OF HEART AND WHEELS, by Frank N. Potter - Antique Automobile, Vol. 42, Nos. 1-6, pub 1978
OF HEART AND WHEELS is about a boy who became a man without ever breaking faith with his dreams, without once losing the kid curiosity that drove him pell-mell after the first devil wagon" he ever saw.
Miles Harold Carpenter didn't become a millionaire, nor did newspaper headlines ever scream his name; yet practically every automobile rolling the roads today is more efficient, more comfortable, and safer because of "Hal's" genius and cheerful persistent efforts. His were the first cars to have safety glass, drop-center rims, turn signals, starter switches on the instrument panel, and several other innovations. He designed and built the first short-stroke, high-compression, high-speed engines—the type produced by just about every automobile engine manufacturer today. With Charles Kirkham, he designed and patented the parallel A-frame type of independent front-wheel suspension used on most present-day cars. In 1919, he conceived a turbine-type transmission remarkably similar to the one used in the Cadillac many years later. In 1930, he was converting car engines to fuel injection.
Miles Harold Carpenter
The question has occasionally been asked of the author: 'If this Carpenter was so accomplished, why haven't we ever heard of him?" Perhaps this was because the man was more interested in developing ideas than he was in promoting his name. But it is hardly fair to assume that, since the man was not a public figure, he was unheard of. Hal Carpenter was certainly well known by his peers in the automobile industry, and by many important people in other fields as well.
Hal worked with Lee de Forest, Marconi, Glenn Curtiss, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and many other equally accomplished men. Messrs. Benjamin, Cudahy, Swift, Armour, Bainbridge Colby, the King of Spain, the President of Brazil, and scores of other titans of industry and government were proud owners of Hal Carpenter's fabulous Phianna motorcars. In 1939, Eleanor Roosevelt sponsored Hal's visit to Washington, D. C., where, "as an inventor of note," he was invited to become a member of the prestigious Cosmos Club.
Of Heart and Wheels is an attempt to tell the public about Miles Harold Carpenter. Who he was, who knew and respected him, and what this self-effacing gentleman accomplished may very well be one of the most delightful surprises in recently discovered automobile history.
The Ivory Soap Box Racers
ON AN AFTERNOON IN 1896 a "devil wagon" chugged past the Carpenter house in Buffalo, New York. It was the first horseless carriage seven-year-old Hal had ever seen; he took off after it. The weird and wonderful contraption threw a cloud of dust in the lad's face but halted by the side of the road—panting and smoking—waiting for him—an untamed young flirt. His lungs bursting with the exciting scent of gasoline exhaust, the boy flung himself under the high-wheeled hussy.
"Hey, young'n!" the driver shouted. "What're you after under there?"
"Gotta find out what makes her go," the boy replied.
"And what'll you do then?" the man asked.
"I'll make a lady out of her," Hal announced.
Young Miles Harold Carpenter had met his mistress; and the teasing, temperamental, audacious filly had discovered the boy who was to become her hero in coveralls, the man who would someday make her the Darling of the Titans, "America's Representative Among the World's Finest Cars."
By the time Hal was nine, he had become an entrepreneur in the automobile business. "Mother was my first purchasing agent," he recalled. "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 lumberyard out on Niagara Street for the four-foot by sixteen-inch planks I used for the frames of the racers. Our neighborhood grocer furnished the Ivory Soap 'It Floats!' boxes free.
"The box was mounted upside-down on the front end of the racer to resemble an engine hood. The driver knelt midway on the plank with one leg and furnished cheap foot-to-pavement power with the other. He placed both hands on the top edges of the box in front of him and used the fingers of his left hand to move a pivoted stick that functioned as a pitman arm to control the steering. Boys' fathers would come to our house to pay three dollars apiece for the racers and get my bills of sale."
It is interesting to note that Hal's Ivory Soap Box Racers could have, by inference at least, boasted "Floating Power" three decades before the advent of the Plymouth. These little push mobiles were additionally precocious in that they were left-hand-drive vehicles when most horseless carriages were still right- handers; had "Fingertip Control" long before the Hudson Terraplane; and employed "Knee Action," a General Motors feature introduced in the early 'Thirties.
In the fall of 1901, Hal used to hide his personal Ivory Soap Box Racer in some bushes beside Delaware Park and climb over the fence near the Indian Congress, one of the attractions at the Pan- American Exposition being held there.
"I was fascinated by the Indian boys' attempts to play marbles," Hal recalled, "and decided to help them. One of the
Apache chiefs was watching us; he chuckled out loud when I squatted outside an eight-foot circle I'd scratched in the dirt and knocked 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 player and thanked me for teaching him."
Hal was at the Indian Congress on the sixth of September when President McKinley was shot at the Exposition's Temple of Music. The assassination put an end to the Exposition and also halted a New York to Buffalo road race (first run of the Automobile Club of America) at Rochester.
One summer day Hal parked his push-mobile near the Kennilworth Park Race Track to watch the biggest race of the year. Barney Oldfield was leading Webb Jay when Webb, blinded by the dirt thrown up by Barney's Green Dragon (Peerless), crashed his Whistling Billy (White Steamer) through the outside fence near the horse stables. Hal said:
"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 mess. He had been knocked unconscious by the railing. It happened only about fifty feet from where I'd just climbed under the Park fence.
"When I got to the edge of the pond, all I could see was the coat tail 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 badly torn and blood was oozing from his abdomen. He later became a prominent automobile dealer in Cleveland, Ohio."
Of Bikes and One-Bangers
A MOST EVENTFUL DAY for Hal, in 1901, was when a Mr. Long rented space in the Carpenters' carriage house to park his new single-cylinder Oldsmobile. Mr. Long was a food broker who distributed a new breakfast cereal called Maple Flakes. But Mr. Long couldn't seem to get the hang of operating his petite dos-a-dos, so he turned to eager little Hal for help. That day, twelve-year-old Hal became a full-fledged driver of a real automobile. After school and on Saturdays and Sundays, a boy with a heart full of wheels drove the Maple Flakes man all over Buffalo and its suburbs in that Merry Oldsmobile.
But gas buggies weren't the only automobiles with which Hal became familiar. 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. When evening came, the owners of the electric coupes and Stanhopes would phone in for their cars to be picked up. Hal would be given the necessary keys and would walk for miles to get these electrics from the Richmond and Delaware neighborhoods and drive them back to the company garage, where he'd plug cables into their rear ends and set the charger at the proper amperage.
The George N. Pierce Company of Buffalo, makers of such items as bicycles, bird cages, and ice boxes, had tried building a steam motorcar but it blew up one day while waiting at a crossing for a more successful steam vehicle to proceed along its tracks.
Then Mr. Pierce listened to a Charles Sheppy who had constructed a little "putt putt" powered by a De Dion Bouton two-and-three-quarter horsepower, air-cooled engine mounted on the rear axle. It was without a 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.
By 1903, the Pierce 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 (It wasn't until 1909 that a Pierce-built car was designated a Pierce-Arrow.). In 1905, Pierce's son, Percy, drove a Great Arrow to win over 22 competitors in the first Glidden Tour.
While George N. Pierce was still building Motorettes, the first international road race was run (New York to Pittsburgh) and Charles Sheppy entered it in one of their pee-wee one-bangers.
Near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Charlie swerved to avoid some ducks idling in a big puddle in the middle of the road. A steering knuckle broke and he and his passenger were dumped into the muddy water. While Charlie forged a repair in a roadside smithy — the blacksmith wouldn't touch the “devil wagon” —the remaining contestants in the race passed by, laughing and waving.
On the road again, Charlie urged the little Motorette in hot pursuit of the big, high-powered 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 what have you, Charlie employed the Pierce's light-weight advantage. With the help of his passenger, he picked up the tiny vehicle, waded through waist- deep water to the other side, then cranked up that impudent corn popper. It arrived in Pittsburgh with an embarrassing lead over the runner-up.
When Buffalo paraded its home-town winner down Main Street, Hal was there to see that glorious, bunting-bedecked little Motorette chug past; and, driving it, was a hero such as few boys ever know. Later, when a newspaper announcement said that this man was going to conduct an automobile school in the Buffalo Y.M.C.A., Hal dug eagerly into his savings for the tuition, hired another boy to round up the electrics, and began to spend his evenings delving into the intricacies of what was, to him, man's most fascinating creation.
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. Often, Charlie Sheppy had his star pupil sit with another student and explain things.
Mr. Sheppy was so impressed with Hal's exceptional knowledge of storage batteries (a subject with which Sheppy was not very familiar) that he asked Hal to work for him at the George N. Pierce Company during the coming school vacation.
When summer arrived, in 1903, Hal went down to the Pierce plant on Hanover Street. Mr. Sheppy introduced him to the employment supervisor, who asked Hal how old he was. "I was about to admit that I was barely fourteen," Hal said, “when Mr. Sheppy spoke up and said 'twenty-one'."
Hal was put in charge of Pierce's "electrical room," a partitioned cubbyhole in a corner of the final-assembly department. Here, he ran a primitive battery charger consisting of a bank of lights on direct 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 and three adjoining departments.
Charles Sheppy, Pierce's superintendent of construction, knew men as well as cars, and it wasn't by accident that young Hal began finding himself in frequent contact with both Mr. Sheppy and David Fergusson, Pierce's chief engineer. 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 International Correspondence School course in electrical engineering, a suggestion that Hal had reason to be thankful for many times later on.
Sixty miles south of Cuba, the Isle of Pines sang a siren song. Brochures and advertisements told of her charms and promises in beckoning prose. Hal’s father sold his prosperous milk distributing business and set off to this romantic island, intending to establish a citrus plantation there, inasmuch as the island had no school, Henry Carpenter and his wife decided to leave Hal in the care of his sister in Buffalo until suitable educational opportunities were available on this under-developed United States possession.
Hal built a sturdy oak desk and fastened it to a wall in the dining room at home. But that fall he didn’t return to public school. He stayed on at Pierce and studied whenever he could find time. Some evenings, however, he spent “pacing” behind a Pierce Motorette, training for the bicycle racing events arranged and sponsored by Pierce.
None of the other riders begrudged Hal the number he chose to wear. Most of the Pierce employees were bike-racing fans, and came regularly to cheer their idol, Number 13. Because Kramer, the World Champion, had turned professional, Hal became Pierce's best 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 plant and discuss the most difficult answers with either Mr. Sheppy or Mr. Fergusson. That ICS course was quite an undertaking for a boy as young as Hal, but he couldn't have asked for more competent and 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, under the supervision of two of the industry's most famous engineers and their draftsmen, Miles Harold Carpenter received his first automotive designing experience.
Beyond acquiring facts of engineering and construction, Hal also learned to meet the challenge of perfection. In all his subsequent career, he was never satisfied with less than the best. He consulted with 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.
When Pierce decided to step up from the one-cylinder class, the company built about a hundred three-cylinder engines; but, although their impulses were perfectly balanced with the cranks set at 120 degrees, they still sounded like a four-cylinder with one cylinder not firing. When the engine-assembly building burned down, there were two or three of these little three-cylinder engines that could be salvaged.
Mr. Sheppy arranged for Hal to have two of the fire-damaged three-cylinder engines for a boat the young man intended to build. Hal coupled these two engines in tandem and made a commutator to furnish a 1-3-5-6-2-4 firing order. It was the first 'six-cylinder" engine Hal had ever seen.
When Charlie Pond, the head engine tester, was giving Hal's "six" a brake test, Mr. Sheppy and Mr. Fergusson happened to pass through the room. These engineers were so impressed by the smoothness of the little tandem engi ne that they made plans to produce the Pierce Great Arrow Sixty-Five in 1907. Mr. Pierce ordered a lengthened chassis built for testing the novel engine. The last Hal remembers of that sweet- running six is that it was still being tested.
In 1906, the last year Hal worked for Pierce, Lee De Forest came to the Hanover Street plant with an idea for making a novel piece of equipment for the Army. 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 belt fitted over the rim of the open flywheel of the car's engine; then they installed a wireless transmitter in the rear and attached a high antenna that could be folded 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 self-propelled wireless station.
Another maker of fine cars in Buffalo was the E. R. Thomas Motor Company, on the corner of Niagara and Ferry. Hal's older brother, Henry, was employed by Thomas as a "tester" and helped in the hasty preparation of the famous 1907 Thomas Flyer that won the New York to Paris Race (Feb. 12 to July 30, 1908). "They had many failures before they made a transmission and differential that would stand up." Hal recalled, "While testing cars on the Tonawanda Turnpike, I used to overtake Henry and his Flyers; the Pierce cars could always outrun them."
The Siren Isle of Pines
DURING THE WINTER OF 1906, Hal's father wrote asking him to come to the Isle of Pines. Here, Hal had many wonderful adventures; one of the most rewarding was his crocodile hunt. A luggage manufacturer from Havana had arrived on the Isle looking for a large supply of hides.
Hal took two native boys, borrowed a team of mules, and set up camp on the edge of a lagoon. While he shot crocs, one shot each, through the eye, the boys dragged them out onto the bank, skinned them and salted down the hides. Within three days, Hal had a wagon load of hides which he then accompanied to Havana.
But this trip was not simply for the purpose of delivering the hides. As soon as Hal received the several hundred dollars for his efforts, he immediately bought something he'd seen when first he'd passed through Havana on his way to the Isle of Pines. In those days, $550 was a whale of a lot to pay for any motorcycle, but this was a magnificent, four-cylinder, shaft-drive, spring-fork, FN (Fabrique Nationale d'Armes de Guerre a Herstal - Lez- Liege, Belgium).
The FN Company, which won three grand prizes in Paris in 1900, originally manufactured firearms, but branched out into the production of bicycles, motorcycles, motorcyclettes, and automobiles. Its trademark showed a bicycle crank superimposed on a rifle, with the letters "F" and "N" on either side and the whole design enclosed in a circle. Today, a 1906 FN four-cylinder motorcycle engine is on display at the Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan, - possibly the engine from Hal's beloved bike?
The natives on the Isle of Pines didn't like Hal's motorcycle, considered it a "deuced hex machine," blamed it whenever any of their children took sick or died. Hal eventually drove that FN all over Illinois and the Southwest, trading it, at last, for something more precious at the time, a diamond engagement ring.
Instead of starting a citrus plantation, Hal's father had bought the Santa Fe Hotel. Among the interesting guests at this hotel was Mr. Busch, a Texas rancher who had brought with him a new 1908 Cadillac touring car. It was the first automobile ever seen on the Isle of Pines. Hal helped build a house for Mr. Busch in Neuva Gerona and had a ball driving that big Cadillac.
Another interesting guest at the Carpenters' Santa Fe Hotel was a man of Irish-Italian descent who was setting up a wireless relay station on the Isle of Pines to connect Europe with South America. When this man learned of Hal's knowledge of electricity and his experience in helping construct Lee de Forest's mobile transmitter, he hired Hal as a wireman. The man's name: Guglielmo Marconi.
At one time, Irene Castle had also stayed at the Santa Fe Hotel. In December of 1915, her husband, Vernon Castle, joined the initial class of Glenn Curtiss's flying school at Newport News, Virginia. Here, a Charles Pond, who had a considerable reputation as an aviator, was an instructor. This was the same Charlie Pond who had given Hal's "six" that brake test at the G. N. Pierce plant in Buffalo. The school existed only from late 1915 through 1918, but played an important part in the early days of military aviation in this country. Major William 'Billy" Mitchell graduated from this school, taking his first student flight of two hours on September 4, 1916.
Hell-roaring was part and parcel of many a birdman's image in the derring-do days of aviation; and even the peccadilloes of the fledglings were duly reported. The Newport News Daily Press of January 22, 1916, disclosed: "Vernon Castle, dancer and aeronautical student, yesterday was summoned to appear in police court this morning on a charge of exceeding the speed limit with his automobile. Patrolman Smith, who is responsible for his predicament, avers that the dancer was rushing down Jefferson Avenue to the municipal small boat harbor in a racing car at a speed something like 30 miles an hour."
In this era, the activities of men involved with bicycles, motorcycles, automobiles, and airplanes brought them into frequent contact with each other. Although Hal Carpenter no doubt knew of Glenn Curtiss and his associates in 1915, it was not until several years later that Carpenter and Curtiss and Curtiss's chief engineer pooled their talents in several enterprises.
