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R E Olds Transportation Museum

Updated: May 23, 2021

On Saturday, May 15th, sixteen JAGM members drove to Lansing and met at the R E Olds Transportation Museum. It was a partly cloudy morning with the afternoon temperature headed for 70 degrees. Mother nature was cooperating nicely.

In its early days, Lansing was the “Motor City” with its car production exceeding Detroit’s by a factor of more than three. This would change later, but Lansing’s history and that of Ransom Olds was unmistakably a major force in the early automotive industry.

The auto industry flourished in Michigan for a number of reasons, but one simple explanation is that key innovators lived here. Henry Ford was born on a farm in nearby Greenfield Township and Ransom Olds settled in Lansing. These two would go on to be two of the most important pioneers in the industry by the turn of the 20th century. Olds invented the assembly line and Ford created the first conveyor belt-based assembly line. These inventions enabled mass production on a scale others could not match.

Ransom and his father originally produced stationary steam engines to power manufacturing processes. From that beginning they evolved into producing other transportation items. The REO company, Ransom’s second car manufacturing company following the Olds Motor Car Company, is the only car manufacturing company ever to produce vehicles powered by steam, electric and internal combustion engines.

The museum has more than sixty vehicles on display dating from 1897 through 2004. REO produced cars, trucks for commercial and military use, products for aviation, bicycles, lawn mowers, pedal cars and tricycles and even an inboard motor kit for converting row boats into powered boats. Their inboard motor kit, unlike their other ventures, never caught on.

After our docent led tours, we drove to the nearby Lansing Brewing Company, where we spent a couple of hours enjoying good food, drink and conversation.

Phil Crutchfield

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