PHIANNA: Darling Of The Titans, by Frank N.
The Oriental sun glowed red in the West as the leading limousine noiselessly approached a group of peasants. The turbaned chauffeur pressed a button, and satin curtains descended with a rustling hush to screen the maharaja and his favorite wives from view. On rolled the leisurely procession of expensive foreign cars in their daily, sundown parade around the potentate's vast premises.
The interior of this jewel of the prince's well- stocked motor' stables was upholstered in sturdy silks, made by hand on his own looms. The leather of the chauffeur's compartment was ornately hand tooled. The inside fittings were heavily gold plated. On the outside, the radiator and the windshield frame, the lights, even the screws and fastenings were finished in sterling silver. The make: Phianna, "America's Representative Among the World's Finest Cars."
Contributors to the AUTOMOBILIST have been called "Historians who concentrate on the truly rare and, interesting, almost unknown, makes of cars." But they are sometimes Alladins too. And what greater wish could one of them ask for than to discover a fabulous treasure of facts and photographs concerning some "Lost Classic," some magnificent marque so beautifully built and so perfectly performing that it was called one of the very finest cars ever made!
Packard, Pierce Arrow, and Peerless have long, and rightly, been called "The Three Great 'P's of American Motordom"; and much has been written about them. But there was another "P" and, in an era when great cars were built for great men, many a titan boasted his Phianna above them all.
Who these men were, both in this country and in other lands, and why they chose Phiannas, is but part of a heretofore untold story from the career of a modest man with a magnificent dream.
This American, Miles Harold Carpenter (still hale and hearty, and living in Wichita Falls, Texas) kindly provided the information and illustration that make this article possible. When "Hal" learned that the AUTOMOBILIST was interested it publishing a piece about the Phianna, he wrote "If you think that your readers and your friend will be interested in a rambling narration by a little guy who was in love with automobiles from the time he was twelve years old, and wanted to and did design every part of an automobile, and left some lasting inventions and improvements for the public to enjoy, I shall be happy and honored to work with you and your group."
The most authoritative published in formation regarding the development of Phianna': predecessor companies is perhaps to be found it "The Automobile Industry in Reading," written by Byron A. Vazakas for the April, 1939, issue of the Historical Review of Berks County (Penna.). The Vazakas article also tells about the Duryea Power Company, Middleby Company, Steam Vehicle Company, Meteor Engineering Company, Dile Motor Car Company, Daniels Motor Car Company, Raleigh Motor Company, Schwartz Moto Truck Corporation, and the Clinton Motors Corporation. The car manufacturers with which we are concerned, however, are Reber, Acme, and S.G.V.
In 1898, according to Mr. Vazakas, a James C. Reber was the proprietor of the Acme Bicycle Company, in Reading. This company made Stoner bicycles, but sold its cycle business to the American Bicycle Company, then continued to make bicycle (still under the name of Acme) until the American Bicycle Company went Out of business in 1899 and wound up its affairs in 1900. In this same year, Reber built his first automobile.
The first "Reber" had a two-cylinder, vertical engine; but this car was not for sale. In 1901, James Haslett, of Pittsburgh, came to Acme and signed and built an automobile along the lines of "French-type car." (This emphasis on European design continued to crop up in the manufacture and promotion of the Acme and its successors, the S.G.V. and the Phianna, until Mr. Carpenter came into the picture. Trading on the superior reputation of European cars was quite common during the beginnings of American automobile manufacture. The 1913 Mitchell seven-passenger touring car, for example, was advertised as "The American-built French Car," proving respect for the research and designing ability of European pioneers, many of them French).
Toward the close of 1902, Acme was prepared to enter the automobile market, and received its charter of incorporation on July 9, 1903, "For the manufacture and sale (of) dirigible vehicles and motors." James Reber was listed as Manager, but the plant and business had been bought by Messrs. Horst and Nolde. Victor Jakob, formerly with the Mercedes Company in Germany, was designer and Chief Engineer.
Jakob designed a two-cylinder, chain-drive car with a progressive gear shift—an advance on cars previously made. He also developed a worm-type steering gear that was later used in high-priced American cars.
On September 1, 1903, Oliver A. Bickel, of Reading, joined the Acme staff as the first assistant designer, later becoming Chief Draftsman. Under Bickel's supervision, Acme proceeded to build a four- and then a six-cylinder car, both of Bickel's design. The four-cylinder engine was Acme's first with automatic intake valves. During his last few years with Acme, Bickel was Superintendent of the plant. He left in 1910.
Reber may have been merely Acme's "listed" Manager. Stanley K. Yost, in his fine book, The Great Old Cars, wrote: "James C. Reber introduced a car bearing his name in January, 1903. It was a 12 h. p. touring with a detachable tonneau and a fascination for European styling. It was built by the Reber Manufacturing Company of Reading, Pennsylvania."
In 1904, Acme brought out a modified Reber with a boxy front, rather than a sloping one, and with less-foreign body lines. Among the models featured at this time was a one-cylinder runabout, two twin-cylinder runabouts (one a chain-drive model, and the other a bevel-gear, shaft-drive job designed by Robert Hardy, who had been advanced from the tool room to the drafting department in the Fall of 1904). This year, Acme also built a four-cylinder touring and a landaulet.
In June, 1905, Frank A. Devlin, of Chicago, bought the Acme Motor Company from Horst and Nolde, dabbled with a commercial vehicle he had designed, but didn't change Acme substantially. A year later, Acme went into receivership, with Daniel J. Driscoll as Receiver in Equity from 1906 to 1907.
At this point, Acme seems to have taken a deep bow toward the other side of the Atlantic. According to Mr. Carpenter: "I was told that the Acme drawings I acquired were originally made by some Reading men who had bought a 1906 Italian Lancia, dismantled it, and then taken British (inch-pound) measurements of the parts." Mr. Carpenter had all the Acme and S.G.V. drawings and a lot of their catalogs.
1906 saw a definite trend toward larger cars, and Acme was no exception. They built two, new, four- cylinder, 114-inch-wheelbase cars. One boasted 50 horsepower.
On July 9, 1907, the Acme Motor Company was bought by Herbert M. Sternbergh, who sold it to his father, J. Harvey Sternbergh, in May, 1911. (The name of Robert E. Graham first appeared as an officer of Acme in 1907.) During these years, Acme brought out a seven-passenger touring and a rumble-seat roadster, both on slightly longer wheel- bases than the 1906 Acmes.
By 1908, a still larger seven-passenger touring appeared, but with a six-cylinder motor; also a speedy roadster, each with a 126-inch wheelbase. In 1909, a "Vanderbilt" model was made, in honor of the Vanderbilt Cup race, in which the Acme roadster made a name for itself. During this year, three sizes of motors were offered along with six car models. In 1910, some Acme wheelbases reached 130 inches, and prices were getting out of sight for many buyers. The average tag on an Acme was then in the vicinity of $4,500.
Despite its higher price, the Acme was worth more than other cars just as large. It was not an assembled car, although certain gears and other parts were bought from companies specializing in them. Acme was the first American car to use integral, splined-key shafts. Another design feature of these cars: laminated frames for the comfortable form-fitting seats.
On August 10, 1911, Acme's officers petitioned for a change of title from the Acme Motor Car Company to the S.G.V. "A Delaware Corporation acquiring all the shares of the stock of the Acme Motor Car Company, a Pennsylvania Corporation doing business in Reading."
S.G.V. stood for Messrs. Herbert M. Sternbergh, Robert E. Graham, and Fred Van Tine, of New York City, who was appointed Shop Manager. It was Van Tine who developed the S.G.V. car. (The Vazakas account, at this point, states: "It, the S.G.V., was designed after the Lancia, an Italian model.") W. W. Stoudt, formerly with Acme, became associated with S.G.V. for a while at this time.
Although Hardy's shaft-driven, two-cylinder Acme had been produced for only two years, S.G.V. thought enough of the principle to incorporate it in their first production cars, even though most American makes were still chain-driven.
These first S.G.V.'s were low, four-cylinder touring cars and roadsters of 25 and (later) 30 horsepower, on a wheelbase of under 120 inches. The first S.G.V.'s sold for about $2,500 and met with some success, 35 to 40 cars being produced each month.
From 1912 to 1914, the S.G.V. car grew fancier and prices practically doubled. Contrary to the trends of today's sales economics, making the S.G.V. a prestige car was a highly successful tactic. At that time there existed a sizeable market eager for elegance in automobiles, but sadly undersupplied. The S.G.V. became very "popular" with the tycoons of the day and sales were phenomenal.
