Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Davenport Car Dealer Meets a Gruesome End


John Buck's second wife
Bertha threw a fiery jar
of gasoline at him while
he was getting ready to
eat supper. (The Daily
Times. April 2, 1910)
Davenport, Iowa auto dealer John Buck met a gruesome end. In June 1925, his wife, Bertha, threw “blazing gasoline over him as he was seated over the supper table.”[1]

The coroner’s inquest re-enacted the scene inside the home. The couple was just getting ready to sit down for dinner. Bertha Buck was at the stove finishing up supper. She mentioned some bills and asked if Buck intended to pay them. 

“What bills?”

“You know what bills.”

“Those bills on the sideboard are not addressed to me,” said Buck. “I can’t open your mail."

“She turned to the stove without a word,” Buck told his son Emil. “I heard a roaring sound. A flame leaped by my head. She had thrown burning oil at me. 

“In an instant, my neck was on fire, and I rose to rush from the room. I noticed the screen door was locked, and that was very unusual at our house.” He grabbed a chair and battered the door open, then ran outside.

Arthur W. Parker was sitting in his swing on the second floor of the Parkview Apartments. “We heard a scream,” said Parker. “Then Buck came rushing out the door with his neck aflame” and just stood there, bewildered.

Parker yelled at him to lay down in the grass and roll around. When he got to Buck, Parker tore a piece of cloth from his wife’s apron and extinguished the fire. Buck groaned and whispered, “my wife threw kerosene on me.”

Detective Peter Kuehl questioned Mrs. Buck the next day. There’d been trouble brewing between them for four years. And “it was gasoline, not kerosene. She lit it and threw it at him.”[2]

A jury found Bertha Buck guilty of manslaughter. She was sentenced to a term of not less than eight years in the woman’s reformatory at Rockwell City.[3]

[1] Davenport Democrat and Leader. June 23, 1925.

[2] Davenport Democrat and Leader. June 24, 1925.

[3] Davenport Democrat and Leader. April 3, 1928.

Fred J. Barr Put the Quad-Cities on Two Wheels

Fred J. Barr ran this advertisement
for the Flying Merkel in 1913.
(The Daily Times. February 15, 1913.)
 Fred J. Barr of the Barr Distributing Agency handled the Flying Merkel Motorcycle in Iowa. They cost between $200 to $275 in 1912, and he was financing them on the pay-as-you-go plan.[1] Barr also sold Harley-Davidson, Indian, and Henderson motorcycles. 

  • A 1913 ad priced the following models
  • 1913 Twin Excelsior $240
  • 1913 Twin Indian $240
  • 1913 Twin Flying Merkel $260
  • 1913 Henderson 4 Cylinder $325

Barr sold 500 bicycles in 1912 and 600 bicycles in 1913. Things slowed down some in 1914, and he only sold 250. Some of the brands he carried included the Flying Merkel, Racycle’s, Miami’s, Miami Bull Dog’s, and Comets. In the same three-year period, Barr reported selling 700 motorcycles.[2]

Barr received a shipment of 78 Flying Merkel Motorcycles valued at $16,000 in April 1914 and sold thru the entire lot.[3]


Barr wrote an article describing his business for Motorcycles Illustrated in 1914. He said he started his business with $2,000 and made money from the start. He always put his customers first. In 1912, “we kept our shop open from 7 o’clock in the morning until any old time in the evening.” He made sure to be there whenever it was convenient for his customers.

Finally, Barr made a point that every one of his employees, including himself, owned and rode motorcycles.  He advised dealers to “get in the game not only financially, but personally and with enthusiasm.” His dealership participated in all club runs and knew all the local trails and paths.

Fred Barr showed the Quad-Cities how to have a good time on two wheels.


Barr published this ad to entice buyers to the 1912 Auto Show.
(The Davenport Democrat. February 25, 1912.)

[1] Davenport Democrat and Leader. February 25, 1912.

[2] Davenport Democrat and Leader. September 7, 1914.

[3] Davenport Democrat and Leader. January 4, 1914.