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J.B. Judkins Co.
J.B. Judkins Company, John B. Judkins, 1857-1942; Merrimac ,  Massachusetts
Associated Builders
Sterling Diners; Merrimac Body Company

In 1851, a sixteen year-old harness maker’s apprentice named John B. Judkins ventured from his native Freedom, New Hampshire south to the Massachusetts carriage-making community of West Amesbury which was located fifty miles north of Boston. He was hired as a carriage trimmer’s apprentice by Sargent, Haskell & Gunnison, the proprietors of The Firm Shop, West Amesbury’s largest carriage maker.   

Judkins worked in "The Firm Shop" from 1851-1857 first as an apprentice and finally as master trimmer. But as was customary in the trade, he established a small side business with three other co-workers building chaises. The four were equal partners and when four vehicles were completed, each one would take a completed vehicle as his pay.

Unfortunately Judkins was a novice businessman, and sold his first three carriages for promissory notes rather than cash or goods, never collecting a single penny for his labors.

With only $300 in capital and a small stock of parts, Judkins left The Firm Shop in 1857, forming a partnership with Isaac B. Little as Judkins & Little.

A blotter in the collection of the Amesbury, Massachusetts Public Library records a series of transactions that throw light on the conditions of the early days of the Judkins firm; time after time, notes taken in payment for chaise, or Goddard buggy, or box buggy proved to be worthless. However there was a great deal of bartering when cash was in short supply. Thirty bar­rels of flour was the prevailing wholesale price for a Goddard buggy. On one occasion, a customer in Maine paid for his car­riage with a railcar load of potatoes. In another case, a large supply of tea was received in payment. Such produce was usually dis­tributed to the workmen in lieu of wages; and the day book shows that 62 pounds of tea went to a single workman, a black­smith, whose wife kept a boarding house.

Even under such conditions, Judkins’ business thrived and at the 1876 Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia, a gold medal was awarded to a Judkins-built carriage exhibited by one of their Philadelphia dealers.

In the 1870's, no fewer than seventy-two carriage building plants were in, operation in the Merrimac and Amesbury area. The output of these shops was sold through dealers in the eastern part of the country, who, starting in the 1860s, visited the factories in person to select stock for their showrooms. These visits were typically made in the spring, and to accommodate them, the larger factories established showrooms known as "repositories." Those of the smaller firms were located at their factories as was Judkins, a purpose-built building 25’ by 100’. Later on, Judkins established a repository in Boston’s central carriage market which was centered at Friend and Sudbury streets. As the more and more dealers visited the factory every spring, Amesbury’s carriage builders established an annual carriage show called the “Carriage Opening” that was first held in 1889.

In 1876, West Amesbury incorporated itself and changed its name to Merrimac, after the river flowing through the town which supplied water power to the carriage shops and textile mills located along its journey to the Atlantic. Frequent changes in ownership and manage­ment led to a succession of various firms with Judkins as the controlling partner. Judkins & Little became Judkins & Goodwin, then Judkins & Haskell, and finally in 1883, when Frederick B. Judkins, son of John, and a graduate of the New York Technical School of Carriage Drafting, was admitted to partnership the name was changed to John B. Judkins & Son.

Throughout the late 1800s, style changes in horse-drawn vehicles were progressing slowly but surely. The two­wheeled chaise of the 1850s and 60s was succeeded in the 1870s by the Goddard buggy, named after Tom Goddard, a Boston carriage maker. Cheap buggies coming from the mid-west soon flooded the market and by the late 1880s Amesbury’s factories began to specialize in heavier and more expensive enclosed vehicles such as the carry-all, rocka­way, brougham, park break, Victoria, coach and landau. Production during their peak years of 1881-1889 averaged about 1500 carriages per year. When the change to motor car bodies came in 1908, Judkins had been specializing in closed bodies for over a decade, and shifted easily into the new field of activity.

In 1897, Flandrau & Company, New York distributors for the cars built by Colonel Pope's Electric Vehicle Company in Hartford, Connecticut, ordered twenty bodies for these new vehicles. The driver sat in a little open "balcony" behind the tall, glass-enclosed passenger compartment and steered using an early steering wheel.