Anxious to please the tastes of these opulent folk, S.G.V. featured Fleetwood, Healy, and Holbrook bodies. Paradoxically, however, an oddball bodied S.G.V. called the "Enclosed Submarine Model Runabout" made its startling appearance during this period.
S.G.V.'s New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago dealers sold a substantial number of custom-bodied cars to the wealthier families of those cities and, thus, the intangible blessing of "acceptance" was added to this well-designed car's growing reputation.
Although S.G.V. successfully pioneered in the use of forcefeed lubrication for engine bearings and pistons, and was the first American car to employ hot-water jacketing for the intake manifold, its makers went out on a limb with their Vulcan electric system. Six buttons under one of the steering- wheel spokes controlled four forward speeds, a reverse, a neutral. A button under another spoke served as a magneto cutout, and still more buttons functioned as light switches.
According to Vazakas, S.G.V. experimented with the Vulcan system for nine months (during which a shipment of new cars was returned for adjustment) then folded, and Robert E. Graham was appointed Receiver in the Spring of 1914.
Stanley K. Yost's version, nevertheless, reports that a full-scale line of S.G.V.s was brought out in 1915, featuring large, enclosed models with a new four-cylinder motor. Styling favored European lines.
The account in the HISTORICAL REVIEW OF BERKS COUNTY understandable ends with the receivership in 1914. Yost takes one more step: a Mr. Metzler's purchase of the S.G.V. factory, in May, 1915, and the movement of the company to Newark, New Jersey. "How many cars were actually built and sold—beyond the unassembled chassis that were part of the sale of S.G.V.—is not known." says Yost. "This seemed to be the end of the line."
According to Mr. Carpenter: "A group of industrialists, headed by Mr. John A. Bell, bought the S.G.V. Company, moved it to Newark, New Jersey, and built one last S.G.V., in 1916, just before they began to produce as the Phianna Motors Company. The first Phiannas had some S.G.V. parts in the chassis. One of the organizers of this new company had twin daughters, Phyllis and Anna; hence, the name 'Phianna'."
As successor to the S.G.V., the Phianna, with its revolutionary, longspring suspension, was welcomed by customers already convinced of the car's other qualifications. The S.G.V.'s reputation saved the "new" Phianna from what would otherwise have been a long up-hill climb to the top. The Phianna Motor Company, by supplying replacement parts for S.G.V.s, maintained a very favorable relationship with S.G.V. owners that did much to promote the eventual sale of Phiannas to these people.
During World War I, the Phianna Motor Company halted production and the plant was taken over by the Wright-Martin Aircraft Company to make tools and dies for their engines.
GREAT CARS ARE NOT GREAT merely because of engineering knowhow; nor as the result of superior materials and precision construction; nor through phenomenal promotion. No car has truly won the love of men unless these men have sensed the heartbeat, the blood and sweat and tears, of the man who made this dream come true.
[A 1916 Phianna town car parked near the Central Park showroom in New York City. Its radiator shape was patented by Phianna. Brewster's copy was an infringement. Another oval-radiatored make was Delaunay Belleville, one of the best and most expensive early French ears.]
To understand what manner of man designed and built the last and most magnificent of the fabulous Phiannas, and changed her motto from "The Foreign Car Made in America" to "America's Representative Among the World's Finest Cars," it is necessary to know something about the boy who became this man.
In 1898, while James C. Reber was still making bicycles, nine-year-old Miles Harold "Hal" Carpenter was in business, in Buffalo, making and selling four wheeled racers. According to Hal, "Mother was my first purchasing agent. She would take me in our surrey with the fringe on top, to Weed's Hardware Store to buy the wheels and axles and screws and bolts, and to the Doane Fisher lumber yard, out on Niagara Street, to buy the 16- by 48-inch white-pine board that I used for the frame of the racer. Our neighborhood grocer furnished the soap boxes free.
"The box was mounted upside down on the front end of the racer so the operator could kneel behind it with one leg and furnished cheap foot-to-pavement power with the other. The operator placed both hands on the top edges of the box to brace himself, and used the fingers of his left hand to operate a pivoted stick that functioned as a pitman arm to control the steering. Boys' fathers would come to our house to pay for the racers and get my 'Bills of Sale'."
These production models, forerunners of today's more complicated, soap-box derby racers, were called "Ivory Soap Box Racers" and, by inference at least, could have boasted a "floating" ride. It is interesting to note that these little cars were quite modern for the times, in that they were not only left-hand drive vehicles with finger-tip-control steering, but also employed "knee" action.
Little Hal had sufficient confidence in his Ivory Soap Box Racers to "drive" one himself; and it carried him far and wide around Buffalo. During the summer of 1901, he used to hide his pushmobile in some bushes beside Delaware Park and climb over the fence near the Indian Congress, which was one of the attractions of the Pan-American Exposition being held there.
"I was fascinated by the Indian boys' attempts to play marbles." says Hal, "I had a big flannel bag full of agates and other semi-precious shooters, as well as a bag of common marbles, called 'migs'; so I shared my pretty shooters with those boys and taught them the rules and showed them a few tricks.
"One of the Apache chiefs was watching us and he chuckled out loud when I squatted outside an eight-foot circle I'd scratched in the dirt and shot migs Out of a one-foot ring in the center. I gave this chief his choice of my best shooters, took hold of his big copper-colored hand and showed him how to 'knuckles-down' and roll his hand over while he shot off the thumb. Geronimo became an excellent marble shooter and thanked me for teaching him."
When Hal was in the sixth grade, a Mr. Long, who distributed a new cereal called Maple Flakes, rented space in the Carpenter's carriage barn for his single-cylinder, dos-a-dos Oldsmobile. Mr. Long couldn't seem to learn to drive his new horseless carriage so the demonstrator taught Hal how to start, stop, and park the new Olds. Twelve-year-old Hal became Mr. Long's chauffeur and, after school, and on Saturdays and Sundays, drove him all over Buffalo and the suburbs.
Directly across from the Carpenter house was the National Battery Company plant where they made storage batteries and also garaged several electric passenger cars and trucks. (This plant had originally been built for the old Atherton Cycle Company). When evening came, the owners of the electric coupes and stanhopes would phone in for their cars to be picked up. Says Hal: "Since I was already a seasoned driver, I was given the necessary keys and plugs and would walk miles over to the Richmond and Delaware Avenue neighborhoods and drive these little babies home, plug cables into their rears, and set the charger at the proper amperage."
In the summer of 1903, Hal parked his soap-box job near the Kennilworth Park race track and watched the biggest race of the year. Barney Oldfield was leading Webb Jay when Webb, blinded by dirt thrown up by Barneys Green Dragon (Peerless) crashed his Whistling Billy (White Steamer) through the outside fence near the horse stables. Hal remembers:
"There was an enormous manure pile that had been rained on and had formed a small pond beside the stables. Webb's car leaped into this stinking pond. He had been knocked unconscious by the railing. It happened only 50 feet from where I had climbed under the park fence.
"When I got to the edge of the pond, all I could see was a coattail of Mr. Jay's linen duster floating on the surface. I waded in up to my shirt pockets and pulled him out onto the bank. He was very badly torn and blood was pouring out of his abdomen. It was quite a few minutes before some men from the pits reached us. Finally, an ambulance took him away. Webb Jay lived to become a prominent automobile dealer in Cleveland, Ohio."
SIXTY MILES SOUTH OF CUBA, a tropical island sang a siren song. Brochures and advertisements told of her charms and promises in beckoning prose. The Isle of Pines, according to land-development corporations in Wisconsin, New York, and Iowa was waiting to be wooed and won. Agricultural opportunities in this under-developed United States possession were obviously excellent. Hal's father, Henry Mason Carpenter, sold his prosperous milk distributing business in Buffalo and went to the Isle of Pines, intending to establish a citrus plantation there.
The Island had an ice plant, two sawmills, several hotels, stores, new roads, and various other improvements were in process; but, there was, as yet, no school. And because there was no school, Henry Carpenter and his wife decided to leave Hal in the care of an older sister at the family home in Buffalo until suitable educational opportunities were available for their son on the Isle of Pines.
Back in The States, Hal attended school during the day and brought in the electrics at night, until a newspaper announcement rang up the curtain on his dramatic career of persistent study and rewarding accomplishment.
An industry that was to give America universal mobility was starting out on uncertain wheels, and men of courage and vision were sending their noisy, struggling gas buggies down the dusty roads toward a distant dream. One of these pioneers was Charles Sheppy.
In Buffalo, the George N. Pierce Company, makers of such things as bird cages, refrigerator, and bicycles, had tried building a steam motorcar; but it blew up one day while waiting at a railroad crossing for a more successful steam vehicle to pass.
Then Mr. Pierce listened to Charles Sheppy, who had constructed a little car powered by a De Dion 2 3/4 h.p., air-cooled engine mounted on the rear axle. It was without doubt one of the noisiest contraptions ever to travel under its own power. But travel it did, and Sheppy's 1901 Pierce Motorette became a financial success.
The 1903 Motorette was powered by a domestically designed and built engine and had the first steering-post gear shift. In 1904, Pierce brought out the famous Great Arrow. The next year, Pierce's son, Percy, drove a Great Arrow to win over 22 competitors in the first Glidden Tour. It wasn't until 1909 that a Pierce-built car was designated as a Pierce-Arrow.
Back in the days when Pierce was still building his Motorette, another tough race had been run, the first international road race (New York to Pittsburgh) and Charles Sheppy drove Pierce's pee-wee entry. Near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he swerved to avoid some ducks swimming in a pond in the middle of the road. A steering knuckle broke and Charlie and his passenger were dumped into the muddy water.
While Charlie, himself, forged a repair in a roadside blacksmith shop—the smith wouldn't touch the "devil wagon"—every last entrant in the race passed by, laughing and waving.
On the road again, Charlie urged the little one-lunger in hot pursuit of the bigger, high-powered, four-cylinder, foreign cars: Panhard, Daimler, Renault, et al. He caught up with the entire pack halted by a washed-out bridge where the creek water was too deep to drive through.
Not one to be stymied by high water or anything else, Charlie used his lack-of-weight "advantage." With the help of his passenger, he picked up the tiny Pierce, waded through the waist-deep water to the opposite bank of the creek, and cranked up the impudent corn popper. It arrived in Pittsburgh by an embarrassingly long lead over the runner-up.
When Buffalo paraded it home-town winner up Main Street, Hal saw that glorious, bunting-bedecked Motorette chug past; and driving it, was a hero such as few boys have ever had.
Later, when a newspaper announcement said that this man was going to conduct an automobile school in the Buffalo Y.M.C.A., Hal gladly dug into his savings for the tuition, hired another boy to round up the electrics, and began to spend his evenings studying what was, to him, the most fascinating machine ever invented.
It would be difficult to say who was more pleased, the pupil or the master. A boy who had asked questions 'about cars ever since he'd first seen one, and hadn't forgotten the answers, and had driven cars as well, was bound to have a considerable store of information even though he was only thirteen years old. Whenever another student requested more detailed information, the star pupil was asked to sit with the boy and explain things.
Mr. Sheppy was so impressed by Hal's exceptional knowledge of storage batteries (a subject with which he himself was not too familiar) that he asked Hal to work for him at Pierce during the coming school vacation.
WHEN SUMMER CAME, Hal went down to the docks where the George N. Pierce Company was located. Mr. Sheppy introduced him to the employment supervisor who asked Hal how old he was. "I was about to admit that I was hardly fourteen," relates Hal, when Mr. Sheppy spoke up and said 'twenty-one'."
Hal was put in charge of Pierce's "electrical room," a partitioned cubicle in a corner of the final assembly department. Here, he ran a primitive battery charger consi1sting of a bank of lights on d-c current. Cutting lights in or out of the circuit regulated the rate of charge. Hal also repaired and serviced all the electrical equipment and tools used in the final assembly department and three adjoining' plants.
Charles Sheppy, Pierce's Superintendent of Construction, knew men as well as cars, and it wasn't by accident that young Hal began to find himself in frequent contact with both Sheppy and David Ferguson, Pierce's Chief Engineer. But these men spoke a language that 14-year-old Hal didn't understand: Engineering. Mr. Sheppy didn't have long to wait. It must have given him considerable satisfaction when Hal confided his disappointment in his schooling and asked for advice.
There were no courses in automobile design available, but Charles Sheppy had an idea that would permit Hal to continue to work for him and, at the same time, give Hal an opportunity to broaden his knowledge in another field in which he had already shown considerable aptitude. Sheppy recommended that Hal take an ICS course in Electrical Engineering, a suggestion that Hal had reason to be thankful for many times later on.
Hal built a nice oak desk and fastened it up against the wall in the dining room. That fall he didn't return to public school. Instead, he settled down to studying every moment he was home. Some evenings, however, he wasn't at home. He was pacing behind a Pierce Motorette, training for the bicycle racing events arranged and sponsored by Pierce.
Hal rode under the Pierce Athletic Association colors, and none of the other riders ever disputed the number he chose to wear. Most of the Pierce employees were bike-racing fans and came regularly to cheer their idol, Number 13. Kramer, the World Champion, had turned professional, so Hal was Pierce's only rider in the era's most popular sport.
Hal, the student, was soon able to discuss mathematics and could whip out his slide rule and quickly calculate line-loss and voltage-drop problems. Before mailing in his ICS examination papers, he would take them to the factory and discuss the most difficult answers with either Mr. Sheppy or Mr. Ferguson. That ICS course was quite an undertaking for a boy as young as Hal, but he couldn't have asked for more competent or friendly tutors.
The Pierce draftsmen, too, liked Hal and helped him. Whenever he had a new idea about automobile construction, he would sketch it roughly on a sheet of writing paper and take it to the draftsmen. They would then guide Hal in presenting the idea in a neat mechanical drawing. Thus, Miles Harold Carpenter received his first automotive designing experience, under the supervision of two of the industry's most famous engineers and their draftsmen.
Beyond acquiring facts of engineering and construction, Hal also learned to meet the challenge of perfection. In all of his subsequent career, Hal Carpenter never settled for less than the best. He consulted with only the most talented engineers in any field, used the finest materials that could be bought, and employed highly skilled mechanics when he finally set out to build a car of his own.
AN OLD-TIME INSTITUTION, that helped young Hal stretch his weekly cash pay of three silver dollars and a half-dollar piece, flourished along the water front. As Hal describes it: "When the 12 o'clock whistle blew, there was a mad rush out the door to the nearest saloon. With a 5 cent drink, we were dished up a great big plate of the best-cooked victuals. Each Monday we had roast beef, and, on
Tuesday, roast beef hash. Friday was always fish day, and Saturday we got sauerkraut and weiners, all we could eat. Most of the men got a big schooner of beer: I took milk, and a few took coffee. Some went back for a second glass of beer. That's where the house made its money.
"We were all back at our stations at 12:30. No coffee or coke breaks—just a half-hour lunch period. No ice-water coolers—just tap water from the wash- up sink. We drank out of big tin cups that were chained to the wall."
The Pierce cars Hal first helped build were the single-cylinder Motorettes, no more complicated than Mr. Long's dos-a-dos Olds; so it was quite a thrill for Hal when Pierce decided to graduate to three-cylinder jobs. Then the engine-assembly plant burned down. A few of the new engines were salvaged from the debris and Hal persuaded Mr. Sheppy to let him have two of them to put in a boat he was building.
"Although the impulses of these little three- cylinder engines were perfectly balanced—their cranks being set at 120 degrees—" Hal explains, "it bothered me that they sounded like four-cylinder engines running with one cylinder missing. I had an idea something could be done about this; so I coupled them end-to-end on a two-by-three angle- iron 'base; made a commutator with a 1, 3, 5, 6, 2, 4, firing sequence; and had the first six-cylinder engine I had ever seen.
"While Charlie Pond, the Head Tester, was giving this 'six’ a brake test, Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Sheppy passed through the testing room. They were so impressed with the smoothness of this little job that they made plans, to produce the Pierce Great Six. Mr. Pierce ordered a lengthened chassis built and had my little tandem-engine gem installed and road tested for a long time. I don't know whatever became of it after that."
In 1906, Lee de Forest came to Pierce with an idea for making a wireless field car for the Army to use to send messages back to headquarters. Mr. Sheppy and Hal mounted a large generator on a Pierce car, in the front-passenger seat location, so that it could be driven by a wide, flat, leather belt fitted over the rim of the open flywheel of the engine. They installed the transmitter to the rear of the car and attached a high antenna designed to fold down when not in use.
This field-transmitter car was driven to nearby Tonawanda, New York, and successfully demonstrated to Signal Corps officials. Thus, the United States Army acquired its first mobile wireless station.
THAT WINTER, Hal's father wrote him from the Isle of Pines telling him about a retired M.I.T. Professor of Engineering, named Thomas, who was living on the island. On February 7, 1907, Hal set sail on the Morro Castle for Havana.
Professor Thomas treated Hal like a son and spent many pleasant evenings helping Hal further his engineering education. Not many men could have applied themselves to studying as well as Hal did. Balmy tropical nights aren't generally conducive to educational pursuits, at least not in the field of engineering, and most especially when a lad’s tutor happens to have a charming daughter the same age as his pupil.
A guest at the Santa Fe Hotel, which Hal's father owned, was an Italian by the name of Marconi. Hal was much interested in this man's project at Nueva Gerona. When Count Marconi became aware of Hal's unusual knowledge of electrical engineering, and learned that Hal had helped construct Lee de Forest's mobile transmitter, he asked Hal to help wire up the World's first wireless relay station, being established at Nueva Gerona to link South America with Europe.
Hal was a crack shot. He hired a native to skin out hides on a crocodile hunt. Not many men would stand waist deep in a river and shoot approaching crocs through the eye; but Hal had an order for their hides from a luggage manufacturer and needed $550 with which to buy a magnificent motorcycle he'd seen in Havana. It was a four-cylinder, shaft-drive, spring fork FN (Fabrique Nationale, Liege, Belgium).
Hal's mother was suffering from an ailment that the local doctor could not diagnose, so his family returned to The States. That summer of 1908, Hal closed the Santa Fe Hotel and went to Nueva Gerona where Mr. Bush, a newly arrived rancher from Texas, was having a home built on his estate.
Hal set up a planing mill powered by a gasoline engine and turned out beautiful mahogany doors and the mantels for the mansion's two fireplaces. Mr. Bush had brought a 1908 Cadillac with him and Hal enjoyed driving it. This was the first car ever seen on the Isle of Pines.
Hal continued to run his planing mill for several months, making furniture for some of the first hundreds of new settlers who were pouring into the island at this time. Meanwhile, Hal's father had taken over operation of the Hotel Dieckman in Vandalia, Illinois and persuaded Hal to come back to The States. In September, 1908, Hal reluctantly left his beloved Isle, hoping to return before too long; but it was 44 years before he went back to that tropical paradise.
After spending a few months in Vandalia, Hal went to Texas where Mr. Scheurer, a Vandalia hardware store proprietor, had decided to open the Wichita Falls Hardware Company. Hal became a junior partner in this new and soon thriving company.
BECAUSE TO HAL CARPENTER, some things are more precious than wheels, he eventually traded his wonderful FN motorcycle to a Wichita Falls architect for a diamond ring and eloped to nearby Vernon with Mr. Scheurer's lovely daughter, Irma. Husband Hal now enrolled in a new and advanced course in electrical engineering and worked late into the night on his lessons. His foresight and persistence paid off well. When the City of Wichita Falls arranged for a plant to supply electrical power for lights and a new street railway system, a Westinghouse engineer decided that Hal Carpenter was the only Wichita Falls man qualified to install their equipment and gave Hal a cost-plus contract for the entire job.
Soon, big manufacturers began to establish plants in Wichita Falls: Ball Brothers' Mason Fruit Jar Company from Muncie, Indiana; a mammoth window-glass manufacturer from Coffeeville, Kansas; a bottle manufacturer; all came to take advantage of the low-cost gas from the nearby Texas oil fields. All of these companies gave Hal cost- plus contracts for their electric motors and control equipment.
During this period, Hal also installed electrical wiring and fixtures in private homes and, in addition, piped them for gas On the side, he took on an agency for Pierce bicycles, three motorcycle agencies, and a farm tractor agency. The bicycle business died out in a few months and the growing automobile business pushed the sale of motorcycles down.
Hal also established Wichita Fall's first complete electrical supply store, furnishing the city's first battery-charging service as well as carrying a full line of appliances and residential fixtures. This store became the first auto supply store in West Texas when Hal added Prestolite tanks and parts, tires, and general automobile goods.
Very profitable items, for Hal, were electric fans, both portable ones for homes and ceiling ones which he installed in stores and other business establishments, and subsequently serviced. He also designed, built, and operated an air-conditioning system for the local cinema palace, certainly a novel convenience in 1910.
In March 1910, the city of Wichita Falls received the first motorized pumper delivered west of the Mississippi. It was built by Robertson Brothers of St. Louis on a lengthened Chadwick Great Six chassis. It had a Chadwick 4- by 6- marine engine with cylinders cast in pairs and copper-jacketed. A Bosch magneto and a vibrating-spark coil system provided dual ignition. Headlights were carbide- generated acetylene, ignited by a push-button operated spark coil. The pump was an enormous bronze job capable of a sustained 750 gallon per minute.
A 45-gallon copper chemical tank was located behind the driver's seat. The wheels were 6-by-40.
This Robertson apparatus, however, had two major defects. The Chadwick's expanding-band clutch began to grab and chatter, and the high torque of the powerful engine against the heavily overloaded chassis put an alarming sag in the frame back of the engine. Chief McClure tried in vain to get the Robertson Brothers to send help to correct these errors.
By this time, 21-year-old Hal Carpenter had taken a serious interest in the pumper and volunteered to correct the trouble. He spent weeks designing and building a new oil-bath clutch and a truss-rod system to support the frame.
One Sunday morning, with the aid of the weird and wonderful pumper's capable driver, Grover Habern, Hal tore out the old, expanding, leather- band clutch and its pedals and controlling rods and levers. He had to make all new peda4 and control levers in a blacksmith shop, as well as the new stay rods to truss up the frame. The frame never sagged again, and the new clutch was very smooth, operating trouble-free for the life of the pumper.
When the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce, through the instigation of Messrs. Joseph A. Kemp and Frank Kell, made a deal with an inventor named McKeirnan, to build a factory for the manufacture of motor trucks, Hal Carpenter tested out the new control system which was to be the outstanding feature of these vehicles. A Maxwell touring car was equipped with these controls and was used to demonstrate the ease of handling they provided.
The ingenious control system was actuated by the use of a single up-and-down lever that replaced the conventional spark and throttle controls, as well as gear shift and clutch. By moving the lever a few inches, the operator could govern the vehicle's progress from a stand-still to top speed. The transmission was the progressive type, not selective. Hal says that its operation compared favorably with many of today's hydromatic systems.
Hal's testing of this car was no mere around-the-block deal. In the Wichita Falls Times's "Files of the Times" column of September 7, 1961, under "50 Years Ago" was the-following: "Mr. and Mrs. R. G. Scheurer and Harold Carpenter returned yesterday from an automobile trip through Oklahoma to Ardmore. They were out eight days and had enjoyable time. They drove the new McKiernan automobile and were most enthusiastic about the one-lever invention which is to make the Wichita auto a success."
[Over she goes! Hal Carpenter used cowboy tactics to sell Chalmers; was made District Wholesale Manager for the New York and Connecticut Area. Don't let their prosaic appearance fool you. These rugged little Chalmers had dynamite under their hoods.]
Eight days were required for the trip because the selector fingers on the transmission wore out and Hal had to make new ones. His wife's uncle, whoa they went to Ardmore to visit was a U. S. Marshall of Indian Territory fame. Fortunately, Marshall William Vernor was well acquainted with the superintendent of a railroad roundhouse which boasted the only machine shop in Ardmore.
Hal was given free rein of the entire shop at forged new selector fingers and actuating levers his own design. The shop had no milling machine so Hal was obliged to finish the parts to size on old-fashioned shaper. The parts Hal designed we reproduced on McKeirnan production models. At one time, 10,000 of these Wichita trucks were seeing duty in 87 different countries. Wichita's formed the first fleet of trucks to cross the Gobi Dese. Many American troops were carried to the front, in WorId War I, in some of the 3,500 Wichita trucks made for the French government. At the end of hostilities, Allied governments cancelled their contracts with the Wichita Falls Motor Company and left its warehouses greatly overstocked. The depression following the war put an end to the company.
HIS ELECTRICAL BUSINESS WELL ESTABLISHED and staffed Hal had begun to dabble in car sales in 1910. He first sold Paige-Detroit, E.M.F. (Everett, Metzger, and Flanders), and then the more advanced and popular Chalmers.
In those days, many a man's first automobile ride was in the car some salesman was trying to sell him. Hal had to answer endless questions about what ‘the darn thing go’. Some of his customers called the speedometer the "Warner" because it warned you when you were driving too fast. Something like the idea that a car with "Dodge Brothers" radiator didn't really need a horn.
The sale of a car very often resulted from the ease with which Hal was able to teach a potential customer to drive. Hal says that his Y.M.C.A. course really helped him more than anything else in making these "Educational" sales.
In demonstrating cars in that era, it also helped salesman was half cowboy. Hal drove his customers through pastures, creeks and small rivers; no modern car would possibly duplicate the hill climbing feats Hal successfully maneuvered. It was around Wichita Falls, that Hal Carpenter didn’t sell cars; he scared customers into buying them.