In 1903, Glenn Curtiss was a well- known builder and racer of motorcycles. His hometown of Hammondsport, New York, had become a center of the industry. It was a Curtiss motorcycle engine that powered "Captain" Thomas Scott Baldwin's California Arrow dirigible which, on August 3, 1904, was the first lighter-than-air craft to make a circular flight on this continent, if not in the world. It was Captain Baldwin whom Glenn Curtiss chose to head his Newport News school.
Charles B. Kirkham was a man to whom much credit is due. According to Hal Carpenter: "Charlie Kirkham had the same correspondence school education I had, and was chief engineer of the Curtiss Airplane Company. He designed and built all the Curtiss planes and engines up to the end of World War I. No aeronautical engineer, in my estimation, held a candle to Charles B. Kirkham. He made the engines for Glenn Curtiss's motorcycles and raced with Curtiss at county and state fairs. He also produced the famous Kirkham automobile engines for assembled cars at Hammondsport."
At the time Mr. Busch had arrived on the Isle of Pines with his Cadillac, Hal's mother had been suffering from an ailment that the local doctor could not diagnose, so Henry Carpenter took his wife back to the states, leaving young Hal in charge of the Santa Fe Hotel, which was full at the time. Now, in the summer of 1908, Hal's father, who had taken over the operation of the Hotel Vandalia in Illinois, wrote to his son urging him to come home and help run this hotel.
A Texas "Tom Swift"
AFTER A FINAL CHECKUP by the United States Public Health and Marine Hospital Service, Hal and some other Americans were permitted to board a small steamer that ferried them to Knight's Key, Florida, the southern terminus of the Florida-East Coast Railroad. Hal proceeded leisurely northward, stopping off at various cities to go sightseeing on his FN motorcycle, which he'd checked on as baggage. Finally, at Vandalia, Illinois, he had a grand reunion with his parents.
"It was through that motorcycle that Hal met me," said the former Irma Scheurer. "He took over the job of night clerk for his dad at the hotel and thereby had time to play with his hex machine during the day. Eventually, he found his way across the street to my father's hardware store after some tools with which to tinker on his FN.
"My mother helped father in the store and was often down there; so, early one Saturday evening, she called me on the phone and said: 'Irma hurry down here and meet the most wonderful young man! And I did just that. From then on, Hal spent more time at our house than he did with his motorcycle. He'd rent a livery stable rig, best in town, and be at the high school waiting for me each afternoon. I was sixteen then, going on seventeen.
"When they voted to close the saloons in Vandalia, many of the farmers who used to come from miles around and were my father's chief customers began going to other towns. Well, one day when my mother was buying a ticket to take the train to Ardmore, Oklahoma, to visit her sister, the station agent suggested that she go down to Wichita Falls, Texas, which was only some 60 miles south of Ardmore, and look the place over."
Scheurers' Wichita Hardware Company became an immediate success; shortly Hal and Irma decided to get married. This, however, failed to meet with Daddy Scheurer's approval; he felt that the "kids" were too young. His prospective father-in-law's attitude did not discourage Hal nor Irma. Hal forthwith wrote a letter of resignation as a partner in the Wichita Hardware Company, placed a notice regarding his resignation in the Wichita Falls Times, and eloped with the fair Irma. When the couple returned from a short honeymoon they moved into a furnished apartment prepared by Irma's mother who had been privy to the elopement.
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 contracted for a plant to supply electrical power for lights and a new street-railway system, Hal got a cost-plus agreement for the entire installation.
Wichita Falls was growing by leaps and bounds. Hal piped houses for gas and installed plumbing. Business firms moving into town arranged with Hal for their electrical installations. He moved his parents down from Vandalia, set his father up as bookkeeper, and drafted plans in his new engineering office. He opened the first electrical store in town and carried a full line of appliances and residential lighting fixtures. In addition, he sold storage batteries and installed battery-charging equipment. He stocked Prestolite tanks, tires and general automotive parts and accessories as well; he was the first such dealer in northwest Texas.
Wichita Falls was the only "wet" town in northwest Texas. On Ohio Street, there were five saloons to the block. Hal's Company installed Emerson ceiling fans by the hundreds over the bars and tables in cafes and restaurants, and over most of the counters in drug stores and in department stores and banks. In the fall, Hal's men took these fans down, cleaned and oiled them, then stored them until their owners ordered them reinstalled in the spring.
When a motion picture theater was built on Indiana Avenue, a modern stage was included for vaudeville performances. Hal did all the wiring and, in his shop, made all the stage-lighting fixtures. He also designed and installed an air conditioning system for this movie house; it employed large fans that forced air around huge blocks of ice.
One summer, Hal designed and built a 21-foot speedboat and powered this "torpedo" with a Maxwell automobile engine that could push the Irma along at 20 miles an hour. He also constructed a trailer, possibly the first such boat hauler ever seen at Lake Wichita.
He took the agency for Pierce bicycles, three makes of motorcycles, and the Paige-Detroit automobile; sold three of these cars, then took on the EMF; sold about two dozen of these and finally got into his stride with the Chalmers, a car he considered better designed than the EMF. At this time, Hal also became the first tractor dealer in town, organized a plowing contest and won it with his Titan tractor.
Whatever the EMF (Everitt, Metzger, and Flanders) may have been in Hal's estimation, Walter Emmett Flanders remained a big man in the automobile business. Outmaneuvering such giants as Ford, Durant, and Nash, the shrewd Vermonter bought up the United States Motor Company for $31,000,000. Although this combine already boasted its Maxwell as 'the leader in the field," Flanders sought quasi-immortality by attempting to bring out a new car and naming it the W. E. Flanders which, as one commentator remarked: "would have been better off left on the drawing board."
In 1923, Flanders was riding high at St. Georges-on-the-James, an estate adjacent to Powhatan Creek near Williamsburg, Virginia, which he had bought from a Mr. Warburton. On June 13, Flanders gave a party at St. Georges for the staff of the Buxton Hospital in Newport News. Late that evening, while being driven along Richmond Road, near Williamsburg, by Powell Mahone, Flanders was killed when Mahone failed to negotiate a curve and struck a culvert abutment near where the Congress Motel now stands. When news of Flanders's death reached Wall Street, the United States Motor Company folded.
The year 1923 proved to be the last great year of numerous makes of American automobiles. Up to this time, many new names had swelled the ranks year in and year out. In 1922, some 200 makes were being produced in this country. By 1923, about 50 of these had failed to stay in the market. Later, scores more departed from the scene.
Some independent car manufacturers suffering from poor advertising, inefficient management, inferior design, or unable to take advantage of mass production techniques, were swallowed up by consolidation or outright purchase. Others, catering to the custom-body carriage trade, felt the pinch of a shrinking market. Most independents, already losing ground, failed to rally from the depression of 1921. Later, several fine marques that survived were to be wiped out by the Big Depression at the close of the decade.
On the other hand, sharp-dealing stock-promotion operators could still be found pandering to the get-rich-quick-in-the-automobile-game penchant of the gullible. Often, they publicized some gimmick-based vehicle that they had little or no intention of producing. Occasionally, an honest but financially strapped inventor/entrepreneur, who had designed a car with advanced engineering and real potential, would fall victim to the promises, or poor timing, of fair-weather advisors and financial backers.
A future article in this series will tell about one novel car venture that once hit the heights in publicity but has baffled present day historians. The heretofore unrevealed account of how this company promoted its dubious product is as intriguing as was the little car itself.
In the March-April issue, Part II will tell about an alarming fire engine, a motortruck the sun never set on, a little cyclecar that could've, when $22,000,000 worth of Chalmers were bought in 40 minutes at Detroit, how a Chalmers whipped a Hupmobile record, and "Look, Mama! There goes a Moxiemobile!"
(End of Part I)
The Alarming Fire Engine
IN MARCH OF 1910, the month Hal Carpenter became 21 years old, the City of Wichita Falls, Texas, received the first self-propelled fire engine to be delivered west of the Mississippi. It was a Robinson pumper from St. Louis, constructed on the lengthened chassis from a Chadwick Great Six, and powered by a Chadwick marine engine with 4 by 6 cylinders cast in pairs and enclosed in copper water jackets. A Bosch magneto and a vibrating-spark coil provided dual ignition. Headlights were carbide-generated acetylene, ignited by a push-button- operated spark coil. The great wheels of this vehicle had tires 40 inches in diameter. Back of the driver's seat was a 45- gallon chemical tank.
The pumper was delivered and demonstrated by a wild but competent young Irishman named Jimmy O'Neil, who frightened the wits out of the townspeople by driving the juggernaut through the streets of the city at unheard of speeds, taking corners literally on two wheels. When the redoubtable O'Neil proved that the equipment's bulging bronze pump was capable of spouting the touted 750 gallons per minute, the weird and wonderful contraption was duly stabled by Chief J. L. McClure in the then City Hall-jail-and-firehouse at 9th and Ohio.
Grover Haburn, who was the skinner on the horse-drawn hose and chemical wagon - and was also Chief McClure's son-in-law - was put in charge of the new motorized rig, even though he had had no previous experience with automotive vehicles of any sort. In spite of the Robinson pumper's many formidable faults, Grover eventually became a fearless man at the wheel.
Soon after the pumper was put into service, its expanding-band clutch developed an alarming grab and chatter and the high torque of the engine against the heavily overloaded chassis made the frame sag dangerously just back of the engine. Chief McClure tried in vain to get Robinson Brothers to send help to correct these faults in the equipment.
Fortunately, Hal Carpenter took a serious interest in McClure's problem and volunteered to correct the troubles. He spent weeks designing and building a new oil-bath clutch and a truss rod arrangement to support the frame. These modifications were accomplished on the pumper one Sunday morning with the help of Grover Haburn and several civic-minded citizens.
Hal made his wet clutch as a perfect-fit replacement for the faulty dry one, and had fashioned a new pedal, controls, and stay rods in a smithy on Ohio Street. The replacement clutch remained smooth in operation and the frame never sagged again. Eventually, a new firehouse was constructed on 9th Street in the same block where Hal had built a model electric house for himself.
For years, Grover Haburn nursed that Robinson pumper along until, alas, her front tires got trapped in the trolley-car tracks. 'The critter got the bit in her teeth and took off with the blind staggers and then flipped over," said one witness. Grover, who was by then the assistant fire chief, was sitting beside Paul Galey, the new driver. Grover was severely injured and was hospitalized for about a year; but, fifty years later, at the age of 76, he was still doing yeoman's work for the city.
The first motorized fire engine west of the Mississippi didn't ride off into the sunset, however. The owner of an amusement park in northern Arkansas rescued that old Robinson pumper from obscure retirement and hauled it off to his park. It may still be on display there.
The Yellow Trucks of Texas
THE WICHITA FALLS MOTOR TRUCK ENTERPRISE was established to exploit an invention designed to make driving as simple as possible. Two Wichita Falls businessmen made a deal with the inventor, McKeirnan, to build a factory and produce a line of cargo and other commercial vehicles. A Maxwell touring car was modified to demonstrate the ease of handling that McKeirnan's single-lever device would provide. Brakes on the car were operated in the conventional manner.
Before starting the engine, the lever—which looked like and was placed in the same location as a steering post gear shift—was pushed ahead to the starting position. This retarded the spark, opened the throttle slightly, and placed the progressive-type transmission in neutral. The engine was then started by hand cranking. Pulling the lever back a short distance successively disengaged the clutch, brought first gear into play, then engaged the clutch, causing the car to move ahead slowly. Pulling the lever a bit further back advanced the spark and opened the throttle wider; the car then speeded up, still in first gear. For second and third gears, the lever was pulled further and further back. Making the car go backwards was, it is assumed, equally simple. In spite of the rather complicated series of functions that the lever controlled, its easy forward-and-back movement enabled mechanically unsophisticated personnel to operate the vehicle, a boon in countries where only native help was available as drivers.
When Hal Carpenter was asked to test the modified Maxwell, he gave it more than a 'round-the-block run. In the fall of 1912, he drove it to Ardmore, Oklahoma, and back. "That trip took eight days," Hal remembered, "because the selector fingers on the transmission wore out and I had to make new ones. My wife's uncle, William Vernor, a United States Marshall of Indian Territory, lived in Ardmore and was well acquainted with the superintendent of a railroad roundhouse that boasted the only machine shop in town.
"I was given free rein of the entire shop, and forged new selector fingers and actuating levers of my own design. The shop had no milling machine, so I was obliged to finish the parts to size on an old-fashioned shaper."
The parts Hal designed were reproduced on the McKeirnan production models. At one time, 10,000 of these Wichita trucks were being used in 87 different countries, proving the company's slogan: "The Sun Never Sets on the name of Wichita." Wichitas formed the first fleet of trucks to cross the Gobi Desert. Many American troops were carried to the front, in World War I, in some of the 3,500 Wichita trucks made for the French government. One shipment of Wichitas sent to China had to be hidden and repainted before delivery. It seems that they had been innocently painted yellow—a taboo color (for trucks, at least) in China.
An East Indian potentate ordered two of these trucks with special chassis and bodies to enable him to take his harem with him when he made inspections of his kingdom. A South Sea island queen requested a custom-made Wichita so she and her courtiers might ride in regal splendor among her naked subjects.
The Little Cyclecar that Could've
THE WICHITA TRUCK COMPANY inadvertently sponsored another interesting vehicle enterprise. Three young draftsman-engineers employed by the company decided to build themselves some cyclecars. In most four-wheeled vehicles of this type, power is transmitted from a motorcycle engine to the rear wheels by segmented leather belts which permitted the engine to idle when they were slackened. Usually, a passenger seat was located in tandem behind or ahead of the driver's cockpit.
The cyclecar idea was conceived about 1910, in Europe, where these novel cars enjoyed considerable popularity. Whether cyclecars should be classed as motorcycles or automobiles was often a point of contention when it came to licensing.
Among the proponents of the cyclecar in the United States, was James Scripps Booth. The 1911 prototype of Booth's cyclecar was small enough to store under a back porch and, with its 36-inch tread, could easily pass through most garden gates. Booth envisioned using the car's simple shell as a packing crate, and promoting an assemble-it-yourself economy package. Almost 20 years later, packing crates were featured in the advertising of another small car which was also powered by a motorcycle engine.
The boom year for cyclecars in this country was 1914, by which time James Scripps Booth and William E. Scripps had organized the Scripps-Booth Company. They sold about 400 of their cyclecars, priced at $385, before World War I ended, however, winter weather and road conditions killed off the cyclecar fad in the United States.
Hal helped the Wichita Truck lads de-sign and build three of these sporty little cars, and furnished the motorcycle wheels and engines. 'Each of the cars varied in design of suspension, drive train, steering, and body," said Hal. "We were thinking of taking the best of the designs and going into business, but friends discouraged us from going ahead with the project. I guess we were too soon with these babies."
A Salesman in the Saddle
WHEN THE WICHITA FALLS Chalmers agency reached distributor status, Hal sold his electrical business and store.
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 made the "durn thing go." Some of his prospects called the speedometer the "Warner"—not because that' was the manufacturer's name that appeared on the instrument, but because it warned you when you were going too fast. This was something like the idea that a car with "Dodge Brothers" up front didn't really need a horn.
The sale of a car frequently depended upon the ease with which Hal was able to explain the thing's "workin's" to a potential buyer and teach him how to drive it. Hal said that his Y.M.C.A. course back in Buffalo helped more than anything else in making these "educational" sales.
In demonstrating cars in that era, especially in Texas, it was an advantage if a salesman was half cowboy. Hal drove his Chalmers demonstrators through pastures, creeks, and small rivers, and over hill and hummock without hesitation. It was said, around Wichita Falls, that Hal Carpenter didn't sell cars; he scared folks into buying them.
Hal's stunts put a considerable strain on the cars as well as the customers and, having an engineering turn of mind, he was constantly in touch with the factory, sending them sketches of the car's parts and giving Chalmers engineers ideas about how to design better automobiles. One day, at a sales convention in Dallas, Hugh Chalmers called Hal to the platform and introduced him as 'The Chalmers Texas Engineering Department." Mr. Chalmers mentioned many changes and improvements to his cars that were direct results of Hal's suggestions.
In 1915, Hal attended a sales meeting of the nation's Chalmers dealers in Detroit. He sat at the head table in an elaborate leather chair bearing his name on an engraved sterling-silver plaque. This chair was Hal's Grand Prize for setting a record by selling more than twice his sales quota of 71 Chalmers cars.
Paul Smith, Chalmers' $50,000-a-year sales manager, announced that the company was taking orders for the new $1,050, 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 $22,000,000 worth of Chalmers cars in 40 minutes at Detroit.