This was Judkins' first attempt at automobile bodies, but using the same high standards of craftsmanship as in their horse-drawn carriages ­ and even similar lines - they turned out excellent bodies. The structural framework of the existing horse-drawn closed bodies was fully adequate to meet the needs of the new vehicle. The type of joint and method of reinforcement were altogether commensurate and in fact the early automotive bodies were almost exact duplicates of the brougham bodies Judkins built for horse-drawn carriages. Many of these twenty bodies were mounted on the chassis at the Judkins plant. These cars left the plant completely ready to run except that the heavy storage batteries were not installed until after the cars reached New York.

For the next fifteen or twenty years, they built carriages and automobile bodies simultaneously, but in 1910 the last Judkins carriage left the shop. It is interesting to note that this is just about the same time Brewster made their last horse-drawn carri­age. The beautiful coaches remaining in stock were stored in barns waiting vainly for buyers. Finally, when the space was urgently needed for motor car body operations, they were sold in a block at a price far lower than the cost of their solid rubber tires.

By 1910, Judkins had built bodies for Locomobile, Peerless, White, Morse, Winton, Alco, Stevens-Duryea and others. A few of the bodies were open, but most were closed styles, custom designed and tailored for indi­vidual clients on large, expensive chassis such as Peerless, Pierce­-Arrow, Mercer and Renault.

Starting in the 1860s, Judkins initiated a numbering system that would remain in place through the life of the firm. Every carriage, as it went through the shop, was identified by a serial number. As a young boy, Frederick B. Judkins could remember how he had cut squares from scrap dash leather and numbered them for this purpose. The numbers were then recorded in the firm’s "blacksmith's book," with the workman's name and the body type entered. These tags kept the parts for each carriage together through all the stages of manufacture. After high school, Frederick attended M.I.T. and the Carriage Builders' Technical Insti­tute in New York, finally joining the firm full-time in 1881. At that time the firm was renamed, J.B. Judkins and Son. Subsequently his brother, Charles H., joined the firm, and the partnership was incorporated as J. B. Judkins and Sons Co. in 1891. In 1909, a year after the death of their father, the two brothers renamed the firm, the J.B. Judkins Company. Frederick was the firm’s body designer, salesman and treasurer while Charles was superintendent of the factory.

In 1909, Frederick’s youngest son, Stanley L. Judkins, joined the firm, later becoming secretary and eventually president. Business increased exponentially in the middle teens and in 1920, Stanley set up a separate firm, the Merrimac Body Company, to handle the additional work. When his younger brother Stanley succumbed to the flu unexpectedly late in 1920, John B. Judkins, then working for his father-in-law’s company, was forced to take over the company to ensure his families investment as his father was unable to take control of the firm due to poor health. 

Although he had worked at the firm as a youngster and was on its board of directors, John had tried to distance himself from his family’s business. After attending Andover prep school, he graduated from Harvard in 1914 with a B.A. and formed a partnership with a former classmate named Alec Moffat called the Transport Tractor Co. Transport was located in Long Island City and was one of the earliest firms to design and build an assembled industrial tractor using standard off-the-shelf parts. When the War came, the two partners joined the Infantry and dissolved the firm. John stayed overseas until 1919 and upon his return joined his father-in-law’s leather business.  In 1921, John B. Judkins joined the J.B. Judkins Co as president and general manager while his father remained as treasurer.

In 1919, J.B. Judkins received a large order from Mercer that consisted of mostly open bodies. As Judkins’ plant was set up to build closed bodies and couldn’t fit in the 200+ order in their already busy production schedule, a decision was made to set up another plant across town to fulfill it. At that time, Stanley L. Judkins, was helping his father, Frederick, in the day-to-day management of the family’s body building business. It was decided that Stanley would run the new concern, and William Jeffrey, an experienced Amesbury body man, and John Marshall, a forty-two-year-old Scotsman who had settled in Merrimac in 1917, were hired to assist him in setting up the new plant. The former Jackson Hard Fibre Plant was outfitted for body production and the Merrimac Body Co. officially entered into business in January of 1920. Close to 100 craftsmen were eventually employed at the new plant by the time production was in full swing.

Tragically, Stanley L. Judkins passed away after a short bought with the flu late in 1920, so day-to-day operation of the plant was entrusted to William Jeffrey while John Marshall handled all of the firm’s business and sales. Jeffrey left Merrimac in 1928 to go to work at the Walker Body Co. in Amesbury, and Marshall assumed complete control of the firm at that time. Although it was started by a member of the Judkins family, Merrimac was operated independently of their cross-town cousin, eventually closing down in 1934.

