Auto Wheel Coaster Company
95 Schenck Street
The first mention in North Tonawanda of this manufacturer was in the 1910 City Directory when it was known as the Buffalo Sled Co. In the 1915 City Directory, additional information says “mfrs. of shovels, sleighs and coater wagons, Schenck corner Duckwitz.”
A February 1920 article in a Buffalo Sled Co. publication tells of contests with prizes for writing letters about the best uses for Auto Wheel Coaster and Roadster products. Also prizes for naming the publication. They also had Auto-Wheel Coaster Clubs of the U.S. , to “develop leadership in the boy.”
A news article headline in the 1920's reads “Auto Wheel Coaster Co., with headquarters in North Tonawanda, NY, and branches in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Preston, Ontario, is the “home of the largest coaster wagon manufacturers in the world.” The article described Auto Wheel Coaster Wagons and Fleetwing Steering Sleds as its important products. A drawing of the plant shows a sign reading “Auto Wheel Coaster Company, Inc.” on the roof.
The 1921 City Directory shows it as “Auto Wheel Coaster Co., Inc., mfrs. of coaster wagons and sleds, still at Schenck corner Duckwitz.”
A Saturday, December 19, 1964, Buffalo News article tells that the Auto Wheel Industries factory located at 95 Schenck Street was then still making sleds using the same methods, and in some cases, the same men, as when the reporter had been a child. Hugh Montgomerie, the reporter, told how in the spring the sled went into storage and out came the coaster wagon. He described the wagons as “providing three full seasons a year of boyish fun on four steel-tired, wooden-spoked wheels so like those on automobiles of the day that they gave the wagon its name…A boy without an Auto-Wheel Coaster in those days couldn't have really lived,” he wrote. He said the wagon had four good wheels, solid, everlasting wagon bed, an under-carriage built to carry a ton or so, and a tongue so tough you couldn't break or bend it if you jumped on it.
At the time of this article, Elmer L. Hardy, a 75-year-old shaper operator, and Walter E. Hardy, 69, assembly foreman who nailed the top boards on sleds, built something more than mere quality into those sleds and wagons. Walt had been working in the factory for 45 years, Elmer for 52 years, except for a few months that year when the plant had been closed down. When the company's new owners took over a few months before the article was written, they found orders for about 25,000 sleds, with plant capacity being about 20,000 sleds.
Kiln-dried northern white ash, with filler coat and varnish, mounted on high carbon steel runners—that was an Auto Wheel Coaster sled.
In June 1968, Auto Wheel Industries, Inc., manufacturer of the nationally known “Fleetwing” children's wagons and sleds for over 50 years, then came under the guiding hand of Tycodyne Industries Corp. Tycodyne hoped to capitalize on the “Fleetwing” name, forming “Fleetwing Products” to supplement the Auto Wheel toy line with children's furniture items. They felt that Auto Wheel offered a great opportunity for growth and profit because “the North Tonawanda landmark firm” had the capability to produce many types of fabricated wood or metal products.
Auto Wheel's deficit had been reduced in less than a year from $400,000 to $70,000, and almost 30,000 sleds and wagons were produced in that year, with a production goal of 200,000 units annually considered realistic by the new firm owners.
The cavernous factory on Goundry Street from which Auto Wheel had produced its products was described as quiet and semi-dormant at that time.
A September 5, 1964, article describes the bankruptcy auction at Auto Wheel Coaster Co., stating that the firm, established 60 years ago (1904) had been plagued by union difficulties and several strikes during the past ten years. The company manufactured sleds, wagons, tricycles, and scooters. It employed 60 persons in 1956. For the last several years of operations, only a handful of employees had remained on the job.
In the Tonawanda News on May 31, 1972, there was an article with photos of the spectacular $500,000 blaze that wiped out the factory and seven homes the day before.
The preliminary investigation supported the theory that the fire was started intentionally.
A June 15, 2002, Tonawanda News Flashback article by William C. Wittkowsky, stated, “The Auto Wheel Coaster Co. moved from Buffalo to North Tonawanda in the early 1900's and was located on the south side of Schenck Street at North Marion Street. The products manufactured there through the years included wagons, carts, scooters, pedal bikes, sleds, sled strollers, and bobsleds. All of these were advertised as “Health Builders for Children.” The Auto Wheel Coaster Co. closed in 1964 and fire destroyed the building in 1972. The products made at that North Tonawanda factory are still remembered for their safety features and quality.
A 1940 catalog, “Auto-Wheel Health Builders for Children” shows coaster wagons, stake wagons, hand cars, scooters, pedal bikes, work benches, porch gates, Fleetwing & Flash Steering Sleds, sled guards, and bob sleds as the products.
Top Photo: Sleds loaded on a delivery truck in 1931, courtesy of George Trautman Collection