There is something missing in the saying, “Mom, apple pie, baseball and Chevrolet,” and that missing word could be “Cushman.”
Few pieces of Americana have struck more sentimental chords and evoked more boyhood memories than the Cushman, the familiar little motor scooter that gave hundreds of thousands of junior high boys their first experience of being able to get around town without having to walk or pedal.
The first Cushman scooters, which were known as Autoglides, rolled off the assembly line of a Lincoln, Neb., factory in 1936. The company produced a steady supply of them until the scooter line was discontinued in mid-1966.
Jim Wadlow of Burleson remembers the glory days of the Lincoln plant because his father, Jack, was precision inspector for the company and also served Cushman as a union representative for nine years.
“My father started to work at the Cushman plant just after World War II and I went to work for Cushman right out of high school,” said Garner, who recalls purchasing his first scooter, a 1939 Cushman Autoglide, for $50 when he was 14 years old.
“The Cushman brothers started the factory up in about 1900,” Wadlow said, saying that the main items produced were well pumps and electric generator motors. The Cushman brothers were later bought out by Charles Ammon, who continued the original products.
“Cushman was a wonderful place to work,” Wadlow said. “There was such a strong work ethic.”
In 1936, an individual approached Ammon and requested that the company build a scooter for him, using its patented motor.
“That prompted Charles Ammon to tell his sons, Robert and William, to create the scooter and, several months later, 16 Autoglides rolled off the assembly line. The price of the new scooter was around $150,” Wadlow said, noting that by the time he was a senior in high school, he upgraded to a new, more powerful model that his father purchased for him.
According to a Cushman publication, the industry soared and Americans were purchasing the scooters for pleasure and for commuting to work, taking advantage of the ease of maneuvering through traffic as well as getting 75 mpg. The military also purchased the scooter and modified its frame to be used to parachute with soldiers behind enemy lines, giving the soldiers instant transportation over unfamiliar terrain. America became enthralled with the unique design, which caused the company to capitalize off of it by creating the Civilian Airborne.
The Cushman plant earned the title “Little Detroit” when, in 1953, the Ammon brothers converted the factory to a variation of the automated mass production of the Detroit auto industry.
By the mid- to late-1950s, Cushman had added new scooters to its lineup, including the Highlander step-through models with gasoline tanks located in the rear, with earlier models sporting a more primitive metal tubular frame look. Later models had a more modern fiberglass rear deck with enclosed fuel tank.
The coveted Cushman Eagle, a motorcycle-style scooter with a two-speed “suicide” gearshift located on the left of the gas tank and a foot clutch was often referred to as the “baby Harley.”
Wadlow said that. by the late 1950s, Cushman sales started declining largely as a result of a surplus of scooters being shipped to Japan.
“The scooter caught the eye of a man by the name of Honda,” said Wadlow, who said a Japanese entrepreuneur adapted some of the principles of the Cushman design and added his own designs, including a three-speed transmission and left handlebar grip shift as well as incorporating plastic into some of the parts and accessories.
“The Honda was then shipped over here and when boys here realized they could buy a scooter that would travel 75 miles per hour for the same price as a Cushman that would average 40-55 miles per hour, that signaled the beginning of the end of the Cushman scooter line in 1966,” Wadlow said, noting the Ammon brothers refused to incorporate plastic into their products.
Wadlow said he and his wife Jill own one of only five or six specially built Cushman golf carts that were outfitted with a 22-horsepower overhead valve engine and a three-speed Studebaker Lark transmission, lights and horn, making it street legal.
“A famous golfer’s father was killed in an accident in which a Cushman (vehicle) rolled over and the golfer was prompted by a law firm to sue Cushman,” Wadlow said. “It was at that time the company discontinued the specially-equipped carts.”
Wadlow said Textron, which took over the Cushman Motor plant in 2001 after promising to keep the plant going, shut the plant down in 2002, relocating its operation to Georgia and North Carolina.
Asked about the factors that ended the Cushman production, Wadlow said, “I think the Japanese bikes took their toll on the Cushman products. I also think the interstate system and higher traffic was another factor and also, back then, boys eventually became dissatisfied with their scooters and turned their minds toward cars – girls had rather ride in the cars than on the scooters.”
For information, contact Jim Wadlow via www.burlesontx.com.
E-mail Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org