Another classic-era coachbuilder had direct ties to Judkins as well. Two longtime Judkins employees, Charles L. and M. Sargent Waterhouse (or "Mose" as he was known to his friends) set out on their own in  January of 1928 to form Waterhouse & Co. Charles had worked for many years as superintendent of Judkins’ final assembly department while his eldest son, Mose, ran Judkins upholstery shop. Two younger Waterhouse brothers, Charles L., Jr., and L. Osborne, had also worked at Judkins before going on to other firms. Charles Sr. had left Judkins in the mid twenties to work for Boston’s Cadillac dealer running its body repair and upholstery shop while Osborne served as superintendent of the Woonsocket Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island.  

Woonsocket had been building production bodies for DuPont and taxi­cab bodies for a few New York City firms, but had just gone bankrupt. Osborne and his father wanted to purchase Woonsocket’s assets and start their own firm. Additional capital was needed and two young Boston investors, Roger Clapp and S. Roberts Dunham, expressed interest in financing the proposed Waterhouse firm. Woonsocket’s assets were purchased and moved to a vacant building in Webster, Massachusetts, a small town 16 miles south of Worcester. Charles L. Waterhouse, Sr., kept his job with Cadillac in Boston for a short time while Osborne ran the plant. When the new firm got up and running, Charles Sr. left his Boston job and moved to Webster to give it his full attention. Mose, still working a Judkins, was soon persuaded to join the family business and eventually assumed responsibility for running the Waterhouse plant. As did most other coachbuilders, Waterhouse went out of business in 1933, although it was later reorganized as the Dudley Manufacturing Com­pany and was operated by some of the principals of the Waterhouse Co., including M. Sargent Waterhouse (Mose).

Judkins prospered during the twenties, and along with Brunn & Co. of Buffalo, NY were the two largest builders, each firm turning out thousands of series-built and full custom bodies for Lincoln as well as a few hundred for Packard and others. Production during their peak years of 1921 to 1932 averaged about 500 bodies per year.

A big part of their success was their chief designer, John F. Dobben (1889-1974), a Dutchman whose father had been a coachbuilder for Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. While working in the body shop of Pope-Hartford, Dobben took Andrew F. Johnson’s carriage drafting correspondence course. Following it’s completion he enrolled in Johnson’s day classes in Manhattan where he met Frederick Judkins. Following graduation, he went to work for J. M. Quinby & Sons in New York City as their chief draftsman. When Quinby closed down in 1917, he went to work for Judkins.

Dobben recalled that one of his first tasks at Judkins was to prepare the body drafts for several Packard bodies that had been designed by Walter Yeltan, Judkins current body designer. Yeltan had previously worked with Dobben at Quinby's and had moved to Judkins a year or so earlier. Soon after Dobben’s arrival, Yelton left the firm, and John took over the designing as well as the engineering of their bodies. He later became vice-president of the firm, and stayed with it until they closed up shop in 1942.

Dobben was responsible far all of the designs of Judkins bodies during the 1920's, Judkins busiest period. In a conversation with Hugo Pfau, Dobben recalled that in early 1921, just after Stanley Judkins death, the shop was turning out only six bodies a week. John B. Judkins, who had just taken charge of the plant remarked to him that "if we can get up to nine a week, those extra three will be gravy." Dobben continued, "Then shortly after that we ran at a regular clip of three jobs a day, six days a week, and this was our regular schedule for a long time. In 1928 this was boosted to four jobs a day or twenty-four a week, but this lasted only for four to six months."

Under the watchful eye of Edsel Ford, their largest client, Dobben designed most of its Lincoln-based products. When he first joined the firm in 1917, the company's closed conservative bodies were typical of the work of many leading custom body builders at the time. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but soon after he joined the firm, Judkins introduced their Touring Limousine. First introduced in 1917 on a Packard chassis, the evolutionary body featured removable door pillars above the beltline, enabling the entire side of the car to be open to the elements during fair weather. During inclement weather, the pillars could be replaced, the windows raised, and you had an entirely closed car as well. This was undoubtedly one of the world's first "hard-tops" if not the first, as the Springfield Metal Body Co. of Springfield, Massachusetts introduced a similar model at about the same time.

