The 1901 Neff Steam Buggy makes the claim to fame as the oldest existing Ontario-made automobile, as well as arguably the second oldest existing Canadian automobile. It was built by Benton Neff at his Neff Foundry and Machine Shop located in Humberstone, Ontario (eventually to be incorporated as Port Colborne). The maiden voyage occurred on September 8th, 1901, when the 4 and ½ horsepower buggy was steered some sixty miles around the area. Several local newspapers documented the excursion, and it was mentioned in the Port Colborne Times on September 12, 1901 that “our citizens should be proud that such a superior automobile has been manufactured right in our village and by one who was born and brought up here.” Not only is its manufacturing a proud cultural moment, its journey over the years has proven to be inspiring as well.
Benton Neff made frequent trips in his Steam Buggy, including a trip with it to Buffalo on Sunday October 13, 1901 – which appears to be the first recorded moment of a Canadian-made automobile venturing to the United States. Upon Neff’s passing in 1944, Mrs. Neff sold the Steam Buggy for $20 to three young men, Percy Busch, Don Force, and Harold Mosolf. The three enjoyed their first car, however were unable to afford to rebuild the boiler. In 1946 they sold it to Clarence Roy Kells of the Mason-Kells Hudson Dealership in Welland, Ontario which showcased the Steam Buggy for a short time. In 1947 it found its way to Pearson’s Auto Wreckers in Dunnville, Ontario where it was stored for 6 years. In 1953, the Holmwood family of Laguna Beach, California were visiting the area and purchased the Steam Buggy. Father and son spent 16 years restoring the car and returning it to its former glory, and in 1969 it was on the road again.
Eventually, through shared correspondence from residents of Port Colborne and surrounding areas, the Holmwoods unraveled the identity of the Neff Steam Buggy. They returned to Port Colborne with the Steam Buggy several times to visit, offering residents a view and an occasional ride. In 1978, Loren Holmwood bequeathed the Neff Steam Buggy to the Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum and in 2001 it returned home on its 100 year anniversary to be showcased and remembered. Percy Busch, one of the original three teenagers to purchase it from Benton Neff, was able to sit in the driver’s seat one last time before it was placed in its display. The 1901 Neff Steam Buggy continues to be a proud symbol of local and Canadian manufacturing and engineering. It is also representative of the story-telling of young car owners and steam powered adventures across North America.
Accession #: 2001.22.1
Title: “THE NEFF” 1901 Steam Buggy
Maker: Abraham Harton Benton Neff
Dimensions: 4 x 5 x 6 feet.