Hal mailed copies of the magazine to a hundred of his most likely prospects, loaded one of the new Chalmers onto a wagon and towed it around Wichita Falls, creating quite a stir wherever he went. Another of his promotional stunts involved using a tent as a portable showroom and sales office at fairs in area towns.
For a preparedness parade held in Wichita Falls at the outbreak of World War I, Hal bedecked a Chalmers with flowers. He also constructed the first motorized parade float ever seen in the city, a simulated submarine built around a Chalmers car. Because of the commercial advertising it carried, this "Texas Navy" vessel was ruled out of competition for the parade's Grand Award; but the floral Chalmers came on like a Rose Bowl spectacular and captured a first prize.
Hal was delighted with the new L-head Chalmers; he decided to drive one back to Detroit to tell Hugh Chalmers what a wonderful car it was. Moreover, new and advanced as this 3400-rpm Chalmers was, Hal already had ideas for improvements to it that he wanted to discuss personally with the Chalmers engineers. He had previously made three or four trips to the Detroit automobile factory and invariably ended up in the engineering department where he was always welcome. Here, he picked up many valuable pointers on how a progressive automobile engineering department was run.
From the start, Hal had trained himself for a greater destiny than simply establishing sales records. Watching and helping others make cars was exciting and stimulating but merely an apprenticeship. He raised his sights toward a truly challenging goal: designing and building an automobile of his own that would surpass all other makes in perfection.
Move Over, Hupmobile
HAL SET OUT FOR DETROIT with his father-in-law, R. G. Scheurer; his brother-in-law, LeRoy Scheurer; and a mechanic named 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 18 inner-tubes, the riders reached Detroit in two days.
A Hupmobile had just made a record run through some few states in 30 days, so Hal, with the blessing of Hugh Chalmers (after whom Hal had named one of his three sons), set out with R. G. Scheurer to hit 20 states in 30 days. Having gone through the many intervening states after leaving Texas, and all those in New England except Maine—and even up into Ontario—Hal and his partner arrived in New York City where he took a ferry across to New Jersey. One small change was then made to the sign on the side of the car. The "30" was deleted and an "8" was painted in its place.
"Needless to say," Hal related, "it took a lot of night driving. When we ran low on gas, I usually found a service station with a lunch counter nearby. While I serviced the car, Mr. Scheurer would hustle over and get coffee and sandwiches. On the last stretch of the trip, I drove over 60 hours without stopping to nap."
Establishing this sensational record would not have been possible had not Hal's ingenuity solved a serious problem that arose after his third or fourth day of relentless driving. The Chalmers accelerator was a conventional button-on-a-rod arrangement that extended through a hole about six inches up on the toe-board. Below this round-headed pedal was a T-shaped stirrup that served as a foot rest. This stirrup so numbed the arch of Hal's foot as he drove hour after hour over unpaved roads and across countless railroad tracks, that he was afraid he'd soon be unable to continue.
At a smithy in Vermont, Hal hammered out a strip of steel about 2 1/2 inches wide and seven inches long, and attached a hinge near the bottom or lower end. He then removed the stirrup from the toe-board and installed this new pedal so that it would pivot from the floorboard and press down on the accelerator button above. He was now able to rest the back of his heel on the floorboard with his foot in a comfortable position on this pedal.
Later, when Hal began to manufacture cars of his own, he made the accelerator pedal of aluminum and added a lip at the bottom to keep the operator's heel from wearing a hole in the floormat. It was some years before other car manufacturers adopted this type of accelerator pedal. They are now generally rubber- covered and usually do not have a lip at the bottom.
"When we arrived in New York City," Hal continued, "I went to Fleischman's Turkish Baths for a good steaming and rubdown; then I went to bed and slept twice around the clock.
"We could've made that run in less than eight days," Hal figured, "if we hadn't had those letters from Hugh Chalmers to deliver to dealers in cities on our route; and we took time to parade to several city halls and meet mayors, and to a few state capitols to shake hands with governors.
"New York was very enthusiastic about my western-style saddle gun strapped to the windshield in its scabbard. On the trip we slept under a tarpaulin and kept that gun handy to scare away coyotes. Wherever we stopped in New York, we were mobbed. Folks were forever taking our pictures. We put the car in C. T. Silver's showroom where the sales manager got a big bang out of telling the crowds that the gun actually had real bullets in it."
The Chalmers people were so impressed by Hal's record run, and by the sales-contest score he'd made, that they offered him the position of sales manager for the eastern section of the United States. Hal gladly accepted the assignment, sold his Texas interests and a new. home he'd just built, and moved to New York State, where he lived in the New York City suburbs of Mt. Vernon, Pelham, and eventually New Rochelle— the town folks were singing about in George M. Cohan's hit, "Forty-five Minutes from Broadway."
Horsing Around for Moxie
ONCE UPON A TIME a soda pop called Moxie outsold Coca Cola and, whereas the mighty Coca Cola Company swiped a word, "coke," from the English language, the Moxie folks gave us a word that's more American than apple pie— which was not original with us in the first place. Webster's tells us that "moxie" is slang for: energy, pep, life, courage, pluck, audacity, nerve, stamina, backbone, and guts; and that it comes from Moxie, a trademark for a soft drink.
During World War I, Chalmers automobile production was curtailed and sales dwindled. Hal Carpenter became sales manager for the Dort, a popular light car equipped with a sturdy, four- cylinder, Lycoming, L-head engine. In 1917, Hal was finding a minor outlet for his creative genius by constructing custom cars on foreign chassis. His talents as a man with ideas and know-how was gaining him a reputation on the East Coast.
"For several years," said Hal, "the Moxie people up in Boston had been trying to motorize one of their sales gimmicks, a black horse carrying a red- coated hunter who rode from town to town promoting their tonic. They'd told me that mounting a dummy horse on an automobile chassis was possible, but that it would be unsafe, if not foolhardy, for anyone to attempt to drive such a rig while atop the horse. Well, one day Fred Wright, who was then the Auburn and Dort dealer in New York, asked me if I'd like to tackle the project, just for kicks.
"What with automobiles putting an end to the heyday of horses, it was easy to find a hard-up harness maker willing to sell me the dummy horse he used for displaying his wares. I cut the horse's legs off a bit, beefed up the body with some internal reinforcements, and mounted the beast on a Dort speedster chassis.
'The steering shaft went down through the horse's neck and chest and reached the steering gear through a series of short rods and universal joints. Transmission gear shifting was accomplished from the saddle by means of an offset and extended lever. Platform stirrups were located directly behind rearranged clutch and brake pedals.
"The accelerator was my pride and joy. You placed your foot on the right- hand stirrup platform and slid it forward to move a curved-bar pedal which opened the throttle. That way, you could stand up on the stirrups and ride over rough roads without danger of being thrown off.
"When I finished putting that first Moxiemobile together in a loft on 57th Street, I rode it down Broadway and wound up on Wall Street one noon hour. It stirred up such a fuss that a traffic cop had to walk in front of me and open up a lane through the crowds so that I could get my steed on its way back uptown.
"Another day, after I'd gotten so that I could handle the mount well enough, I pulled out onto Broadway again, swung onto the trolley car tracks (which guided the Dort's narrow tires and kept it going straight); then I rode from 57th Street to 54th Street standing on my head in the saddle. The next day, I took a Moxie tenderfoot out to the wild and wooly Bronx and taught him how to control the critter. It sure would give the kids a thrill if one of those old Moxiemobiles came down the street today. I'll bet a million people would see it on television now, instead of on the newsreels in the movie houses like they did then."
That the first Moxiemobile should have used a Dort chassis to carry a horse is an instance of poetic justice—a horse on Mr. Dort, so to speak—for, once upon a time, he had been a partner with William C. Durant in the horse-drawn vehicle business. Hal Carpenter visited the little Dort-Durant Carriage Company in Flint, Michigan, when they shipped the last carload of buggies from that factory. "Somebody, maybe the General Motors people, decided to keep Bill Durant's office there as a sort of shrine." said Hal. "I sat in Bill's big upholstered chair and had my picture taken that day."
Although the original Moxiemobile was at one time used to promote Greyhound Tires, it remained a moving landmark for Moxie. Several similar vehicles were later constructed, mounting aluminum horses made in a specially constructed mold. There was even a Moxiecycle, a four-cylinder motorcycle that carted its horse around in a sidecar.
In 1932, the Moxie Company was operating Moxiemobiles using chassis of four- and six-cylinder Buicks, three LaSalles; and had at least one Rolls-Royce rig. A Cadillac or two was added to the fleet later on. One of the LaSalles is still in existence, put out to pasture by the Moxie folks for sentimental reasons. Perhaps this is the same LaSalle that was once used to promote Moxie by having Buck Jones photographed in his cowboy costume astride the white horse somewhere in Hollywood.
PART Ill of this series will begin the story of a lost classic, the fabulous Phianna, Darling of the Titans, known to the affluent as "America's Representative Among the World's Finest Cars."
(End of Part II)
Darling of the Titans: PHIANNA
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 parade around the potentate's vast premises.
The interior of this jewel of the Prince's well-stocked motor stable 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."
Packard, Pierce-Arrow, and Peerless have long been called The Three Great "P's of American Motordom and much has been written about them—but in an era when great cars were built for great men, many a titan boasted his Phianna above them all.
The most authoritative published information regarding the development of the Phianna's predecessor companies is perhaps to be found in The Automobile Industry in Reading, written by Byron A. Vazakas for the April, 1939, issue of the HISTORICAL REVIEW OF BERKS COUNTY (Pennsylvania). The Vazakas article also tells about the Duryea Power Company, Middleby Company, Steam Vehicle Company, Meteor Engineering Company, Due Motor Car Company, Daniels Motor Car Company, Raleigh Motor Company, Schwartz Motor 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, Pennsylvania. This company made Stoner bicycles, but sold its cycle business to the American Bicycle Company, then continued to make bicycles (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, Mr. 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 designed and built an automobile along the lines of a "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-drive 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 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 hp 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 were 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 the 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 Hal 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." Hal received all the Acme and S.G.V. drawings and 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 wheelbases 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 together 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. Stroudt, 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 shaft-drive 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, 30 to 40 cars being produced each month.
From 1912 to 1914, the S.G.V. 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, a weird-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 forced 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, and neutral. A button under another spoke served as a magneto cutout, and still other 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 understandably 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 Hal 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 Motor 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, long-spring 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.
Because really fine cars were his cup of tea, Hal Carpenter was attracted to them as a lover of good books is drawn to the best in literature. Hal also liked the people who preferred excellence in motorcars as well as in other things in the good life; and such people appreciated Hal's high regard for true craftsmanship-trusted his judgment. He received commissions for many custom Rolls-Royces and Mercedes cars from a discerning and growing clientele.
It was inevitable that young Miles Harold Carpenter should become well acquainted with the Phianna, claimed by many to be the finest automobile built in America. After talking with Phianna dealers and owners, and with chauffeurs who were driving these superior motorcars, he visited the marques fine New York showroom on Central Park South, near Broadway at Columbus Circle, and bought one.
When Hal learned that the Phianna factory at Newark, New Jersey was being taken over by the Wright-Martin Aircraft Company for the manufacture of tools and dies for aircraft engines, he was impressed. He knew that making such engines required close-tolerance facilities. (The Wright-Martin Aircraft Company was organized in 1917 to produce Hispano-Suiza engines for U.S. aircraft.) The Phianna people told Hal that, although Wright-Martin was buying most of the heavy equipment, the Phianna name and all the automobile tools, dies, jigs, fixtures, patterns, drawings and parts inventory were for sale to anyone capable of continuing the manufacture of the car at some other site.
Hal had sold several cars to a Henrietta, Texas, banker-rancher by the name of Carl M. Worsham, and had hunted coyotes with him, aided by Worsham's Russian wolfhounds. It was on the Worsham ranch that young Tex Rickard had worked for Carl's father, Dick Worsham. Learning that Hal wanted to buy the Phianna assets, Carl Worsham came to New York to help. He introduced Hal to the heads of the Standard Oil Company's bank (the Seaboard National) and assisted in financing the purchase.
After scouting the Metropolitan area, New Jersey, and Connecticut, Hal found a suitable building in Long Island 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 Phianna equipment 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—but where even Jay Gould was not welcome. "We made lots of friends at the Yacht Club," Hal recollects, "and sold quite a few Phiannas to its members."
Only 20 years after 8-year-old Hal had built his first "car—the Ivory Soap Box Racer—Miles Harold Carpenter, engineer, designer, and already a man of many accomplishments, became the youngest automobile manufacturer in America; and personally undertook the responsibility of making the Phianna - thus far, America's finest - the finest in the world.
Looking back to the day he bought Phianna, Hal smiles: "Boy! I sure had a lot of nerve, didn't I?"
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 trim 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, confident that Phianna chassis were all 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. (In 1918, the Phianna chassis was advertised at $3,600; the custom bodies cost considerably more. The selling price of a Phianna limousine was roughly six times the average automobile worker's annual wage, or twice the cost of a new, substantial suburban house and lot.)
It often took several months from the time an order was placed until delivery was made. These handcrafted cars didn't pop off the end of an assembly line like so many peas out of a pod; Hal Carpenter's customers didn't expect them to. Phianna cars were substantial symbols of cultured taste, individual masterpieces not intended to be traded in every year or so—as were the high-priced, mass-produced, contemporary juggernauts 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.
New York City had more builders of hand-hammered bodies than any other place in the country. All the oldtimers started there. Czechoslovakians became the best metal hammerers and were the highest-paid artisans in the automobile 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 sheet metal and finish it smooth was unsurpassed.
A colony of these men lived north of Long Island City, in Astoria, many of them having been recruited from the Old Country by American metal-working friends and relatives. Several of these craftsmen were hired to work at Phianna. Some came from Brewster, others had been with Brooks-Ostruk, and Holbrook. As many as six or eight body men at Phianna had learned their skills at a famous old carriage-builders' school in New York. One of them, Matty Binder, and another fellow named Humer (who came from Ostruk), went into business together—after the Phianna operation finally shut down—and made a great name for themselves in the declining years of the custom-body trade in New York.
These metal hammerers required only the wooden frame to which to work the body metal. For the fenders, they referred to sketches drawn on a large blackboard with tailors' pumice chalk, and could make right-hand as well as left-hand fenders from the same left-hand sketch. They hammered the metal into sand-filled leather bags, using a ball-peen hammer. This produced a dimpled surface which was then smoothed by maneuvering the fender in a motor-driven Pettingell vibrating hammer running at terrific speed. This hammer left a beautiful, even surface that needed little, if any, finish filing.
From the start, Hal had set out to improve the performance, appearance, and comfort of the already excellent Phianna. On the very first cars he turned out, he incorporated changes suggested by owners and chauffeurs. A continuing survey of users resulted in keeping the Phianna well in the forefront as a customer's car. Other improvements resulted from Hal's intimate knowledge of every part of the car, and his compulsion to better each part to the very best of his ability. Not only was Hal knowledgeable in his own right; he also respected and often sought the expert advice of others.
The oval-faced 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 Murray, Roamer, McFarlan, and numerous other fine American cars also employed variations of this highly functional and handsome radiator shape.
Phianna engine design included a cooling fan cast integral with the flywheel. Although there was no general complaint about Phiannas overheating, the rough-and-ready Texas-style 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 asked Fred Charavey, the country's foremost designer of airplane propellers, to engineer a better type of fan for the Phianna. The sleek, 'prop’-type fan that Charavey developed for Hal was a four-bladed beauty of laminated walnut and ash, which was subsequently produced in the Phianna body shop. (A later fan for a six-cylinder-engine Phianna had only two blades but many more laminations.) With the car traveling between 40 and 60 miles per hour, the Charavey fan slipped drag-free through the inrushing airstream; it 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 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 the sake of appearance. 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.
No more than five Phianna engines were assembled at a time, the work being done by individual specialists. For example, one man was responsible for nothing but fitting connecting-rods to the crankshafts. This craftsman, Adam Fabinelli, had been doing this bearing fitting for Isotta-Fraschini when George Gould brought him to America to be his personal chauffeur. Adam was happy to resume his trade, at Phianna.
Another specialist fitted wrist pins, lapped the piston rings for proper clearance, and lined the pistons and connecting rods on a jig to assure correct alignment with the cylinder walls. Other specialists assembled the oil and water pumps, installed the camshafts, ground the valves, installed the valve springs and cam followers, and set the clearances at the rocker arms. Finally, two men completed the engine assembly, installing the timing chains, marking valve openings and closings and the ignition timing on the flywheel.