These stunts put considerable strain on the cars as well as the customers and, having an engineering mind, Hal was constantly writing to the factory and sending sketches of the cars' parts, pointing out their weaknesses and breaking points, and giving Chalmers engineers ideas on how to design better cars. One day, at a sales convention in Dallas, Hugh Chalmers called Hal Carpenter to the platform and introduced him as "The Chalmers' Texas Engineering Department!" Mr. Chalmers mentioned many changes and improvements to his cars that direct results of Hal's suggestions. When the Wichita Falls Chalmers Agency reached distributor status, Hal sold his electrical business and store.
1n 1915 he attended a sales meeting of the nation's Chalmers dealers at Detroit. He sat at of the head tables in an elaborate leather chair with an engraved sterling-silver plate bearing his name. This chair was Hal's Grand Prize for more than doubling his sales quota of 71 Chalmers cars.
In a message to the dealers, Paul Smith, the 50-thousand-dollar-a-year sales manager, said: "The Indianapolis races proved exclusively the superior merit of the overhead camshaft, valve-in-head motor. The Chalmers Six-40 is the only stock car of this type in the market."
Mr. Smith announced that they were taking orders for a new, 3400 rpm, L-head Chalmers and, as each dealer's name was called out, the number of cars he agreed to take for the following year was chalked up on a big blackboard and loudly announced. The next issue of the Saturday Evening Post carried a full-page ad with the startling news that 600 men had bought 22 million dollars worth of Chalmers cars in just 40 minutes at Detroit.
Hal was delighted with the new Chalmers and decided to drive one from Wichita Falls to Detroit to tell Hugh Chalmers what a wonderful car it was. Moreover, new and advanced as this 3400 rpm, Chalmers bomb was. Hal already had ideas and improvements for it that he wanted to discuss personally with the Chalmers engineers. Hal made three or four trips to Detroit, during his agency days, and always ended up in the Engineering Department, where he was heartily welcomed.
Chalmers' Texas engineer-distributor had done much valuable field testing of their cars at his own expense, and Chalmers' Detroit engineers had profited from his criticism and suggestions. Hal, for his part, had learned a lot about how a progressive automobile engineering department was run.
From the start Hal had trained himself for a greater destiny than mere saleswork. Watching and helping others make cars was exciting and stimulating, but never enough for him. He raised his sights toward a challenging goal: designing and making an automobile of his own that would surpass all other makes in perfection.
HAL SET OUT FOR DETROIT with his father-in- law, R. G. Scheurer and his brother-in-law, LeRoy Scheurer, and a mechanic by the name of Jim Clark (whom he was taking to the factory for a service course, an innovation in those days). In spite of a stop at the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch in Oklahoma, and using up 12 casings and eighteen inner-tubes, the riders reached Detroit in two days and established a record, although it was not official.
A Hupmobile had just set a record by driving through some few states in 30 days, so Hal, with the blessing of Hugh Chalmers (after whom Hal named one of his three sons), set out to go through 20 states in 30 days. After having gone through the intervening states and all of the New England states and up into Ontario, R. G. Scheurer and Hal reached New York City where they took the ferry over to Jersey City. One small change was then made to the sign on the car: "30" was deleted and "8" was painted in its place.
Establishing this sensational record might not have been possible for Hal had not his ingenuity solved a serious problem that arose after his third or fourth day of relentless driving.
The Chalmers' accelerator was a button-on-a-rod arrangement that extended through a hole about six inches up on the toeboard. Below this pedal was a T-shaped stirrup that served as a footrest. This stirrup had so numbed the arch of Hal's foot as he drove hour after hour over unpaved roads and through countless towns and cities, that he was afraid he would soon be unable to continue.
[Record-breaking Chalmers and driver, Miles Harold Carpenter. That Remington rifle draped over the spotlight is loaded.]
At a smithy in Vermont, Hal hammered out a strip of steel some 2 1/2 inches wide and seven inches long and fastened a hinge at one end. He then removed the stirrup and installed this new pedal so that it would pivot from the floorboard and press down on the button accelerator above. He was now able to rest the back of his heel on the floorboard so that his foot would be in a comfortable position on this pedal. It took other car manufacturers years to adopt this new type of accelerator.
The Chalmers people were so pleased by Hal's record run and his sales accomplishments that he was offered the job of District Wholesale Manager for the New York and Connecticut Area. Hal sold his Wichita Falls interests and a new home he had recently built and moved to New York.
In New York, Hal also took on the job of Sales Manager for the Dort, a car using a four-cylinder Lycoming L-head engine. In what Hal refers to as "spare time" he mounted a harness maker's display horse on a Dort chassis. The horse was black, and a rider wearing a red coat, white breeches, and boots, actually drove the contraption from the saddle. It appeared all over New England, advertising Moxie, a soft drink ("tonic") that was bottled in Boston. For years previously, a Moxie ride ridden a real, live, black horse from town to town.
BECAUSE OF THE WAR, car production dwindled and Chalmers sales had reached a low ebb. Hal Carpenter had bought and sold many Rolls-Royce and Mercedes Benz cars (again, in his ‘spare time’) but was always looking for finer cars and motors. It was then that he discovered the Phianna. He learned that it had the reputation of being the finest motorcar built in America. Hal talked with dealers and chauffeurs who were driving Phiannas and soon decided that he would like to own such a car. He bought one at Phianna's fine showroom on Central Park South, near Broadway at Columbus Circle, and fell in love with it.
When Hal was told that the Phianna factory in Newark, N. J., was being taken over by the ' Martin Aircraft Company for the manufacture of tools and dies for Wright-Martin's aircraft engines he was duly impressed. He knew that these aircraft engines required close-tolerance equipment and was thus more convinced than ever that the Phianna was certainly a finely built car.
The General Manager at Newark told Hal that Phianna was selling the building on Central Avenue and would be interested in selling the Phianna drawings, together with all the precision dies, tools, jigs, and fixtures to someone who would be capable of continuing Phianna manufacture at some other site.
Hal had sold several cars to a Texas rancher by the name of Carl M. Worsham, and had hunted wolves and coyotes with him, aided by Worsham's Russian Wolfhounds. Learning that Hal wanted to buy the Phianna assets, Worsham came to New York to help. He introduced Hal to the heads of the Standard Oil Company's bank, the Seaboard National, and helped him finance the purchase.
After scouting the Metropolitan Area, New Jersey, and Connecticut, Hal found the ideal plant in Long IsIand City. It was three blocks from the Brewster Plant at the end of the 59th Street, or Queensboro, Bridge.
It took several months to move the plant to Long Island City and set up operations. Hal engaged a very capable dealer, Morton W. Smith, at 19 West 44th Street, just off Fifth Avenue. Smith had previously sold Murray cars. The salesroom was only a few doors from the New York Yacht Club, where Smith was a member. Looking back to the day he bought Phianna, Hal says, "Boy! I sure had a lot of nerve, didn't I?"
ONLY 20 YEARS AFTER 9-year-old Hal had built his first car, the Ivory Soap Box Racer, young Miles Harold Carpenter, engineer, designer, and manufacturer, personally undertook the task of making his second car, already America's finest, one of the finest in the world.
Phianna personnel had scattered when production ended in Newark in 1918. Happily, though, there was still one man left at the plant who knew all about S.G.V. and Phianna parts, a Mr. "Toper". Hal Carpenter arranged for Toper to stay on with Phianna at Long Island City.
On Armistice evening, Toper decided that he'd like to go back to Reading to visit his mother, and asked his new boss if he could borrow a Phianna limousine. In the middle of the night, Hal got an urgent phone call and rushed to Reading. After having made several tavern "rest" stops along the way, Toper and his wife were now in the Reading Hospital for a prolonged stay.
Hal towed the badly battered and uninsured limousine to Long Island City pick-a-back on the rear of a Phianna test car, a left-over Armistice flag flying beside the driver's bucket seat. Hal Carpenter's comment: "You can see, in the snapshot, what a beautiful rear spring job those Phiannas had. With all that weight on the tail of that test car, the spring was just a little below center."
Hal paid the hospital bill and kept his convalescing employee on the payroll for over two months at his own expense, hoping that when Toper came back to Long Island City he'd be a big help. Toper, it turned out, was doing his convalescing on a liquid diet provided by the local bistros. He never came back to Phianna.
Dies and patterns were sent to drop-forge plants and foundries in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut to fill out the unbalanced inventory of materials and parts brought over from Newark. With components for some 100 chassis thus assured, 25 touring-car body shells were ordered from Fleetwood, 24 landaulet shells from Holbrook, and additional styles from Healy and other New York body builders. The trimming and painting was done to customers' specifications by Phianna crews at Long Island City.
In those days, buyers had an enthusiastic interest in the expensive cars they bought and, assured that Phianna chassis were all that they could ask for, they took great pride in the construction of the custom bodies they ordered. Many customers came out to the Phianna plant to watch the progress of the body finishing.
