Ventnor: America's Luxury Redefined

1890: The Industrial Revolution

The world was currently in the throes of the largest surge of advancement in science and technology it has ever known. What was once known as the Wild West was now largely tamed and growing more civilized every day. Vast networks of railways and telegraph lines crisscrossed the nation, making large travel distances shorter as time presses on. However, not every town was connected to a railway, and telegraph lines also shared this limitation. Thus horseback and wagon still remained a practical means of conveyance. Stagecoaches in particular proved a useful and flexible means of transport, in this venture our story begins with a man named Norman Ventnor.

Norman Ventnor worked with his father Matthew and older brother Hamish at Ventnor and Son’s Livery in Dodge City, Kansas. A town known for its vibrant history, by 1890 it was mostly a sleepy community. With the cowboys, gamblers, saloon keepers, and brothel owners moving to greener pastures, business dropped off. While Matthew and Hamish were content running the livery stable, Norman felt that expanding their business was the best hope to adapt to the coming changes. A stage line seemed the logical choice since there were still many towns and cities that weren’t accessible by rail. Within a year, Ventnor Stage Lines was a small, but busy network of stations.

Ventnor Traveler circa 1899

The Traveler was the model stagecoach used by the company. Over the history of the company, around 210 had been built. As word came out about motorized vehicles in Europe, it did not take long for the concept to reach the United States. Using a locally developed four horsepower petrol engine, 25 units were modified as an experiment for this revolutionary new powertrain. Instead of reins, drivers used a tiller to steer while operating a complicated array of levers to control speed and braking. While slow to accelerate, the Traveler was capable of hitting 32 miles per hour on a flat surface. (One was rumored to have reached 52 mph!) The condition of the mostly rural roads used by the Traveler meant that much slower paces were required. The engines were prone to mechanical failure, the brakes were horrifically inadequate when attempting to stop from high speeds, and the requirement of petrol meant limitations on which routes the motorized Traveler could take. As a means of transportation it was easy to call the motorized Traveler a failure, but as a concept, it proved the potential of the internal combustion engine as the wave of the future.

The Traveler received an update in 1903 to include a muffler for the engine much to the relief of passengers who took exception to the noise. With the motor car becoming the wave of the future, Ventnor Motor Company was born in 1904, the motorized and horse drawn Travelers would continue to operate until Ventnor Stage Lines closed down in 1919.

More to come…


I haven’t heard from Ventnor in a long time, although the nameplate has been around since the Kee era. Anyway, it’s nice to see it return.

Chapter II: Ventnor enters the horseless carriage market.

Dodge City, Kansas 1904

Ventnor Stage Lines was performing admirably, business was steady, and the small number of self-propelled stages became something of a novelty. However, with the increasing number of horseless carriages, also referred as automobiles, Norman Ventnor knew some changes had to be made. Seeing that this was the wave of the future, Ventnor got to work developing a new vehicle, an automobile of his own to compete in the growing market. By 1904 he had a prototype completed to present to the Dodge City council as he made his request to build a factory in the city. He argued that Dodge could become a major manufacturing hub in the middle of the United States.

His proposal was rejected.

With things being quiet and peaceful in Dodge, many felt that building a car factory would begin to attract a more hostile element, bringing back the period of violence that Dodge City was known for in the past. Not willing to be deterred Norman Ventnor set out in search of somewhere where he could build his factory and get his company to really take off. He eventually made his way to Detroit, Michigan. With numerous other automakers already manufacturing in the city, Ventnor had little difficulty getting permission to build a factory for himself.

By mid 1905 Ventnor’s first official car was in production, the Ace Series.

Models included the two-door Runabout, the four-door Touring, the Pickup, and the Delivery. All variants used a 1.5 liter four-cylinder engine producing a modest 35 horsepower mated to a two-speed manual transmission. The cars features acetylene headlamps and a leaf spring suspension. All cars were built by hand.

Not wanting to stop there, a special variant of the Ace was built specifically for one purpose, speed and speed alone.

With a 111 horsepower engine mated to a four speed transmission, this version of the Ace was capable of a staggering 90 miles per hour. It competed in numerous racing events.

The Ace Series proved to be a solid lineup bringing Ventnor into the start of the Twentieth Century.


Chapter IIa: Return to the Past

Somewhere in Nebraska 1907

While Norman Ventnor was living in Detroit working hard to produce automobiles, his older brother Hamish remained in Dodge City to run the stage coach line. It was one fateful April morning when one of the motorized Traveler stage coaches disappeared. Investigations into the site seemed to suggest an Indian attack, a conclusion met with a good deal of skepticism due to the lack of any major conflict between Indians and American settlers for nearly 15 years.

The answer would come later in the small town of Blackwood*, NE. On May 3rd 1907, the local bank was robbed, the perpetrators escaping in a Ventnor Traveler stage coach. A posse was rounded up to pursue, but was forced to break off when they found every watering hole outside of town had been salted. While they were unable to water their horses, the bank robbers had no such limitation using the internal-combustion engine powered stage coach to make their getaway.

The level of coordination used in this bank heist meant the work of the infamous Von Richter Gang. Karl Von Richter immigrated to the United States in 1890, he believed his Prussian Cavalry background made him an ideal outlaw as he took a military approach towards crime. Crimes committed by the Von Richter Gang were known by the meticulous level of planning involved, every contingency accounted for. Word of Von Richter’s exploits would travel far, a little farther than he anticipated…

The unique nature of the Blackwood Robbery made headlines over a good part of the country, even making it as far east as Detroit, MI where Norman Ventnor got word of it. Fearing what the use of one of his innovations could mean for the reputation of Ventnor as a company, he felt he could not sit by and do nothing. Calling up Hamish to take charge of the company in his absence, Norman packed his luggage and started west…

To be continued…

*Blackwood, NE is a fictional town for purposes of storytelling, if there is an actual town of Blackwood, the resemblance is coincidental.


Chapter IIb: The Old West Lashes Out

Dodge City, KS 1907

Norman Ventnor was glad to arrive in Dodge City, having been three years since he left, it was good to see his home town. Despite the changes over the years, it was still drastically different from Detroit, Norman felt like he had gone to another world. Waiting to greet him at the train station was his father Matthew Ventnor. Norman was proud to show his father the three “horseless carriages” that he had offloaded from one of the train cars. The two men then went to the Long Branch Saloon to catch up. Matthew listened intently as his son described city life back east, the growing number of automobiles, and the widespread use of electricity for all sorts of applications. Matthew was most impressed hearing about something he remembered once had no use past the telegraph.

As the evening came to a close, Norman told his father the reason for his visit. He meant to assist in the apprehension of the Von Richter Gang. Matthew immediately voiced his disapproval pointing out that his son was not a marshal or a sheriff. He wasn’t even a gunfighter, but Norman was determined to set right what he felt was a direct threat to the integrity and reputation of the Ventnor name. Seeing that Norman’s mind was firmly made up, Matthew reluctantly gave his son the revolver used by his father in the Civil War. An old French LeMat that remained in good condition, it belonged to Nathanial Ventnor who fought for the Confederacy during the war. Norman knew little about his grandfathers time in the war since he never talked about it. All he knew was after the war Nathanial moved west, wanting to put war and political struggle behind him.

Now, in 1907 there were clearly many options for guns available in the United States, more modern revolvers, and even automatic handguns. All far more advanced then the LeMat that Norman was now armed with. However, in his youth he had fired that gun several times under his grandfather’s supervision. He learned how to reload and clean it. It may not have been the most advanced weapon he could have chosen, but he was familiar with it. Plus he felt nine shots would be an advantage over the six-guns most men favored to carry.

