Crosby Crestmobile Story

shared with Clayton County Genealogical Society

June 25, 2019, David Beck, Elkader, Board Member of the Garnavillo Historical Society, provided an exceptional program on the journey of the 1902 Crestmobile, which is now housed in the museum there. Mr. James O. Crosby, original owner of the 1902 Crestmobile, was a well respected and progressive thinking attorney hailing from the area of Lake George, NY. They had four sons, James, Teddy (who drowned at age 15 in Buck Creek), Fred and William, his mother’s favorite, but not his dad’s. William and his dad did not get along and William left home at an early age. He remained out of touch with his father until the last years of father James’ life, when they did reconcile.

Picture of Dave Beck and Genealogical Society during presentation.
Dave Beck, Presenter and Clayton County Genealogical Society
at Garnavillo Historical Museum

In 1850, at age 22, elder James wanted to see “the west”, so he took a steamer on the great lakes, a train to Chicago and a stagecoach to Galena, IL, then a steamboat to Minneapolis. In 1854 James decided the opportunities in the west were excellent and took a cookstove, clothes and a trunk of his law books and headed out for Pittsburgh on a raft. Taken from his diary, while on the Allegheny River, his raft was upended by a large steamboat, which sunk much of his craft. After six days of “limping along on several scraps of the heavily damaged raft”, he did manage to save his lawbooks and sought refuge on a steamboat, traveling down the Ohio River to the Mississippi River then north to Minneapolis. From there he walked to Decorah, Monona and arrived at Garnavillo August 4, 1854. Because of his shoddy appearance from the long miles of travel he was denied a stay in the local hotel. He was directed to a private boarding house where he befriended Dr. Linton who became a lifelong friend of Crosby’s. In 1867, he, along with John Thompson and J.P. Dickinson, built Motor Mill south and west of Garnavillo. One of the few losing ventures in his long list of accomplishments. At age 74, on April 4, 1902, he ordered by mail from the Crest Car Company his Crestmobile for $600.00. It arrived by boat at Clayton on May 15, 1902 and he sent Henry Kuhlman, who became the first mayor of Garnavillo (1908), to bring it to Garnavillo, where Dr. Schmidt helped the men put it together and tested it out in nearby pastures. When James Crosby died in May 1921 his surviving son William inherited the car and brought it to his home in OshKosh, Wisconsin. In 1927 William loaned the car to the OshKosh museum. When William moved from OshKosh to California, he gave it to the OshKosh museum as a gift. Mr. Crosby (James) highly valued education and bought the failed Congregational Church in Garnavillo in 1886, specifying that it forever be used as a gathering place for education and learning.  It was used by the local school for some time then transferred to the Garnavillo Historical Society and in 1966 was dedicated as a fine museum.  At this time, 1966,  members of the Garnavillo Historical Society headed by Arnold Roggman sought to bring the car back to Garnavillo but without success. In 1991 an effort was made again to secure the car for Garnavillo.  Once again the answer was no. Fast forward to 2016 when a new curator was in charge of the OshKosh Museum and civil negotiation now prevailed and rapidly moved forward. On May 7, 2018, Tom Chandler and Delbert Reimer, of Elkader, and David Beck, left at dawn to document and disassemble the revered Crestmobile from the OshKosh Museum, for its five hour trip to Tom Chandler’s “red shed” in Elkader, where it was meticulously reassembled, repaired and returned to a running state. As a trial run, Tom drove it down the main street of Volga to the surprise of some onlookers. It was driven up and down main street in Garnavillo before the 4th of July parade and showcased in the park during the afternoon festivities. Ten days later, the Garnavillo firemen were a great help in bringing the Crestmobile into the museum where it now resides as the centerpiece of the museum’s collection.

1902 Crestmobile in Garnavillo Museum

Its top speed was about 25 mph. Back in the day gas and parts had to be ordered from Montgomery Ward catalog. The small gas tank sat immediately under the passenger seat (think about that for a moment!). To know when you needed to order gas again, you measured with a stick in the tank and determined if you had a percentage of an inch, etc., NOT by a modern gauge which tells you how many miles you can go on the gas you have in the tank!


Back then the state issued you a license number, but YOU had to make your own license plate and attach it yourself. Quite the interesting journey for this particular ‘Gem of the Prairie’ to be sure.

Scroll to Top