We just got a letter in the mail from a thoughtful man in Michigan.
A typed letter.
I can’t tell you how rare that is, but to top it off – inside – a copy of a story from the November 1939 issue of Popular Science about a Denton man called, Z. Wiggs and his invention – which either they or Wiggs had coined “The Poochmobile”.
Z. Wiggs and his Poochmobile in Denton, Texas. Note the sign at the top of cage, “All Rights Reserved For Advertising Purposes Consult Builder, Z. Wiggs, 218 Blount St., Denton, Texas.” -Popular Science, Nov. 1939, p.142
Who was this Wiggs and what led him to such machinations of four-legged ambulatory madness?
Haywood Zephaniah Wiggs, otherwise known as “Zeph” or “Z.”, born in Union Co., Illinois in 1859 and grew up farming. He married Rachel Ann Wilson in 1881 and they lived in Lick Creek, Illinois. I’m going to take a leap faith here to say that they left Illinois (and farming) in search of a different life. They first landed in Bonham, Texas where Zeph worked for the Texas & Pacific Railroad and then gradually made their way to Denton arriving, on Aug. 1, 1888.
Z. got a job with the railroad and was foreman in charge of the track department for 12 years. In 1901, he was appointed Street Commissioner for the City of Denton.1 His job was to keep up the roads and sidewalks in town. Back then, sidewalks were either made from oak planks, flagstones or brick. Wiggs advised the city council that he could have “good durable sidewalks using gravel and oak plank curbing that would cost 10¢ per foot.”2
There was a great need for sidewalks back then, especially after a rain. The photo below is a shot of the Wiggs home, but this one allows you to see the oak plank curbing filled with crushed rocks next to the dirt road. Now, imagine getting to your house in the rain without sidewalks in a sea of mud.
In his down time, Zeph did things.
For instance, in 1895, he caught an alligator in Pecan Creek and brought it home, but it later died.3
And in between 1896 to 1903, he filed four patents with the U.S. Patent Office for things ranging from a “Shaft-Tug” to a “Railway Cattle-Guard”. The Railway Cattle-Guard was filed Aug. 19, 1896 and was listed as patent No. 579,507 with the United States Patent Office.
After his 16 years as street commissioner were up, Z. turned in his resignation – several times – but the city refused to acknowledge it and kept him on until finally, “he asked for a leave of absence and never returned, continuing private contract work.”4
Looking at the photos we have in our collection, I have to say that building roads back then was not for sissies. Nor was it an easy thing to accomplish at that time: materials were very expensive, they could be hard to obtain, and you had to have the means to haul them.
When he started the job, the City only paid for one person to do the work. In 1903, they realized that more help was needed and hired two others to help him out. The “street force” grew as the needs for improvements to sidewalks and roads grew.
Photo of Z. Wiggs and his “street force” laying the base for paving on E. Hickory St. in Denton, Texas, 1910; texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth12580/, University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Denton Public Library.
By 1920, roads had become a major issue: “On January 1, 1910 there was a total of 52 automobiles in Denton County. Ten years later, January 1, 1920, there were about 2,800. As the number of autos increased, the general demand for good roads increased. In 1910 there was practically not a foot of good roads in the entire county in the modern sense. By 1920 the situation in this respect was not materially changed… not much was done about road improvement until after the close of the war.”6
But enough about roads.
Zeph and Rachel were married for 59 years and had ten children, five of whom died at early ages. Their daughter, Ruth (below, 4th from the left) passed in 1928.
Z. Wiggs and family at his home on Blount Street which used to run from McKinney to Mulberry (close to and parallel to Bell Ave.). -Photo Denton Public Library, Special Collections Department
Zeph intrigues me. I picture this man always busy with work and ideas, sketching on pieces of paper that remain tacked to the walls and then taking long drives through Denton County in his Dodge Roadster6, testing out the roads with a grandkid by his side and talking about possibilities.
And maybe that, was how the idea for the dog came about.
Leslie Couture, Special Collections
1 City Council Minute Bk. 1900 to 1907, p.41.
2 “Civic Improvement League. The Organization Will Make an Effort to Thoroughly Clean Up the City.” Denton County News, 18 June, 1903, p.1.
3“From Whence He Came.” Denton County News, 18 July, 1895, p.5.
4“Mr. and Mrs. Z. Wiggs.” Denton Record-Chronicle, 3 August, 1938, p.3.
5Bridges, Clarence Allen. “History of Denton: From Its Beginnings to 1960.” Texian Press, 1978, p.286.
6 “Diamond Cords Give Good Service.” Denton Record-Chronicle, 27 November, 1922, p.8.