The Bolick Buggy Shop
Original buggy shop
... long a Conover landmark.
Driving along US highway 70, historic signs were posted to designate the "Bolick Historic District." The signs are gone, victims of vandalism, but even when they existed, few people realized their meaning.
In the late 19th century, up until automobiles replaced the horse-drawn carriage, Conover was the home to one of the South's leading buggy manufacturers.
Bolick school bus plant
The Bolick family, one of Conover's most prominent families, were leaders in the maufacture of horse-drawn buggies and later, school buses.
FROM BUGGIES TO SCHOOL BUSES MAKE HISTORY OF CONOVER COMPANY
By Cyril Long Mebane
From the horse and buggy era to our modem days of school children transportation is the vivid story of one of Catawba County's manufacturing concerns.
The Jerome Bolick Sons Company of Conover is today one of the leading school bus body manufacturers in this state, and each year many buses which travel all highways and rural roads of the state are made here. However, the history of this firm dates back much farther than the days of school buses.
Elkana Balch, father of the late Jerome Bolick, lived about four miles East of Newton. Here Mr. Balch [note the old original spelling of the name which late changed to Bolick] was a wheelwright engaged in making of the tarshane wagons, the name coming from the use of pine tar to grease wagon wheels. Jerome Bolick helped his father with the wheels of these wagons and became very much interested in their construction and spent a lifetime seeking methods and means to make better wheels.
As time passed by, Mr. Bolick decided to move to Conover so that he could send his children to Concordia College. Still possessed with the idea of building a better wheel, Mr. Bolick formed the Jerome Bolick Sons Company, a corporation of his sons. Members of the firm at that time were Mr. Bolick, C. S, Coyner, vice-president and treasurer. Mr. Bolick's son, M. Loy, president and secretary, R. K. Bolick, Manager of trimming Dept, O. W. Bolick, Manager of Blacksmith Department. Although the company was manufacturers of high-grade buggies, Mr. Bolick continued to work on his idea of a better wheel, a wheel made of steel.
In the year 1904 Mr. Bolick invented the first steel wheel which in later years was to replace the wooden ones. This invention later brought much recognition to Mr. Bolick. In 1905 he won first place at the Jamestown Exposition for his wheel.
The Jerome Bolick Sons Company manufactured horse and pony buggies and surreys. From an old catalog of the company on the first page give a description of the new spring steel wheel which was used in the making of buggies. This is the description in part: "Our new spring steel wheel is a wonder of the age in vehicle building. This wheel has merits that no other vehicle wheel possesses in any part Made of high grade spring steel spokes, a solid metallic hub, the plates that makes it impossible for any rim splitting, in fact this wheel knows no Loose spokes and rattling felloes'. This wheel is guaranteed for the life of any vehicle.
Some of the lines manufactured were Dixie Leader, a Bike Runabout, Pattern Top Buggy, Stick Seat Slat Wagon, Automobile Seat Top Buggy, Basket Seat Buggy, Cut Under Runabout, Extension Top surrey and many others.
Many parts of these buggies were made by hand, a seemingly slow process. However, this concern turned out as many as 28 buggies a week in 1917-18. Not only did they make new buggies but also did repair work on any make or style horse-drawn vehicle.
The first rubber-tired buggy came in 1910. This was another great improvement in the manufacturing of these buggies.
Bolick buggies were sold all over the South.
In 1919 the buggy business faded away due to the advancement of the 'horseless carriage', the automobile. This was the beginning of conversion from buggies to trucks and buses to the Jerome Bolick Sons Company.
It was not until later that buses were actually built; however truck bodies of all kinds and various descriptions were processed. The company made anything people wanted for trucks. From panel to drink trucks, vans to pick-up truck bodies were made in the commercial line.
In 1929 the first body was built for the purpose of hauling school children to school. The first two buses built by Jerome Bolick Sons Company was sold to Dr. MARY MARTIN SLOOP and husband at Crossnore to bring the mountain children to their school at Crossnore.
In 1932 this company sold school buses to the counties. During thay time the county purchased their own buses and it was not until 1934 that the state took over the school bus transportation system of the state. These buses manufactured in 1932 were known as composite school buses, part wood and steel For an example of how they were purchased, each county would have whatever number it needed built and would pay for them, having nothing to do with the state of North Carolina school system.
These composite school buses were sold in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Georgia. From 1933 to 1937 the company built composite buses.
When the state took over the school bus system in 1934 the Bolick company contracted with the state for buses. In 1937 this concern built 250 composite school buses for the state. It was not until 1938 that the all-steel school bus was manufactured. This new method was recognized and specified throughout the United States for school buses.
All during this time and up until the present this firm manufactured all types and style bodies for commercial and passenger trucks. The variety of different truck bodies would make an article in itself.
Today the firm is under the ownership and management of D. Edgar Bolick. Any time you pass by this concern you can see new school buses just completed awaiting to be sent to their destinations while truck chassis are being repaired to enter the long building to be fitted with a bus body.
Although a long way from the days of buggy building and the original Jerome Bolick Sons Company, today this manufacturing plant is one of three of its kind in the State of North Carolina.
[Newton Observer March 27,1952; from Catawba Cousins, Vol. 18 No. 3, pg. 29]
Their 1900's catalog vividly illustrates that not all buggies were the same. Please take the time to visit this historic treasure.
All photos courtesy of Don Barker
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