By Jim Lee
I really appreciate that relatively new statue in front of the Campus Union Building at Eastern New Mexico University. But I have always been intrigued by naming a university mascot after a bus going through town.
According to the official account of acquiring the greyhound as the symbol of the teams published by the university, that is exactly what happened.
Not that there is anything wrong with that. I think the sleek canine is a great mascot. So what if it all got started by a passing long-haul bus? Besides, it’s the noble beast everyone relates to, not the vehicle.
However, I never knew of any team named for a mechanical device — until recently.
Since 1925, Kingsford (Mich.) High School’s mascot has been the flivver. The word isn’t used all that much these days, but it means small, cheap automobile.
The term is most commonly applied to the Ford Model T open touring car. If I remember those stories from my grandfather about those “contraptions” scaring all the horses and causing a nuisance, a touring car was what we would now call a four-door convertible (if such a model still exists).
But I digress — as always.
The story of how the flivver became the high school’s mascot may be even more intriguing than the greyhound tradition. Let’s make things even more obscure, shall we? Kingsford was incorporated as a village in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula back in 1923 and named after Henry Ford’s cousin’s husband, Edward G. Kingsford.
Because of the availability of timber (wood was a major part of automobiles in those days) and the nearby iron mines, Henry Ford bought up over 300,000 acres of land through Kingsford and set up a car factory making — you guessed it — flivvers.
The plant also made “woodies,” those vehicles, generally station wagons, with wooden sides. To accommodate all this use of wood, a sawmill was founded in the area.
Not one to tolerate waste, Ford wanted to do something with the wood byproducts from the sawmill. So he and Kingsford founded the Kingsford Chemical Company. Kingsford selected the sight, and Ford’s buddy Thomas Edison designed the plant.
The major product they produced was something Henry Ford had invented in 1921 as a result of his love of outdoor cookouts with Edison and Harvey Firestone: the charcoal briquette.
Kingsford Chemical Company managed to squeeze 610 pounds of charcoal from every ton of scrap wood. The product was marketed as Ford Charcoal Briquettes and really caught on with the public. Ford’s grandson eventually sold the chemical plant and sawmill after nearly 30 years of operation in Kingsford, but hung onto the charcoal operation.
Kingsford Chemical became Kingsford Charcoal Briquettes.
Kingsford Charcoal Briquettes stayed there until 1961 when it moved out of state. Most of us think of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as heavily forested wilderness and lakes, not car factories and charcoal briquettes. And this impression is largely true.
The Ford plant and Kingsford Charcoal may be somewhere else now, but traditions die hard. So the high school mascot is still the flivver. Why not? It sure beats a charcoal briquette, doesn’t it?
Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: