Monday, May 4, 2015

The Ancient Order of Flat Tires

by Erin Doane, curator

The archives here at CCHS are a treasure-trove of information. Every file, every box, is filled with information about Chemung County. For this blog post, I decided to just dive into the vertical files and see what unknown stories I could find. That is how I discovered the Ancient Order of Flat Tires.

The Ancient Order of Flat Tires was organized on August 13, 1937. The AOFT was the brain-child of William H. Snyder. He wanted to establish a club for older men who had lived active lives and were not ready to just fade away. The objectives of the club as stated in the minutes from their first meeting were:
To assemble in one organization men of affairs who have seen three score years or more of service, whose friends and acquaintances are fast passing from this life; who need friendships and companionships in their declining years.
To establish frequent contacts with these men and help making the remaining years of life more cheerful.

Charter Officers of the Ancient Order of Flat Tires left to right:
S. Edward Rose, “Chief Vulcanizer”; Louis C. Andrews, “Collector of
Punctures”; Seymour Lowman, “Keeper of Tires”; William H. Snyder,
"Big Blowout”; and Lewis T. Barnes, 1937
Qualifications for membership were as follows:
Real Men of 60 years of age, or over, who have been active in their younger life, receiving “blow-outs” and “punctures”, which have been vulcanized and repaired; Tires that have worn off the tread down to the fabric, but are still in running order; Tires that have felt the “brakes” of depression, and done much skidding; Tires that we do not want to part with, no matter how badly worn -- the older the Tire the more welcome to membership.
The 26 charter members paid a fee of $1.00. Regular members paid $2.00. By the late 1940s, membership hit a high of over 80 man.

Ancient Order of Flat Tires membership card, 1940
The lightheartedness of the club was set from the very beginning (as evidenced by the paper bag hats in the photo above). Club officers were given the titles Big Blowout (president), Chief Vulcanizer (vice president), Collector-of-Punctures (treasurer), and Keeper-of-Tires (secretary). The Chief Inflator was added later when the club grew large enough to need another vice president. Punctures were local clubs. Puncture No. 1 was in Elmira. Puncture No. 2 was established by William Snyder in 1938 in Miami, where he wintered. In 1949, a meeting was held at the Baron Steuben Hotel in Corning to establish Puncture No. 3 there.

William Snyder, the AOFT’s founder and first
Big Blowout, with the club’s insignia, 1940
The Ancient Order of Flat Tires met about once a month at various locations including Hotel Langwell, the Mark Twain Hotel, Pierce’s Restaurant, the Masonic Temple, the City Club, the Elmira Country Club, various churches, and members’ homes. Each meeting consisted of a dinner (Dutch treat), entertainment of some sort, and a business meeting. Entertainments ranged from a musical performance from Floyd Woodhull to a lecture about the philosophy of growing old to a presentation on the life of Abraham Lincoln. The archives here has a wonderful collection of the club’s meeting minutes. Many meetings also included discussion about accepting new members and expressions of grief for newly deceased members.

Tribute to the Memory of Matthew Darrin Richardson, 1940
By the fall of 1970, the club seemed to be declining. A “call to arms” was issued to its 25 members. “We must have a Council of War meeting to determine our future,” the announcement for the November 22 meeting read. The minutes from that night, however, do not indicate that the club’s future was actually discussed. 

The final meeting minutes in our archival collection are from April 25, 1972. There is no indication in the minutes that that was the last meeting of the Ancient Order of Flat Tires but we have no records of the club after that. At that meeting, Mrs. Hancock served a most delectable roast beef dinner in the Elmira Masonic Club dining room then the 13 members in attendance enjoyed a presentation by Dr. Earle G. Ridall about his cruise to Peru, complete with colored slides. There was no subsequent business meeting and the members gradually dispersed around 9:00pm.


  1. You never can tell what you'll find in those boxes, can you?

  2. An obit for Charles Anson Atwater who died in January 1945 in Elmira said he was a member of the Ancient Order of Flat Tires.