After the engine had thus been carefully hand-built, it was filled with lightweight break-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 revved up to a 30-mph speed. After running for the 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 dynamometer. A large- diameter flywheel gave these 3-29/32-inch-bore and 6-inch-stroke engines a very smooth idle.
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.
"One day," says Hal, "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 afterwards, 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 as easy a ride as the Phianna. Our springs had a much slower periodicity (flexing speed). We also had a lower center of gravity. The wheelbase of the four-cylinder Phianna was 125 inches, the same as recent Cadillac Fleetwoods."
The front end of the Phianna also had an unsprung-weight advantage. The axle was a hot-plate, pressed, chrome-nickel-steel channel weighing less than half as much as the comparable I-beam forging used in most other cars. Phianna cars required no shock absorbers; and no Phianna chauffeur ever had occasion to worry about crushing his passengers' high 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. While Jacob Schiff did not hesitate to avail himself of the costly comforts of a Phianna, he was inordinately thrifty in matters of minor expenditures. Legend has it that he used to cut the backs from used envelopes and stack them to be used as office scratch paper.
After a Phianna chassis was completely assembled, an “Ivory Soap Box" body was bolted on and loaded with from eight to ten 100-pound, cast-iron weights. Phianna's three test drivers used the Long Island Motor Parkway—a one-dollar toll road that ran from Flushing nearly to Lake Ronkonkoma—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 for the next 200, and completed the rest of the 500-mile road test at varying speeds up to the Parkway limit of 75 mph.
According to Leo Peters of Smithtown, Long Island—for years familiar with the Parkway and, until his death, an antique car specialist and counselor with old time cars for rent or display: "In those days there were few cars that could make 75 miles an hour, only cars like the Mercer, Simplex, and Mercedes; and as many times as I had been on the Parkway I never saw anyone enforce the speed limit."
The Phiannas 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 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 a new battery and spark plugs were installed.
When the Worsham family was invited to the Minnesota country retreat of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Weyerhauser, near Little Falls, Carl Worsham asked his friend Hal Carpenter to build the nicest touring car he could turn out; then the Worsham family came to New York from Texas, and Hal drove them across country to the lumberman's establishment in the new car.
The Worsham car was one of the last oval-radiatored Phiannas. It was constructed on a special aluminum chassis that had been shown in all its polished elegance in the grand ballroom of the Astor Hotel in 1918. Eventually, Carl Worsham decided that the car was too luxurious for him to drive around on his ranch, so he returned the car to Hal Carpenter to be used as a show car and demonstrator. Hal kept this car for many years. After accumulating over 330,000 miles (the speedometer had "turned over" three times) it wound up back in Texas, and was destroyed by fire, in 1934, in a garage in Wichita Falls.
Many luxuries were incorporated in this magnificent 1918 phaeton. On the lower left of the instrument panel was the first off-the-floor, remote-control starter button ever to appear on an American production car. 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 Apperson, however, had one in 1923.
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. (Only the Phianna's windshield was of safety glass; later on, Cadillac and LaSalle were reputedly the first American cars to have shatter-proof glass all around.) 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 smartly with a small hammer, it did not shatter. That same year, a Phianna show carwas equipped with another automobile first: six-inch-diameter turn-signal and stoplight sets. One unit was mounted on the left- hand front fender.
Popular Mechanics' "The American Automobile" chart (copyright 1959) included, under "Historical High Lights", 1926 as the year in which safety glass was introduced, and 1933 for the first turn signal. As John A. Conde, formerly with 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. Even the courtesy lights on the lower left and right behind the front seat of the Worsham Phianna, which lit up when either rear door was opened, may have been the first to appear on an American-built car.
The leather seats and interior panels of the Worsham touring car were protected by sturdy canvas covers. Lockers back of the front seat contained a complete set of tools and extra plugs—as well as a pair of Thermos bottles jacketed in leather to match the car's upholstery. The front fenders sported spare 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 principal market was the town-car and limousine trade. In 1918, several enclosed styles were shown at the Hotel Astor's Importers' Salon and, in 1919 (when importers joined American manufacturers) at the New York Armory.
At the first of these exhibits, Hal was introduced to a 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, then attention to the rest of the workmanship must be equally meticulous, Senor Di Gamma placed an order for an $8,000 Phianna limousine to be used for state occasions. In addition, a fine seven-passenger touring car was built, in 1919, for the President of Brazil's personal use.
At both of these New York shows, however, were other Washington ambassadors who had been commissioned by their governments to buy the Phianna show cars right off the floor. Although Phianna's total production was less than 300, the heads of twenty-one foreign governments, including the King of Spain, used Phiannas as their official conveyances.
Clare Hamilton was Phianna's New York sales manager, and had a considerable acquaintance in social and diplomatic circles. He also had extensive knowledge of foreign cars that enabled him to point out the Phianna's many superiorities over its imported competitors. 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 Horn, President of Canadian Pacific, was a proud Phianna owner. He had two Rolls-Royce cars in Montreal and one in Toronto, but 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 by eight o'clock sharp every morning. Harry Sinclair, also, bought Phiannas as well as Rolls-Royces.
While Alfred H. Benjamin was returning from a meatpackers' 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, Cudahy, and Swift, said that he owned and loved a Phianna.
Mr. Benjamin had a wealthy friend in South Africa who had some ideas for a new type of drive for automobiles. Benjamin persuaded Hal to help in the development of this device.
"I built a model of his drive," says Hal, "using a piston pump, and made it work quite well. The size and weight were excessive, though, so I suggested a turbine job which he thought so much of that he went back to
Africa to arrange for the money to be put up for a company he was going to form to produce this automatic transmission. I never heard anything from him after he left, and got nothing for my trouble.
"That turbine-type transmission was to employ an epicyclic gear train from a Hotchkiss Six. As I recollect, the drive I planned was identical with the one used in the Cadillac quite some years later. Oh well, one cannot perfect everything that comes to mind."
In his plant at Long Island City, Hal set up an engineering department to design the car he had dreamed of for years. He was sole owner of the Phianna Motor Company—dictated to by none—and his decisions were his own. Thus, he was in an undisputed position to design and build what he thought would be the ideal motorcar for those discriminating customers who wanted the best and could pay for it.
Hal engaged, as his assistants, top engineers from such illustrious firms as Locomobile and Crane- Simplex. The new Phianna was to be a six-cylinder, 142-inch wheelbase job. The four-cylinder Phianna had 103-7/8 inches of body-building space—about the same as the contemporary Rolls-Royce, perhaps a little more. This was rather 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.
The Phianna six had the same type of springs as the four, but with improved, ball-bearing, universal-type shackles that eliminated torque strain on the leaves, and would be squeak-free for the life of the car. The frame mountings for the torque bars employed universal-type hangers fitted to the tips of short-leaf springs.
One of the finest features of the Six engine was an extreme-precision camshaft designed to assure quick acceleration and yet provide "velvet" valve closing. Connecting rods were hollow, patterned after those used on Hispano-Suiza's famous "Hisso" 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 aluminum rocker- arms mounted on large-diameter 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 cheeks, the more flexible the crankshaft and the greater the vibration from this source, particularly at high speed. In 1919, Hal discussed this fault with many members of the Society of Automotive Engineers at the annual SAE meeting on 41st Street in New York. In spite of conflicting opinions, Hal 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 four-inch bore was slightly larger than that of the earlier Phianna, but the stroke was two inches shorter. Its crank journals were 21/4 inches in diameter. Thus, because the crank journals overlapped the main journals on this four-inch-stroke engine, vibration in the cheeks of the crankshaft was eliminated and no added weights were needed on the crankshaft for counterbalancing—even at 4,800 rpm.
The volumetric efficiency should have been remarkable. It was! This 4-by-4, 300 cubic-inch displacement, high-compression engine introduced to luxury-class cars, the "square" type of design employed by practically every automobile-engine 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 a single repair or adjustment.
Hal's theory about short-stroke engines had been carefully thought out. It was the result of years of experience and engineering training which had brought him to the forefront 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, too. 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 motor car use. These were long-wheelbase, very fast, one-of-a-kind 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 Motorcar Company. The Curtiss cars were to use Phianna chassis equipped with OX-5 engines adapted by Charles Kirkham—their original designer.
Kirkham had one of the finest and best-equipped precision machine shops in the country, and was making experimental airplane parts for the U.S. Army. He was well fitted to supply the kind of machine work that Hal needed in putting the finishing touches on the Phianna Six, to be called the Model 0, Although neither the Phianna nor the Curtiss cars survived the depression of 1921, Hal and Charlie Kirkham continued to work well together and eventually pooled their efforts to design a new and extremely advanced small car.
One afternoon in the early 1920's, Hal's friend, Mortimer Schiff, phoned and asked Hal to stop at the Schiff mansion on Fifth Avenue some morning soon for breakfast. At their breakfast meeting, Schiff told Hal that, although the 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. Then Schiff said that, if Hal would design a small car that could compete with and undersell the Ford, he would get him all the capital needed and would take a personal interest in his success.
Hal had on hand many expensive chassis and some 20 to 30 Fleetwood and Holbrook body shells. He moved everything out to Kirkham's shop at Garden City and closed up the Long Island City operation.
A few Model 0 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 new features (some of them appearing on present-day cars) had been incorporated into this very advanced motorcar. Buyers, not the Phianna, had begun to lose status.
As the years of the twenties 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 vehicle cherished by those accomplished and discerning gentlefolk of a past era who were unhurried connoisseurs of perfection. A part of their way of life: Phianna, the Darling of the Titans.
PART IV of this series will begin the authentic story of some fascinating "Mystery Midgets." These minicars (mentioned now infrequently by some historian delving into often erroneous newspaper and other accounts) were truly avante-garde in design and surprising in performance. Your present-day "wheels" owe much to these babies built in the heyday of Clara Bow.
MIDSUMMER, 1929, WAS FOR DREAMS and dancing and doing things. It was the heyday of the Roaring Twenties at its proudest peak. Folks parroted 'What's good for business is good for the Country!"—and believed it. It was the time of the fast life and fast buck. Bellhops and bawds played the stock market. City high school boys sported sideburns, smoked cigars, and wore spats. Helen Morgan sat on her piano and sang. All America was sitting pretty ... riding high ... going places. . .looking up! There was pie in the sky, and just about everybody was hell-bent to cut himself a piece.
Only two years before, "Lucky Lindy" in his monoplane, The Spirit of Saint Louis, had soared to a place in the hearts of people unreached even by men who later landed on the Moon. "Spirits" were high in '29—but available.
On Sunday, August 4, 1929, page one of The New York Times carried the news that the paper would run a series of articles on "The Inside of Prohibition." Ads across the bottom of the page announced: "Eddie Cantor in Ziegfeld sensation 'WHOOPEE' reopens tomorrow night. New Amsterdam Theater."... "HEIGHHO FOR SARATOGA tonight! On the cool night boat. Autos $10 Sun. to Wed. Incl." . . "for Aviation News, read AERO DIGEST on all newstands today."
A headline in that Sunday's Times stated: ZEPPELIN RUSHES ON AT 60- MILE SPEED: EXPECTED OVER CITY THIS AFTERNOON. A transatlantic "flight" not heralded in news dispatches had been reported by passengers aboard the White Star liner Homeric when she docked at Southhampton, England, on August 3. In mid-ocean, the Homeric had sighted a great swan flying at about 100 feet above the water in the direction of Ireland.
Page-three news told that the Mauretania hoped to recapture the transatlantic speed record from the Bremen, and that Studebaker was bringing out a Dictator Six series and announcing price cuts ranging from 20 to 250 dollars. But the eye-catcher in the midst of all these transportation tidings was the front-page headline: BABY AUTO FOR TWO TO BE SOLD BY MAIL—together with page-three photographs of the $200 baby automobile. According to the article, these cars were the invention of James V. Martin of the Martin Aeroplane Factory, Garden City, Long Island, where the cars were built.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: James V. Martin was NOT the designer of the famous "Martin Bomber" ... nor was his Martin Aeroplane Factory the Martin Aircraft Corporation . . . nor was the Wright Martin Corporation, Ltd. (which was organized to manufacture J. V. Martin's baby car in Canada) an affiliate of the Wright-Martin Aircraft Company in the United States. In short, James Vernon Martin was not Glenn Luther Martin—despite rumors, newspaper reports, promotional hanky-panky, or anyone's belief to the contrary.
But did these baby autos have anything in common with airplanes? They did! What's more, one famous transatlantic flier had already approached the man who built these little cars regarding the design and manufacture of another make of small vehicles—incorporating vastly superior construction.
In April, 1961, the Automobilist (official publication of the Automobilists of the Upper Hudson Valley, Inc.) published a photograph of two of these baby automobiles, together with a plea for their positive identification. In a little under 32 years, these highly heralded petite vehicles had become quite frankly mysteries."
Two letter writers in this informal "Name the Babies" contest announced that one of the cars was a Martin; another stated categorically that both cars were called Darts; and that there had been a third Dart, developed and built earlier by the same person who created both of the little cars shown in the Automobilist—a man whose name, strangely enough, was not Martin.
Some who unearthed the Times article assumed, as many readers in 1929 had, that the man shown with the little cars was none other than their proclaimed inventor, James V. Martin. The upper picture in the Times article showed a man in shirtsleeves demonstrating how easily the whole side of the little car could be lifted clear off the ground with one hand. A picture in the Saturday Gravure section of the August 17, 1929, New York Evening Post showed the same man shouldering the other side of the same car more than two feet off the ground; behind, was the second little car shown in the April issue of the Automobilist. The lower picture in the Times article showed two little cars, but the second one was still different.
An article in the August 7, 1929, Christian Science Monitor carried a picture showing all three little cars and the much-photographed unidentified man. This article said: "Mr. Martin has perfected three models which are unique in many ways." None of the newspaper articles specifically mentioned the name of the man in the pictures, although the Times did refer to a "demonstrator"— presumably not Martin. This man was Miles H. Carpenter.
Several automobile historians have remarked about the lack of mention of Miles H. Carpenter's name in previously published accounts of these particular Martin light cars, and have expressed the opinion that, had Carpenter actually contributed his efforts in any considerable way to this Martin small-car project, they most certainly would have read about it somewhere. Why Hal assiduously kept his name out of all published material and newsreel commentaries, will be explained later in this chapter. The only exception he ever made to this anonymity was when J. V. Martin asked him (because of Hal's reputation as manufacturer of the fabulous Phianna motorcar) to write a testimonial letter regarding the Dart's performance.
TO BEGIN WITH, J. V. Martin had some general ideas for a small car about the size of some then being built in Europe. He had patented an airplane independent springing device around which he hoped to construct his car. The invention involved the use of rubber shock- absorber cord as the springing means and provided for the axle spindles to travel up and down on steel tubes. He discussed his plans in some detail with Hal Carpenter and asked a lot of questions. As far as Hal knew, only one other effort had been made, on this side of the Atlantic, to produce a car with independent wheel suspension—the Parente.
Hal had some ideas of his own regarding independent wheel springing, but offered to put Martin's patent to a test. It was understood by Martin that Hal would put his efforts into the project, without pay or any other remuneration whatsoever, for the sole purpose of seeing for himself whether or not independent wheel springing would make it possible for a small short-wheel based car to ride over rough roads and perform like a large car at high speeds. Furthermore, Hal told the Captain that he didn't want any interest in the company the Captain planned to form if the car was a success.
Hal was willing to build and test several small cars for the Captain—for the knowledge and experience it would afford—so that, when the national financial situation improved, he might be in a position to go to Mortimer Schiff and remind him of the promise he had made a few years before—that, if Hal would design a small car that could compete and undersell the Ford, he would get him all the capital needed and would take a personal interest in his success.
This, it seems, was incentive enough for Hal to donate two years of hard work to produce Martin's experimental small cars. (For a subsequent remodeling in 1929 and the overhauling and demonstration of one of the Darts for a big promotional show in 1930, Hal was paid strictly on a contract basis.)
"Martin would return to Garden City from Washington, D.C. where he was working as a patent lawyer, maybe once a month, to look after his property." Hal relates. "His Garden City address was his home next to some buildings on Stewart Avenue, part of which Charlie Kirkham and I were renting from Martin for the Curtiss custom-car project.
"Those buildings, originally erected as a delousing and disinfecting facility for returning World War I veterans, were made of wood—typical Army construction—and the floors of the shop and shed were concrete. A coal-fired boiler provided heat for the office and main building—a blessing when the place was snowed in for days at a time. There were showers and other creature comforts which made it convenient for me to spend several nights a week out there working by myself. For company, I had George, Kirkham's night watchman, who was an excellent cook. I bought some kitchen gear, and George prepared hot meals for the both of us at night and put up daily lunches for Kirkham and several of his engineers.
"Across Stewart Avenue was a gas station (later named the 'Lone Eagle') patronized by Charles Lindbergh. The Spirit of St. Louis was hangered nearby in what used to be called Curtiss Field. One July day in 1927, I walked a few hundred feet from where I was building the Darts and watched Lindy take off for Paris."
THE BUILDING of the two- or three- passenger vehicle to withstand high-speed and rough roads presented many challenges. Captain Martin had engaged a Pete Unger who had just introduced the successful Unishear for cutting sheet metal. Unger gave Hal an incomplete sketch for the little car, and Hal went to work to test out various ideas. He discarded the chain-drive design in Unger's sketch—along with many other indicated arrangements he felt to be impractical—and started to construct a car that would incorporate Captain Martin's rubber-cord suspension idea.
"Money was the item in short supply," says Hal, "so I spent endless days filing and shaping parts to micrometer fit and watchmaker's finish by hand, to save the cost of renting the needed machines. I guess the tender loving care I put into those little babies accounted for a lot of the success I had in demonstrating them. When I recall the many problems I had to solve, I wonder that I was ever able to build those little cars to run as they did."
The Cleveland motorcycle engine Hal selected for the Dart was an excellent four-cylinder power plant in an open motorcycle, but placing it under the hood of an automobile called for some manner of forced-air system for sufficient cooling. From a Russian engineer in Philadelphia who was making excellent fans, Hal obtained a pressure-type blower blade that would give a 60-mph blast. He then made a drawing for some cowling plates and had a Czech metal hammerer (who had worked on Phianna bodies) beat them out of sheet aluminum. The top plate was removable for easy access to the engine by simply unsnapping a couple of suitcase fasteners.
"I guess I was just plain lucky," says Hal, "because in all the mile-a-minute testing and demonstrating I gave those cars, the engines never showed any signs of overheating." The fourth cylinder of some motorcycle engines was susceptible to overheating and apt to develop a seized piston. The "lucky" cooling system Hal devised, however, distributed the air evenly and permitted the little motorcycle engine to work hard and efficiently.
In addition to adding a forced-air cooling system, Hal had to "soup up" the engine considerably. He disassembled this 36.6-cubic-inch motor down to its last bolt, and set about modifying it so as to increase its volumetric efficiency. He made reamers and cutters to enlarge and polish the intake-valve ports so that more gas mixture could flow into the combustion chambers; and used valves about a quarter of an inch greater in diameter. To top off this modification, he faced the valve seats to 1/16 inch instead of the former 1/8 inch.
These narrower valve seats stayed cooler and cleaner, and offered less surface for carbon to lodge and cause pitting. As a result of these changes in the engine, its top rpm was greatly increased and more power was available in the intermediate gears. The Chief Engineer of the Cleveland Motorcycle Company heard about what was being done with his engine, and could not believe it. He came out to Rochester, New York, where Hal was working on the third Dart at the Selden Motor Company, to see for himself. He was convinced.
After obtaining a blueprint of the engine from the Cleveland Motorcycle Company, and another from the transmission maker (whom Hal recalls as possibly having been Mechanics or Warner Gear Company), he had to design a clutch housing to hold the standard-shift transmission to the engine and to support the brake and clutch pedals.
The Dart had an electric starter, operated by a pushbutton located just above the toe-board on a firewall that insulated the passenger compartment from the engine. A boxed-in gas tank was located under the body cowl. Hal had never seen an automobile's battery located beside the engine, but that's where he put the Dart's—to make it readily accessible and also cut the cost of expensive copper ground and starter cables. The driver sat slightly ahead of a passenger seat that could, in a pinch, accommodate two people—an arrangement quite popular in many so-called "opera" coupes of that era.
The interior furnishings were plain but practical. The apex of a pyramidal structure, based on the rear of the gas- tank compartment, supported the steering column; its upper surface served as the instrument panel. In addition to a speedometer, this panel had a choke control, ammeter, light switches, and a dash light. Beneath the steering column, just under the steering wheel, were aircraft-type Bowden wire controls for the spark and gas. The steering wheel was more than ample for such a small car, and the brake and clutch pedals were of standard size and placement.
The gas filler cap was located under a dummy ventilator door on the cowl, the same as on the 1926 and 1927 Model T Fords. Ventilation was accomplished by opening the hinged windshield. A rearview mirror was attached to the header above the windshield. A large manufacturer of fabrics for auto tops and upholstery furnished the material that covered the chicken-wire-and-felt-clad wooden body frame.
The power plant was suspended at three points on an engine bed, the sides of which were the forward extensions of two stout, wooden side rails an inch and a half wide and three inches high. These rails were the backbone of the body frame and carried the sprung differential which was connected to the transmission through a rigid driveshaft. The final drive of this car was distinctly unorthodox in its day, employing two unusual exposed axles having steel universal joints at their inner (differential housing) ends, and joined directly to fabric universal joints located inside the rear wheel hubs. This arrangement was made necessary because of the independent rear-wheel suspension.
FROM THE OUTSET, the idea had been to reduce the drive-train layout to the simplest design possible and, hence, to cut down on unsprung weight. Each rear wheel was independently sprung by means of several turns of airplane shock-absorber cord wrapped around a bronze casting fastened to a reinforced portion of the car body and a bracket made integral with the wheel spindle. Including its suspension system, each wheel weighed only 19 pounds. No additional shock absorbers were used.
The front-wheel, independent, shock- cord suspensions were supported by castings on either end of a tubular cross shaft fastened to the car's frame. Several photographs were retouched, and drawings made, for brochure purposes later on, that depict much larger castings with no tubular cross shaft or other logical bracing. Additional artistic license, together with much published promotional dissembling, has been a further obstacle to historians who have had to rely on less than first-hand information regarding this little automobile.
In explaining the novel suspension of the Dart, Martin wrote: "When a wheel hits uneven ground the aviation cord support begins to act immediately and the wheel, with little resistance, is allowed to mount any obstruction. If the car is moving at a reasonable speed, the uneven places are passed over before the body of the car has time to follow the stretching of the aviation cord which permits the wheel its action. The principle provides, and test after test has proven, that the faster you drive the Martin, the smoother it rides over the roughest going."
This sketch appeared in the Martin brochure, which stated: "This simple drawing, used through the courtesy of the Popular Science Monthly (Oct. 1929) is selected from the many expositions of this car that have appeared in scientific journals in this and other countries." The Martin brochure also stated, in describing the wood-framed body of this car, which was covered with auto-top material over chicken wire and felt; 'The Martin car is more nearly an integral piece of steel than any other car… To put it in everyday language, when you are a passenger in the Martin, you are riding around in a steel barrel that has been reinforced throughout."
The above quotation refers to the Dart as the Martin because it is from a Martin brochure. Until Martin Motors, Inc. (James Vernon Martin was neither an incorporator nor an officer of this firm) was formed to promote this car—which they renamed the Martin—the Captain always referred to the car as the Dart in his conversation, correspondence and press releases. The name "Dart" appeared on a logotype used on a letterhead bearing the Martin Aeroplane Factory name and address. A reproduction of this logotype appears at the beginning of this article.
The Martin patent didn't specify exactly how the rubber cord should be installed on an automobile, nor were there any available tables or charts to use in figuring the load-carrying capacity of the cord. Hal Carpenter did a lot of rough driving over plowed fields, and fast steering around curves and corners, to determine the exact number of wraps, the proper diameter of the cord, and the correct tension required to make the car "float" between the top and bottom of the space allowed for vertical wheel travel.
These cords could be replaced, two at a time, in a few minutes, by first lifting the whole side of the car with one hand and placing a support—such as a short piece of two-by-four—under the side of the car body with the other hand. The absence of the usual running board made this athletic stunt relatively simple. Next, the cord changer took hold of a protruding end of the cord and pulled upward. This freed a tapered wedge from a socket and the cord could then be released and unwrapped until a similar wedge at the other end could be pulled free.
The reverse of this procedure was used to install a new cord, the whole operation being accomplished without special tools. All that was needed, besides the piece of two-by-four, was the manufacturer-supplied wrench for the rear wheels that had to be removed for access to the rear-wheel cords.
AT THE TIME the first Dart was being built, most automobile wheels were impractical for the Dart because their weight would greatly defeat the cord- suspension principle which depended upon a wheel so light that it could move very fast to accommodate road irregularities, as well as acquire a minimum of residual momentum.
Captain Martin had seen a picture of a drop-center wheel being used by the British Air Force and told Hal Carpenter about it. After a bit of planning and sketching, Hal had some rib-reinforced wheels cast of aluminum. There is little likelihood that anyone could prove that these weren't the first drop-center automobile wheels ever made and used in this country—or perhaps even the world. The validity of this claim is substantiated by the fact that, when Hal had these wheels made, there were no automobile tires available which could be used on drop center rims. Furthermore, Hal's 16- inch wheels were also an innovation in regard to tire size.
So Captain Martin went to Akron and talked with Harvey Firestone, Sr. This gentleman agreed to produce several sets of tires specifically for the Dart wheels, on the condition that Martin would claim no patent rights for the tire design and that he would test them at his own expense. A few weeks later, Hal received ten 4 X 16 experimental tires, the first of the countless millions of drop- center tires that roll the roads today. Both the tube-type and the later tubeless ones were made possible by the basic design of those first drop-center aluminum wheels built from Hal Carpenter's sketches. Firestone men interviewed Hal several times when he was demonstrating the Dart for newsreel photographers during the summer of 1929.
"I told those Firestone men that the combination of their tires and our wheels was proving quite successful," says Hal, "but I had to admit that the rim flaps they had attached to one side of the casings sometimes pinched the inner- tubes and caused leaks."
CONSTRUCTION of the first Dart was begun early in 1926, and an exclusive announcement describing the endeavor (later referred to as Martin's "castles in the air") appeared in the April 23, 1926 issue of The Light Car and Cyclecar published by the Temple Press, Ltd., 5-15 Rosebery Avenue, London E.C. 1. Another article about this car appeared in the September 21, 1928 issue of the same periodical. This second article contained the First Published Details of the Car Itself—the Dart." Why these exclusives were provided to an English publication is open to conjecture. When the Martin brochure was published, however, it stated that Europe . . . enthusiastically acclaims the announcement of the Martin as the first safe, swift and comfortable small car" and that several of the photographs in the brochure were from the foreign press." Surprisingly, although The Light Car and Cyclecar published photographs (taken at Garden City, Long Island) of all three Darts, the text described body features of the first Dart built—which were much improved upon in the two later Darts.
Soon after the second Dart was completed (the one with the oval rear-quarter windows—which was the car used for most of the exhibitions and demonstrations), Captain Martin persuaded Hal Carpenter to construct a chassis for still another Dart, and drive it to the Selden Motor Company in Rochester, New York, where a body would be built for it.
Selden hired a crack designer of taxicabs, a Mr. Holtom, to plan the new body. All that Holtom and the Selden people came up with was a radiator shell styled somewhat after the Selden truck's, different fenders, a changed roof line, round rear-quarter windows, and a few minor alterations such as the hood louvres. Doubtful improvements over the original body design, the Selden innovations disguised the third Dart sufficiently to baffle several automobile historians who later attempted to identify this particular model from a picture of it. Because of its rather foreign styling, the Selden-bodied Dart appeared to be of either French or English manufacture.
Selden also built a ¼-ton truck chassis embodying Martin's aviation-cord suspension. "I went out to a hill where they were to test it for the first time, says Hal. "I hate to tell you this, but it goes right along with what kind of preliminary (Dart) drawings I had to work with. These engineers built the truck chassis exactly as shown. I never saw such a mess of twisted steel and rubber as resulted when their driver applied the brakes at the bottom of that hill. The whole chassis collapsed. The driver was lucky; he jumped and wasn't hurt—only scared stiff."
Martin and his licensees made several more attempts to produce vehicles incorporating aviation-cord suspension, but the principle probably failed to prove practicable in the long run. When James A. Wright, of the Wright-Fisher Engineering Company of Montreal, was engaged in an attempt to produce the Martin baby car in Canada, he wrote to Washington, D.C., asking about the use of rubber cord for airplane suspension. On April 28, 1931, Richard G. Gazely, chief of the engineering section, Aeronautics Branch, Department of Commerce, replied:
"Rubber cord is not being used very much anymore in the United States because it is regarded inferior to the various patented shock absorber struts which have been developed. It does not wear very well and breaks down after a comparatively short period of service if exposed to the action of oil, sunlight, and water."
IN EARLY 1928, Hal Carpenter had completed his part of the bargain. The little car that, two years before had been merely Martin's "castles in the air," was at last a reality, thanks to Hal; and the Captain owned all three prototypes and all the patents incorporated in them.
Now, however, Martin became concerned about Hal's working on his own designs and construction for independent wheel springing. On March 16, 1928, Captain Martin wrote Hal:
“Of course, I know you are completely honest and would not knowingly assign to a corporation any (patent) applications without giving them full information as to the relation of those patents to my patents and your work for me under my patents and therefore it is only what I should do for you as well as those interested with me in the Dart work to make clear, that under the Court Decisions in U.S. Patent law there are necessary patent implications respecting employment, stimulation to inventive activity and licenses which would not leave your application free for assignment."
But Hal Carpenter knew the standard patent ethics from A to Z. This was one of the reasons why he made it clear to Martin, from the beginning, that he was working for himself, not Martin. Had he identified himself with Martin, either by permitting his name to be publicly associated with Martin's in the Dart venture or by being on Martin's payroll—even on some sort of deferred-payment arrangement (there being hardly enough money merely for materials during the cars' construction)—or by accepting any agreement involving profits in the car-manufacturing enterprise Martin planned to establish, Martin may have had some conceivable grounds for contesting the validity of any patents for which Hal may have applied while working on the Darts.
As it was, Hal's designs were in collaboration with Charles Kirkham and were for ideas far removed from Martin's patents. On the other hand, any benefits derived from a "stimulation to inventive activity" were Hal's only recompense for all his work for Captain Martin, and were what Hal had meticulously protected for himself (and Charlie Kirkham) from the outset. Hal's patent attorney was Herbert H. Dyke, who also handled the Thomas A. Edison interests and the Masonite Corporation.
LESS THAN A WEEK after sending that letter attempting to restrain Hal's independent efforts in small-car development, Captain Martin asked Hal to put his reputation on the line in support of the Dart. At about this time, someone had advised Martin to get a written opinion, regarding the Dart's merits, from some authoritative source or engineer. What better recommendation than one from the designer and builder of the fabulous Phianna? On the evening of March 21, 1928, Captain Martin telephoned Hal. The next day, Hal sent Martin the following testimonial:
"Captain James V. Martin:
'Now that three DARTS have been completed and so satisfactorily demonstrated, I wish to try to convey to you my impressions of their performance and the reception accorded them by the public.
'During the hottest part of last summer, I drove one of these cars through the Catskill and Adirondack mountains, with a Lincoln car as an escort and companion. On the long mountain grades and steeper hills, the DART ran away from the Lincoln and other cars and remained cool while the others had to stop for water.
"On numerous occasions I have driven these cars over farm roads and plowed fields at speeds of from 40 to 50 miles per hour, without discomfort, when Lincoln, Studebaker and Chrysler Imperial 80 cars were forced to stop on account of losing control.
"Due to your patented shock absorbing steering mechanism the DARTS virtually steer themselves and in spite of the unheard of short wheel base (60 inches) and small wheels they hold the road at 60 miles per hour better than the large cars.
'On account of the light weight (600 pounds), made possible by your rubber suspension, the DARTS handle and operate with a small fraction of the effort required to operate any other car.
"In driving some 200 miles no one has ever been bounced off the seat, nor had a jar, although every effort was made to break down and fracture the suspension mechanism.
'In every town and city visited, dealers wanted to secure the agency, and crowds that gathered all wanted to know where they could buy them.
"I wish to congratulate you for having given the world the first real innovation in motor car design in over twenty years. Wishing you and the DARTS all the success and world-wide recognition that you justly deserve, I am,
Most sincerely yours
M. H. Carpenter"
"That letter," says Hal, "was my swan song." A strange letter indeed from the man who had himself built the Darts. Nevertheless, Hal bore Captain Martin no ill will. Those Darts would always be Hal's "babies", even though he expected to compete against them soon with another small car of his own design. Captain Martin, understandably, did not relish the prospect of competition from Hal Carpenter. Inasmuch as his threatening letter of March 16 hadn't fazed Hal in the least, Martin took a different tack. On the same day Hal wrote his testimonial letter about the Darts, Martin wrote Hal:
"Was glad to hear that you were as enthusiastic as ever about the Dart construction, for I am working up considerable interest in this construction in financial circles and believe it is something tangible for immediate financial success. The patent field in road vehicles is fairly well covered and it is rare indeed to secure protection such as the Dart has attained. In connection with patent matters I wrote you (about) the other day, care of Mrs. Martin, a formal letter.
"I feel, as Mrs. Carpenter expressed it in Rochester, that those who have been with a thing near its start should be permitted to go on to its success and, in trying to figure something out for you along these lines, I thought of the plan of giving you an option on one of the six classifications, somewhat like Mr. B. had, the difference being that I would not charge you for the option and with such an option you could then form your own company and own controlling, or at any rate considerable of the stock. As I have often said you were the closest man to myself in this development and I was dispossed (sic)., to consider any plans you could suggest for you to make a fortune out of the work."
What the "six classifications" may have been was of no interest to Hal. The "Mr. B." referred to as having "had" an option may have been James William Bryan, a Washington, D.C., promoter, who was subsequently much involved in one of the most spectacular Martin schemes.
HAL, AS HE HAD MAINTAINED from the beginning, was in no way interested in becoming associated with Martin—nor anyone else—in the sale of the Martin car. He did, however, obligingly agree to demonstrate the Dart to interested parties as a favor to the Captain; and, just for the fun of it, took the car out on several occasions to show it off to the public.
"I had lots of fun demonstrating those Darts." Hal recollects. "When I drove along Fifth Avenue and Broadway in New York City, crowds gathered wherever I stopped, and asked questions. A newsreel reporter followed me and got my phone number. A sound truck arrived and photographers began shooting pictures of the car going through all kinds of stunts that no big car could do.
"Soon after the first newsreel appeared at picture houses, other companies came out and got a lot more footage of the Dart being put through its paces. A month or so later, theatres in New York and elsewhere were showing these shots on their screens.
"In Washington, D.C., Captain Martin happened to go to the movies and nearly jumped out of, his seat when' he saw his little Dart performing and being described, all unbeknown to him.
"On one of Martin's weekend trips from Washington, he asked me if I would give a demonstration for a man who was interested in raising some money for him. I agreed, as usual, and within a few days some men came out and were impressed and said they would be back again. They opened up offices in the General Motors Building on Broadway at Columbus Circle. Shortly thereafter, one of the men brought some prospects out for a ride, and just before leaving called me aside and said, 'Here's a small token of my appreciation for your help.' He said there would be a like amount each time I gave such a demonstration.
"I handed him back the one-hundred-dollar bill he proffered and told him that I was not for hire and could not accept the money. The fellow came out a few more times. I never did ask Martin what happened to that outfit. I just would not be sucked in on such deals. I remember telling him that I would not work for anyone but M. H. Carpenter.
"Once, I took the New York Times Auto Editor, James 0. Spearing—who wrote the column "At the Wheel'—out for a ride up Riverside Drive. He was so enthusiastic that he told the news editor about his trip. Then the Sunday Times of August 4, 1929, printed that front-page item which carried over onto page three, with pictures showing me lifting up the side of the car with one hand and standing beside two Darts end-to-end beside my Hudson coach.
"Meanwhile, Captain Martin was besieged by other promoters who promised him great things. The Captain made some sort of a deal with James William Bryan to raise capital for building the cars and then sold to Sears Roebuck, for a reported sum of $500, a conditional option, the details of which I did not ask.
“During the 30 days of the option, Sears was to investigate Martin's patents and, at Captain Martin's request, I demonstrated the Dart's bag of tricks for Sears' representatives. I don't know what happened between Sears and Martin after that, but Sears didn't lose interest in small-car possibilities.
"Mr. Bryan was a high-class operator who had promoted two big clubs in Washington, and received a commendation from the President of the United States for suggesting the words of Herodotus that now appear on so many post offices:
'Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds''
NOR WOULD ANYTHING, it seems, stay Martin et al from attempts to get Hal Carpenter embroiled in their baby-car imbroglio. On August 14, 1930, James William Bryan wrote to Hal:
"We are getting our Company under way and would like to have a talk with you. Captain Martin has stated that you are best capacitated to do certain work for us, and if it meets with your approval we would be pleased to have you come to Washington so as to be here not later than Monday morning of next week. Our purpose in having you come to Washington is to talk over the situation and to decide whether or not we can find a place for you with us."
But Bryan and Martin wanted Hal more for what he could do for them than for anything they might have felt inclined to do for him. They were obviously in a bind and desperately needed the "capacitated" Hal Carpenter's expert services—and in a hurry! Less than a week later, Hal received another letter from Bryan—this time getting down to brass tacks:
Pursuant to our understanding you are to arrive not later than next Monday morning and will have with you tools and other necessities with which to recondition the Martin car we have in our possession.
"We further understand that you are to be paid for this work the sum of $500 plus room and board; likewise, that your helper is to be paid $50 per week—he to board himself.
"It is also understood that you will make every effort to complete this work within two weeks . . . We have made arrangements to put you up at the Cosmos Club and are very happy to have you with us."
"The Cosmos Club," says Hal, "is really something great. It is the most exclusive club in the City. Its members are explorers, scientists, and men of letters. The Club House is called the Dolly Madison House. I was put up there, again, by Eleanor Roosevelt when she had me come to Washington to make a report on Defense Housing in 1939." (At that time, Hal was asked "as an inventor of note" to join the Cosmos Club.)
PART V of this series will tell how a pretentious financial endeavor based, as some observers put it, on little more than a "motorized chair," was promoted by James William Bryan et al from a showroom across the street from the White House.
"LET'S MAKE IT A MILLION MARTINS!"
TWO BROCHURES EXIST: One for the Dart, "Gem of the Motor World," and the other for the Martin, the 'MAIL ORDER $200 AUTOMOBILE". Both brochures used the same photographs, many of them having appeared in various news stones. Some of the photographs used in the Martin brochure were retouched to fake-in "improvements" never made to the existing cars.
The 13-page Dart publication was not copyrighted and bears no indication of incorporation. On the back of this pamphlet is "Martin Aeroplane Factory, Garden City, N. Y." From letters reproduced inside, it can be seen that this was the Stewart Avenue address of James V. Martin. Patent references contained indicate that it was printed some time after August 28, 1928.
The 32-page Martin publication was copyrighted by James William Bryan in 1930, and the photographs in it were copyrighted by Martin Motors, Inc. that same year. (James Vernon Martin was neither an incorporator nor an officer of this firm.) This brochure gives the address of Martin Motors as simply Washington, D. C. Its mailing envelope, however, has a return address: 513 11th St. N.W. - for this city. On this envelope is a drawing of the little car facing out of its packing-crate garage. On its "radiator" shell, is the name "Martin—a singular identification.
The Martin enterprise was incorporated under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, with authorized capital of 1,000,000 shares of no-par-value stock, principal office at Norfolk, Va. Martin Motors, Inc. had bought, from James William Bryan and Paul T. Collins, a contract (dated December 12, 1929) with Captain James V. Martin, "the inventor of the Martin car and owner of patents and patent applications concerning this car."
Martin Motors agreed to pay Messrs. Bryan, Collins, and Martin—for all rights and privileges granted under the contract—a total of 40 percent of the no-par-value stock, to be paid to them at the rate of two shares for every three sold publicly for cash or its equivalent. These rights included manufacturing and selling rights in the United States and Mexico under Martin's present and/or future small-car patents. Canadian rights turned out to be something else again.
In addition to the stock, Martin Motors was to pay Martin, alone, a total of $27,000 during the first twelve months and $60,000 a year after that until Martin's royalties, at 2 percent of the selling price of the cars sold, equaled or exceeded $5,000 per month.
Martin Motors was also obligated to manufacture a minimum of 50,000 cars—and pay a royalty of 2 percent of their selling price—before January 1, 1933, and thereafter produce no less than 100,000 cars a year. When the above minimum requirements had been met, Martin Motors was to have perpetual rights to manufacture and sell the Martin small car.
TO CIRCUMVENT postal regulations regarding stock sales, Bryan resorted to the sale of stock options. He rented a showroom at 1416 New York Avenue, N.W., in Washington, just across the street from the White House; put the little Dart in the window; and began to sell stock options at $2.00 the share; and take orders for cars. The minimum price per share of stock, when and if it became available, was to be $20.00 unless the future stockholders voted otherwise.
And who were these visionaries of Martin Motors, Inc.? A letterhead of the corporation listed: James William Bryan (a former Washington newspaperman, among whose promotion enterprises were the National Press Club and the Congressional Country Club, both in Washington, D. C.)—president; and Paul T. Collins (an investment broker)—secretary-treasurer. The other incorporators, all of Norfolk, Virginia, were: chairman of the board— Charles H. Consolvo (a hotel owner and operator); first vice president—C. P. Donnel (a wholesale druggist); chairman executive committee—George W. Schenck (a physician); general counsel—John W. Price (an attorney); and assistant secretary—E. H. Blackburn.
The parenthesized information in the above paragraph was reported in the Washington Daily News, August 29, 1930. By this date, in the little more than two weeks that the display room had been open, orders for 600 cars had been taken from Washingtonians. The total number of orders taken, according to Bryan, was approximately 3,000; the additional orders having come from solicitation by mail. Options on the sale of 10,000 shares of stock, according to Bryan, had by then brought in $20,000 cash, mostly from Washingtonians. This represented exactly 1/100th of the goal of $20,000,000 worth of stock. A concurrent sales goal: orders for 250,000 cars—thus far approximately 1/83rd realized.
When it was brought to Bryan's attention that no experienced executives of the auto industry were connected with the enterprise, he replied, "Such executives are not needed until after we have proved the public's eagerness to own Martin cars and back their manufacture, and then almost anyone will be available."
James Vernon Martin's title as chief engineer" of Martin Motors was little more than honorary. His captaincy, lest anyone question it, became airborne through rather strong inference in the Washington Daily News article: The inventor of the car is Capt. Jams (sic) Martin, formerly of the U.S. Air Service."
Prospective buyers were told frankly that if the corporation failed to get orders for the number of cars necessary for mass production, or if enough capital could not be raised to finance the manufacture of the cars, the whole deal might fall through and all or part of the money taken in from the sale of stock options might be used up in the unsuccessful promotion.
If the enterprise succeeded, any unspent option money would be paid into the treasury of the corporation; but, claimed the promoters, a share of stock at $20 would probably yield an annual dividend of $30; and the $2 stock option was 'no more than would be charged by an investment house to place this stock."
Furthermore, those who ordered Martin cars were urged to cooperate in the sale of more cars, and were promised a $25 allowance certificate for each customer they corralled. Such certificates were to be negotiable and acceptable, in lieu of cash, as full or part payment (with the exception of freight charges) for any car or cars sold by the corporation. The privilege of taking orders for the sale of Martin cars did not, however, include the right to take orders for options or for stock of the corporation.
When the payments to J. V. Martin are deducted, then the corporation's net take (whatever that had to be), it can be seen that the car's estimated cost of manufacture must have been very low indeed to make it possible to offer a 12 1/2 percent discount on freelance sales. But prospects for profit were painted as huge and rosy as the rising sun. "The simplicity of the Martin," the back page of the brochure stated, "will permit assembly plants in practically every state, - . - a million Martins ordered in advance will mean quicker deliveries, every gasoline station a Martin service station, and a quicker ratio of profit to investors. LET'S MAKE IT A MILLION MARTINS!"
The Martin brochure was larded with a simulated panel discussion that took off on unbelievable flights of fantasy involving extravagant statements and comparison. The dialog ranged from the $250,000 that $10,000 worth of Martin stock would soon be worth, to the 20 cents it would cost for a replacement suspension cord. For only $20, you could have your Martin delivered in a weather-proof and theft-proof box to be used as its garage. The brochure ends with a score of reports under the heading THE PRESS OF THE WORLD ACCLAIMS THE MARTIN."
Thus sallied forth a pretentious financial endeavor based, as some observers put it, on little more than a 'motorized chair". Why were so many folks willing to invest in this little car in spite of the unbelievable claims and promises in the Martin brochure? Perhaps it was because most people believe only what they want to believe—and what these people wanted most was to have some reliable authority convince them that they would be putting their money behind a shoe-in. The Martin brochure provided this perfect sucker bait:
THE NEXT GREAT FORTUNE
A presentation by sales experts in the New York Times, discussing sources of wealth, stated: "The next great fortune in this country in the automobile business will be made by the man who produces the best new type of small car. Anyone who bets on this is betting on a sure thing."
REASSURING as Bryan's promotional promises may have been to the public, the Washington newspapers had been saying, quite frankly, that they doubted that the car could run at all—much less as claimed. "Furthermore," says Hal Carpenter, "an investigator from the D.A.'s office—or whatever the. District calls its law enforcement office—had warned the promoters to desist in their advertising."
This, then was the bind Bryan was in—the reason for the urgency in his mid-August letters to Hal. Not only did he negotiate a contract with Hal for reconditioning the oval-windowed Dart, but he also got Hal to agree to demonstrate the little car at Washington's new National Airport as soon as possible.
Using "tools and other necessities with which to recondition the Martin car we have in our possession," as Bryan had so quaintly phrased it, Hal went to work at the Airport to put the tiny experimental car into the best shape possible within two weeks.
"My helper," Hal fondly remembers, was the brother-in-law of the janitor of our apartment house in New Rochelle. This chap couldn't hold a steady job, but would wash my Phianna and do odd jobs for me when he needed some money. I persuaded him to go to Washington with me for a picnic.
"I rented a cot for him to sleep on at the airport while he was 'guarding" the car and tools. During the day, he washed engine parts in gasoline while I overhauled the Dart. Later, he made himself useful by placing obstacles for the demonstration."
Captain Martin, the car's "inventor" and "chief engineer" for Martin Motors, wasn't called on to help tune up his diminutive automobile for the important demonstration because, according to Hal: "Captain Martin wasn't mechanically inclined, manually. Never did he as much as put a wrench to one of those Darts."
In fact, Captain Martin's interest in the Dart was ranging further afield than Washington. Hal was obliged to telephone him at Garden City in regard to work that had reportedly been done to the rear end of the car. The Captain replied by letter on August 27th:
"After you called me I looked up the differential parts matter and found out that the differential now in the Canadian Dart now in Washington on loan to Mr. Bryan is practically new and in good condition, so I anticipate you will have no trouble with it unless it is too severely jerked by the clutch or brake."
Martin, it appeared, had already begun wheeling and dealing for production of his car in the Dominion of Canada. The same little oval-windowed Dart was doing double duty that summer and fall, sparking promotions in both Montreal and Washington. Martin's letter went on to say:
"Am glad you have been able to make satisfactory arrangements with Mr. Bryan for this demonstration which I understand is set for Sunday a week from the coming Sunday, or Sept. 7th, next."
Finally, still hoping to lure Hal into committed involvement in the Dart enterprise—or into some other Martin endeavor— the Captain added:
"Without in any way obligating myself legally I want to say that if my automobile plans work out as I hope they will I shall be glad to take into consideration the bearing which I think the proposed demonstration has had (will have?) upon my success and reward you as (with?) a bonus. While this may seem a vague and uncertain promise, if I succeed well and your proposed demonstration is successful . I shall be willing and able to treat you liberally. Furthermore, if Mr. Bryan's plans mature, there should be a real field-of endeavor for you with him or an opening for you with some other branch of my work as represented by some of the other licensees."
ON THE MORNING OF THE SHOW, page 14 of the Washington Post carried a five-column, 16-inch spread (the last of a week-long series of ads), that told about the demonstrations of the $200, Mile-a-Minute Martin to be held that day at the Airport.
September 7, 1930, dawned beautiful and balmy along the Potomac. The police and highway patrol soon had their hands full guiding the cars that were struggling bumper-to-bumper from Washington clear out to the airport. People stampeded into the stands and pressed elbow-to-elbow behind the enclosure erected in front of the obstacle course. One ecstatic ratio announcer proclaimed: "Never in the history of the automobile has so large a crowd of spectators turned out to see an automobile demonstrated." At another airport nearby, a civic reception for a group of round-the-world fliers was poorly attended.
The little darling everyone had come to watch ran like a thoroughbred. James William Bryan, a master spieler, harangued the crowd for a full four hours while Miles Harold Carpenter stunted the Martin baby car through its paces.
Hal chased several rocking, pitching planes taking off from the unpaved, rough field. As a plane became airborne, he sped the tiny car, without a bounce, through the dust, half hidden until the crowd saw it emerge directly under the plane.
That obstacle course was a real car- buster. At 5 to 50 miles an hour, Hal drove over four-by-fours strewn some six feet apart for about 150 feet in front of the stands. Then, for the clapping, cheering crowd, he took a dirt embankment at a 45-degree angle. He made U-turns at high speed and rounded 90-degree turns on two wheels.
Finally, when Hal began a particularly spectacular run and the crowd came screaming to its feet, Bryan fell over in a dead faint. Somebody grabbed the microphone and shouted for a doctor. While Bryan was being revived, Hal Carpenter nonchalantly parked the unscathed little performer in front of the stands, stepped out smiling, and graciously thanked the crowd for having come.
The following day, the morning papers commented on the traffic jams on all the roads leading to the airport. According to the Washington Daily News: "Demonstrations of the Martin automobile, a new midget mail-order car soon to be manufactured, were given at the Washington Airport before a crowd estimated at 20,000 persons. Occupied by the driver and one passenger, the diminutive auto raced at speeds of 60 miles an hour over a rough portion of the field, twisting and turning in different maneuvers for the benefit of the crowd."
Hal, at the wheel of the little car he had built, had effectively pulled the Washington papers off Bryan's back. He was paid the agreed price for his expenses and labor and left the next day.
SHORTLY AFTER the Washington Show, Bryan interested the M. P. MöIIer Company of Hagerstown, Maryland, in producing Captain Martin's baby car; and Möller's Mr. Schulenberger hired Hal Carpenter as chief engineer and designer for the project. Subsequently, the following Washington news special appeared in the November 3, 1930, Newark Evening News—apparently incorporating more than a few far-fetched stitches of fanciful Bryan embroidery:
Under the heading “Jokes About Midget Car Go to Show It Is No Joke", a writer—citing the Ford automobile as having been "built up on a similar foundation"—went on to report that:
"There is every indication that the midgets will be a big factor in motor transportation in the next few years. The industry began to realize this when the laughs at the first of the babies to make an organized sales appeal, backed by actual production, turned into purchases.....There are two or three manufacturers and promoters who did not hesitate but dashed right in on the heels of the Austin. One is a man (Carpenter?) who was instrumental in building up the sales of one of the most expensive American cars (Phianna?). Another concern, newcomers in the auto field (Martin Motors?), is understood to have secured backing (from whom?) which will completely cover the building of the first 50,000 cars and to have at its disposal a plant (Möller?) at which the various parts to be built by other concerns will be assembled."
Schulenberger told Hal that Bryan would have all the detail drawings necessary for the job on hand by the time Hal reached Hagerstown. Just where all these detail drawings were to come from was certainly a mystery to Hal, for he had built all three of the prototype Darts without having been provided any such specifications—other than a few items he had obtained from some parts manufacturers. "Looking over the incomplete sketch of the Dart that Pete Unger had given me in the beginning," Hal reflected, "I wonder what kind of a mess Martin would have had if someone had built the Dart as shown."
On December 22, 1930, the Möller people wrote to Bryan:
"We have been furnished no engineering data, specifications, or working drawings. We have received only incomplete layout drawings which do not present any specifications as to material and tolerances, and reflect, inadequately, shop practices which would enable the Möller Company to construct an automobile.
"We have visited Garden City and have been in conference several times with Captain Martin but have been unable to secure either the necessary data or the physical exemplification of the parts in question. (The "physical exemplification", the demonstrator Dart, was apparently no longer in Washington. Wherever Captain Martin was keeping this car—or the two other Darts Hal had built for him—he evidently did not see fit to turn any of them over to either Bryan or Moller. Was he showing them to still more prospective "licensees"?)
"It is impossible for us to proceed any further until this data, in the proper form, is placed in our hands and we urge your immediate action with reference to this situation."
So much for the production situation. The promotion end of the business— with Bryan evidently continuing to exercise his full-blown "freedom-of-the-press agent"—presented a merrier, if perhaps unsupported, picture. In the same month that Möller was unsuccessfully endeavoring to obtain the necessary manufacturing data, the National Magazine of Business said:
"We are pleased to learn ... that Martin Motors, Inc. of Washington have now completed plans for the production of miniature cars. The first cars will appear in January, 1931, and large scale production is expected to begin in July of the next year, the program of the company calling for 50,000 cars during the coming year.
“The Martin Motors Company will produce two models, we understand, Model A with a 20 horse-power air- cooled engine, the car to have a 60- inch wheel base and to sell at $200, and a second model, known as Model B, with a 70-inch wheel base and a Red Seal thermo-syphon-cooled Continental motor of more than 27 horsepower, which will sell for $250.
"Advance information suggests that the Martin will unquestionably be the most efficient baby car yet made, while its appearance and body design are highly attractive, and the designers have succeeded extremely well in getting away from the squat lumpy appearance of the present types . . . The air-cooled engine is designed along the most recent airplane developments, and is said to be one of the most efficient air-cooled motors yet designed."
Although the Martin brochure stated on its cover that the car had an "aeroplane engine", it appears that the air-cooled power plants were still nothing more than modified motorcycle engines. Only a couple of months before the above news release appeared, Bryan had been shopping around for an engine supplier, and had called on Hal Carpenter for help. On October 14, 1930, Hal wrote to Bryan in Washington:
"Confirming our phone conversation of even date, I wish to advise you that the Sales Manager of Indian assured me that he would prevail upon the management of the factory to make all necessary changes to the 4 cylinder motor; so as to enable you to use them in your Martin car. The price to be about $160.00 each less the alterations.
"In the event you decide to visit the Indian plant in the near future, I shall be pleased to introduce you to the proper persons, providing you advise me far enough in advance.
"After next Monday I will be in Newark and New Haven all winter, so will be available only on week-ends, at which times I will be glad to put you in touch with the Indian officials and also a body engineer and designer whom I deem to be competent to design bodies for you.
"In case there is any information I can furnish you as a source of supply or personnel, I will gladly forward same to you as I am just as anxious for you to succeed as though we had been able to arrive at a mutual agreement.
"At such time as you are ready for large production, I shall deem it a privilege to go into detail with you over your various problems, and feel certain that I can be of material assistance to you in the matter of power plants and accessories."
Obviously, an air-cooled four-cylinder Indian motorcycle engine was too high-priced for a $200 car. The Martin brochure stated that “an entirely new power plant will be put in your Martin at any time for $50, plus your old unit." Or for not more than 50 cents a day, you could rent a temporary replacement engine while your "PRACTICALLY INDESTRUCTIBLE" one was being repaired.
"I've always wondered," says Hal, "why the public never questioned Martin's statement that he could build the Dart to sell for $200. We all knew that neither Martin nor anyone else could produce an automobile to sell for the price of a two-wheeled motorcycle. Such a promotional exaggeration was not my dish of tea. This was one of the reasons why I resolutely kept my name out of Martin's enterprises."
Bryan evidently didn't consider hiring the body engineer and designer with whom Hal had offered to put him in touch. "I think," says Hal, "that Schulenberger and the MölIer management went sour on the whole deal at that time. I did, however, make some working drawings and build two bodies for them." These Carpenter-designed wood-frame bodies may have been part of the "advance information" supplied to the National Magazine of Business writer. Be that as it may, you would not—as the Martin brochure stated—be "riding around in a steel barrel ... so that if you drove into a stone wall you would bounce away."
Hal's planning to go to Newark and New Haven in the winter of 1930 had to do with a project his friend and patent attorney, Herbert Dyke, persuaded him to tackle. Edgar Bassick, owner of the Bassick Caster Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, had financed an inventor named Moore in an idea for forced injection of fuel into a gasoline engine—thus eliminating the carburetor and fuel pump. Bassick was about to give up on his patented Bassick Blastcharger when Hal was called in.
"I leased the testing room of the Locomobile Company in Bridgeport and set up shop," says Hal. "Then I converted a Durant, a Buick, and one other car, to fuel injection—using some of Bassick's patent ideas and some notions of my own that I worked out as I went along. I don't say that somebody else couldn't have done it, but it didn't take me very long.
"I used Yale's Sheffield Laboratory to analyze the combustion gases in an effort to reduce the carbon monoxide. We took thousands of balloon samples under all sorts of driving conditions.
"The demonstrations I gave with those cars proved a 25-percent improvement in power and speed—and gave Bassick a tremendous bargaining position. He controlled the Alemite Corporation, and used the Blastcharger performance and his Alemite stock to gain control of Stewart-Warner."
THE INDIAN MOTORCYCLE Company was not interested in manufacturing the Martin although they would have supplied the engines. Indian had, however, wanted to get into the small-car business under its own name.
"Early in 1929," says Hal Carpenter, "a Charles Levine, who'd made a name for himself by flying the Atlantic with Clarence Chamberlin, had asked me to join him in a deal with the Indian Motorcycle people to produce a small car. I went up to Springfield (Massachusetts) with Mr. Levine and my patent attorney, Herbert H. Dyke, and met with the Board of Directors of that good old Company.
"Indian had built one small car about the size of the Dart and was in need of additional capital which Mr. Levine was invited to furnish. Levine promised the needed capital if the Indian Company would use my new suspension design and employ me as chief engineer. Nothing ever came of that venture."
The men involved had negotiated for three days without being able to come to an agreement regarding the type of car to be built. The Indian officials, it seems, did not want to try Hal's progressive designs; they insisted on proceeding with something similar to their original small car, hoping to recoup the fortune they had already spent on it. Eventually, Indian lost out - even in the motorcycle business.
DURING JULY AND AUGUST OF 1930, newspapers in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver announced the advent of the Martin car in Canada. Captain Martin had made a deal with some promoters in Montreal headed by a James A. Wright of the Wright-Fisher Engineering Company. The Wright Martin Corporation, Ltd. (which name carried the suggestion that this was perhaps a Canadian affiliate of the Wright-Martin Aircraft Company in the United States) leased the plant of the Wright Flexible Motors, Ltd., at Pointe Eau Tremble, in Montreal East, formerly set up to produce the Parente-an independently-sprung-wheel car; which venture folded after building one such vehicle.
On July 29, 1930, the Martin made its first appearance on the streets of Montreal. This was the same car that James Bryan later got in his "possession" for Hal Carpenter to recondition and demonstrate at the Washington Airport Show on September 7th.
"Captain Martin," the Montreal Gazette erroneously stated, ".. . will be remembered as the designer of the famous 'Martin Bomber."
James A. Wright used the same sort of tactics that James W. Bryan used in Washington-the sale of stock options.
Again, Hal Carpenter was called on to engineer yet another Martin small car, this time by James A. Wright. For this Canadian car, Hal planned to use a little four-cylinder, water-cooled Continental engine. He designed a really fine cabriolet three-passenger body-and had built a mock-up of it when, according to Hal: "The Canadian Government stepped in and frightened the promoters into closing down. I was left holding the bag to the tune of $1800."
This may not seem like an enormous amount of money now, but some idea of the value of a 1931 dollar can be gotten from the bill Hal paid for his last week at the Berkley Hotel in Montreal, on September 23: Room-$22.00, meals-$7.77, telephone-$1.40, laundry-$1.13, valet- $75, and cash items-$3.10. For seven days, $36.15! But, in 1931, an automobile worker's average weekly wage was only $25.13.
Three days before Christmas, in a letter to Hal, James Wright promised: "The writer can personally assure you that we will send whatever money we can spare regardless of the amount, as soon as we make collections ... we contemplate squaring everything with you to date." This was the last Hal ever heard of the matter.
It is interesting to note that, in the summer of 1930, the air-cooled Martin was being advertised for $200 in the United States, whereas the Canadian papers announced the price to be $300 for the same car in Canada. Identical photos appeared in both the United States and Canadian publicity, and the same demonstrator was used.
Some idea of the manufacturing costs can be ascertained from the following estimates for a proposed water-cooled Canadian Martin, the figures being based on observations made during April, 1931, of prevailing conditions in the parts and material market:
ESTIMATED COST OF ASSEMBLY OF MODEL "B", WRIGHT-MARTIN CAR
Motor, 4-cyl, 30 hp $ 36.00
Pedals and levers 1.50
Radiator and shell 8.50
Fan and belt .20
Starter, generator, and ignition 14.95
Spark plugs .10
Propeller shaft 2.10
Drive shafts (pair) 5.00
Wheel brackets and mountings 18.00
Steering gear and linkage 3.25
Steering wheel .80
Fenders (set of four) 7.50
Hood and fasteners 2.75
Gas tank 1.75
Speedometer and cable 2.00
Gasoline gage, dash type .70
Oil gage, dash type .19
Oil filter .35
Air cleaner .16
Wheels, per set, with rims 10.00
Tires, per set of tour 16.00
Headlight lamps (per pair) 2.00
Taillight lamps (combination stc) .80
License bracket on tail lamp .25
Final assembly 6.50
PART VI, which concludes this series of articles, will tell how close Miles H. Carpenter once came to challenging Henry Ford's position in the fierce arena of automobile manufacturing and sales.
Part VI (Conclusion)
IN 1929, FORD WAS VULNERABLE. His Model A didn't look any better than when it had made its debut late the year before. Many folks had already switched to the Chevrolet in 1927 because it was more modern than Ford's Model T; but even in '28 and '29, Chevrolets were no great shakes in appearance. The country would long since have welcomed a really good looking, up-to-date, economical, family-sized car that could outperform what was available. Mortimer Schiff told Hal Carpenter that the publicity he had received, as well as the condition of the money market, now warranted his producing the MHC.
Perhaps Hal made a mistake by waiting for the cautious Schiff to decide that the time was right. Possibly it was because of Hal's independent spirit. Whatever the case, he had passed up one very promising opportunity a few years earlier. Hal gave this account of it—and his reason for turning it down:
"When Ford became aware that his Model T was losing out to Chevrolet, Joseph Ledwinka, chief engineer of the Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia (who had designed and supervised the manufacturing of the first all-steel body for the Dodge automobile), told Mr. Budd about my work on independent wheel suspension. Mr. Budd, who was a very close friend of Henry Ford, came to Garden City and went over the patents that Charlie Kirkham and I had developed.
"Mr. Budd then told me that he would take me in his plane to Detroit for a week with the Ford family, and thought that Ford would take over production of our car. I had, however, already promised Schiff the benefit of my efforts in developing a small car. Mr. Schiff was much grieved by the slanderous articles that Ford's Dearborn Independent had published about the Jews. I would have let Mr. Schiff down if I had gone over to Ford."
HAL PREPARED SOME BLUEPRINTS and discussed design details with Mr. Schiff and his Kuhn-Loeb associates, Otto H. Kahn and a Mr. Hanauer. All agreed that Hal had what it would take to give Ford real competition. Mr. Schiff then called in his good friend Julius Rosenwald, who brought with him the chairman of the board of Sears Roebuck, Mr. Donald Nelson.
A meeting took place in the directors' room of Kuhn Loeb and Company on Wall Street. This company had, among its many ventures, furnished all the working capital for launching the Bell Telephone Company; had backed James J. Hill's Great Northern Railroad; and had financed the Hudson Tubes.
After viewing the small blueprints and listening to Hal describe the salient features of the MHC car, Julius Rosenwald said: "Since the early days of the automobile, Sears Roebuck has wanted to get back into the automobile business. Our experience was that we knew too little about this business, but if someone could make a car better than anyone else's, we could certainly sell it."
Mr. Rosenwald added that, if Hal would sit down with Mr. Nelson and outline a program, he (Rosenwald) would agree to buy 49 percent of the capital stock and let Mr. Schiff supply the controlling interest. Mr. Rosenwald said that this was contrary to their usual practice of, whenever possible, controlling the plants producing products marketed by Sears Roebuck.
"We signed no papers," said Hal. "Businessmen on Wall Street did not need signed and witnessed documents. Their word was their bond. Mr. Nelson asked me if I thought I could get patents on my independently sprung suspension design and other inventions. I agreed to file patent applications—which my backers were good enough not to have assigned to them.
