News Local

Maxmobile movie premiering in Watford


The Petrolia Topic

The world premiere screening of "The Maxmobile," a feature-length documentary about the first 100-per-cent Canadian car - made in Lambton County - will be held on Thursday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. in Centennial Hall, Watford.

A second premiere screening will be held at Lambton Heritage Museum near Grand Bend, on Saturday, Sept. 12 at 2 p.m.

The showings were announced by Revision Studios producer and Petrolia native Max Mitchell, a New Mexico-based great-nephew of David Maxwell, who built the Maxmobile.

Videographer Mitchell said many of the people in the documentary have died.

"We were lucky to get them on tape. This is the first and only documentary ever made about uncle Dave and his Maxmobile."

The film uses digital multi-media, historical portraiture, photo-postcards and interviews with family descendants.

Maxwell, a Watford, Ontario blacksmith, inventor and tinkerer, built the Maxmobile entirely by hand right down to the single-cylinder engine and hickory wagon wheels. He drove it onto the streets of Watford for the first time in 1900 and it was the first automobile encountered by either man or horse in this pastoral region of southwestern Ontario.

While there's debate over who made the first car in Canada, Maxwell invented the first car designed and built entirely by one man - by hand. Many other "first" cars of the time were merely assembled by people who bought engines and other parts from around the world.

Maxwell designed and built every part of the Maxmobile himself. He created his own carburetor, constructed his own radiator and even invented his own springs, selling the patent to an American man who made a fortune from it.

Early automobile pioneers Henry Ford and Sam McLaughlin were eager to be in business with Maxwell. Ford wanted Maxwell to be his partner but Mrs. Maxwell refused to move to Detroit and leave family and small town life behind. Maxwell reportedly told Sam McLaughlin of McLaughlin (later McLaughlin Buick) that cars were a passing fad and his future was with farm wagons.

The Maxmobile should not be confused with the Maxwell car, made by Maxwell Briscoe Company of Tarrytown, New York, which came years later. Maxwell sold Maxwells made by Maxwell Briscoe but did not make them. The ones he made himself were called Maxmobiles. The Maxwell was made in the U.S. and Maxwell was just a dealer.

Maxwell handmade several versions of the Maxmobile, constantly improving it. 109 years later, the Maxmobile still runs and is on display in the Watford Museum, restored for the town's 1973 centennial.

The Maxmobile was first built with a tiller, then one with a steering wheel was made in 1910. The one in the Watford Museum is the latest model and was probably built around 1912-15.

There is no record of what people paid for them and there were six or seven different models. The last one was probably built between 1912-15.

A one-cylinder, chain-drive machine (originally belts), the Maxmobile became famous for removing ladies' skirts when they got caught in the exposed chain. The Maxmobile had many other talents, including home heating. In winter, Maxwell removed its radiator and installed it in the upstairs bedroom - piping hot water from the wood stove reservoir in his kitchen.

The Maxmobile documentary traces the story of Maxwell's life and times through the near loss and destruction of his only surviving car and the dramatic story of its rescue and restoration.

Most of the film's shooting was done in and around Watford although interviews were taped in Orillia, Oakville, Strathroy, and at Lambton Heritage Museum near Grand Bend.

"There are no actors per se in the piece, except for Mary Ellen King of Watford (a niece of Maxwell) who dresses up in period costume to 'drive' the car," said Mitchell. "The others in the film are real people being themselves."

Lambton County museums curator/supervisor Robert Tremain said the lasting legacy of The Maxmobile DVD " not so much that it judiciously weaves together rare historical material, but that its authors take a further step, laying down a valuable digital record of living memory associated with the Town of Watford, and the Maxmobile in particular.

"It is to Mitchell's credit that he has the foresight to apply his camera and editing skills to the undertaking of fresh research; several townsfolk interviewed for his project are no longer with us."

Tremain said the historical video allows a "delightful glimpse into the daily life of a rural service town in the first quarter of the last century, sharing its insights in broadcast-quality. It will appeal to armchair historians of southwestern Ontario, the Town of Watford, and those interested in the earliest days of the automobile."

Tremain said local historians take great satisfaction in finding patterns that repeat through time, and that span the generations - and added viewers of the video will take comfort in the fact that Maxwell's descendants are still tinkering with technology, this time to preserve the story of a small town and its gifted inventor."

Among all the inventions and transportation technology to emerge in the 20th century, none exerted so profound an effect as the automobile, said Tremain. "All the more remarkable then, to learn that as the last century dawned in 1900, one of the first hand-built cars in North America could be found cruising the streets of Watford, Lambton County," he said.

Mitchell - whose previous film features are "Get Your Stuff," "The Spirit & The Earth," and "Horror in the Wind," will be at the Lambton screenings and some of the other people in the movie will be at some of the screenings.

The film is 54 minutes long and narrated by Mitchell. DVDs will be finished in a couple of weeks and available for sale at: They will also be sold at the Watford Museum and the Lambton Heritage Museum and at the screenings for $9.95 CDN. They sell online for $9.95 US. Online there is no tax and free shipping.


Admission for the Lambton Heritage Museum screening on Saturday, Sept. 12 at 2 p.m. is $5, which is the price of admission to the museum. Admission for the world premiere at Watford Centennial Hall on Thursday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. is free but donations are requested to benefit the Watford Museum. There is a private preview screening at the Lambton Heritage Museum on Sept. 9 for members only of the Lambton Historical Society but not open to the public. For more information, visit: