The following article is transcribed from the Spring, Summer and Fall 1960 issues of The Classic Car:
Rollston/Rollson by Rudy Creteur
Mr. Rudy Creteur is an engineer. He did not particularly want to bother recording his history for us. He was not sure anyone would be that interested. We think we convinced him otherwise. His words follow below.
The Packard above is his very first design for Rollston, Inc. It reflects a cohesion and clarity of design and thought that is characteristic of all his work.
Graduated Stuyvesant High June, 1924. Entered Cooper Union General Science 5 year night course class 1929. During 4 years at Stuyvesant worked for Dainty Lingerie at 30 Church St. 4 hrs. per day. During the school vacation period I worked in the stores full time. (These stores later became the Lerner chain.) Upon leaving Stuyvesant I also left Dainty Lingerie Shops. Since my ambition was to become an engineer in the mechanical field I looked for a position in this field that July of 1924. I found that conditions were terrible. Finding an engineering position was impossible just as school closed that year. I spent the summer at our country place near Greenwood Lake in N.J. In September positions in the engineering field were still unavailable - so I advertised! Mr. Tasman, chief engineer of Locke & Co., responded. I started employment in this company in September of 1924 as employee #38, classified as a draftsman helper. I received $15.00 per week.
At Locke & Co. Mr. George Tasman was the only other one in the Engineering Department. At this time he was busy designing bodies and I had to make a clear finish tracing of his 1" scale drawings suitable for presenting to the customer. Later I helped on the full size block-board drawings and also filled in details and sections on the full size body draft. As time went on I became well acquainted with the body draft and also with body draft developments.
George Tasman suggested that I should take the Andrew L. Johnson correspondence school courses in Automobile Drafting. In my correspondence with this school I asked to take only the more advanced courses-such as developments of body contours – as I had had general drafting lessons at Stuyvesant and was still going to Cooper Union where I attended additional drafting classes. Mr. Johnson would not start me on an advanced basis but only on a complete course. I did not take this course and Mr. Tasman was very dissatisfied with my refusal. I spoke to my Cooper Union teacher in drafting and there received special assignments in ship hull development which I found was usable in autobody development and drafting. . . . after 6 months with Locke & Co. I asked my chief, Mr. Tasman, for a raise. At this moment a Western Union boy entered the draft-room and George told me that this fellow could probably do a better job than I and I should not ask for a raise. The next payday I had a salary increase and from then on increases were given me every 6 months without again asking for them.
Shortly after I started my employment at Locke, a new body draftsman, Richard Koblitz, was hired. He worked either at Brewster or Locke - as the demand required. He made the complete working drafts, as did Tasman. I only helped on Tasman's body draft in the beginning.
Mr. Tasman did not speak to me or anybody that checked-in in the morning after him. If you arrived after him you were late, regardless of what time he arrived. He always said, "If you are late again tomorrow, do not bother to come in at all."
Mr. Locke died suddenly during my employ at the company. He received a soldiers funeral in All Angels Church on West End Ave. & 80th St., and all the employees attended. Mr. Fleischmann was now the head man of the company and some new spaces appeared in the office. I believe Mr. William C. Miller lost his previous position - but remained on. Tasman remained chief engineer and in complete charge of the production end of the factory.
Orders began to fall off and Locke & Co. rented the second floor of the plant to a Ford-Lincoln dealer. This floor had contained the draft room, trim department, and final assembly. The draft room moved to the street floor and the trim department moved in with the wood shop. The paint department was slowly changing from varnish jobs to the new Duco spraying. Hang-up was also moved to the east section of the ground floor - which had previously been a storage area. Of course after the changes were completed things began to become very active in the office and draft room. We started to design Durant cars'. Their designs were for a production, non-custom, set up, and so designed that certain body sections could be used on more than one body style.
Following the Durant line, we started on Chrysler Imperial custom cars, and then Lincolns. Lincoln wanted all the designs drawn for a custom: production body. We finally concentrated on the Convertible Club Roadster and the Touring Car.