With three cars, and one aged revolver, Norman Ventnor set out to Blackwood to meet with the sheriff. Knowing he was forming a posse he intended to offer his services. Norman was no fool, he knew he alone would make little difference joining a posse in pursuit of a ruthless gang. But with the unorthodox tactics favored by the Von Richter Gang, he hoped the three Ventnor Ace Touring automobiles he brought along would give them an edge…

To be continued…


Will be interesting to see where this is leading…

After a hectic few months, it’s time to continue the story…

Chapter IIc: Gunfight at the Timber Falls Rail Yard

Before setting out for Blackwood, Norman Ventnor had one last stop to make in Dodge City: the grave of his wife Imala Ventnor (1878-1901) A young Apache woman he fell in love with and married in 1898, she tragically died during child birth, her and the baby. With that went Norman Ventnor’s hope for a family, he never felt compelled to re-marry.

After paying his respects he set out for Blackwood. Upon arriving he met with Marshall Roy Baker. Baker was initially reluctant to allow Ventnor to join the posse he was forming since he was neither a lawman or a gunfighter. However, he was impressed with the demonstration of the automobiles and their potential for pursuing the Von Richter Gang. Officially deputized, Ventnor went to work demonstrating the function of the vehicles, and teaching the other deputies to operate them. When preparations were complete, the vehicles set out for Timber Falls*, driven by Ventnor, and the two deputies who proved the most adept at driving. Marshall Baker had a plan for engaging the Von Richter Gang and it involved the town of Timber Falls.

Word had gotten out that a shipment of Army payroll was due to be offloaded at the rail yard at Timber Falls, where it would then be sent out and distributed by stage to the different forts in the area. With a number of men scattered throughout the state keeping a low profile, it was no surprise that Karl Von Richter learned of this valuable target. What he did not know was that Marshall Baker was counting on it.

Timber Falls

The posse had arrived at the town of Timber Falls. The terrain would make ambushing the train nearly impossible, and with armored stages guarded by soldiers departing town in all different directions, the only way to sucessfully steal the army payroll would be to raid the rail yard once the train had stopped. Not only was the payroll shipment leaked, also a detail about how it would be sitting at the rail yard before any stages could arrive to collect it. The men were in position, ready to open fire once Von Richter and his men arrived. The cars were stashed in the stable. The plan involved ambushing them once they attempted to rob the rail yard, with luck the automobiles wouldn’t even be used. But Marshall Baker knew Von Richter was not stupid, he would prepare for any course of action so it was prudent for the lawmen to do the same.

At 12:16 PM the train arrived. The armored stages would not arrive until 3:00, leaving a window of over two hours for the outlaws to make ther move. At 1:00 a puttering engine was heard coming into town. The Von Richter Gang took the bait. Two men sitting on the front bench, and another six inside made for a total of eight men, all armed and dangerous. The driver remained on the stage, while the one on the seat, and five departed from inside, with masks up and guns drawn, they demanded the shipment from the train. At that point Marshal Baker shouted out for them to throw down their weapons, that they were surrounded. Then all hell broke loose…

The door of the stolen Ventnor stage suddenly flew open, and the unaccounted for eight man opened fire with a Maxim machine gun. In the confusion, Von Richters men were able to get into cover and open fire as well. Regaining their composure, the lawmen started to return fire. A difficult task as the fire from the machine gun kept a good number of them suppressed. Fortunes began to turn when a few lucky shots made their way into the coach. Not only was the machine-gunner killed, but a round smashed into the housing effectively disabling the gun. Another outlaw fell as the renewed onslaught turned the tide. Abandoning their robbery attempt, Von Richter and his remaining men piled back into the stage and took off. Somehow the driver miraculously survived despite being in a relatively exposed position. Four lawmen were dead, another three wounded, but the fight was not over yet. Baker and the rest of his men made their way to the stable, where the three Ventnor cars were waiting, ready to pursue.

To be concluded…

*Timber Falls is also a fictional town, any resemblance to a real town is also coincidental