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Rattlesnake Pete: Custodian of Oddities with His Mystery Touring Car

According to various reports, “Rattlesnake Pete” (1858–1932) was born and raised in Oil City, Pennsylvania; there as a young man, he learned the art of dealing with rattlesnakes and their venom and oil from the Seneca Indians. He moved to Rochester, New York in the early-1890s after his father’s restaurant and saloon were destroyed in the Oil City Flood. In the City, he established his own Museum and Saloon filled with weapons, tools, oddites, models and caged rattlesnakes and other animals and also traded in rattlesnake venom and oil, and blended and sold his own liniment.

Ever the showman “Rattlesnake Pete,” (Peter Gruber) an early motorist, is shown in the lead image with his mystery circa-1904 to ’06 touring car outfitted with oversized acetylene headlamps and oil cowl lamps (under covers), and decked out in custom-made Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake skin hat and garments below. The lower photo shows two of his ever-present St. Bernard dogs with their hair shaved to resemble Lions.

Tell us if you can identify the maker of “Petes” touring car and what you find of interest in the photographs courtesy of the Rochester Museum & Science Center.

  • “Rattlesnake Pete” decked out in a rattlesnake skin hat and garments above posing with his early touring car – Two of his St. Bernard dogs waiting for their daily summertime ride to cool off below.

24 responses to “Rattlesnake Pete: Custodian of Oddities with His Mystery Touring Car

  1. I wondered why the head and side lamps were under cover. The covers on the headlamps seem custom-made. Did early versions have to be protected from the weather? Or flying stones?

  2. Great character; excellent dog-buddies; interesting brass era touring. First impression is Model K Ford, but the radiator isn’t quite correct.

    • I agree that it is Cartercar. I recognized the distinctive Cartercar script on radiator with the “C” wrapping under the “artercar”. It’s faint but it’s there.

  3. Looks like a circa 1905 Jackson. One of these turned up on aaca recently and the same pic was identified on ssvs help page 113.

    • Checked out all the suggestions, I think your right. Hood and grille and right hand drive all look similar. The car was from Australia?

  4. Looks like a couple of ladies in the back seat. I wonder where the dogs sit? Maybe they each ride on a running board? There is a lot to see in this group of photos. The dogs are standing on a sidewalk door, Pete seems to be holding something in his left hand and the radiator looks like it has expanded metal lath covering it. And furthermore, where do you get gloves like that? They look great for motorcycling.

  5. The touring car ahead of the touring car with the dogs appears to be a Chandler. For a few years, they put window (light) frames in the rear top curtain that had the same shape as the radiator badge. They actually did this for both the Chandler and Cleveland marques. The shape of that light is different between the two marques. But it makes it fun, looking at old era photos of street scenes. They are often among the few cars that can be identified from the rear, at a distance, because those rear windows really stand out. They also put similar shaped rear windows in some sedans and coupes. However, apparently not all such cars, or for a very long time. Original pictures of them are a bit tough to find.

    Identifying with certainty, that early touring car may be difficult. It appears to have had several after-market upgrades, and a few minor modifications. I would agree that Cartercar is a likely possibility.

  6. I fully agree with Varun Coutinho. It is the 1908 model A, and is described in the Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal of December 1907. That article also shows a picture of a similar car, though without windscreen. Opposed twin cylinder under the hood and friction drive. A typical simple American car of the period and relatively cheap at $ 1350,-. An interesting part in the CATJ-article compares the friction drive with toothed-gearing drive and states, that there is virtually no real difference in friction losses between the two systems. Friction drive was a fairly common system at the time and apparently working properly.

  7. I have found Mr. Bos to be a wonderful researcher and am not inferring that he is incorrect, only to mention that the radiator shape reminds me of the Lambert cars of that era. Coincidentally, they also had a friction drive system.

    • Thank you for the compliment! And you are correct, but that is only the the case for the smaller Lambert. For the rest that car is very different from the Cartercar. The radiator shape was rather common at the time, by the way, and was used by several other makes like the mentioned Jackson, but also Glide, Moon and St. Louis a.o.

