June 26, 2010

Candidate Chris Wright supports advisory referendum
and the use of inmates to mow grass on medians

By Chris Wright
Republican candidate for State Assembly, 62nd District

The recent coverage of the disagreement over the county‘s use of inmates to cut medians has shed light on what happens when those elected to manage the state’s budget ignore their duties.

We pay one of the highest levels of gas taxes in the country. This was made easier to deal with by being assured that this money would be used to maintain the transportation system. However, time and time again the transportation fund has been raided to pay for pet projects or to “balance” the state budget.

We have seen the results of this on a larger scale with the Zoo Interchange and now the Hoan Bridge, which requires nets to catch the crumbling concrete.

This also is why funding was cut to maintain medians along state highways. This time last year many county residents were complaining about the appearance of the medians, which were beginning to resemble hayfields. Unfortunately, the transportation aid provided by the state only funded one cutting.

In response to the concerns of the voters, County Executive Bill McReynolds and the Racine County Board made what I would consider a fiscally responsible decision: they used inmates to cut the grass. With the use of inmate labor, mowing could be done multiple times with the same amount of funding.

The Journal Times interviewed the inmates at the time who said they liked the opportunity to get out and work. We have used workers from the transitional facility in the Village of Sturtevant to maintain the parks and other jobs under the supervision of our DPW. It allows us to do more work with the same amount of money and gives these men an opportunity to contribute to the community.

While I appreciate the union’s concern for its members, it is important to realize that it would have at most meant one week’s work for one employee. The available funding just did not allow for more than that. The union should not be upset with the county, but with those who crafted and voted for the state budget -- which has continually cut funding for transportation aid. This would include both Sen. John Lehman and Rep. Cory Mason, who both serve on the Joint Finance Committee, which develops the budget, and then voted in favor of the budget.

It appears that they had little concern for what their financial decisions did to your members.

I look forward to the possibility of the advisory referendum proposed by County Executive McReynolds this week. This referendum would ask voters if the State Constitution should be amended to outlaw the use of transportation funding for unrelated items.

This state and country were founded on the idea of a government by the people and for the people. Somewhere along the way our current leadership in Madison has lost sight of this. While this will be an advisory referendum, I encourage those men and women who make up the next Legislature to take the voter’s wishes to heart.
Wright is a trustee of the Village of Sturtevant. He is running against Democrat Cory Mason for the 62nd District Assembly seat. 

County Executive Bill McReynolds sent his own explanation of the advisory referendum to the Journal Times.

Tickets for Obama Town Hall here available Tuesday

The White House today confirmed that President Obama will be in Racine on Wednesday afternoon, for a town hall meeting on the economy at Memorial Hall.

The event is open to the public; tickets will be available at Festival Hall beginning Tuesday, June 29, at 10 a.m. Tickets are free and will be limited to two per person, on a first-come, first-served basis.

Obama was last here in February 2008, during his election campaign,when 1,430 people attended his rally at Memorial Hall. Here's a picture from tht event:

Worried about oil spill, activists make a line in the sand

Almost 100 Racinians joined "hands across the sand" Saturday afternoon, symbolically protecting North Beach from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

For 15 minutes, led by Melissa Warner, left,  -- and echoing events taking place in 800 U.S. cities, including eight in Wisconsin, and 36 other countries -- people opposed to off-shore drilling made their feelings known in a show of solidarity for clean energy.

Warner said she was pleased that so many came. "We didn't know whether we'd have 20 or 200," she said. As to what the event will accomplish, she said, "We'll have to wait and see, won't we?"

"A lot of us are feeling some grief, so this is a way to channel that." If the effort leads to a legislative solution to get cleaner energy, she said, it will be worthwhile. Referring to the famous NASA picture of earth taken from one of the first space missions, she said, "We're not getting supplied from anywhere else. We need to take better care of our planet."

The oil spill in the Gulf, she said, "sliced open an artery of Mother Earth."