When Henry M. Leland’s new Lincoln appeared in 1921, their main Boston dealer, Puritan Motors, ordered a four-passenger sedan body for a new Lincoln chassis. Puritan’s president, Otis J. Funderburk, thought it was such a major improvement over the standard Lincoln’s body that he drove it to Detroit to show to Lincoln’s national sales manager, Ralph C. Getsinger.  Apparently Gertisnger agreed, and an order for 50 duplicates was placed with Judkins that July. Over the next year, another 372 examples were shipped to Detroit. A new five-passenger model, which Judkins referred to as a Berline, replaced it in August of 1922, following Henry Ford’s purchase of the automaker. From 1922 through 1939, a total of 3,110 Judkins Berlines were built for Lincoln, making that particular body-style the most popular series-built custom body ever.

Ford’s takeover of Lincoln turned out to be a good thing for everybody. All the current Ford dealers got a Lincoln franchise, Lincoln’s creditors and suppliers got paid, and Judkins got a series of contracts that would keep them in business through the late 1930s. Judkins ended up with a large portion of Lincoln’s small and mid-sized series-built custom bodies: Berlines, sedans, coupes, plus a few limousines. They were sold through franchised Lincoln dealers through the use of lavish color cata­logs that displayed each body builder’s custom and semi-custom Lincoln bodies and are sometimes referred to as "catalog cus­toms." During the twenties Lincoln’s standard production bodies were built by Towson and Murray in Detroit, and the Lang Body Co. of Cleveland, Ohio.

LeBaron, Brunn and Judkins were already supplying designs and semi-custom bodies to Lincoln when Ford took control. As LeBaron was strictly a design house at this time, Brunn built many of the LeBaron designs. Fleetwood came on board in 1922, Dietrich and Holbrook in 1925, Locke and Willoughby in 1926 and Derham in 1930. Standard Lincoln bodies in the early to-mid-1920s were built mostly by Murray, with smaller firm such as Lang, H.H. Babcock, and American filling in the holes. Brunn, Fleetwood, Judkins and Guider-Sweetland all built some striking one-off customs during the same time period and Lincoln instituted a program where they sent body engineers to all of their many body suppliers to ensure that Lincoln’s strict quality control standards were adhered to.

Judkins second most popular Lincoln body was their two-passenger coupe, first ordered in 1922. When the last unit was shipped to Detroit 7 years later, 1702 examples had been built. Judkins introduced a new version of it in 1928 and the design proved so popular that the decided to build it themselves after ordering 510 examples from the Merrimac body builder.

Into the thirties, Judkins continued to build an occasional coupe for Lincoln’s Model L, K, and KA chassis. Of the 28 built in 1932, nine are known to survive. Twelve were built in 1933, with four survivors. None were produced from 1934-1937, but in their final year, 1938, Judkins produced 2 examples, both of which exist.

Judkins also built a seven-passenger body for Lincoln during 1921-22, but for reasons unknown, after Judkins had supplied 105 examples, they lost the contract to another coachbuilder.

From 1921-1939, Judkins produced a total of 5904 custom and series-built-custom bodies for Lincoln, more than any other custom body builder, although Brunn was a close second.

Not all of Judkins' business, though, had to do with Lincoln. The company also built bodies throughout the teens and twenties for Cadillac, Duesenberg, Lincoln, Locomobile, Marmon, Mercer, Packard, Pierce-­Arrow, Stearns-Knight, and Winton. Most of them were series-built customs, but a handful of full customs were built from time-to-time for one of Boston’s luxury car dealers and occasionally a certain design would bring the firm a large order. Alvan T. Fuller (later the Governor of Massachusetts), Boston’s Packard distributor during the teens and early twenties, regularly ordered custom bodies from the firm. One Club Brougham acquired in 1918 for his own use was displayed at the Boston Auto Show, and at­tracted so much attention that the Winton Motor Car Co. placed an order with Judkins for some similar bodies. Over 1,000 examples were eventually delivered to the Cleveland, Ohio auto manufacturer.

During the twenties, Judkins built over 200 series-built closed bodies for Packard in small batches. Additional work was done for Packard dealers in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Denver during the same period. Most were Berlines and Coupes, but a handful of landaulets and town cars were produced as well. Judkins called their landaulets “couplets”.  A small series of coupes were built for Pierce-Arrow during the mid-twenties, for mounting on Series 80, and 81chassis. One Model 38 coupe was custom built for cowboy star, Tom Mix in 1926. George Studebaker - then president of the South Bend, Indiana automaker - ordered a Judkins’ limousine in 1928. Surprisingly it was mounted on a Lincoln Model L chassis, and not on one of his firm’s own chassis.

Judkins built a total of 27 custom bodies for the Duesenberg factory from March 1929 through January 1932. There were five different styles - Nos. 1091, 1123, 1125, 1136 and 1263. Two of the first were bodies designed by Gordon Buehrig; a close-coupled coupe on a short wheelbase chassis and an attractive five-passenger coupe. The rest were 5-passenger Berlines (Formal Sedans), Limousines and Town Cars.

Roland L. Stickney, was hired by Judkins as a designer in October, 1930 when LeBaron closed their New York City office. John F. Dobben continued to serve as the firm’s body engineer, translating Stickney’s designs into full-size working drafts from which the bodies were built, as he had done earlier for his own sketches. Stickney continued to design vehicles through the thirties, and was also responsible for the design of 1938 Lincoln Model K Coupe De Voyage and their streamlined Sterling modular diners introduced in 1939.

Dobben also took over more of the responsibility for running the Judkins factory which, during the thirties, branched out into building such somewhat similar items as trailers and dining cars to make up for the diminishing volume of custom body business.

Although Judkins was famous for their series-built coupes and Berlines, they built a number of one-of-a-kind town cars and landaulets for individual customers that were sometimes displayed at the Salons.

John B. Judkins personal favorite was a custom Lincoln Panel Brougham shown at the 1924 New York Salon. The gorgeous car was painted maroon and black and included a brass radiator shell, lamps and other exterior brightwork. Although many nickel-plated trim pieces were actually made of brass, they were hardly ever left in their natural state, so after the brass era it was unusual to see exposed brass. The car paid homage to the Brass Era; the fenders were made of patent leather, there were no front doors, and the chauffeur sat on a leather seat reminiscent of those found in Judkins’ carriages.

The descriptive text that follows accompanied a group of Judkins bodies on Lincoln chassis that were pictured in a 1925 issue of Autobody: 

"A close–coupled cabriolet-type town car with all-weather front. The marked concavity of the cowl at the windshield pillar gives a lengthened effect for the front of the car. The turn-in of the lower panels and of the belt differentiates the car from standard production. The interior is trimmed with a Wiese rose-drab doeskin. This car was lately delivered to a Chicago customer. 

"An unusual “coupe-phaeton” for five passengers, designed for the personal used of the builder. It is of special interest because of the absence of moldings and the deep sweep of the top; the latter permits the top to fold even with the door line and results in the rear-seat passengers riding very much in the open when the top is down. 

"Another view of Mr. Judkins coupe-phaeton. The backs of the front seats fold providing ample entrance for the rear-seat passengers. The seats are done in a Wiese 2-tone henna-brown Channel Bedford cord, the rest of the interior being trimmed in a harmonizing Colonial-grain leather. The body is finished entirely in Burmah Rose, and is without striping; the chassis is in a rich maroon. The large trunk conforms to the body lines and both the top and rear panels open. 

"A 7-passenger landaulet, with all-weather front, recently built for a New York customer on a 150-in. Lincoln chassis. This is a conservative model finished entirely in black and designed to afford a maximum of interior room without giving the appearance of an abnormally large car. To secure better control of drafts, the customer elected to use sliding division glasses; the voice porthole in the left glass is supplemented by a Dictaphone. 

"The 7-passenger all-weather landaulet arranged for fair-weather driving. The spacious and comfortable interior is shown on the opposite page. The compartment is trimmed with a Wiese castor-drab doeskin. An extra electric lighter and two ash receptacles are provided in the rear of the partition for the convenience of emergency passengers. 

For the 1927 New York Salon, both Locke and Judkins built carriage replicas. Locke's offering was the Louis XIV French Brougham, while Judkins was inspired by Abbott & Downing’s famous Concord Coaches. Built for Lincoln on a 1927 Model L chassis, it was called a "English Coaching Brougham", and was without a doubt, Judkins most famous vehicle. Rumored to have been built for Cowboy star Tom Mix, in reality it was built for exhibition by the Ford Motor Co and was based in part on an old horse-drawn coach that was on display at Henry Ford's Wayside Inn. Designed by John F. Dobben in cooperation with Edsel Ford, the car was also shown at the 1927 Chicago and Los Angeles Salons.

