The 1907 headline read “Buzz Wagon Parties Now a Fad.” The Idaho Statesman hadn’t yet settled on what to call automobiles. “Buzz wagon” didn’t catch on, fading as fast as the fad.
The article was about the new trend in Boise of simply gathering people together to go for a ride in an automobile. There were only 22 personal vehicles in town, but even those who could not afford one of the infernal machines could rent one for an afternoon buzz.
In 1907 Boise already had its first auto livery and garage. It was started the year before by A.G. Randall. What Boise didn’t have was a single street designed for a horseless carriage. There were certain streets, though, that pleased autoists more than others. Warm Springs Avenue topped the list. There were well-beaten paths on either side of the trolley tracks on Warm Springs that offered a smooth ride to those whipping along at six miles per hour, the speed limit in the city. There were rumors that some exceeded that break-neck speed, though proving it was difficult. The city did not yet have a patrol car.
Even with the occasional scofflaw cranking their car up to jogging speed, there was little concern. Boise had not yet seen its first automobile accident. Oh, there was the time M. Knox, chief engineer of the Boise and Interurban, tangled with an auto. It spooked his horse, which threw him off and underneath the machine. He came away with a severe sprain. There was no actual collision, though, so it didn’t count.
In July of 1908 the Statesman was reporting that more women were being seen behind the wheels of automobiles. Reporter Eva Hunt Dockery likened the development to an infection she called “microbus automobubious.” There were by then 25 machines “whirling” around the city. Some of them were pricey, running upwards of $4,000, the equivalent of about $100,000 in todays dollars. They were beginning to be popular with doctors.
Still, no accidents in Boise in 1909. Automobile crashes that resulted in injury were such a new thing that local papers were reporting on out-of-state crashes. It was front page news when a man from Boise was slightly injured in a car crash in Brooklyn in which one man was killed.
Boise’s run of good luck couldn’t last forever. March 13, 1909 was the ominous day when an automobile accident took place in the city. The Statesman covered it in gritty detail. Sixteen-year-old Robert Shaw was at the wheel crossing a bridge over an irrigation ditch on Broadway when a pedestrian stepped out in front of him. Shaw blasted the horn, then yanked the steering wheel right, but the pedestrian started in that direction. So, Shaw yanked the wheel left only to have the pedestrian—perhaps taking a cue from local squirrels—move to the left. Careening along at as much as six miles per hour, young Shaw saw the only way to miss the man was to crash through the wooden guardrail of the bridge.
The Winton touring car, valued at $3500, plunged through the barrier and turned turtle, landing upside down in the ditch. The passengers—four in all, including Shaw’s father—fell out into the ditch, which was dry. None came away from the encounter with even a bruise.
Shaw’s father praised the young man’s choice of running off the bridge to avoid running over the pedestrian. He was quoted as saying “I cannot imagine a more serious problem than that which confronted my young son, and I am mighty proud of the pluck and level-headedness which he displayed.”
To confirm it for the history books, the paper ended the article with, “This is the first auto accident to be recorded among the many machines owned in the city.”