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The Gale: A Car with Bite

(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #131, August 2015)

Gale0001D.W. Cook was an accomplished machinist in the early 1900s and, like many dreamers and tinkerers of the era, tested his skills by building automobiles.  His earliest creation caught the attention of two prominent leaders of the Chicago Crane Company who arranged a meeting with representatives of Sears Roebuck & Company to possibly offer the car in their catalogs.  Legend (and interviews from the late 1940s) report that the meeting did not go well and that the Sears representative was chased from the building by wrench-yielding men who were insulted by a lowball figure presented by the Sears representatives.  With no Sears catalog to sell their vehicles, Cook & his backers set up shot in Galesburg, IL and offered the Gale automobile to the world in 1905.

During 1905 the Gale automobile featured a 1-cylinder, 8HP engine that ran in an 80” wheelbase.  The Gale lineup was expanded greatly in 1906 when, in addition to two one-cylinder offerings, Gale offered three two-cylinder models.  The most unique feature on the Gale cars was its tilting body. It hinged at the rear and “provided free access to all the machinery of the car.”  This tilting body gave Gale owners satisfaction knowing that they would not have to “experience the strange sensation of crawling under the car lying on your back while black drops of oil trickle down upon your clothing and face.”

In 1907 Gale trimmed its model offering slightly, presenting a lone 1-cylinder model and two 2-cylinder models.  The sales catalog for this year was very unique and was essentially two catalogs in one.  The overall dimensions of this catalog are 9 ¾” X 8 ¼”, however, in its folded position there is a 3 ¼” X 8 ¼” preview catalog. This preview catalog is titled “Why the Gale Car is Good” and cites ample power, speed, value and strength. Special consideration was given to their ease of operation. So easy, in fact, that “Even the youngsters can run them.”

The second half of the 1907 catalog includes pictures of each model, engine and chassis details followed by detailed model specifications.  The 1-cylinder Model C-7 cost $600 while the larger K-7 and G-7 could be had for $1250 and $900 respectively.  Potential buyers are encouraged by vehicle quality when reading the “Construction” section since it ensures readers that “Gale cars are built on a quality bases from gas lamps to tail light.” Here we also learn that all of the Gale engines are made in-house so the company “can guarantee every part to be perfect.”

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By the end of 1907 there was financial trouble at Chicago Crane forcing a reorganization of that company.  The new backing parent of the Gale would become Western Tool Works.  Western Tool apparently had very little imagination because their 1908 and 1909 Gales were practically identical to the 1907 vehicles with the exception of a 4-cylinder model offered in 1909.  The same can be said for the sales literature for those two years when Gale simply used the second half of the 1907 catalog as their sales literature.

Perhaps the most entertaining story about the Gale automobile comes not from sales literature but from an interview with D.W. Cook in 1949 for the Galesburg Register Mail.  In this interview we learn many things about the formation of the company, that run-in with the Sears people and a unique advertising gimmick that featured Cook driving a lion around town in 1905.  During that drive Cook accidentally ran over the lion’s tail whereupon the lion “let out a roar heard across town.”  Following that the lion repeatedly tried to “steer the car with his giant paws” forcing the lion tamer to beat the lion with a club.  Upon exiting the vehicle the lion was naturally in a bad mood and “lashed out and bit a small girl standing nearby.”  At least one person would always remember the Gale.