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Fischer-Gaffney Body Co., Fischer Motor Body Co., Solter Motor Bodies
Judge-Fischer Co. 1921-1922; Fischer-Gaffney Body Co., 1924-1926; Fischer Motor Body Co. 1926-1927; Consolidated Thomson-Graf-Edler Co. & Fischer Motor Body Co. 1927-1928; Solter Motor Bodies Co., 1928-1929; San Francisco, California
Associated Builders
California Motor Bodies; A. Meister & Son

The Fischer-Gaffney Body Company was a small firm that manufactured production passenger car bodies for San Francisco’s Kleiber automobile, a firm founded by Paul Kleiber (b. Nov. 4, 1869-d. Dec.19, 1938), a German-born blacksmith, who settled in San Francisco during 1890. Kleiber & Co. soon became the city’s best-known manufacturer of horse-drawn wagons and heavy trucks and took on the sales of Staver-Chicago automobiles and Brockway and Gramm motor trucks.

The June 1913 issue of Carriage Monthly noted a recent downturn in the firm’s wagon business:

“Kleiber & Co., carriage makers and automobile repairers and dealers, have their shops busy with repair work. Wagon sales are running a little slow - everybody is apparently waiting to buy motor trucks under the impression that it costs too much to keep horses. This house is doing a nice business with the Gramm motor truck. They have a big truck out on the street bearing their advertising sign and this has attracted its full share of attention.”

The December 10, 1913 issue of Horseless Age announced that Kleiber was going to produce its own auto truck:

“Kleiber & Co., San Francisco, Cal. Capital stock $250,000 - to manufacture motor trucks. Incorporator: Paul Kleiber.”

It took a while to get the factory up and running, the construction of the plant didn’t commence until mid-1916, the June 10, 1916 issue of Automobile Topics announcing it was finally under construction:

“Kleiber Truck in New Factory

“The Kleiber commercial car, which was announced some time ago as a new Californian product, is to be built in San Francisco in a new large factory now in course of construction at Eleventh and Folsom streets. The plant when completed will furnish 50,000 square feet of floor space and will cost $100,000. The officers of the firm of Kleiber & Co., manufacturer of the Kleiber truck, are: President, Paul Kleiber; vice president, Harry Warren; secretary, Otto Turnsuden; and treasurer, A. Hammersmith. The latter is also assistant manager.”

Kleiber trucks garnered a well-earned reputation and in 1924 Kleiber decided to enter the automobile manufacturing business. Kleiber didn’t have the excess manufacturing capacity need for the construction of high grade automobile bodies so he organized a separate off-site firm to supply them, the April 3, 1924 issue of the Automobile / Automotive Industries reporting:

"Fischer-Gaffney Body Co., $1,000,000, Edward Fischer, W. J. Gaffney, Paul Kleiber, attys. Suden & Suden, 625 Market."

The same issue also announced that Kleiber was entering the automobile field:

“Kleiber Will Enter Car Producing Field; Trucks Will Continue to Be Made - Mail-Order House to Build Tire Plant on Coast

“SAN FRANCISCO, April 1 - Four important developments in the automotive industry for San Francisco have been announced by the industrial department of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

“First came the statement from Theodore F. Merseles, president of Montgomery Ward & Co. of Chicago, that an automobile tire factory, with an annual output of a value of $1,000,000, will be erected by the mail-order firm immediately, either in San Francisco or Oakland. The company has completed a large concrete and steel building as Pacific Coast headquarters in Oakland, and it is considered probable that the tire factory will be built there also.

“Output To Be Sold in West

“The entire output of this factory is to be sold in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona, according to Mr. Merseles.

“The second automotive announcement from the chamber of commerce is to the effect that Paul Kleiber, president of the Kleiber Motor Truck Co., will devote his attention hereafter to the manufacture of passenger cars, though at the same time continuing the production of trucks.

“The new touring-car factory, for which the land has been obtained at Folsom and Tenth San Francisco, is to be built at once. It is to be 275 x 125 ft., of brick, steel and glass, with equipment for the production of 3000 cars yearly and employment of 500 men.

“The Fischer-Gaffney Body Co. is the third on the list, with plans being prepared for a new $75,000 building at Tenth and Howard Streets, one block from the Kleiber factory. The Fischer-Gaffney people are now doing a business of $400,000 a year in the building of bodies for motor stages and trucks, taxing to capacity its present plant. The building of bodies for the Kleiber cars will be done largely in the new building.

“Fischer-Gaffney Expanding

“Doubling of its present number of employees and the installation of metal and forming machines to do work now sent out on contract is announced by the Fischer-Gaffney company, distribution of whose products extends as far east as Kansas City, north to the Canadian border and south to the Mexican line.”

Further details were included in the May 1924 issue of Western Machinery World:

“A $75,000 factory bldg. will be erected at 10th and Howard for Fischer Gaffney Body Co., Ed Fischer pres., Willis Lowe, 681 Market , arch. Metal stamping and forming machines will be installed. They will build bodies for the Kleiber touring car.”

The November 1, 1924 issue of Motor West announced that construction of the Kleiber Automobile was underway:

“Kleiber Passenger Car Plant Going

“The new passenger car plant of Kleiber Motor Truck Co., San Francisco, is reported to be in operation and turning out a line of cars that promises to be as successful as the Kleiber truck. The capacity of the factory is said to be 3000 cars per year, which the company hopes to attain when the merits of its product become known. It is stated 36 Kleiber cars are in use in San Francisco now. President Kleiber is quoted in San Francisco newspapers as hoping to turn out 3000 cars by the end of 1925, and is saying that this output, with extra parts, etc., will bring the company's business up to $7,000,000 annually, fully half of which will be for wages alone.

“Finances of the company are stated to be ample, construction, both of the San Francisco and Los Angeles plants having been defrayed without borrowing. The use of a Continental engine, Brown-Lipe transmission and Timken axles indicates the high character of the car's construction, and the body- making of Fischer-Gaffney Body Co., San Francisco, is known favorably.”

The Kleiber was primarily marketed in the three Pacific Coast states and a new plant built specifically for its construction opened in early April of 1925. Production had already commenced by that time, and the November, 1925 issue of Motor West reported that 30 Kleibers had been constructed during 1924, and 175 from January to November 1925.

Fischer-Gaffney’s officers - all well-known in San Francisco body-building circles - were listed in the 1925 San Francisco Directory as follows:

“Fischer-Gaffney Body Co.; E.G. Fischer, pres.; W.J. Gaffney, v-pres.; W.C. Uhte, v-pres.; Paul Kleiber, treas. 555 Bryant.”

Edward G. Fischer, president of the Fischer-Gaffney Body Co., had served for a number of years as secretary of Chadwick & Sykes Inc., a mechanical engineering firm located at 418 crocker bldg., and headed by F.C. Sykes, pres. and G.C. Chadwick, vice-pres.

In the early 1920s Fischer had formed the Judge-Fischer Co., a small manufacturer of speedster bodies and accessories for the Model T Ford, its listing in the 1922 edition of Manufacturers of San Francisco follows:

“Judge-Fischer Co, metal speedster bodies, radiators and fenders, 149 11th.”

William J. Gaffney was the sales manager of the California Motor Coach Co., an early San Francisco commercial body builder located at 1346 Folsom. Originally from Lyons, Wayne County, New York, two generations of the Gaffney family were employed in the body business. William’s parents, William Miles and Catherine (Doyle) Gaffney were Irish immigrants who fled the Irish famine, settling in Lyons, Wayne County, New York around 1850.

William J. (b.1864) and his sons, William A. (b. 1889), and L.V. (b.1893) Gaffney worked in San Francisco, and William J’s brother, Michael W. Gaffney (b.1861-d.1928 in San Francisco), was a well-known body engineer who worked for Cleveland, Ohio’s Rauch & Lang Carriage Co. and Ohio Body & Blower Co., the Haynes Automobile Co. of Kokomo, Indiana and the Briggs Mfg. Co., of Detroit, Michigan.  An early 1924 issue of the SAE Journal announced that the Michael W. Gaffney had taken a position with Gaffney-Fischer:

“M. W. Gaffney has accepted a position as body engineer with the Fischer-Gaffney Body Co., San Francisco. He was formerly affiliated with the Ohio Body & Blower Co., Cleveland, in a similar capacity.”

William C. Uhte was born on Dec. 30, 1893 in California to Richard Dietrick and Minnie (Ahlborn) Uhte, two German immigrants – his siblings included John Carl (Jack)(b.1892) and Maria Doris (aka Mary - m. Fischer) Uhte. A cabinetmaker by trade William married Camille E. Peters on August 16, 1919 and worked for a number of Bay-area body bodybuilders prior to forming Fischer-Gaffney.

The April 9, 1925 issue of The Automobile / Automotive Industries reported on the Kleiber’s coachwork:

“Kleiber Six Offered in Four Body Styles

“Plan Two Car Daily Production – Will Be Sold in Three Coast States

“San Francisco, April 4 – The new Kleiber, production of which started early this year at the Kleiber factory here, is a six with a wheelbase length of 122 in. It is offered in four body styles ranging in price from $1,885 to $2,350, which for the present will be sold only in the three Pacific Coast States.

“Distribution will be handled through factory branches in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle and sales agencies in Fresno, Sacramento, San Diego and Portland. It is aimed ultimately to produce the new car at the rate of two cars a day.

“The four body styles are five-passenger phaeton, listing at $1,885; five-passenger phaeton with California top and sliding glass windows, at $2,150; two-door coach seating five and priced at $2,150, and a four-door five-passenger sedan at $2,350. Standard equipment consists of tool kit, jack, robe rail, electric horn, windshield wiper, tire cover, bumpers and trunk rack with trunk. The bodies are built by the Fischer-Gaffney Body Co. of San Francisco and are finished in satin finish Duco.”

Although the Kleiber’s Fischer-Gaffney coachwork was solidly built, the assembled car was indistinguishable from the competition, which was substantial at the time. The car was powered by a 6-cylinder Continental Red Seal engine, and a coupe, Brougham and seven-passenger sedan were added in 1927. An 85 h.p. Continental straight-eight was announced for 1929, but only two prototypes were constructed. Only 815 Kleiber automobiles were produced between 1924 and 1929 when production ended due to the economy; 1924 69; 1925 186; 1926 212; 1927 178; 1928 133; 1929 37. The firm’s truck had a large West Coast following and they remained in production into 1937.

The anticipated sales success of the Kleiber never materialized and Fischer-Gaffney canceled plans for their new factory and withdrew from business. In 1926 the Gaffney’s returned to California Motor Coach Bodies, and Edward G. Fischer and William C. Uhte organized the Fischer Body Co. in association with Charles A. Solter, another well-known San Francisco body man.

Charles Andrew Solter was born in Washington County, Iowa on July 19, 1875 (d. May 21, 1949) to John and Mary E. (Moore) Solter. His September 12, 1918 draft registration card lists his profession as ‘truck body builder’. For numerous years he was secretary of the Thomson-Graf-Edler Co., which for a time was Northern California’s largest commercial body builder and in 1924 he resigned his position forming Solter & Co., at 266 Dove St., San Francisco.

In 1926 the ‘Leads for New Business’ column in the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce journal announced the consolidation of the Fischer Motor Body and Thomson-Graf-Edler operations at 1282 Folsom:

“Thomson Graf Edler Co, 18 Duboce av to 1282 Folsom, Auto Bodies; Fischer Motor Body Co., 1282 Folsom.”

The 1927 San Francisco Directory lists the two firms as follows:

“Fischer Motor Body Co. (Chas A. Solter, Wm. Huhte, Consolidated Thompson Graf Elder Co., Fischer Motor Body Co., 1282 Folsom, Phone Hemlock 5146."

A display ad in the March 1927 issue of The Municipal Employee follows:

The Thomson-Graf-Edler Co. and Fischer Motor Body Co.
Designers and builders of SUPERIOR AUTOMOTIVE BODIES
Auto Painting in all its Branches. W C. UHTE, 1282 FOLSOM STREET, San Francisco, Calif. Telephone Sutter 643.”

The Thomson-Graf-Edler Co.* was a well-known manufacturer of vehicle bodies originally founded in Sacramento as the Graf-Edler Co. by Oscar F. Graf and Arthur C. Edler.

*Graf-Edler (Sacramento) and related Thomson-Graf-Edler (San Francisco) companies are very often misspelled as Graf-Elder and Thompson-Graf-Elder. They were also unrelated to the Thompson Carriage Mfg. Co., 3011-3039 Mission St., San Francisco, Calif. which was sometimes misspelled as Thomson Carriage.

Oscar Frederick Graf (sometimes listed as Oscar Frederick Graf) was born in November of 1866 in Ohio (d. Dec. 18, 1926) to two Swiss immigrants, David and Anna M. Graf. He married Minta Dell Todhunter on May 12, 1896 in Sacramento, California and is listed as a Sacramento resident in the 1900 census.

Arthur C. Edler was born on July 10, 1876 (d. May 30, 1967) in Lincoln, Placer County, California to Fred H. and Agna Agnes (Friend) Edler. He and his brother Oscar A. grew up in Sacramento and worked as wheelwrights for Waterhouse & Lester, a well-known Northern California wagon and carriage builder’s supply house with branches in San Francisco, Sacramento and San Jose.

Graf-Edler’s listing in the 1906 Sacramento Directory follows:

“Graf-Edler Co., 1906-1907, mnfrs., wheels and vehicle bodies, 917 7th, Sacramento, California”

The September 10, 1906 issue of The Motor Boat indicates that Graf-Edler also constructed motor launches:

“Sacramento, Cal. — The number of motorboats upon the Sacramento River will be more than doubled before the end of the present season. The Graf-Edler shop is building seven launches. John Winchester is building three boats for various owners, H. L. Pearson is constructing a 40 footer to be equipped with a 60-h. motor, and Bernard Klune, Mr. Chapman and Mr. Rusick are all building launches. R. D Finnie is expecting a 22-footer with a 6-h. motor, which is on its way from the East.”

In 1907 the partners established a San Francisco branch of the firm on 13th St. nr Market, as the Thomson-Graf-Edler Co. Its officers included: William T. Thomson, president; Oscar F. Graf, vice-pres.; William H. Thomson , secretary; and Arthur C. Edler, treasurer.

William T. Thomson* (b. 1853 in Maryland) was a skilled carpenter who moved to San Francisco California sometime in the 1870s. To his union with his wife Minnie (b. 1855 in Michigan) were born two sons; William H. (b 1879 in California) and George C. (b.1880 in California) Thomson.

(*Sometimes listed as Thompson)

The senior Thomson was a successful San Francisco carpenter and builder whose shop was located at 11-13 Halleck St., San Francisco. His son, William H. Thomson, was also a skilled carpenter, who after apprenticing with his father took a position with the San Francisco branch of Waterhouse & Lester, the same firm that employed Arthur C. Edler.

Waterhouse & Lester’s listing in the San Francisco directory under ‘Vehicles and Vehicle Parts, Wheelwrights’ follows:

“Waterhouse & Lester; Columbus Waterhouse, president; E.W.A. Waterhouse, vice-president and manager; Seymour Waterhouse, secretary; carriage and wagon materials, carriage hardware, hardwood lumber, iron, steel, coal and blacksmiths’ supplies, 16-22 Beale, San Francisco; 709-748 J, Sacramento; 22-26 San Pedro, San Jose, Cal.”

Thomson-Graf-Edler were briefly mentioned in the April 1912 issue of The Carriage Monthly:

“The Thomson Graf Edler Co Inc., wheelwrights, whose shop is on Thirteenth Street near Market, have recently added a corrugated iron and frame annex to their plant. This firm is busy manufacturing vehicle wheels and vehicle bodies besides special work of a similar kind.”

The firm later took on a White Motor Co. distributorship, relocating to 24-30 Duboce Av., San Francisco. In addition to commercial bodies, Thomson-Graf-Edler manufactured small numbers of street car, interurban and motor bus bodies, many of which were trimmed and upholstered by A. Meister & Sons of Sacramento. A number of Thomson-Graf-Edler-bodied vehicles were built as dedicated rail buses, two of which were operated by Nevada's Virgina & Truckee Railroad.

The first was a gasoline engined White railbus constructed in 1917 for the Virginia & Truckee as passenger motor car No. 23. The Thomson-Graf-Edler-built 25-passenger, wood-and-metal open bus body was mounted on a White Model GTB chassis. With a four-cylinder engine that developed 30 horsepower, the 16-foot car weighed two tons and cost $3,040. In 1929 Virginia & Truckee converted it to mail-express-baggage service, reducing its passenger capacity to eight.

A second Thomson-Graf-Edler-built White railbus operated by Virginia & Truckee as passenger motor car No. 99, was originally constructed for the Tonopah & Goldfield Railroad in 1921 at a cost of $8,150. The two-ton 22-passenger vehicle was sold to the Virginia & Truckee with 14,000 miles on the clock in 1926. Virginia & Truckee re-lettered the car, but retained its Tonopah & Goldfield number.

The consolidated Thomson-Graf-Edler Co. and Fischer Motor Body Co. were dissolved in 1927 and the firm's factory was taken over by Solter Motor Bodies Co., a firm organized by Charles A. Solter. He withdrew from business in 1929 and took a position as plant manager of Wm. B. Gibson Inc. (Auto Painters) at 759 Van Ness Ave. The only firm mentioned herein that survived the Depression was California Motor Coach Bodies, who withdrew from business in 1935.

© 2013 Mark Theobald for







Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark - Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942

Ted Wurm & Harre W. Demoro - The Silver Short Line: a History of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, pub. 1983

Charles Barber - Corresponding with Carlos: A Biography of Carlos Kleiber pub. 2011

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