  8. “An interesting part in the CATJ-article compares the friction drive with toothed-gearing drive and states, that there is virtually no real difference in friction losses between the two systems. Friction drive was a fairly common system at the time…”

    I believe that is an early opinion superseded fairly quickly. I suspect friction drive worked best with lower horsepower engines and soon became far less durable than tooth-gearing drive. Can’t think of too many who continued to use it after WWI.

    • Kelsey Friction Drive 1921-1924 mfd by the Kelsey Motor Company of Newark New Jersey. C.W. Kelsey being the source of the name.

  9. There must have been nearly a hundred other makes of cars that used “friction drive”. I don’t think any of them were anything like the Cartercar.
    In automobile history, the Jackson, the (Michigan ) Fuller, and Carter were all closely connected. I had a Fuller, and so read quite a bit about all three of them, as well as taking opportunities to look at all the cars. Carter, who was one of the three major investors in the Jackson Automobile Company, left the Jackson because they would not consider offering a model with his transmission design. He took the money he got for selling out his interest in Jackson, and formed his own company. Having just begun real production of real cars using his design, Carter himself was tragically killed in an automobile accident. His family tried to continue the company for a short while, however, lacking his vision and drive, quickly found they were not up to the task. At that point I believe they sold to William Durant who was then trying to leverage his way into an empire. General Motors continued to build the Cartercar for a number of years. It appealed to a small market that liked neither the planetary nor the sliding gear transmissions of the day. But the car was a tough sell, most people thinking of “friction drive” only in the common sense. And, General Motors made little real effort to combat that view, since nearly all the other cars they made had sliding gear transmissions.
    The truth is, that Carter’s ideas were brilliant. Had he not been killed, it is likely he would have found a sizable market share, and likely collected patent royalties from other manufacturers choosing to offer his low cost and easy to operate alternative.
    I have never driven a Cartercar. But I know or have met with several people that have them, drive them, and like them. Having some engineering background, I have also had the opportunity to look at the transmission closely. Carter solved all the weaknesses of other friction drives by doubling the discs and wheels, giving four times the contact providing better pressure, and balance, as well as bearing support, all housed in a simple box.

  10. I tried to pass a heavy-footed Frank Hurley in his 1907 Cartercar 2 cylinder on a grade in a 400 cubic inch, four-
    speed, six-cylinder car. I almost had to heave a passenger or two, before I could overtake him. A friction-drive Metz
    could give some surprising performance, too.

  11. A major supplier of radiators, from the 1900’s, was Long Mfg., Detroit. I was given the opportunity to look over many of their linen dwgs. in the early ’70,s. The company was sold some thirty years ago and now is a Canadian operation. I just hope the dwgs. are being taken care of.

  12. I concur that Rattlesnake Pete’s car is likely a Cartercar. The Fountain Head Museum has a 1907 (and a YouTube video of it) and their car sure looks like Pete’s.
    Tony Costa mentions surprising performance from Metz friction drive cars. I have a ’14 Metz Model 22 and although it has only 22 horsepower, it is plucky as it does not weigh much. I am striving to gain finesse in deft management of the “pressure pedal”.

  13. Gauntlet gloves have a variety of applications: MUD slosh being one of them Many Steam Engineers, Blacksmiths & Welders appreciated them to reduce scalding , burning , UV exposure. Motorcyclists appreciated them for fending off mud and keeping warm , plus : “Getting off the Bike the Hard Way”! — Gauntlets protected forearms from experiencing excessive skin removal. Early Flyers also appreciated them , along with leather & fleece Face masks .

  14. Gauntlet gloves are descendants of their Battlefield counterparts. a vital piece of fighting gear !!! When open fancier cars came on the market —Gauntlet Gloves acquired decorative “studs” later on, they also acquired small glass Reflector– studs — for (Arm) Turn Signaling ., in nighttime or bad weather driving scenarios.

    • I’m surprised that idea hasn’t caught on with cyclists and bicyclists , especially now with wearable tech and LED lighting.

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