The activists who participated in today's event -- by Marybeth Zuhlke's count as the event broke up, there were 84, but some had already left -- spent an hour discussing the environment at the North Beach Oasis before walking across the beach and forming their long line, everyone holding the hands of the people on either side. The Rev. Tony Larsen of Olympia Brown  Unitarian Universalist Church, in a short invocation, asked, "Give us this day some common sense."

Mayor John Dickert told how Great Lakes mayors, having seen the inadequate response to the Gulf oil spill, worry about what might happen if an oil tanker got into trouble on one of the Great Lakes. He said mayors met with Federal officials to ask how prepared the government is for such an incident. One official's suggestion in such an incident, he said, was to "call the Coast Guard." The mayors were not reassured, and have called for a meeting with U.S. and Canadian officials.

For more information, visit: www.handsacrossthesand.com

Mykel Alekzanderh drums while activists make 'a line in the sand'

So, what's your favorite part of our annual Greek Festival?

Lots of folks start with the gyros... nothing wrong with that

 There are some who say they go to Racine's annual Greek Festival for the music and dancing, the costumes  and tradition. After all, this is the festival's 45th year.

Others, undoubtedly, go for the midway, the funnel cakes, the carnival; why else would the gaudy rides be so full of laughing children and adults?

Still others go for the traditional Greek food -- standing in long, but good-natured lines for gyros or lamb dinners.

But let's be honest; most of us go for the pastry! The lines are longest, always, by the tent dispensing Loukoumathes, better known as Honey Puffs. Six for $3, or 13 for $5. No decision to make there at all -- just hand the girl a fiver and make room for the next person in line.

Now, after eating a puff or two or three, take your platter inside, where the real pastry is dispensed: the baklava, melomacarona, kourambiethes, samale, paximathia, floyers, kataifi... Heck no, I don't know what they all are -- but they look soooo tempting. Just try to get away without sampling two or three, or taking four or five home for later (but not much later, I bet.)

I ran into Tom Savas, festival co-chairman, as I was wandering around the grounds Friday night. Told him I could feel my arteries closing, even before eating a single pastry (that would have to wait until Saturday). He reassured me, they're all made with the finest natural ingredients: butter, not oil; cane sugar, honey...

OK, I'm reassured.

Greek Festival continues from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday at Kimisis Tis Theotokou Greek Orthodox Church, 1335 S. Green Bay Rd. Don't say you weren't warned if you get there and they're all out of baklava.

Kids have the most fun dancing

The Midway has plenty of death-defying rides for young and old

Who can resist the funnel cakes?

But let's admit it: Honey Puffs are a big draw...

...We watch them come out of the deep fryer...

...and carefully show our kids how to put the sugar on 'em...

And then we go inside, where all the other mouth-watering Greek pastries are sold!

June 25, 2010

Youth work for a week, and what's their reward?
Charlie's mustache and Austin's Mohawk!

 Austin Greco appears to be having second thoughts as his new Mohawk takes shape

For 12 years, hundreds of church kids from around the Midwest have been coming to Racine for a week in the summer, working on their own spiritual growth and doing home repairs for the needy.

Today they received an unprecedented reward: Charlie French's bushy white mustache. On the left is what Charlie looked like, before...

Actually, the prize was a two-fer. A win would also shave much of the hair from Austin Greco's head.

While the Group Workcamp youth came here to work on houses, they also challenged each other to a food donation contest. Last year's youth contingent collected over 1,000 cans of food. When this year's minivans and buses from California, Nebraska, Maryland, Michigan, and Illinois arrived last Saturday, with some 260 kids, they brought hundreds of cans of food to donate to the Racine County Food Bank.

This year, it appeared the group initially met last year's goal -- so Charlie French, executive director of Neighborhood Watch who coordinates the Racine Group Workcamp, and Austin Greco of Ohio, a student at Johnson Bible College who is a Workcamp program manager, upped the ante: Double last year's food pantry donation, they said, and Charlie -- who has had a mustache for 30 years -- would shave it off. And Austin -- that's his before photo below at right -- would allow his full head of hair to be shaved into a Mohawk.

Say what you will, the incentive worked. Piles of canned goods lined the stage area where the youth held their morning meeting today and, after prayer and announcements, former youth pastor Jodie Ginter stepped forward with a hair clipper. A portable barber chair was provided and Charlie took the seat. In just a minute or two, his mustache was gone.

Then it was Austin's turn. It took longer to trim his head into a Mohawk, because there was more to cut. But Ginter knew what she was doing, and before long the sides of Austin's head were shaved clean, his thick sideburns were gone. At one point Austin picked up two piles of hair from the floor in a vain attempt to put it back. He was assured that -- in most cases -- the hair grows back. Most cases...

This was the fun part of what's been a week of hard work. Neighborhood Watch interviewed more than 100 homeowners, verified income guidelines, and picked the 45 whose porches were rebuilt, whose rooms were repainted, who had other repairs done.

Group Workcamps Foundation, of Loveland, CO, has been coordinating trips like Racine's since 1977. Racine is unusual in that it has hosted the youth for 12 consecutive years (and the contract for next year already has been signed.) The youth each raise $400 to pay for their trip -- and for the commodious accommodations in the Case High School Field House, where they sleep in sleeping bags on the gym floor. They also raise the money for the donated food; the ten kids and four adults from Graceham Moravian Church in Thurmont, MD, for example, said they collected a Joyful Noise Offering ... just the change from parishioners' pockets.

CDBG funds help run the program here, paying for Neighborhood Watch; and a $19,000 donation for each of the past ten years from the SC Johnson Foundation pays for construction materials: paint, wood, nails and the like for those 45 homes. All told, the Workcamps project has improved 600 homes in Racine over the years.

"It's instant," said French. "I get a porch built in a week, a house painted." For obvious reasons, "the community is very welcoming, very supportive."

And Dan Taivalkoski, executive director of the Racine County Food Bank, now has enough food for perhaps another week... The Workcamp group's total donation won't be revealed until tonight's wrap-up reception at 7:30 p.m. -- to which all those whose houses were worked on are also invited -- but a preliminary count showed about 2,100 cans.

Pretty good return on a mustache and sideburns.

 Jodie Ginter makes quick work of Charlie French's 30-year mustache

June 24, 2010

Mayors, including Dickert, concerned about oil spill

Mayors of cities on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River are concerned about the Gulf oil spill.

I know -- is that news?

They obviously think so, as they seek assurances that a similar disaster would not happen here; here's the press release they sent out today:
RACINE – At last week’s Seventh Annual Member Meeting and Conference, hosted by Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, mayors of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative expressed serious concern about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

And Racine Mayor John Dickert, who serves on the Board of Directors of the Cities Initiative, is among those emphatic about the need for answers before a disaster occurs.

“It is vital that the leaders that reside on the Great Lakes have concrete answers to the devastation that could affect our Great Lakes before it happens,” Dickert said. “We must learn a valuable lesson from the Gulf and be prepared.”

In a letter sent to the Canadian Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, last week, mayors belonging to the coalition requested an immediate meeting to discuss how federal authorities would respond to a major oil spill in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence.

“Our residents depend on the Great Lakes as their main drinking water source and a vital natural resource central to their livelihood,” said Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daily, Founding U.S. Chairman on the Cities Initiative. “There is growing concern about the devastating impact a disaster like in the Gulf can have on the Great Lakes.

“Federal officials need to give mayors the information we need to assure our residents that the appropriate response plans are in place in case of this type of emergency.”

Mayors belonging to the Cities Initiative are continuing to seek confirmation from their respective countries that federal agencies have adequate resources to respond to a large-scale spill anywhere in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence. The Lakes and River are the source of drinking water for millions of Canadians and Americans.

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative is a binational coalition of over 70 mayors and local officials that works actively with federal, state tribal, first nation, and provincial governments and other stakeholders to advance the protection, restoration, and promotion of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River basin.

RUSD ups school tax as Evers proposes more state aid

Just a few days ago the Racine Unified School Board approved a budget that increases the property tax almost 5 per cent.

Today, State Schools Supt. Tony Evers rode in to the rescue, proposing to reform state school aid, and provide an additional $900 million.

Of course, Evers' proposal must go through the Legislature, and the funds found -- so RUSD's 4.87% tax increase is the one sure thing. It raises the tax from $7.85 per $1,000 of assessed value to $8.23. If you're looking for good news in this, well, it's a smaller increase than last year's 8.74% hike.

Evers' proposal is explained in detail by the Journal-Sentinel. 

RUSD's interim budget adopted Monday is explained by the Journal Times.

June 23, 2010

Celebrating 175 years: Karel Jonas statue

The triangle where the Karel Jonas statue sits on the city's north side is getting a makeover, thanks to the Douglas Avenue Business Improvement District. 

Kristin Niemic, of the Racine County Economic Development Corporation, appeared before the City Council's Public Works Committee seeking approval to replace pavers on the triangle, install new flower planters and clean the base of the statue. The changes breezed through the committee and the council (though city officials noted the road is scheduled to be rebuilt in 4-5 years, which could undo the changes). 

But it got us wondering about the statue and the man it represents. Who was Karel Jonas? And why, of everyone in Racine's history, was he immortalized in granite? For answers, we turned to local historian Gerald Karwowski, who provided the following story and photos using materials collected at his Oak Clearing Farm museum. 

Karel Jonas statue

By Gerald L. Karwowski, racinehistory.com

Scattered throughout the City of Racine are statues, monuments, plaques and markers of all sorts. But on Racine’s north side the Karel Jonas statue stands tall and watches over passing traffic on Douglas Avenue. The aged patina of it makes a statement of the once strong Bohemian presence on Racine’s north side.

The Karel Jonas monument, a tribute to Racine’s nationally famous Bohemian-American statesman, was originally dedicated in May of 1912. It was located on the lakefront in a small park at the southeast corner of Barker Street and Michigan Boulevard. Erected by his grateful countrymen, the bronze statue done by sculptor Mario Korbel, was set on a 38-ton granite base at a cost of $5,000.

Jonas was a political exile. He arrived in Racine in 1863 and soon became the editor of The Slavie, a Czech language Racine-based newspaper, and also wrote and published the first English-Bohemian dictionary ever printed. A Democrat, Jonas was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1877, later became a state senator and served as lieutenant governor from 1891 to 1894. Jonas resigned to accept President Grover Cleveland’s appointment as American consul-general in St. Petersburg, Russia. He died in January 1896 and was buried in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

According to a 1949 Journal Times article, William Svoboda, a Racine mayor of Bohemian descent, was the driving force in 1935 to move the statue from Michigan Boulevard to its present site -- known as Flat Iron Square where Douglas Avenue and High Street intersect. The headline reads, “Suggest Moving Jonas Statue From North Side Intersection.” The article stated, “Police called it a traffic hazard and that in its present location it obstructs vision and is highly dangerous from the viewpoint of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.”

It’s obvious the police did not get their viewpoint and concerns across to the people and aldermen of Racine. The Karel Jonas statue in all its grandeur and patina still stands where it was placed in 1935.

The illustrations are copied from “exclusive” Original items which are part of the Racine/Bohemian history collections gathered and preserved at Oak Clearings. 

View of Flat Iron Square. The photo was taken in the early 1900s by Frank L. Stritesky, a young Bohemian boy who worked with his father at the Stritesky & son Harness shop at 1701 Douglas Ave. The Stritesky building, as it was known, still overlooks the Jonas monument. Young Stritesky was interested in photography and treasured his camera. During the early 1900s he took snapshots around his north side home and later opened Home Portrait Studio. Among his early views was this rare photo of a wagon belonging to local house mover Joseph Stage as it passed the small fountain which stood on Flat Iron Square at the time.

Karel Jonas (right) and a colleague, Voyta Masek, were photographed during a visit to little Rock, Arkansas.

Dedication of the Jonas Monument in 1912 in a small park on the southeast corner of Barker Street and Michigan Boulevard. The Jonas family is seen gathered at the right of the photo.

Postcard view of the monument as it looked in the Michigan Boulevard park.

1897 Letter with a Karel Jonas illustrated letterhead sent to the Tabor Sokols in Caledonia, from the Racine Sokol Society. 

Title page of a rare 1886 book written by Jonas.

Title page of 4th edition of the Jonas Bohemian - English dictionary

Second meaningless advisory referendum on the agenda

It appears that one meaningless advisory referendum isn't enough for the Racine County Board and County Executive Bill McReynolds.

Especially when transportation funds are involved.

In April, the County Board voted to put on the November ballot an advisory referendum -- i.e., something without any weight at all, requiring absolutely no action by anybody -- asking: Should any new tax to support transit or rail services, such as a sales tax or local vehicle registration fee, be permitted in any part of Racine County? 

McReynolds is now asking the County Board to set a second advisory referendum before county voters this fall -- this one calling for a change in the state's constitution. In other words, something with even less weight than the previous advisory referendum, given that a Constitutional amendment requires affirmative votes in two separate Legislative sessions, and then a favorable vote statewide. Chances of this one passing in our lifetimes are minimal to nil.

This second referendum, to be voted on in the September primary, asks: Should the Wisconsin Constitution be amended to prohibit any further transfers or lapses from the segregated transportation fund? 

So let's see: The Nov. 2 vote is clearly seeking a mandate to reject any new funding for regional bus service or that two-railed devil, KRM. And the Sept. 14 vote seeks a mandate to build even more highways, presumably at the expense of any form of regional transit.

Nobody puts it in such black-and-white terms, but that's the bottom line.

June 22, 2010

Dragon Boats make their annual appearance here

The Dragon Slayers team from UW-Parkside heads out for the very first time

The power boats and sailboats that take up residence every summer at the Reef Point Marina have some new competition this week: Dragon boats.

The colorful 20-oarsmen racing sculls are zipping around the harbor, and up the mouth of the Root River, as teams begin practicing for this year's seventh annual Great Midwest Dragon Boat Festival, which will take place July 9 and 10 at Meyers Beach off of Pershing Park Drive. The festival opens with a parade along Pershing Drive on Friday, at 6:30 p.m.; races are Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Samuel Myers Park, with the best viewing from Simonsen Park on Main Street, from 14th to 16th Streets.

Forty-one teams (complete list here) -- each is comprised of 20 oarsmen, including at least 8 women, and one drummer -- are registered for this year's races, which are staged by Racine's three Rotary Clubs. Money raised -- the net was about $10,000 last year when there were 47 teams -- helps fund the clubs' scholarships and community projects.

Practice chair Gary Henseler of the Founder's Club installs one of the boat's drums

OK, they're not really Dragon Boats until the heads are installed for the actual races

The other shoe falls: Diversey production to leave Racine

In October, when it was announced that 46% of JohnsonDiversey was sold by Unilever for $477 million (leaving the Johnson family with 50%) and the Johnson part of the company's name would be eliminated, we wrote that we didn't understand what all the changes meant.

But we dutifully quoted company spokesman John Matthews, who said, "We don't expect any employment changes as a result of this transaction. We have announced plans to invest in a new manufacturing plant in the Racine area, which will retain our current 80 manufacturing employees here."

Well, that was then; this is now. Now we understand. Diversey, which three years ago had 1,000 employees here, is closing its production line at Waxdale, taking with it those 80 jobs, as well as 35 more from the accounting side. There will be no new plant here, either.

The Journal Times has the full story here. And here's the Journal-Sentinel's.

June 21, 2010

Pepsi refreshes Mitchell School science classroom
(and advertising moves into a new era)

Science teacher Kim Wendt at Mitchell School's classroom remodeling project

Remember Pepsi's adorable commercial this year during the Super Bowl? The ad with the bikini....um, the two friends in a bar... um, wait!... the 50 cute kids singing on the mountain?

OK, it was a trick question. Pepsi had no ad during the 2010 Super Bowl, ending a 10-year run during which it spent $142 million promoting its soft drink during America's premiere sporting event. Instead of $3 million for 30 seconds of airtime, the soft-drink giant started a program called the Pepsi Refresh Project -- as in Refresh Your Community. Instead of a few TV ads, Pepsi is spending $20 million this year doing good in local communities across the country.