At this time rumors started that Locke & Co. was opening anew plant in Rochester. Later we heard this information in engineering, and still' later George Tasman was sent to Rochester, after additional draftsmen were hired. When Tasman left for upstate, Koblitz became the New York plant body draftsman, and I was left in charge of design for the strictly custom bodies which were still to be built in N.Y.
I remember a design by Tasman which had a windshield error: a V type slanted shield with the center post having more slant than the side posts. Needless to say, this would result in a twisted windshield glass. When we found we couldn't make the shield as per the design. Mr. Fleischman was asked to change the center post, to parallel the side posts. He refused to change Tasman's design. So Tasman' was recalled all the way to New York from Rochester to show us how. He instantly saw the error, erased the center post, drew the correction, walked out the door and returned to, Rochester. He did not tell
Fleischman about the correction, and neither did we. Fleischman thought we had made the design anyway, and later remarked that only George Tasman could make a complete body draft without flaws.
During this period, Jim Vernick, who later went to Studebaker, worked with us in New York. He started keeping a loose leaf book in which was kept all new ideas and details - such as hardware features that were developed or created in producing the body drafts. For this book I made three tracings of every idea, one for each of us. We detailed, for example, water gutters for rear trunks (or fish tail backs), folding top irons, sliding glass and drop glass partition construction, locking devices, regulator installations, sliding seat tracks (which was a new idea in 1925), windscreens and curtain tops for open, chauffeur-driven cars, etc., etc. In this book was kept all types of body irons reinforcements such as Rolls Royce standards, Packard standards, and Lincoln standards, dictaphone layouts and installation and later radio installations, and many other devices. I continued to keep this book and add ideas later at Rollston and still later at Rollson.
I believe Locke Rochester was opened about 1 year when rumors reached the N.Y. plant. We began to hear that Rochester was in trouble - that Stonbrow (in office management) was no longer with the company, that Engineering was in trouble, and that changes were being made. No direct information reached us but we did know that Tasman was still in Rochester. Later again rumors reached us that Locke Rochester was in trouble financially and would go into bankruptcy. All kinds of rumors came to us: we heard that Lincoln would help to run Locke Rochester. This I believe was in late 1927.
One incident I remember: a body in the trim shop was covered with a piece of leather to show a customer how this, an open front quarter window town car, would look without the quarter window. Mr. Tasman had the trim shop spread this leather piece over the window to show a temporary finish. After the prospective customer left, Mr. Tasman got the man who built this body out of the wood shop, showed him the apparently leather covered rear quarter and then asked him how could he build this body without a rear quarter window when the draft showed this window. The draft was brought to the trim shop, also the wood shop foreman and after lengthy conversation his hoax was exposed and everybody except a very scared body builder had fun over this joke. In the glass department we also had a very nervous glass and regulator man. If he heard a glass break he would drop the glass pane in his hand. Again someone would do this and he of course would drop his glass pane.
In early 1927, Mr. Charles Novak, a former Locke draftsman now at Rollston, came to see me at home. He advised me that The Rollston Body Co. was in need of a body designer and that Mr. Harry Lonschein would like to see me. At this time Rollston was not well known and I ignored the offer. Some time later things were very gloomy at Locke as the Rochester Plant news was progressively worse. And no one knew what would happen in the New York Plant. Again Mr. Novak came to see me. I then spoke to Mr. Miller in the Locke office about the Rollston offer. A conference followed with Mr. Miller, Mr.McGong and myself, No one really knew the future of Locke & Co.. The general thought was that I should see Rollston's Mr. Lonschein.
In July, 1927, I left Locke & Co. and the few employees that were left wished me good luck except Mr. Tasman, whom I had hoped to see before I left. He did not visit New York and I believe that he was very displeased with my leaving in his absence although I had given Locke 2 months notice.
When I joined Rollston, it was agreed that I would design the new Five Passenger Cabriolet and the new Five Passenger All Weather Town Car for the December 1927 Packard catalogue, and then have a vacation, which I had not had for some time. Before joining Locke I had planned - if I ever got a vacation - to take a motor trip to Niagara Falls via Rochester and tour the Locke plant there. I did this as planned; stopped at the Rochester plant; asked to see Mr. Tasman. He saw me unexpectedly in the lobby, and I was refused entrance to the plant or drafting room. I was very close to Mr. Tasman when we worked together at Locke and Company. I did all his errands at first, was his male nurse when his leg acted up, put drops in his ears, etc., etc., but the lobby was as far as I could get. This icy reception from my former chief hurt quite a bit.
After my vacation during July, 1927, I actually first started to work for Rollston, and was designing bodies only. Mr. Julius Veghso was the draftsman and general superintendent of the factory. He was the former owner of the Perfect Body Co. - builders mainly for the Singer chassis. Mr. Novak, who negotiated my position at Rollston, was the second draftsman and layout man. Both of these men had graduated from the body building class. After the side view was on the draft, the sectional views and details were added from the layout patterns, which were made first. This resulted in a most expensive body frame. The construction of these frames and the reinforcement "ironing" (generally bronze, sometimes brass) was very well done. All previous bodies that I had seen (Locke, Brewster, Holbrook and the others I had seen while being rebuilt at Locke to fit later chassis) could not compare to the Rollston construction. Everything at Rollston was done to create the strongest possible body that I had ever seen - but new ideas were not used. I had to be extremely careful in suggesting a new idea or change in drafting, because Mr. Veghso (who was also a partner) and Mr. Novak, his side-kick, were very jealous. If I suggested different hardware, for example, I was quickly told, "You do your designing and that is all." A second major partner, Sam Blotkin, was also most uncooperative. He felt that Julius Veghso should design cars again. I was hired (as was Charlie Novak) because Veghso went on a long European vacation. When he returned, Blotkin considered me unnecessary overhead. But the body designs that I offered on Packard chassis (the show cars) made an immediate hit with Mr. Parvis of Packard; and Mr. Ostruk of Minerva, liked the new Rollston designs. Harry Lonschein, president of Rollston, was well pleased with the reception accorded the new designs and Sam Blotkin's dissatisfactions were overruled.
The first body sold from my design was #204, a Lincoln Five Passenger All-weather Cabriolet. I continued to design bodies on various chassis: Ford, Buick, Stutz, Chrysler, Pierce-Arrow, Rolls Royce, Peerless, Cord, Duesenberg, Bugatti, Stearns Knight, Lincoln, Mercedes, Lancia, Hispano-Suiza, Cadillac, Packard, etc., etc. During the period from July '27 to April '31, I designed the bodies only. From these designs, 218 bodies were built; an average about 54 Cars a year. During these years also Rollston had a large alteration business: adding tire-wells to front fenders, reworking dash-boards and cowl lamps, remounting bodies on new chassis and repainting and re-chroming, etc. During this period Mr. Blotkin left the company and Mr. H. A. Holm of Holbrook joined the firm as Sales Manager. We had expanded to four floors of 12,000 sq. feet each. In 1927 we had only a floor and a half. We improved the ground floor and office entrance, and changed the front door from 47th St. to the 48th St. entrance, which was better looking. Just as this enlargement was completed, the depression began to show its effects at Rollston. In 1931 orders very definitely began to fall off - and things began to slow down.
Mr. Holm saw some improper drafting and so pressured Mr. Lonschein- to give me a chance to make body drafts. In April Rollston Body #503, a Speedster design for ship designer Clarence Gibbs, was sold. Mr. Veghso would not, for some reason, start the draft. This design - a small door-less body like an upside down canoe - required a properly developed draft, and after Julius refused to work it, I was asked to make the drawing. I consented, but advised that I had not done a complete body draft before. I also quickly added that I could not make a suitable draft with existing equipment. So the drafting board was enlarged to 14 feet, the square ledge at the bottom removed, better drafting paper was purchased, and I started my first complete body- draft. (Editor's Note: We hate to tell you this, but Gibbs' Speedster went on a Buick chassis.)
