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November 02, 2017

A Follow-up on the “Beetle Flyer”

A Follow-up on the “Beetle Flyer”

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

Some time back, I did a post on Hamilton County’s only car company – the Fodrea-Malott Manufacturing Company.  At that time, there weren’t many details about the vehicle itself.  Now, some new information and a new photograph has turned up in an Indianapolis Star article from July 13, 1908.  The article states:

”The Beetle Flyer’ was in the city last week, and everywhere it stopped a crowd gathered and marveled.  People thought it was wonderful and they said so.

Just exactly what the “Beetle Flyer” was puzzled the crowds at first, but the inventor, W. L. Fodrea of Noblesville, was one of the passengers in the home-made automobile, and he explained the workings of the machine to the curious.  The automobile which Fodrea and Charles K. Malott constructed is the result of about five years’ study and work.

Fodrea explained that with this machine attached to any buggy or carriage, an automobile could be made within a short time.  All that is necessary, he explained, is to place a small gasoline engine on the front of the vehicle bed, place the front wheels ahead of the engine, and attach some machinery to the rear wheels, and a motor buggy is the result.

It is the intention of Fodrea and Malott to make their invention a useful addition to a farm.  They say that a farmer can provide himself with an attachment for his buggy and have an automobile, or that he can utilize the power in the gasoline engine to run a pump, a grindstone, or anything else about the farm that he wants propelled by motor power.”

I mentioned in the previous post that the car company never took off.  It may have been because the purchaser had some work to do before the automobile could function.  (With all of the do-it-yourself work to put the car together, it sounds like something from Ikea.)  More significantly, Henry Ford began producing his Model T in 1908 and it would have been difficult for Fodrea-Malott to compete with a ready-to-go, cheap, reliable, vehicle.

After the partnership broke up and Fodrea moved to Arkansas, both men continued to experiment and invent.  Fodrea patented an automobile gearing system in 1914, an adjustable bicycle seat post in 1920, and a machine for working wire in 1924.

In 1924, Malott patented a safety device for spark plugs.  Curiously, the part to short circuit the spark plug is shaped like a cardinal.  Why he did this is unknown – the cardinal didn’t become the Indiana state bird until 1933.  Malott also patented a testing device for electrical systems in 1932.  He eventually moved to California.