Mitchell Middle School was a beehive of activity this morning, and not just because this is the first day of summer school for 100 of its 7th and 8th graders. Today is the day volunteers tore everything -- cabinets, flooring, sinks, desks -- out of the school's four science classrooms to ready them for a total makeover, the result of teacher Kim Wendt's Construction for Instruction project that won $50,000 of Pepsi's money in April.

Early in June, Wendt opened an envelope from Pepsi and found a $50,000 Visa debit card inside. And today, to make it even more official, Ross Erickson, Pepsi's regional sales manager, arrived with a mock presentation check, t-shirts for volunteers, cases of bottled water. (But no Pepsi; in fact, vending machines at Racine Unified schools sell only bottled water and fruit juice, although soft drinks are sold in the teachers' lounge.)

It's a big project, but it's under control. Volunteers were stripping the classrooms, while workmen from McIntosh Flooring were removing floor tile. By 11 a.m., the cafeteria was full of removed cabinetry; a dumpster was half-full of debris. Although Wendt admits to being "outside my comfort zone" as a construction supervisor, she is directing a project that clearly would not have taken place without her.

Wearing a red hard hat -- autographed by all of Mitchell's teachers -- Wendt supervised close to 50 volunteers, students, teachers and friends. Among them was Glenn Gibson, a retired science teacher -- 18 years at McKinley, Starbuck and Gifford, and 14 years teaching in South America. "They haven't remodeled these classrooms since the 1970s," he said. "They're definitely overdue for it. I was so excited when I heard about it."

Another was Ellen Huck, a seventh grade English teacher who was one of  Wendt's professors at Carthage College. When Wendt first suggested the project to her students, they told her, "We're never going to win this."  Said Huck, "So many of our kids come from poverty-level homes; they're not used to winning -- or having -- anything."  Teachers were discouraging as well; Wendt was advised by many, "Don't do this; don't rock the boat."

Wendt, 29, a teacher for five years, went ahead anyway. Her application didn't make the cut in March -- Pepsi only posts 1,000 of the approximately 70,000 applications each month. But at 6 a.m. on April 1, there it was on the Pepsi Refresh website, in 373rd place. Wendt had already contacted friends all over the country and abroad. Mitchell's project got votes from Germany, Ireland, Nicaragua, Brazil. Her Chi Omega sorority passed the word around the country. A friend in Los Angeles in the science industry put up a screen on her company's website, urging buyers to vote for the Mitchell School project before they got to their checkout screen. On an airline flight to a meet-and-greet in LA, Wendt even got the stewardess to promote her project to all the other passengers.

Marketing her project, and ultimately winning, was the easy part. Convincing RUSD was more difficult. She remembers a "very tense" first meeting with Racine Unified's Building and Grounds officials when she first proposed it ... but quickly won them over with her grasp of the details. (She had studied classroom design books and, when asked, knew which were load-supporting walls and which were not.) She had also negotiated very favorable prices. The key part of this project is taking four science classrooms and turning them into a very flexible workspace with sliding glass panels -- costly sliding glass panels that school district officials didn't think they could afford.

But Wendt went directly to the president of the Sliding Door Company of San Francisco and Chicago and convinced him to support the project -- to make Mitchell's new classroom space a showroom here in the Midwest -- and to sell her the panels for less than half price, only $20,000 for the panels and $3,400 for installation. "The school district was surprised by the price," Wendt said. "They didn't feel they could get the deal I got as a teacher."

The new classrooms, computer lab, science laboratory and library will be completed before school opens in the fall. Youth as Resources has given kids $1,000 to paint the classrooms (it was Wendt's parents who painted hers a few years ago).