My procedure was to stretch the paper over the board and around the ends - using wood strips nailed on the under side of the board, with the paper turned down and under at each end. The paper was then sprayed, causing it to stretch. A wedge was slipped in at both edges of the paper to make it taut while still damp. The next morning the paper was as tight and flat as a drum. I then drew in red ink ten inch spaced lines both horizontally and vertically through the entire draft. The bottom horizontal line was the bottom body sill line, and marked zero. The first vertical line, also marked zero, was the front body dash line. This was my own system, and Mr. Veghso was fit to be tied. As I wet the paper, installed the lines, etc., he almost pulled out his Franz Josef mustache. Lonschein and Holm were more in the draft room than in their office. Feelings were a little strained, but I made my body draft my way. (At this point I must add that Sam Blotkin did not like the way body frames were set up; a great deal of extra lumber was used on tile glued up frame, then considerable chopping and dressing down and draw knife cutting was required to obtain the final body contours. To show his dissatisfaction with what he thought were wasteful methods; Blotkin bought Veghso a hatchet so that the excess lumber could be dressed down faster.)
When my draft was finished, I requested a particular body builder - and not Mr. Novak - to be the layout man on my job. This body builder, ",ho was an expert, made perfect 3/8th white wood patterns, then laid this ash lumber out with all contours and bevels so that the machine men could cut the pieces almost to finish contour on the shaper machine. This shell, when glued up, required very little dressing down to obtain the final body contour, and we produced it in less time than the estimate allowed. However, this good showing still did not put me permanently at the drafting board. Julius and Charlie continued to make the draft and layouts together, but Mr. Holm worked on Mr. Lonschein, saying that I should do the drafts especially with prices tumbling, and orders being lost - for Rollston needed $1000 to $1500 more to produce a body (especially an All-weather or Town Car) than any other custom body builder. A Packard-Rollston formal car was, for example, at the ten thousand dollar price level.
When Mr. Holm joined Rollston, his aim was to get our bodies into the Lincoln line, and I was continually submitting All-weather Town Car designs to Lincoln. Finally, Mr. Edsel Ford placed an order for a Town Car - for one body to be placed in the Hotel Commodore Salon. This design was submitted on August 28, 1931, as design #657, and became body #512. Since this was our first Lincoln order from Ford Motor Company directly, we were asked to submit our body draft to Lincoln Engineering for approval. Now again Julius Veghso refused to make the body draft, and Mr. Holm demanded that this draft be made as I had made the Gibbs-Buick draft. So, for the second time, I was requested to make the draft. Needless to say, my draft table had been cut back to the old size, the t-square ledge replaced, etc. So I requested a complete new drafting table - on sturdy legs – and this was made. I bought linen-backed drafting paper, and set to work on the complete and complicated body that had to incorporate standard Lincoln dash and cowl construction specifications. When the draft was finished, I asked Julius and Charlie to check it before we sent it out to Lincoln Engineering. This was refused, and so the draft went off without their approval. I had omitted one small sill cut-out (to clear a chassis nut) and this Lincoln filled in. The draft was returned, marked "accepted", and we went to work on the actual car. Again the layout was done by the body builder, and the car made the show in time less than three months from design drafting to show opening on November 29, 1931. Mr. Edsel Ford saw the car at the show, said it was the best looking Town Car in the show, and took it as his own car.
From then on, I made every body draft for Rollston - as well as doing all the designing. I was never able to leave the draft room until two or three hours after regular staff closing time.
The depression began to seriously slice into the Custom Body field, and work continually fell off. Body design became more elaborate - and prices kept going down. In 1931 - and earlier - Rollston bodies never were priced under $4,600 wholesale, and now we were down to $2,700. Improved drawing and construction methods helped a little, but the number of orders still fell off. In 1933 Rollston was in acute financial trouble, but somehow managed to crawl out. Mr. Lonschein refused to let any floors go or cut down on expenses. He firmly believed we were at the famous corner - relief, you will remember, was just around the corner. As it left the plant, one of our cars was stoned - and people were afraid to acknowledge that they owned specially built, high priced cars. In the years that followed - to August 1938, we managed to build to body #654. This was 142 bodies from fall 1931 to spring 1938. In these six and one half years, Rollston averaged about twenty-two bodies per year. When you compare this production against fifty four bodies per year in less than one-half the floor space prior to our expansion, you can easily see the end of the custom body field.
