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Wednesday, January 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: Spokane’s first auto mechanic

George Ethan Bartoo was one of Spokane’s first mechanics and car dealers. As a young man in the 1880s in Indiana, he and a friend built a simple steam-powered cart which could run and drive but “had a habit of shaking to pieces,” he said.

Bartoo, with some training in machining and general repair, arrived in Spokane around 1894 and went into business as Spokane Novelty Works, a bicycle shop that offered an amazing array of services. He was probably around 40 years old. His business partner, Will Hall, was listed in the city directory as a “razor grinder,” possibly a saw sharpener. Bartoo’s advertisement in the city directory offered sales and repair for bicycles, of course, but also for guns, sewing machines, typewriters and light machinery. He could file saw blades, make keys and make custom parts for almost any machine.

Although he sold bicycles, his interest was with anything mechanical and especially the automobile. He was one of Spokane’s first automobile dealers after he and partner S.A. Tyler signed up in 1901 to sell one of America’s earliest cars, the Duryea Motor Wagon. The Duryea is usually acknowledged as the second commercially available automobile after the 1885 Benz Motorcar. The Duryea was simply a small wooden horse carriage with a 4-horsepower engine mounted on it, driving the wheels with a chain.

A reference from the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture archives said Bartoo gained a reputation as a person who could fix almost anything, and so he was asked to help start and operate the first car in Spokane, which was likely the Locomobile Steamer, owned by F.O. Berg, a successful tent and awning manufacturer.

Bartoo went on to sell Monarch and REO brands, but never built a large dealership. Once commercially available cars became prevalent, Bartoo turned to repairs, not sales. Around 1912, the city directory shows that Spokane had 28 auto dealers, up from four dealers in 1905. Bartoo ran a successful shop until he retired around 1920 and died shortly thereafter. Hubert, George’s son, worked with him in the shop as a teen, but later joined the Spokane Fire Department, where he served 27 years, including 10 as a captain.

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