time.  Again, Hendey stopped Bill “it’s not enough to be careful, better to be sure.”  Uncle Bill answered, “How the hell are you going to be sure?” Hendey replied “I’ll show you how,” and turning to Fletcher he said, “Kid, get up there and back your uncle’s car out, show him how it’s done.”

Fletcher was as dumbfounded as his uncle, but climbed into the seat to carry out the command.  The Elmore was backed out and parked on the street. Uncle Bill was wide-eyed and surprised, but when Hendey told him about the driving lessons both men had a good laugh.

After that Fletcher was allowed to drive the Elmore through the streets of Prescott occasionally.  Since he was small, and the dash and the windshield were quite high, people would see it coming and run to the curb to watch, since it appeared no one was in the car.  Fletcher got a big kick out of seeing people grin, point and finally laugh as they saw a small boy piloting this snorting machine.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International ( The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to