During this period from 1931 to 1938, the body shops that failed were Locke & Co., Holbrook, Brewster, Brunn, Judkins, Murphy, Waterhouse, Weymann, Willoughby, and others. And of course the better chassis builders began to drop out - Ruxton, Cord, Duesenberg, Stearns-Knight, Stutz, Pierce-Arrow, Franklin the American Rolls Royce, duPont, Peerless, Minerva, Hispano-Suiza, Isotta-Fraschini, Maybach, Marmon all were gone.
In April 1938 Rollston reached the end, and was closed in a bankruptcy sale.
Before Rollston - went into receivership, I had met a Mr. Donald Melhado. He had purchased American and Canadian rights to the English King Sliding Roof. He had come to Rollston with a Studebaker to have this roof installed. It was of poor design, however, and almost impossible to service. I redesigned the lifting device which made the sliding panel flush, and also designed removable tracks. These corrections were patented in my name, and I went out to sell this roof with Mr. Melhado after Rollston closed in April, 1938. We called the company The Sun air Auto Top Company Associates, and during the early summer of '38 I demonstrated my Lincoln Zephyr with our own installation - to every dealer and customer we could find who had recently bought a large car. We sold a number of these sliding tops for $275.00, and gave these sales to Humer Binder Co., in New York, who did the actual installations. I made the necessary drawings in their shop.
In July of '38, Cadillac gave us a LaSalle in which to install a roof. We then drove the car to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where the sliding roof top was studied and disassembled. Cadillac asked us to leave the car and we settled down to wait for their decision in Detroit. Appointments with their attorneys were broken continually, until, finally, Mr. Melhado hired attorneys to see what was happening. It appeared that G.M. lawyers had found old patents which they felt disproved our claim to our own roof, and so offered a sliding roof of their "own design" in the Waldorf Astoria Show.
Their roof had a cam device for lifting the panel to a flush line with the roof, and a notch type lock. It wasn't very good - the lift jammed easily and this allowed considerable leakage. G.M. suffered a small loss of prestige with the faulty roof, and the irony is that our roof sales also fell off. Our lawyers continued to hassle with their lawyers, but in the late fall Mr. Lonschein decided to form a new company and asked me to join. And so I left the Sunair Auto Top Company, and in September, 1938, Rollson Inc. was founded. We rented one floor of 1200 square feet at 311 W. 66th Street in New York. There were four partners: Mr. Lonschein, President; H. A. Holm, Vice President; Frank Sever, Treasurer; and myself as Secretary. Mr. Lonschein was in charge of sales and purchase. Mr.-Holm worked just on sales. Mr. Sever was the metal shop foreman, and I again was the designer - draftsman - and shop superintendent.
We built bodies ‘til December, 1941. The first body was #655 - the next number in sequence from Rollston's last job. By December in '41 we had built body #705, or exactly fifty bodies, an average of 17 bodies a year.
All these fifty bodies were Packards, except for one Duesenberg All-weather Convertible Cabriolet (for Mr. R. Bower of Deal, N.J.) and one Ford V-8 Formal Brougham (for Mr. Bradley). These last years proved one thing - that custom bodies were finished. Only Packard made a suitable chassis able to receive such bodies and their sales were limited. I think that we were the only custom builders for New York Packard those last three years.
When the war started, no cars were manufactured. Large cars were laid up with gas rationing. No repair work of consequence was done - and we were faced with an empty factory.
Our thought was war work, and after some struggle that is exactly what we did. Submarine toilet fixtures, cowl ventilators, food tanks for life boats, bins, galley equipment, and later, ship's doors, Pullman beds, berths and furniture - right through the war. One day Mr. Sherman Fairchild came to visit. He figured if Rollson could make one hand-made custom body to smooth contours, then we could certainly make an autoclave die for aircraft fuselage sections, and we did - for Fairchild and Chance Vought and the Corsair Flying Wing and the Cutlass, for the Regulus, the Navy guided missile. When the war ended, work fell off. We called on Packard. Mr. Parvis (who had been in the Army in the Auto Division) had died. There was no one at Packard who was custom bodied minded. The great demand for cars made securing a chassis from Packard impossible. We could see that the custom body business was out. Soon after the war ended, many ships had to be converted back to their original use, and we soon got busy again with this conversion work. This led to galley and kitchen equipment on such vessels as the Christobe1 & Panama. We continued making Army galley equipment - and both of these things are what we are still doing today, in 1960.