It often took months from the time an order was placed until delivery was made. These handcrafted cars didn't pop off the end of a production line like so many peas out of a pod; Phianna customers didn't expect them to.
Phianna cars were substantial symbols of cultivated taste, individual masterpieces not intended to be traded in every year or so as were the high- priced, mass-produced contemporary cars whose chief appeal was size and yearly style novelties deliberately designed to appeal to the fancies of the growing hosts of nouveau riche. Little wonder, then, that each Phianna could, and did, carry a perpetual guarantee.
[A classic-car builder's boat tail runabout, with a name to top them all: ‘Monocoque’; the girl: Irma Carpenter.]
New York City had more builders of hand- hammered bodies than any other place in the country. All the old timers started there. Czechoslovakians became the best metal hammerers and were the highest-paid men in the automobile body business. These men had begun as plumbers in the Old Country and had had considerable practice hammering flat metal into bathtubs and sinks. Their ability to shape metal and finish it smoothly was unsurpassed.
A colony of these metal men lived north of Long Island City in Astoria, many of them having been sent for by friends and relatives already here in the business. A number of these craftsmen were hired to work at Phianna. Some came from Brewster, others from Brooks-Ostruk and Holbrook.
These artisans required only the wooden frame to which they worked the body metal. For the fenders, they worked directly from sketches drawn on a large blackboard with tailor's pumice chalk, and could make right-as well as left-hand fenders from the same left-hand sketch. They hammered the metal into a sand-filled, leather bag using a ball- peen hammer. This produced a dimpled surface which was then smoothed by maneuvering the fender in a motor-driven, Pettingill, vibrating hammer running at terrific speed. This hammer left a beautiful, even surface that needed little, if any, finish filing.
The most minute detail of appearance was not overlooked on the Phiannas. At one of the New York Auto Shows, Hal was introduced to Senor Di Gamma, the Ambassador from Brazil, who, in turn, introduced Hal to a mechanical engineer he had brought with him to select the finest automobile at the show. The engineer, through a Portuguese interpreter, told Hal that Phianna was the only make of car they'd seen whose builders thought enough of their product to line up the nuts, bolts, and screw slots parallel with the sides of the assembly.
This foreign engineer said that if Phianna was so particular with such final details, attention to the rest of the workmanship and materials must be equally meticulous. Senor Di Gamma placed an order for an $8,000 Phianna limousine. In addition, a fine seven-passenger Phianna touring car was built in 1919 for the President of Brazil's personal use.
Soon after Hal took over Phianna, Carl Worsham wrote that Tom Whalen, a friend and former coworker of Hal's at the Pierce plant in Buffalo, was then a traveling sales-service man for Pierce in Texas. Tom, a family fellow, was happy to give up his life on the road and come to Phianna. He was one of Pierce's best mechanics and Hal thought it would be fine for production, as well as for the morale of the men, to have an old-timer like Tom Whalen on the crew. Tom had taught Hal many techniques, and the use and handling of tools, when Hal had gone to work at the George N. Pierce Company as a boy. Tom and Hal, alone, had assembled the last of the one cylinder Pierce Motorettes when they had been kept on during the summer-inventory layoff in 1904.
[The smart, wide-paneled upholstery accentuates the car's basic styling. Devoid of fripperies, this Phianna's completely functional design gives it the stark and dignified beauty of quiet pride.]
Then, one day, Tom decided to quit; his reason: he just wasn't used to the fine precision type of work that Phianna demanded. Hal hated to lose his old friend, but Tom insisted that it would be in Hal's best interests.
From the start, Hal had set out to improve the performance, appearance, and comfort of the already fine Phianna. He made a pattern for his beloved accelerator pedal and had it cast in aluminum with a quarter-inch lip at the bottom to keep the driver's heel from wearing a hole in the floorboard covering. On the very first jobs, he incorporated changes he learned were desirable through a survey of Phianna owners and chauffeurs. This survey was a continuing effort and resulted in keeping Phianna well in the forefront of fine car manufacture.
The oval-shaped radiator (now commonly referred to as a "Brewster" type) was patented by Phianna, but Hal eventually replaced it with a more popular design similar to that of the Rolls Royce. The Moon, Murray, Roamer and numerous other American cars also adopted this highly functional and handsome radiator shape.
The Phianna design specifications included a cooling fan cast integral with the flywheel. Although there were no general complaints about Phiannas overheating, the Texas-type, rough-and-tough road tests Hal gave these cars proved that this flywheel fan did not give the extra margin of cooling capacity he desired. He decided to add a fan ahead of the engine block and proceeded to run dynamometer tests on the multiple-blade fans then in general use. These, he found, robbed the engine of considerable horsepower. So he had Fred Charavey, the country's foremost designer of airplane propellers, figure out a fan for the Phianna. This sleek, "prop"-type job was a four-bladed affair of laminated walnut and ash and was turned out by the Phianna body shop. (A later fan, for a six-cylinder Phianna, had only two blades but many more laminations).
With the car traveling between 40 and 60 mph this fan slipped drag-free through the inrushing airstream. The fan hub was held in a cam-shaped housing that could be rotated for belt-tension adjustment. The streamlined Charaway fan gave near-to-noiseless performance.
To put a Swiss-watch finish on the engine, Hal devised special scrapers and grinders to smooth not only the outside, but also the interior of the aluminum crankcase, gearcase, and oil pan. The crankshaft and connecting rods were draw-filed. When a Carpenter Phianna's hood was lifted, or an inspection plate removed, the gleaming finish was a delight to behold.
This detail of the engine interior was painstakingly performed for more than reasons of beauty. Airplane engine manufacturers had learned that, by such thorough finishing, the last possible traces of casting sand were removed and engine life was effectively prolonged.
Only three to five Phianna engines were assembled at one time. This work was done by individual specialists. For example, one man was responsible for nothing but fitting the connecting-rod bearings to the crankshafts. These were poured-babbit bearings that had to be meticulously scraped by hand and patiently checked and rechecked with Prussian blue for a perfect fit. (This craftsman, Adamo Fabinelli, had been doing this bearing fitting for Isotta-Fraschini when Jay Gould brought him to America as his personal chauffeur. Adamo was happy to resume his trade as a motor mechanic at Phianna).
Another specialist fitted the wrist pins, lapped the rings for proper clearance, and lined the pistons and connecting rods on a jig to assure correct alignment with the cylinder walls. Others assembled the oil and water pumps; installed the-camshafts; ground the valves, installed the springs and cam followers, and set the clearances at the rocker arms; etc. Finally, two men completed the engine assembly, installing the timing chains, and marking the valve openings and closings and the ignition timing on the flywheel.
After the engine had thus been carefully hand built, it was filled with a light-weight breaking-in oil. A wide, flat belt from an overhead line shaft was slipped around the rim of the flywheel and the engine was turned over at idling speed for a whole day. Every hour, the running condition was checked, with particular attention being paid to the temperature of the bearings.
Next, spark plugs were installed and the engine was revved up to a 30-mph speed. After running for a second day, this time with a compression load on the reciprocating parts, a thorough inspection was made, the oil changed, and the engine given a speed-changing routine on the dynometer. A large- diameter flywheel gave these 3-29/32-inch-bore and 6-inch-stroke engines a very smooth idling period.
Hal had discovered that the Phianna's wet-plate clutch made silent gear shifting difficult; so he designed a Raybestos-lined, multiple-disc component to fit the small, 8-inch housing that the wet clutch had occupied; changed the linkage; and obtained a much easier shift. Chauffeurs, especially, liked this feature.
The Phianna transmission gears and sliding shafts were machined by the Dundore Manufacturing Company, of Reading, from Belgian drop forgings of air-hardening, BDN steel. Hal's transmission builders were Italians who had worked at Isotta-Fraschini and Fiat plants. No Phianna transmission gears ever wore out or stripped.
Sixty-inch cantilever rear springs and the low (unsprung) weight of the rear axle gave Phianna the softest ride of any contemporary car. The axle was mounted on the hind tips of these long springs. Torque arms of pressed steel kept the axle in line. Underslung shackles oscillated beneath the axle to allow for spring elongation. The Spring Perch Company of Bridgeport gave Hal much helpful advice and furnished him with hand-fitted spring plates ground to a beautiful finish.
In Automobiles Wasp, AUTOMOBILIST Vol. XI No. 4, on page 32, the specifications for the Wasp mention that the Wasp's springs were made by the "Perch Spring Company, Hartford, Connecticut.
The Perch Company built high-grade equipment for luxury cars such as Rolls Royce, for which it produced its 'cantilever' spring."
Hal Carpenter claims that the AUTOMOBILIST is in slight error here regarding the name of that company. He says that it was the "Spring Perch Company" and that the name came from the spring perch, a pole connecting the fore and hind gears of a spring carriage. It is sometimes called the "reach" or the "bar" and is an essential part of a buggy.
And here's another interesting bit of information from Hal: "One day a Rolls Royce representative visited my plant and, after complimenting the Phianna on its reputation for its easy riding qualities, asked if I would mind telling him who made our springs. Very soon thereafter, the Spring Perch Company was making springs for all the new Rolls Royce cars that came to this country. Rolls Royce springs were shorter and narrower, therefore had to be thicker; and never did give an easy a ride as the Phianna. Our springs had a much slower periodicity (flexing speed). We also had a lower center of gravity." The wheel-base of the four-cylinder Phiannas was 125 inches, the same as today's Fleetwood Cadillacs.
The front end of the Phianna also had an unsprung weight advantage. The front axle was a hot-plate, pressed, chrome-nickel, steel channel weighing less than half as much as the conventional I-beam forging used in most other cars.
A very important consideration in Phianna's springing design was this reduction of unsprung weight. When needlessly heavy wheel-and-axle assemblies are catapulted upward, because of irregularities in the surface of the road, stiff springs are required to push them back down—and at a sacrifice of riding comfort. Engineers try to design springs that will help tires keep as constant a con- taut with the road surface as possible, in order to prevent the excessive tire and parts wear that results from interrupted transmission of power (or compression braking) through the rear wheels. The differential between sprung and unsprung weight more or less determines the ease of springing and, hence, the stability of the car in motion. Phiannas required no shock absorbers, yet a Phianna chauffeur never had occasion to worry about crushing his passengers' silk toppers against the ceiling when he was hurrying them to the opera.
Jacob Schiff, of Kuhn Loeb & Company, a former S.G.V. owner, used a Phianna for years, instead of the family Rolls-Royce, in commuting to and from Westchester. He claimed that it was the only car that rode easy enough for him. His son, Mortimer L. Schiff, the great benefactor of the Boy Scouts of America, and the Henry Street Settlement House, was also a former S.G.V. owner who became an enthusiastic Phianna fancier.
AFTER A PHIANNA CHASSIS WAS COMPLETELY ASSEMBLED, an "Ivory Soap Box" body was bolted on and loaded with some eight to ten 100-pound, cast-iron weights. Phianna's three test drivers used the Vanderbilt Parkway—a one-dollar toll road that ran from Flushing nearly to Montauk Point—as a proving ground. These drivers would start out at eight in the morning, with their lunches, and drive all day.
A new speedometer was sealed on each chassis. The test drivers kept below 25 mph for the first 100 miles, under 40 mph for the next 200 miles, and completed the rest of the 500-mile road test at varying speeds up to the parkway limit of 75 mph.
The cars on test would be brought back to the factory early enough each afternoon for inspection, lubrication, and any needed adjustments. It usually took two or three days to complete the road test.
Nearly every day, Hal Carpenter would drive out on the Parkway and check on all his test drivers. No Phianna was ever "test driven" by having a wheel jacked up and spun while the driver took his 'ease in the shade.
Before the body and fenders were mounted on a Phianna chassis, it was thoroughly washed; all nuts and screws were checked for alignment; the chassis was carefully painted; and new spark plugs and batteries were installed.
WHEN THE WORSHAM FAMILY was invited to the Minnesota country estate of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Weyerhauser, near Little Falls, Carl Worsham asked his friend, Hal Carpenter, to build the nicest touring car that he could turn out; then the Worsham family came to New York from Texas, and Hal drove them across country to the lumberman's estate in the new car.
The Worsham car was one of the last oval-radiatored Phiannas built. Many luxuries were incorporated in this fine 1918 phaeton. On the lower left of the instrument panel was America's first off-the-floor, remote-control, automobile starter button. This Robert Bosch button controlled a Bosch solenoid functioning as a starter switch. A list of American Automobile Industry "firsts," originally compiled and recently revised by two American Motors Corporation engineers includes a "Starter On Instrument Panel" as introduced on an American car in 1926; the make: Hudson.
The leather seats and interior panel were protected by sturdy canvas covers. Lockers back of the front seat contained a complete set of tools and extra spark plugs, as well as a pair of thermos bottles jacketed in leather to match the car upholstery. The front fenders sported pare tires. A capacious trunk was mounted on the rear. Atop a standard bolted to the left-hand running board was an immense, glistening spotlight.
Phianna's biggest sales, however, were to the town-car and limousine trade. In 1918, several enclosed styles were shown at the Hotel Astor's Importers' Salon and, in 1919 (when the importers joined the American manufacturers), at the New York Armory. At both of these shows, were Washington Ambassadors who had been commissioned by their foreign representatives to buy all the Phianna show cars. Although Phianna's total production was less than 300, the heads of twenty-one foreign governments used Phianna town cars as their personal conveyances. Among them, was the King of Spain, who used his Phianna town car on all state occasions.
The New York Sun's Auto Show Issue of October 19, 1919, carried news of the first use of safety glass in an automobile, a Phianna exclusive. At the show, Hal Carpenter supplied safety-glass samples, three inches in diameter. When one was held in the palm of the hand and hit sharply with a small hammer, it did not shatter. That same year, a Phianna show car was equipped with another automobile first: six-inch-diameter turn-signal and stoplight sets. One unit was mounted in the left-hand front fender.
Poplar Mechanics' "The American Automobile" chart (copyright, 1959) includes, under "Historical Highlights," 1926 as the year safety glass was introduced, and 1933 for the first turn signal. As John A. Conde, of American Motors, says, " . . . you are really opening a can of peaches when you start delving into automotive firsts." But it didn't take much delving to discover that every automobile built in America today incorporates several outstanding improvements designed, developed and introduced by Miles Harold Carpenter.
Glare Hamilton was Phianna's New York Sales Manager and had a considerable acquaintance in social and diplomatic circles. He also had an extensive knowledge of foreign cars which enabled him to point out the Phianna's many superiorities over its competition. Interestingly, Bob Schuette, a New York dealer in Rolls-Royce cars, bought a beautiful Phianna town car for his socialite father.
The Diplomatic Corps in Washington fairly sparkled with Phianna town cars. Bainbridge Colby, President Wilson's Secretary of State, used his Phianna town car to commute between New York and Washington.
R. B. Van Home, President of Canadian Pacific, was a proud Phianna owner. Mr. Van Home had two Rolls Royce cars in Montreal and one in Toronto, but he kept a Phianna town car in New York for social occasions. He had an apartment on East 62nd Street just off Fifth Avenue and, no matter how late he may have come home the night before, his orders were to have that Phianna on display in front of the apartment house at 8 o'clock sharp every morning. Harry Sinclair, also, bought Phiannas as well as Rolls-Royces.
While Alfred H. Benjamin was returning from a meat packers' convention in South America, cabin conversation soon centered on the then very popular topic of cars. When it came to which particular make they liked best, each member of the group, Messrs. Armour, Benjamin, Curahy, and Swift said that he owned and loved a Phianna.
When Hal Carpenter changed the Phianna motto from "The Foreign Car Made in America" to "America's Representative Among the World's Finest Cars," he was determined to make Phianna thoroughly American. He corned what he considered to be unjustly discriminating practices.
"One day," relates Hal, "I had a phone call from a member of an accredited law firm on Wall Street, This lawyer told me that he was interested in buying a Phianna limousine and asked to see some body styles. I was impressed by the tasteful appointments of the firm’s suite of offices. I had no difficulty in getting his order and a check in full payment for a custom limousine. He was insistent, however, that the car be ready without fail on a certain date.
"With much overtime, I was able to complete the car on the day promised and, as agreed, phoned the lawyer to learn the exact time and place of delivery. I was told to deliver the car to an address on the Albany Post Road in Irvington-on-the-Hudson, at seven o'clock that evening.
"The house was one of the finest, white marble mansions on the East Bank and I had admired it many times when passing -through Irvington. This beautiful, warm evening I drove through the great wrought-iron gates mounted on massive stone pillars and brought the shining new Phianna limousine gracefully to a stop under the porte-cochere beside the house.
"Strains of soft music came from an orchestra somewhere inside, and some thirty or forty Negro couples in full evening attire were leisurely passing through the large open doors leading onto spacious porch. I was promptly introduced to the lady of the house, Mme. C. J. Walker, a very beautiful Negress, and told that she was the purchaser of the car and would like to inspect the interior of it. After I had demonstrated the car to Mme. Walker she complimented me on its appearance and craftsmanship and thanked me for delivering her Phianna promptly at the appointed hour. The occasion was the wedding of Mme. Walker's daughter A'Lelia. It was the most splendid and gracious affair it has ever been my privilege to see. As I recall, I was only white person present.
