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The Horseless Carriage Makes a Come-Back in Rocky Hill

By Lea Florentine | August 24, 2022


The front yard of Carl and Anne Pate’s Washington Street home in Rocky Hill looked like a scene from 110 years ago. More than a dozen Brass Era automobiles parked there this week.

The Brass Era is a term for the early period of automotive manufacturing, named for the prominent brass fittings used during this time for such things as lights and radiators. It is generally considered to encompass 1896 through 1915, a time when these vehicles were often referred to as horseless carriages.


Members of the Snapper's Brass and Gas Touring Region (part of the Antique Automobile Club of America) came to Rocky Hill, driving their pre-1916 cars, as part of their “Puttering Around Princeton” meetup and tour (August 22 through 26). The "Snappers" stopped to visit the home of Carl and Anne Pate of Rocky Hill to see an exhibition by members of the Pacific Southern Model Railroad. The railroad is in the Pates' basement, and Carl belongs to both groups.

Carl and Anne Pate of Rocky Hill with their 1903 Ford Model A. Because it had no windshield, drivers had to wear goggles. (All photos by Lea Florentine.)


The Pates own four vintage vehicles: a 1903 Ford Model A, a 1905 Ford Model-F, a 1909 Ford Model T, and a 1915 Ford Model T. Carl's interest in early Fords started in 1970 with a chance encounter at the Loan Lending Department, where he worked. When a classic car dealer came to his office, Pate asked if he had any cars for sale. Carl, his father, and his brother Bill purchased a 1924 Ford Model T for $1,800. Bill bought a trailer for the car, and they began touring with it.


The next acquisition for Carl was a 1903 Ford Model A — a two-cylinder vehicle that was Ford Motor Company’s first car. He explains, “It has really crude mechanical brakes. You downshift, then use your brakes, then use reverse. It’s a different ride.” Riders enter the car from a hinged door in the back, and since it doesn’t have a windshield, goggles are a must.

Pate’s 1909 Ford Model T has a convertible top.


1909 was the first year Ford released Model T’s, and the beginning of mass production. Pate and his brother started the Early Ford Group, which focused on 1903 to 1905 Fords. This group merged with the Ford Registry, which focused on 1906 to 1909 Fords, to become the Early Ford Registry. Pate notes that these early cars gave Ford Motor Company the expertise it needed to progress to mass production.


After his brother passed away, Carl sold the 1924 Model T and purchased a 1905 Ford Model F. He also inherited his brother’s collection of 3,000 license plates — including a leather one from 1904. They are displayed in his garage.


Bob and Audrey Gairing drove from Ohio to Rocky Hill with their 1913 Hudson Model 54 on a trailer. (These old cars cannot exceed 30 mph and lack seatbelts, so they are not driven on highways or for long distances.


For 16 years, Pate ran the Century Old Plaque program for the Horseless Carriage Club of America (HCCA). This program has recognized and documented the stories of more than 2,500 vehicles that have reached their 100th year. He also researches technical questions on two cylinder vehicles for HCCA.


Carl published Pate’s Early Ford Automobile Encyclopedia on October 7, 2008, which was 100 years to-the-day after the first Model T was introduced. This detailed book chronicles the history of Early Fords from the 1903 Model A to the 1909 Model T; both of these are featured on the cover. It comes with a DVD that contains 2,500 documents and pictures, from parts lists and patents, to articles and catalogues.


Carlton "Carl" O. Pate III hails from Connecticut. He and Anne raised their family there, though Rocky Hill is familiar ground for Carl. Growing up, he would stay at his aunt and uncle’s farmhouse at 38 Washington Street and roam around their 106-acre dairy farm, which stretched to Route 206. In 1952, they sold two acres west of their house to Bob and Ann Latham. The next year the Lathams built a house there with the intention of building a model railroad in the basement.


After graduating from college, Carl became involved in the model railroad – the Pacific Southern - at the Lathams' house, and helped with their Christmas train shows for many years. Six years ago, the Pates bought the Lathams' house moved from Connecticut to Rocky Hill.


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The Snapper's group, which is “dedicated to the restoration, preservation, and enjoyment of Brass Era automobiles,” stayed in Princeton for the week. Before driving to the Pate’s house, they toured Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, and later in the week, they drove to Hidden Spring Lavender & Alpaca Farm in Skillman and the Hunterdon County 4-H & Agricultural Fair, among other sites. Ice cream stops included Owowcow in Lambertville and Thomas Sweet.


Carl and members of the Pacific Southern (PS) Model Railroad put on an exhibition for visitors each year. The public may visit the model railroad the in basement of his Rocky Hill home from October 22 and 23, at 10 am, 11 am, noon, 2 pm, 3 pm, and 4pm. Go to www.rockyhilltrains.org for more information.

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