The project could be groundbreaking in other ways, as Pepsi is giving away $1.3 million a month all year to similar projects. Carla Fernandez, who works for the Good Agency, Pepsi's "social responsibility partner," is at Mitchell today to offer support and resources. She was in Lake Geneva last week, working with Fellow Mortals, a wildlife rehabilitation hospital, that won $25,000 in May. Her company helped Pepsi evaluate project applications and provides support to winners. (Another company, Global Giving of Washington, DC, performs due diligence after projects become finalists based on vote totals, before they are named "funded ideas.")

The money for this social media project comes from Pepsi's traditional marketing budget -- the soft-drink bottler spends some $72 million on advertising a year in the U.S., $400 million worldwide. But make no mistake: Pepsi Refresh is still advertising. As all those Facebook and Twitter voters cast their votes for their favorite projects they are inevitably reminded of Pepsi. (Pepsi is "engaged with consumers in a different way," as one marketer described it.) And if it works, we could see more of it -- unquestionably a good thing.

"Hopefully, this will be the future," said Fernandez. She was referring both to the use of conduits like Facebook and Twitter, but also -- and more importantly -- to "doing good." Not words we usually apply to advertising. At least not yet.

Except at Mitchell Middle School.

June 20, 2010

Celebrating 175 years: Racine's rich auto history

By Gerald L. Karwowski, www.racinehistory.com

Driving through the streets of Racine today you would never think that one of the world's  first automobiles chugged down the same streets in 1873.

Don’t believe it? Just read the “Spark” historical marker placed in Pritchard Park.

While the idea of a "self-propelled highway vehicle" was being tossed around among mechanical-minded people, it took a few more decades for Racine to begin manufacturing gas-powered vehicles. With wagon and farm machinery businesses scattered throughout the city, it was only natural that our highly-skilled mechanics would jump into the manufacturing of automobiles.

Nash Motors of Kenosha (later American Motors) bought the bankrupt Mitchell – Lewis  plants in 1923 and used it to produce a number of models there like the Ajax, Nash Light Six and in 1937 the LaFayette. After Nash-Kelvinator Corp. was formed in 1936, labor trouble developed and auto manufacturing was discontinued on Oct. 10, 1938, ending car manufacturing in Racine.

A visual tour of some of Racine’s classic high quality automobiles follows ...  

The Pierce Engine Co. added a line of automobiles to its product line in about 1904, and marketed it as the Pierce – Racine.  Andrew J. Pierce had been experimenting with automobiles in the 1890s and was considered a pioneer in the industry.

Starting with a motorcycle about 1901, the Wisconsin Wheel Works soon began to experiment in autos and by 1903 was manufacturing small lightweight autos. In 1910 it became the Mitchell-Lewis Motor Car Company. By far the Mitchell – Lewis  Motor  Car Company was the largest Racine car manufacturer, building over 10,000 cars a year. The company went bankrupt in 1923.

In 1910 the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. purchased the Pierce Engine Co. and  renamed the auto line “Case” and added it to their farm machinery line. Case continued to build quality autos as  late as 1925. However, carmakers  like Ford were building an affordable auto that workers could buy. Soon the market for these high-priced hand-built models disappeared.

In the late 1890s Charles and Fred Piggins were operating a small machine and repair shop on Sixth Street. In about 1908 they began building automobiles and incorporated the Piggins' Motor Car Co. in 1912. It appears that last mention of the company was 1917.  Piggins built autos and trucks but was best known for its trucks. They custom-built many of their products for the buyers' needs.

On Oct. 6, 1910, a headline in the Racine Daily Times read - FIRST AUTO CAR STOLEN IN RACINE. It was front-page news at the time. Thieves entered the garage of Soloman Haas at the rear of 1119 Park Avenue and stole his $3,000 1909 Piggins automobile. The next day the car was found abandoned in a suburb of Chicago.

Another small automobile company, Maibohn Motor Co., was started in Racine by Peter and Harry Maibohn in about 1917. They manufactured their products in Racine until 1922. They moved to Sandusky, Ohio, and are believed to have gone under during the Depression.

The L-P-C Motor Co. was organized by William Mitchell Lewis, Rene Petard and James Cram in 1914. The firm only produced cars for a couple of years. The L-P-C was the first auto to have an electric gearshift.