Dobben remembered visiting the Wayside Inn at Sudbury, Massachusetts, to see the old coach that was on display which Ford stated was the one "in which George Washington and Lafayette rode." Dobben also remembered traveling to the old Abbot-Downing plant in Concord, New Hampshire with John Judkins to get a photo of an actual Concord Coach to use as a model for the Lincoln commission. Four or five pencil sketches of similar designs that used both the Concord Coach and the one at the Wayside Inn were presented to Edsel Ford, who picked his favorite which became Judkins' English Coaching Brougham.

The interior followed the pattern of earlier coaches, with seats and doors cov­ered in tufted dark green morocco leather, and headlining of red plush. The ceiling had an additional coverlet of lace, which could be detached and washed. Small hammocks of hand-knotted string, like fishnets, were provided to hold the passengers' odds and ends, as on horse-drawn Concord Coaches. The exterior was finished in coaching yellow and black, with coaching vermillion striping.

It was much admired by Mrs. W. C. Fields at the 1927 New York Salon but remained unsold until the wealthy father of Ethel Jackson, an aspiring movie actress, purchased it in 1928 for publicity purposes. Unfortunately the car didn’t help her career – she appeared in only three movies, 2 1935 Bill Cody B-Westerns and un-credited in 1936’s After the Thin Man - and in 1931 it was sold to the MacMillan Oil Company for use in promoting the Beverly Hill Billies, a popular radio vocal group unrelated to the stars of the 1960s TV show. W.C. Fields did get to ride in it later, when it was used to promote one of his movies (1932’s Million Dollar Legs). It was never owned by Tom Mix, who did, however, own a Judkins-bodied Pierce-Arrow Club Coupe built specially for him earlier in 1926.

The Coaching Brougham still exists; purchased by William Harrah in the 1962, and restored in 1964, it was exhibited at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1965 and remains one of the focal points of Reno, Nevada’s National Automobile Museum’s Harrah Collection.

Although Tom Mix never owned the Coaching Brougham, he did own a custom-built Judkins-bodied 1926 Pierce-Arrow Club Coupe.

Judkins Salons exhibits almost always included a Lincoln Berline, their most popular offering. And one special visitor One year their booth at the NY Salon was visited by one Arthur Flegenheimer (aka gangster "Dutch" Schultz,) and his entourage. He carefully examined the Lincoln Berline on display and ordered one through the Lincoln representative who was on duty at the time.

Judkins’ most magnificent creation was their final one, a gorgeous 2-door, five-passenger fastback coupe mounted on a 1938 Lincoln Model K V-12 145” wheelbase chassis, that was built to interest Detroit in it’s novel continental-based styling. When the design failed to attract any attention, it was used by the firm’s president, John B. Judkins as his personal car. Ironically named the Coupe De Voyage, it was designed by R. L. Stickney, with the working draft done by Herman A. Kapp and John F. Dobben. Judkins drove it through 1946 when he sold it as a used car. Years later Judkins enticed its then-current owner to sell it back to him, and he drove it up until his death. The car exists, fully restored, in the collection of the late J.B. Nethercutt and was featured in the Spring 1965 issue of The Classic Car.

During the early years of the Depression, Judkins built a fair number of Lincolns and an occasional body on Packard or other chassis, but their volume was nowhere near the 500 per year averages they enjoyed during the previous decade.

However, by 1934, the volume was insufficient to pay the firm’s expenses, so they contemplated entering the aluminum casket business, but found that their competition was so firmly entrenched that they didn’t stand a chance of breaking into that market. The next products they developed were more successful. Starting in 1934, they started manufacturing aluminum house trailers and sales demonstration trailers alongside their automobile bodies.

Starting in 1936, Judkins started producing traditional barrel-roofed diners, dinettes (one-man-operations introduced during the Depression), and streamlined diners after Judkins acquired Berton G. Harley’s patent for sectional, prefabricated diners. Marketed as Sterling Diners, they were built in 4 foot sections, no matter if the wall included a door, a window, or a solid panel. Up until that time most diners were shipped pre-assembled on hug flatbed trucks and rail cars. Sterling diners could be delivered CKD (completely knocked-down) to be assembled on the job site. Their modular design allowed them to be transported much more cheaply in enclosed freight cars, to places as far away as Texas or California. In 1939 Roland L. Stickney, now employed by the prestigious industrial design firm of Henry Dreyfus,  designed and patented a new streamlined Sterling diner that could have been very successful for the firm if the war hadn’t ensued. Consequently, only a handful were delivered before the start of the war.

Initially thought to be Judkins' salvation, as it turned out, the Sterlings were directly responsible for the firm's downfall. As diners were very expensive (Sterling Diner #406 cost $15,500 in 1940) and hard to finance through regular channels, Judkins held the paper on a large percentage of them, and when the economy suffered a downturn just prior to WWII, a sizeable number of customers defaulted, forcing the firm to close its doors in 1942. Quite a few Sterling diners still exist, including two streamlined models in the state of Massachusetts. The first is the My Tin Man Diner at 808 MacArthur Boulevard, Bourne at Pocasset, MA and the second; The Salem Diner at 70-1/2 Loring Avenue, Salem, MA. Jack Triplett reports the Wellsboro Diner, Sterling Diner #338, survives in its original state at 19 Main St, Wellsboro, Pennsylvania.

John B. Judkins had already left the firm in December of 1941 to take over the management of the Meteor Motor Car Company in Piqua, Ohio, where he remained until retiring to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire in 1948. John F. Dobben stayed on at the Judkins plant for a couple more months before he left in disgust in 1942. He recalled that during the firm’s last winter there wasn’t enough money to buy coal to keep the place warm. For the duration of World War II, Dobben worked in the engi­neering department of the Glenn L. Martin Company, an Aircraft manufacturer. In 1945, he was one of the many former coachbuilders hired by Edsel Ford to staff Lincoln’s styling section, where he remained until he retired in 1958.

Constance Judkins Bowman, daughter of John B. Judkins, donated her father’s archives to the Classic Car Club of America Museum in 2003.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -






Judkins Company Archives at the the Classic Car Club of America Museum Library in Hickory Corners, Michigan

Judkins Motor Car Bodies - a 1911 brochure published by the J. B. Judkins Co.

Greg Dobben - A Moment of Elegance - A Time of Pride, Custom Craftsmanship Gave the Auto Industry Its One Supreme Moment of Refinement and Classic Grace - A 1966 3-part article in the Rochester Courier (NH) - (September 1, 1966 September 8, 1966, September 16 1966 issues) 

The Classic Car - Summer 1964

The Classic Car - Fall 1964

The Classic Car - Winter 1964

The Classic Car - Spring 1965

The Classic Car - Summer 1965

The Classic Car - Fall 1964

D.R. Gunther - A Salute to Judkins – the Classic Car, March 1986

Hugo Pfau - In Memoriam: John Dobben - Cars & Parts, July 1974

Hugo Pfau - Judkins - Cars & Parts, September 1971

Richard J. S. Gutman - American Diner Then and Now

Arch Brown - 1927 Lincoln Coaching Brougham - Special Interest Auto #128 Mar-Apr 1992

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Car

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Era

Beverly Rae Kimes - Packard: A History of the Motorcar and Company

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

Richard Burns Carson - The Olympian Cars

Raymond A. Katzell - The Splendid Stutz

Marc Ralston - Pierce Arrow

Brooks T. Brierley - There Is No Mistaking a Pierce Arrow

Brooks T. Brierley - Auburn, Reo, Franklin and Pierce-Arrow Versus Cadillac, Chrysler, Lincoln and Packard

Brooks T. Brierley - Magic Motors 1930

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

John Gunnell - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975

James M. Flammang & Ron Kowalke - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1976-1999

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Thomas E. Bonsall - The Lincoln Motorcar: Sixty Years of Excellence

Fred Roe - Duesenberg: The Pursuit of Perfection

Arthur W. Soutter - The American Rolls-Royce

John Webb De Campi - Rolls-Royce in America

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

Hugo Pfau - The Coachbult Packard

Griffith Borgeson - Cord: His Empire His Motor Cars

Don Butler - Auburn Cord Duesenberg

George H. Dammann & James K. Wagner - The Cars of Lincoln-Mercury

George H. Dammann & James A. Wren - Packard

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