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Sunday, September 24, 2023
Sept. 24, 2023

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Clark County History: Livery stables


During the late 1800s, passing by any Vancouver, Camas, Ridgefield, La Center or Amboy livery stable would clear your sinuses. But, then again, perhaps the pungency was diluted by the livestock drippings and droppings left on the streets and the waste residents pitched onto the roadway, awaiting the rain to wash it away.

Automobiles sideswiped the livery business, replacing the stench of road apples for the aroma of hydrocarbon exhaust. Although the county possessed earlier liveries, the Smith brothers, Joseph and James, built a livery barn at Washington and Third streets near Vancouver’s ferry dock sometime around 1890. The Smith Livery Stable became a convenience for southbound travelers needing to drop off a horse and Portlanders to pick one up.

Like others, the Smiths hired out horses, teams, buggies and wagons to folks promising to return them. Sometimes they sold hay and feed. Liverymen, like the Smiths, slapped arrest warrants on anyone not returning them. To ensure payment, all livery owners held liens on animals, conveyances or goods left in their care until the owner paid.

After 1900, James Smith bought his brother’s share of the business. Eventually, his son Bud owned the livery and proudly added “Bud” to the company name. Bud Smith added a hearse for its beauty, extending his offering beyond buggies and wagons, although he wasn’t sure how to use it.

By the early 1900s, automobiles bounced over Vancouver’s deplorably rugged streets. Sensing an opportunity, Bud added “and Auto” to his sign and entered the car business. After the Interstate Bridge opened in 1917, cars poured back and forth, so he added a gas pump.

Following the livery rental model, Bud purchased two cars, calling them taxis. Soon, his daughter, Jean, was keeping his books. Drivers didn’t need licenses in the early days of automobiles, so Jean drove her first taxi at 14. Business went well.

His taxi business continued until 1930, when it flamed out — not due to the Great Depression but because of fire. That year, a raging blaze burned the entire block surrounding Bud Smith’s Livery and Auto, destroying his shop and leaving his family homeless. The fire trapped Bud and his wife in their bedroom. Firefighters rescued them. Bud Smith and his family moved in with his sister.

Bud created a taxi stand at Fifth and Main that ran until 1973. When he died in 1943, Jean, his daughter, and her husband, Bill Friauf, continued the business turning it into the Vancouver Cab Company. The shipyards forced Vancouver’s growth. To keep up, the Friaufs expanded to 11 cabs with three drivers each working around the clock in eight-hour shifts. The Friaufs ran three companies — Vancouver Cab, Yellow Cab and Red Top Cab — filling in as needed.

Their cabs drove seniors to groceries and medical appointments at reduced fares. Over the years, Jean handled rate changes, robberies, accidents, unions and lawsuits. After her husband died in 1972, she ran the business until she sold it in 1973. Jean died in 1997, leaving behind a family legacy that still carries folks over county roads.

Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com.