The REO Club of America is getting set to host its annual meet in St. Jacobs on Monday to Thursday of next week. The event, which is held in a different location in the United States or Canada each year, celebrates vehicles made by the REO Motor Car Company.
The company, which operated from 1905 to 1975, was founded in Lansing, Michigan by Ransom Olds after he left another company he founded, Oldsmobile.
Olds was a pioneer in the automotive business and a “genius,” said Elmira resident and REO Club member Ron Martin.
“He had hundreds of firsts in the industry. For example, he had the first automatic transmission. He designed the first one before Ford or any of those others – a lot of firsts in the industry,” Martin said.
Olds left what was then the Olds Motor Works Company in 1904, but was unable to use his own name for his new company. Instead he used his initials, R.E.O. The first REO prototypes were built in September 1904. The cars went into full-scale production in January 1905. The company produced nearly 4,000 vehicles in 1907, which at that time put it third in the US automotive industry.
REO stopped producing cars in 1936 to focus specifically on trucks. Through a series of sales and mergers, REOs were produced by multiple companies until the 1990s.
While Olds made several impactful contributions to the industry, the demise of the REO Motor Car Company led to his name not being as well known in automotive history, Martin explained.
Martin, who owns several REO vehicles, has links to the company going back several decades.
“My connection to it is through my grandfather who ran this brickyard right here (where Martin’s current business is) – he had a fleet of these REOs,” he explained.
Frank Kleinknecht, bought a REO for his first car and still owns it to this day.
“It’s a different machine. It’s not a Chevy or Ford. It’s a REO. It’s uniquely engineered, designed and built,” he said.
Despite the car being 101 years old, it still holds up, Frank said.
“Somebody asked me, ‘where do you get parts?’ Well, it’s only 101 years old. So far, all I’ve ever needed was one valve. And there’s a valve in that car from a John Deere tractor,” he explained.
The St. Jacobs gathering of REO enthusiasts runs July 11-14 from the Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton.