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Mengel Body Co.
Mengel Body Company, Mengel Company, 1920s-1940s; Louisville, Kentucky
 
Associated Builders
Mengel Furniture Company, C.C. Mengel & Brothers Company
     

C.C. Mengel formed the Mengel Furniture Co. sometime following the Civil War in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to household furnishings, they also produced wooden washing machines and boxes in various sizes. In order to insure an adequate supply of lumber they operated mills in Belize, British Honduras and Douglas, Arizona (formerly Mexico). Business was such that by the turn of the century they shipped lumber from their mill in Belize to the United States using their very own ship, transporting it inland on their very own railroad.

C.C. Mengel Jr. and C.R. Mengel took over the firm at the turn of the century, which was now called C.C. Mengel & Brothers Co. At the time it was the countryís largest manufacturer of wooden boxes, and also owned a controlling interest in tow other box manufacturers, the Columbia Box Co. and the Tyler Box Co. In the teens they erected a new 4-story steel reinforced concrete factory at 1100-1200 Dumesnil St. that occupied the entire block between Eleventh and Twelfth Sts. adjacent to the Illinois Central Railway.

One ship formerly operated by Mengel became famous during World War I when it was sunk by a German submarine southwest of the Eddystone Lighthouse in Devon, England. Originally built as the Dirigo, the 4-masted wooden barque was re-christened the C.C. Mengel Jr. when it was bought by the firm to transport lumber from Belize to the United States.

New product lines appeared in the early twentieth century including the very popular Mengel Playthings line of wooden toys.  Their primary products were wooden wagons, tricycles and wooden slides, however they also built miniatures including a replica of Gar Wood's Miss America Speedboat which was offered in two sizes and could actually be run in the water using its clockwork-powered propeller.

The Monroe Body Company suffered a similar fate and R.F. Monroe was forced to liquidate the firmís Pontiac operations during 1919 although he retained ownership of his Pere Marquette Lake timber operations in Ludington, Michigan.

However, R.F. Monroe would soon re-emerge as the president of the Mengel Body Company of Louisville, Kentucky. The firm was organized in November of 1922, with a capitalization of $2 million, $1,000,000 of no par value common stock, and $1,000,000 preferred. Mengel was a subsidiary of the Mengel Co., a large Louisville-based manufacturer and distributor of timber and timber-based products that had been founded by a German immigrant named C.C. Mengel in 1877.

Mengel had been supplying automakers with wooden components since the erection of the Ford Motor Companyís Louisville assembly plant and Monroe convinced the firmís directors to build a new facility to supply similar products to additional manufacturers. In early 1923 Mengel built a new $200,000 factory to house the new firm at the corner of 13th and Dumesnil Sts. in downtown Louisville. The plantís battery of twelve double compartment kilns, which were supplied by the National Dry Kiln Co of Indianapolis, could house up to 600,000 linear ft of lumber.

In 1924 Mengel took out a license to manufacture Meritas-clad composite bodies using Kenneth L. Childs patents for the Louisville Ford distributor. Their town car bodies were marketed as an upscale alternative to the standard Model T and were available with a Rolls-Royce-style radiator. They also offered a line of commercial bodies and are one of the known body builders for the US Postal Service.

Prior to 1929, all of Fordís station wagons were produced by custom body shops such as Cantrell, York-Hoover, Waterloo and others utilizing chassis purchased from independent Ford dealers. Ford decided to provide a factory station wagon for the new Model A, marking the first time a manufacturer mass-produced a station wagon on their own assembly line. Murray produced 4,954 examples of Ford's new $695 Model 150-A Station Wagon in 1929. The following year, A new body style, the 150-B, was introduced and the contract was split between Murray and Baker-Raulang in Cleveland, Ohio. Murray was swamped with other Ford projects so Baker-Raulang built the lion's share of the 6,363 Model 150-B bodies built in 1930-1931. 1932 Ford Model B station wagon bodies were all built by Baker-Raulang, as Murray was still overwhelmed with bodywork destined for the new 1932 Ford.

As Ford's Iron Mountain facility was ill-equipped to manufacture the complicated wooden framework for the Model 150 bodies, the millwork was subcontracted to the Mengel Body Company of Louisville, Kentucky, a medium-sized production body builder who had previously supplied Model T coachwork for Ford's Louisville branch. Iron Mountain shipped kiln-dried lumber to Mengel who milled and assembled the various subcomponents which were then shipped to either Murray or Baker-Raulang for final assembly. Rather than shipping the bare Model A chassis to Raulang, Ford opted to have Murray and Raulang assemble and finish the bodies, then ship them to a Ford assembly plant where they were mated to a waiting chassis. The bodies produced by Raulang were assembled without cowls as Raulang lacked the deep-draw presses needed to produce them and special bracing was installed to prevent damage during shipping to Ford.

Both R. Frank Monroe and the Mengel Company were involved in a new Durant-backed firm, the Associated Bodies Corporation. Associated Bodies was organized to build commercial car bodies for Durant Motorís new light commercial chassis which were sold under the Star, Durant, Mason and Rugby monikers between 1923 and 1933.

The June 1924 issue of The Motor Truck; the National Authority of Power Haulage (pp 36-37) announced the formation of the $1 million firm.

R. Frank Monroe, former president of the Monroe Body Company of Ludington, Michigan and the president of the Mengel Body Company of Louisville, Kentucky was elected president of Associated Bodies while D. Claude Harris, Mengelís secretary-treasurer became its vice-president and treasurer. John W. Sliger, another Mengel executive, was appointed general manager of the new firm.

Other investors included F.A. Ames of the Ames Buggy Co., Walter L. Rowe, Vice President and Assistant General Manager of Durant Motors, Winifred W. Murphy, secretary and treasurer of Durant Motors, J.S. Hunt, vice-president and general manager of the Hayes-Hunt Company and Syd D. Camper, vice president of the Bankers Mortgage Company of Louisville. All of Associated Bodies directors were either former directors of Chevrolet, Durant Motors or the Mengel Body Co.

The article stated that the new firm had arranged to take over an existing factory located reasonably near Louisville that had a capacity to produce 100 commercial and 25 bus bodies per day. Very little information can be found after the 1924 announcement other than advertisements for the sale Associated Bodies stock, so itís likely that the firm was just another one of Durantís paper holding companies or perhaps just a temporary reorganization of the Mengel Body Co.

The disappearance of the composite body ended Mengelís work for Ford and other automobile manufacturers. The firm concentrated on their successful door and furniture business which included some beautiful art-deco radio cabinets for Philco.

During World War II the built jewel bearing and blank for jewel bearings for the US Military. Following the war they started manufacturing doors and windows for the growing construction industry and also built a popular line of home furnishings, specifically bedroom sets, dining room sets and living room furniture.

They were purchased in 1956 by the Kroehler Manufacturing Co. who slowly eliminated their line of furniture, electing to concentrate on their popular doors and windows, which are still manufactured today at their plant on US Highway 42.

© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com

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References

Mengel Co. - Railroad History, Issue 158 pp135

Lorin Sorenson - Famous Ford Woodies

Robert Leicester Wagner - Wood Details

Ron Kowalke - Station Wagon: A Tribute to America's Workaholic on Wheels

Byron Olsen - Station Wagons

James K. Wagner - Ford Trucks since 1905

George H. Dammann - 90 Years of Ford

Roland Jerry - The Fabric Body and How It Flexed - Automobile Quarterly Vol.14 No.3

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

   
 
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