"I then went to Garden City and made an agreement with Charlie Kirkham to put all our efforts into creating an automobile that would outperform anything on the market. Eventually, Charlie and I secured patents for our wheel suspension and mountings, and a patent for a motor vehicle assembly. Later, Charlie assigned all his interest in these patents to me.
"The chief engineer of the Timken Detroit Axle Company had once told me that it would mean the scrapping of millions of dollars in tools and dies by the industry, to change over to independent springing, and that the industry could not afford it, so I went right on and spent ten years working it out alone. This same engineer admitted, however, that someday all (rigid) axles would disappear from passenger cars. It was an uphill fight all the way. I knew it would be, but I was so thoroughly convinced of the merits of safety and economy to be had, that nothing could deter me. I sweated blood for all those ten years. When I think of all those hard and seemingly impossible jobs I had to undertake to pay expenses as I went along, I wonder how I ever did it."
The independent front-wheel suspension patented by Hal Carpenter and Charlie Kirkham involved a revolutionary design. A rubber ball was interposed between radial arms. A steel spring could have been used instead, but the Garden City inventors preferred rubber because it had slower periodicity than steel. By using steel springs instead of rubber balls, one large automobile corporation avoided infringement of the Carpenter-Kirkham patent. This parallel A-frame type of independent front-wheel suspension is used on most present-day cars.
The motor vehicle assembly patent introduced a novel arrangement of an aluminum, six-cylinder opposed, pancake-type, rear-mounted engine and integral power-transmission system. The engine end was balanced on two rubber-insulated mountings, and the differential and axle housings were bolted to a cross-tube—thus eliminating the usual universal joint(s) and conventional drive shaft of most front-mounted-engine cars, and making possible a safer car with lower seats and a lower center of gravity.
The rear wheels articulated up and down with the wheel housings, which pivoted to the ends of the cross tube. An intermediate gear in the train within the housing permitted the wheel to float. By unscrewing a few readily accessible bolts, the engine, cross tube, and rear-wheel assemblies could be removed as a unit for repair or replacement. The designs incorporated in the three patents made possible a maintenance-free independent springing of all four wheels.
DONALD NELSON AND HAL CARPENTER met several times during that promising summer of 1929. Nelson wanted to get a service department set up so that, when the MHC cars were ready for delivery, Sears Roebuck would be able to take care of its customers' automotive needs.
Sears had no one who was particularly well grounded in the automobile field, but Mr. Nelson felt that the then head of their Chicago sporting goods department showed promise. So Hal went to Chicago and met a bright young man to whom he outlined what an automobile service department should be like. He drew up some pencil sketches for a facility that could handle the MHC cars, as well as sell tires, batteries, oil, gas, and provide general service to all makes of cars.
The two men selected a location on Kedsey Avenue, adjacent to Sears' main office and sales department.
When Hal returned several months later, a pilot service station was in operation, and additional installations were under construction in other major cities.
A closing date was set for the MHC negotiations, and Hal's attorney, Mr. Dyke, had enough reports from the patent applications to be assured that there would be sufficient claims allowed on the patents to make them worthwhile. Mr. Nelson was to be in New York at the Kuhn-Loeb offices the next Tuesday to sign the formal agreements.
Before that Tuesday rolled around in the Fall of 1929, however, frantic men were jumping from the windows of tall buildings. Mr. Nelson telephoned Hal from Chicago and said that, owing to bad reports he was getting from Wall Street, he thought it best to postpone the closing date for thirty days—by which time the big excitement would probably be over.
At the end of the thirty days, Mr. Nelson called his New York office and had them tell Hal that the financial picture was so bad that nothing could be done until stability had been restored—that Sears would get in touch with Hal eventually. This was the last that Hal
Carpenter heard from Sears-Roebuck about the proposed MHC car.
But Sears-Roebuck did not completely lose interest in getting back into the automobile business. Their first car, the 1906-1911 Sears, had been a tiller-steered high-wheeler with solid rubber tires and a two- cylinder, air-cooled engine. Most of the 3500 cars sold were open-bodied passenger and utility vehicles. A closed coupe selling for $485 appeared in the last year of the Sears' production.
Sears-Roebuck's last car venture, the compact Allstate, was built by Kaiser-Frazer in 1952 and 1953. This car was no more than a slightly modified Henry J (Kaiser)—which itself lasted only from 1950 to 1954. The Henry J was brought out hopefully to sell for under $1000, but its eventual price of $1303 was not competitive with Chevrolet at $1460. Allstate's prices were both above and below the Henry J's. The Allstate, with a total production of 2,363 cars, was considered a good performer, albeit very cheaply finished and mechanically conventional.
One wonders what impact Hal Carpenter's MHC would have had on the automobile world had Kuhn Loeb and Sears-Roebuck not backed out of their "hand-shake" agreement with Hal. In the light of Hal Carpenter's previous accomplishments, the MHC would no doubt have been a handsome, high- performing little car and—as long as Hal continued to have control of its production—an extremely well- built, avant-garde vehicle.
The big depression did not hit Canada until later. When the Wright-Martin deal in Montreal folded, Hal interested the Eaton Company in Canada in his MHC car. He spent months with the head of the company working out a plan whereby he was to receive half of the common stock and Eaton the other half. Eaton was to have exclusive sale of the MHC in Canada and Great Britain, and Hal would have the rest of the world.
A plant was to be established in Walkerville, right across from Detroit. But, by the time the lawyers had completed drawing up the necessary papers, the bottom had dropped out of the Canadian money market too. Hal was asked to hold his plans in abeyance until the crisis was over. But, in Canada also, the big depression lasted too long for the star-crossed MHC car to be born.
MILES HAROLD CARPENTER WAS TEMPTED, during the depression years of the early 1930's to accept a lucrative position that would have eased the financial bind in which his years of experimenting with the Dart/Martin and planning his MHC car had put him.
He was invited to Detroit by a friend in General Motors, which corporation had purchased control of the Opel plant in Germany. He was told that Opel needed an engineer familiar with American production methods and standards, and agreed to a proposition whereby he would stay in Germany for five years, then have a year off at full salary plus travel expenses.
The agreement and salary requirement was forwarded to Germany. About a week later, word came back that Hal's proposition would be acceptable upon condition that he renounce his allegiance to the United States and become a German citizen.
"Nothing doing!" Hal shouted, jumping to his feet. "I wouldn't sacrifice my American citizenship if they gave me all of Germany!".
After several attempts to help Hal Carpenter sell his patent rights, Herbert H. Dyke received a letter, on July 2, 1935, from the general manager of the Split Coach Motor Corporation of York, Pennsylvania, saying: "We are negotiating with Mr. M. H. Carpenter with the possibility that he may become associated with our company in the manufacture of passenger trailers and in an executive capacity. He has told us something of his past experiences and has given your name as a reference."
In Montreal, Hal had met Mr. Noah A. Timmons, a wealthy mine owner who marketed Royal Coach trailers in Montreal and owned Split Coach in York. Timmons had told Hal that Split Coach was in need of engineering and manufacturing guidance. Hal designed the sensational York trailer, then a disastrous flood wiped out the entire plant.
A Man for the People
BACKED BY A YEAR'S WORK with Dean Rexford Newcomb at the University of Illinois's Department of Architecture—and using techniques developed for producing trailers—Hal Carpenter next entered the prefabricated-house business. Dean Newcomb had spent many years in measuring and making working drawings of the world's architectural masterpieces. These were published and became the "Bible" in schools of architecture. They may be found in all big- city libraries.
"The Dean went out of his way many times to help me," said Hal. "He gave me letters of introduction to the deans of four great schools—who were graduates of his classes. Newcomb is known to them all as 'The Dean of American Architecture'."
By 1940, Hal was associated with Nasri Khattar in Duramore Buildings, Inc., in Brooklyn, New York. The basic concept of the Duramore Method was to bring to the comparatively backward building industry the advantages of modern shop practices and the efficient use of power machinery. Quantities of lumber and other materials were cut to exact dimensions and assembled in horizontal jigs on the factory floor; then entire house sections were put together for trucking to the building sites. These house sections could be readily separated and trucked to another location at some later time, if desired. Factory fabrication permitted around-the-clock operation to meet demand—which made possible even greater production economy.
Of Hal's efforts, Dean Newcomb had this to say: "Duramore Homes seem definitely to be on the right track as far as low-cost housing is concerned. Building these units in the factory, it should be possible to get a far more rigid and substantial structure than if they are just 'pinned' together with wire nails on the job.
"I note your use of copper flashing and your use of linoleum on walls exposed to splash or dampness. I am glad to know of your close relationship with Max Dunning and Earl Draper. We believe they know what real housing means and that you will do well to keep faith with the governmental agencies having to do with housing, defense or otherwise."
In 1942, the E. L. Bruce Company of Memphis, Tennessee, built a factory with acres of floor space in which to construct prefabricated houses under the patents of Carpenter Houses, Inc., of Baltimore, Maryland. Bruce had an order from the Government for 1,526 structures, but that was only the beginning. No sooner had production started on this first order, than the Government ordered several thousand more for sites in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The Bruce prefabricated houses were not experiments. The Government determined this before investing in them. Said Hal:
"When the Government decided that it needed prefabricated homes (for defense-plant workers), representatives from 46 of the 276 companies in the United States manufacturing them were called to Washington. Of these 46, the Government selected 12 and gave them initial orders for 650 homes for Naval workers at Indian Head, Maryland. That was the beginning of our Government business. Carpenter Houses, Inc., had built demountable, prefabricated houses and apartments for residents of Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New York and other states in the East—and knew what was necessary."
Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for Hal to meet Henry R. Luce of Life and Time magazines; then Luce sent his ace photographer, Walter B. Lane, to Indian Head for a picture story on the project. When the material was submitted to Washington for clearance, it was marked "Confidential" and publication was denied.
Hal Carpenter held the first patents granted for house-fabrication devices. One of these was an ingenious locking arrangement using a key to fasten house (and apartment) sections together—or speedily unfasten them. When Navy officers saw these fasteners, they asked Hal for a set of the parts to try out on a pontoon bridge they were developing—the first demountable pontoon bridge designed for armed- forces use since the Civil War. Hal felt that the pontoons, themselves, could be improved.
"I have 150 of those 8-by-1 Life photographs," said Hal, "and many shots I took of the testing of those pontoons I designed. I'm sure you think I'm stark crazy, but things moved fast in those days, and I was right in the midst of it all. The Commander in Chief of the Navy sent me down to Norfolk, with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., to work out (how the pontoon bridges were to be used in) the landing of the invasion forces in Normandy. I have the original blueprints and many pictures.”
BY 1946, returning veterans needed housing in a hurry. In San Lorenzo, California, "Big" Dave Bohannon set about, in May, to complete a thousand homes by Christmas. Superintending the operations at Bohannon's central yard was Hal Carpenter.
On August 24, 1951, the St. Louis Post Dispatch carried this front-page headline: "$50,000 DEMAND BY PAUL HULAHAN, UNION'S AGENT, ON BUILDER REVEALED." Paul H. Hulahan, hoodlum, saloonkeeper, business agent of Local 42 of the AFL Building Laborers' and Hod Carriers' Union had solicited a payoff of more than $50,000 from M. H. Carpenter, the developer of the $50-million Glasgow Village in North St. Louis County. This project, being constructed on a 372-acre tract, was to contain 1800 six-room houses,2,000 apartment units, and a shopping center. The frame houses were to sell at $10,650.
Space limitations prevent the detailing of all of Hal Carpenter's troubles with labor racketeers while he was engaged in this project. Suffice it to say that he resisted a series of shake-down demands over a period of many months. By April 1953, sufficient evidence concerning St. Louis labor rackets had piled up to warrant an investigation by a United States Grand Jury. Within a year, the key figure in the shake-down attempt against Hal Carpenter was sentenced to 12 years in prison. In one news item there appeared a photo of the man who had been the People's chief witness. . . Miles Harold Carpenter. Hal later commented, "I helped put eight men behind bars, but lost a fortune doing it."
EARLY IN THE 'SIXTIES, Hal Carpenter could be found back in Wichita Falls, Texas, working on plans for a hotel for upper-income retired couples and a new type of housing project featuring a compact ranch house to sell for $5,000—with a swimming pool in every block. He planned to go to Champaign, Illinois, to get the students of architecture to build a scale model of his housing village to exhibit at the World's Fair.
In March 1964 Hal wrote: "Having just finished my first three quarters of a century on this Old Earth, I feel as if I have a new lease on life, in spite of the fact that I seem to have slowed down a bit in the past few years." In October, he wrote: "Have finished my latest designs for compact houses and am presenting the whole story to Sears and hope to get some favorable action very soon.',
In February 1965 Hal suffered a stroke which seriously impaired his power of speech.
In June 1965 a letter came from Hal's nurse, pretty Debra Wilson: "At this moment, Mr. Carpenter is sitting next to me dictating this letter. He feels much better and is very anxious to finish the story of his life." "I guess I pretty much always did my own thing." Hal reminisced: "Whenever I tackled some new project— for better or for worse—it was always my own 'Little Red Wagon'."
On May.6, 1969, Hal died.
HAL CARPENTER didn't become a millionaire, nor did newspaper headlines ever scream his name. Yet, when promising financial success slipped many times from his grasp, he was never disillusioned, never embittered. What then is the measure of this man? Was he, as he says, merely "a little guy who was in love with automobiles from the time he was twelve years old and wanted to, and did, design and build every part of an automobile and leave some lasting inventions and improvements for the public to enjoy"?
In the judgment of those who knew Miles Harold Carpenter, there was much more. Beyond his deep regard for his charming wife and three fine sons, above his pride in being an American, was a love of life itself. For Hal, there may have been many disappointments, but never failure. Practically every automobile rolling the roads of his country today is more efficient, more comfortable, and safer because of Hal Carpenter's genius and cheerful persistent efforts.
About the Author
FRANK N. POTTER is a professional technical writer and editor. For kicks, he has written scores of stories and articles which have been published in a wide variety of magazines; but, with him, antique cars are not just another hobby; they are a life style. He grew up with them. Since the neighborhood burial of his childhood "automobile," an extremely noisy cyclecar with a one-cylinder Indian motorcycle engine, he has owned a plentiful parade of self-propelled vehicles—from his first Model T to his present classic T-Bird.
"Those Model T's were really something," Frank recently reminisced. "A guy could do extraordinary things with them. The last one I had, a '26 roadster, could easily top 75 miles per hour. Why not? It had overhead valves, aluminum pistons, Bosch ignition, 3 to 1 gears, overdrive, Dayton Disc wood wheels, all that good stuff, but only one brake band. I mean that car was fun! Rumble seat? Sure! I made one for it."
Of the cars Frank has owned over the years, the orphans were the ones he misses most today; his Mercer, Maxwell, Velie, Scripps-Booth, and Studebaker—to name a few—and he had a passion for Packards, six of them. Topping the list, however, was a racing car built with parts from a Chevrolet, Model A Ford, Whippet, Stanley Steamer, Winton Six, Packard Twin Six, Essex; and it had those special Buffalo wire racing wheels. When not working on his own cars, he tinkered with his father's Franklins and Reos.
"Frank was always full of questions," his neighbor, Hal Carpenter, once remarked "especially about my big Phiannas; and he never ceased to inspect and admire them. Then there was that day when he and my son, Albert, drove out to Garden City, Long Island, on a wild Indian motorcycle to watch me building those little Darts. I don't think I ever saw a boy happier than when I finally took Frank for a ride in one of them. Some forty years later, when he sent me those first drafts of my biography, I was amazed by how much he still remembered about the Phianna and Dart cars. In fact, he helped me recall many long forgotten details and incidents."
"It is an honor," says Frank, "to have been so very close to a man whose many accomplishments have given, to all of us, much more than any belated historical recognition can ever repay."
With this issue, Antique Automobile presents an innovation—a six part biography of Miles Harold Carpenter which will appear in serialized form in the six 1978 issues of the magazine.
The biography of a man who, as inventor and innovator, was closely associated with the automobile industry for much of his life, inevitably must also be something of a mini-history of the industry itself. We believe our readers will find much to interest them, not only in Frank N. Potter's story of the life of Miles Harold Carpenter himself, but in the many additional insights it offers concerning the automobile industry from the early days of the twentieth century.
© 1978 Frank N. Potter, Antique Automobile Club of America
Original Phianna renderings courtesy of Eric E. Norris, great-grandson of Miles Harold Carpenter.