"I called the lawyer the next day and asked why I had not been told that the customer was a Negress. He informed me that he handled Walker's business transactions and frankly admitted that he felt there might have been some objections to the sale, had I known that the order was being placed for a Negro client. Mme. Walker was able to pay the price of any car on the market and wanted the distinction of owning a Phianna.
"Back in the 'teens, there existed an unwritten agreement among the dealers in high-priced foreign and custom cars that they would not sell to Negroes. Pierce-Arrow, Packard, and Cadillac had many Negro customers, but the Importers' Group was adamant. I have never knowingly been a party to any such snobbery - and am proud to count Mme. Walker among Phianna's many distinguished and gracious owners."
IN HIS PLANT AT LONG ISLAND CITY Hal set up an engineering department to design that car he had dreamed of for years. He was sole owner of the Phianna Motors Company. He was dictated to by none and his decisions were his own. Thus, he was in a position to design and build what he thought would be the ideal automobile for those discriminating customers who wanted the best.
He engaged, as his assistants, top engineers from such illustrious firms as Locomobile and Crane-Simplex. It was to be a six-cylinder, 142-inch wheelbase job. Many Phianna owners also had Rolls-Royces, mostly with seven-passenger bodies. The four-cylinder Phianna had 103 7/8 inches of body-building space, about the same as the Rolls-Royce, perhaps a little more. This was cramped for seven-passenger bodies. Inasmuch as body space was a big selling point with custom-made cars, Hal designed his Six with 115 inches for the body.
An interesting comparison may be made between the exceedingly advanced bodies Hal Carpenter de- signed for his Phianna Six, executed in color by the famous artist Ray Wilcox, in 1919, and K. H. Martin's coachwork designs for his six-cylinder Wasp, drawn and colored by himself in 1923(Automobilist, December 1961, page 13). Note the dragon's-back ridges on the hoods of some of both the Phiannas and Wasps. Those on the Phiannas were designed as functional, lever-operated ventilators; the Wasp's, as ornaments.
Miles Harold Carpenter, not Karl H. Martin, was this country's youngest automobile manufacturer, in 1920, when Martin brought out the Wasp (The Cars of 1923, AUHY, by Keith Marvin and Arthur Lee Homan). Both men were born in Buffalo, N. Y.; Martin on January 31, 1888; and Carpenter on March 21, 1889. Martin, who had entered the automobile field as a body builder in 1912, wanted to produce the perfect "assembled" car. Carpenter, who had started as an automobile mechanic in 1903, had as his goal: the perfect "original" car.
[Phianna Sixes designed by Hal Carpenter and depicted in color by the well-known artist, Ray Wilcox, in 1919.]
Carpenter's new car had the same type of springs as the four-cylinder Phianna, but with improved, universal-type shackles and ball mountings that eliminated all torque strain on the spring leaves, and would be squeak-free for the life of the car. The frame mountings for the torque bars employed universal-type hangers fitted on the tips of short leaf springs.
One of the finest features of the Six was an extremely precision camshaft designed to assure quick acceleration yet provide quiet valve closing. Connecting rods were patterned after those used on Hispano-Suiza's famous "Hiso" aircraft engine. (Such rods are made from drop forgings and are drilled out on a gun-barrel lathe. They always maintain their true shape and alignment.) The overhead valves were actuated by drop-forged, alloy- steel rocker arms mounted on large, alloy-steel tubes ground to a fine tolerance.
During the 'teens, both foreign and American automobile engineers were highly enthusiastic about long-stroke engines, especially in racing cars. As Hal was aware, however, the longer the cheek, the more flexible the crankshaft, and the greater the vibration from this source, particularly at high speeds.
Hal discussed this fault with many SAE members, in 1919, at the annual meeting of the Engineers' Club on 41st Street, in New York. In spite of conflicting opinions, he decided to break away from accepted practice and risk the great expense of building an engine to prove a theory that, to him, pointed the way toward a new and superior type of automobile engine.
The new six's 4-inch bore was slightly larger than that of the earlier Phianna; but the 4-inch stroke was a full two inches shorter. Its crank journals were 2 1/4 inches in diameter. Thus, because the crank journals overlapped the main journals by ¼ inch on this 4-inch-stroke engine, vibration in the cheek of the crankshaft was eliminated and no added weights were needed on the crankshaft for counter-balancing, even at 4800 rpm. The volumetric efficiency of such an engine should have been remarkable. It was! This 4 by 4, high-compression, "square” engine introduced a type of design employed by practically every automobile manufacturer today.
Hal had dies and patterns made and ordered parts for two prototype chassis. He built them at a cost of $125,000. At 100 mph the new engine smoothed out like a turbine and roared like a lion. Hal drove one of these experimental sixes for over 35,000 miles without having to make any repair or adjustment.
Hal's theory about a short-stroke engine had been carefully thought out. It was the result of years of experience and engineering training which had brought him to the fore-front of automobile designing. Going beyond the horizons of their contemporaries, engineering pioneers frequently jettison accepted formulas in order to establish new and better ones. To do so, they must prove, by convincing demonstrations, the worth of their radical ideas. A second obligation of the pioneer is to encourage others to break barriers. Miles Harold Carpenter, an engineer without a formal college degree, lectured at Yale, M.I.T., the University of Illinois, Rice Institute, and Pratt Institute.
At this time Hal was also building custom cars for Glenn Curtiss and his friends, and equipping them with Curtiss OX-5 airplane engines modified for motorcar use. These were long wheel-base, very fast, passenger cars. Hal designed the bodies in Glenn's private den on Stewart Avenue in Garden City. The styles were very much ahead of the times and quite startling, even in an era when rakish cars were not uncommon.
Curtiss asked Carpenter to build a plant and arranged with a banker, C. M. Keyes, to finance the Curtiss Motor Car Company. The Curtis cars were to use Phianna chassis equipped with OX-5 power plants modified by Charles Kirkham, their original designer and Chief Engineer for Curtiss. Kirkham had designed and built all the Curtiss planes and engines up to the end of World War I.
Charlie Kirkham, acknowledged by many as America's foremost aeronautical engineer, was, like Hal Carpenter, an engineer with a background of experience combined with correspondence-school education. At Hammondsport, New York, Kirkham had produced the well-known Kirkham engines bought by manufacturers of assembled cars. He had also made the engines for the famous Curtiss motorcycles and had raced with Curtiss at county and state fairs. (Although neither the Phianna nor Curtis cars survived the depression of 1921, Hal and Charlie continued to work together and eventually pooled their efforts to create a new and extremely advanced small car that will be the subject of an article in a future issue of the Automobilist).
Hal planned to form a corporation to mass produce the six-cylinder, Model 0, Phianna when it had passed all the tests he was putting it through. Mortimer Schiff, however, told Hal that, although Phianna was America's finest car, money was tight and the situation was getting worse. Schiff said he saw little chance of hand-crafted, custom cars surviving and advised Hal to pull in his sails.
Hal had on hand many expensive chassis and some 25 to 30 Fleetwood and Holbrook body shells. He moved everything out to Kirkham's shop at Garden City and closed up the Long Island operation.
A few last Phiannas were assembled to fill special orders. One of them was a majestic touring car built, in 1922, for John F. Norman of Bigelow-Hartford. Its design foretold the glorious new Phiannas that might have traveled the thoroughfares of the world. Hal Carpenter's hopes were never idle dreams. As a designer of fine motorcars, he failed no one. Eighteen patentable features were incorporated in this new car. Buyers, not the Phianna, had begun to lose status.
AS THE YEARS OF THE '20's SCRAMBLED MADLY, one on top of the other, toward precarious financial heights, they left behind a marque of gracious living, a lady of fine breeding whose beauty and behavior won her the love and admiration of many men. Sired by that great car, the S.G.V. whose stalwart performance in competition proved its mettle, Phianna sought no laurels among the fierce gladiators of the track. She was, first and foremost, a conveyance of superb refinement. Not the fastest. Not the most expensive, certainly, not common. Above all, she was an exceedingly distinctive motorcar for those accomplished and discerning gentlemen of a past era who were unhurried connoisseurs of perfection. A part of their way of life: Phianna, truly the Darling of the Titans.
© 1962 Frank N. Potter & UHVA -
-Originally published in Vol. 12 No. 12, of the Upper Hudson Valley Automobilist, June 1962 issue
Original Phianna renderings courtesy of Eric E. Norris, great-grandson of Miles Harold Carpenter.