LET'S TALK RUSTY IRON
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Two more sons, Peter and Jacob, and a daughter, Maria, were born to John and Rebecca there, but John, with the help of his boys, was only able to eke out a precarious living. When the Panic of 1837 hit and crops failed in the Midwest, John, like most everyone else, went broke. He had to sell everything to pay his debts.
In the fall of 1851, after struggling for years in Ashland, John and the boys loaded up the old Conestoga wagon again and made their way on to South Bend, along the St. Joseph River in northern Indiana. John already had scouted out the location, and Clement had gone ahead the previous year. He was working in a thresher factory and teaching school there.
In February 1852, brothers Henry, age 25, and Clement, almost 22, hung a sign in front of a South Bend shed that read 'H. & C. Studebaker.' They had two sets of blacksmithing tools, a forge and $68 in capital, and they proposed to earn their livings by shoeing horses and making wagons.
They shoed one horse the first day, earning 25 cents, and a few weeks later they took seven days to build a wagon, which they sold for $175. One account says the boys painted the wagon box green and the running gear red, and proudly painted the name 'Studebaker' on the sides in big, yellow letters. Still, business was slow and the brothers needed additional capital.
In 1853, John Mohler, then almost 20, big and strong, and itching to join the California gold rush, built another wagon with the help of his brothers. He traded that wagon to a passing wagon train for passage and meals along the way, and when the wagon train reached Hangtown, Calif., - now known as Placerville - a roaring mining camp east of Sacramento, young John was ready to stake a claim. He had but 50 cents left in his pocket, though, and to begin prospecting for gold, he needed a grubstake. He took a job making wheelbarrows, which sold for $10 apiece, and ended up never prospecting for gold. He worked long and hard, though, at making wheelbarrows, repairing broken harnesses and stagecoaches, and shoeing horses, and by the spring of 1858, he'd saved $8,000 - more money than most of the gold prospectors ever found.
He and his family corresponded regularly, and his brothers wrote that their wagon business still wasn't doing well because they lacked capital. The well-traveled young John believed a bright future existed in transportation - wagons in particular - so he packed his $8,000 into a money belt and headed back to South Bend.