What follows is a 1977 Discussion between Henry Austin Clark; Joseph J. Wulfken; Walter E. Gosden; David Ficken and Rudy Creteur. It was published in the June 1977 issue of Cars & Parts:
Reminiscing With Rudy Creteur Part 1 – Henry Austin Clark – Cars & Parts June 1977
Every now and then a few of us Long Island old car types like to get together for lunch. Recently five of us met at the Maine Maid in Jericho, kick-off place for the "Run For the Sea" each September and the former home of Mr. Boyce of Boyce Motometer fame. Present were Rudolph W. Creteur (RWC), Joseph J. Wulfken (JJW), Walter E. Gosden (WEG), David Ficken (DF), and your writer (HAC). On this day there was one very small difference from our usual convivial meetings. Dave Ficken had brought along his tape recorder, the object of the exercise being to persuade Rudy Creteur to tell a few of his experiences in the world of custom body design, so they could be recorded and transcribed for publication in Cars & Parts.
As many of us know, Rudy Creteur is one of the deans of me custom body business. What most do not know is that even now he is President of Rollson, Inc., and furthermore that firm is still very much in business. Today they make special stainless steel creations, such as kitchens for yachts and airplanes. It is rumored that the kitchen for Hugh Hefner's "Black Bunny," DC-9 that we have not yet been invited to ride on, has a kitchen by Rollson.
Rudy's career started with Locke & Co. of New York City and Hudson, New York. Their factory was up the river of the :ar;;;r D3IIle, on the way to Albany. He was listed as a draftsman and received $15.00 per week. There he assisted Mr. Tasman in the Engineering Department, making tracings and assisting with body drafts. The details of his work at Locke, and later with Rollston, are presented in a series of three articles in the Classic Car issues of Spring, Summer, and Fall of 1960. If you are fortunate enough to have access to these fine publications of the Classic Car Club of America, be sure to read them. In July of 1927 he left Locke to join Rollston, starting a relationship which was to last until the present time.
Two days after our luncheon I received a careful transcript of our tapes, done by Dave Ficken and his lady expert. They read in such an interesting manner that it occurred to us to do the entire story in narrative form, so that the reader can imagine himself with us at the round table in the bar, with drinks by Claude the Jamaican bartender, and being served by Jan with the beautiful legs, followed by an excellent lunch. Well, let's give it a try.
HAC-As you know, Dave Brownell has gone to Cars & Parts as the new Editor. I have agreed to do some writing for him. We talked a lot about what to write about, and I suggested that maybe I could write about you and Rollston, if you are interested, ,Rudy. I know it would be a lot of fun to do it.
RWC-I am planning to do a book and I am afraid that this would conflict with it.
HAC-No way. You are ready for some more exposure now. It will help your book, not hurt it.
RWC-The simplest way might be to get these Classic Car magazines of 1960. I know you could get some first hand stuff from those.
WEG- These articles in the Classic Car, did you write them? RWC-Yes, I did.
HAC-I remember those. r haven't read them lately, though", I would like to draw on them for background, but I wanted to get some first-hand stuff from you. The inside stories and the human side of it.
JJW- Tell him about the man who drew a picture of three monkeys hanging from a coat hanger and asked you to design a car like that. That was Rube Goldberg, wasn't it? (Rudy nods). HAC-You don't have a picture of that car, do you?
RWC-I probably do. Then there was the little old lady up in Albany who saw it and wanted one like it. She was told she would have to get permission from Rube Goldberg, because he had asked that no other car be built exactly the same. She saw him, got permission, and had us build another. Both of these cars are still around. One turned up in Connecticut. They were on Lincoln chassis prior to 1938. I heard from both fellows that now own these different cars, but the trouble is, I don't know who owns the genuine Rube Goldberg car and who owns the duplicate, because they were both identical and neither fellow has given me any numbers.
HAC-Can you tell us about the Ruxton? I remember hearing about two of them being buried somewhere, literally buried under ground.
RWC- Two of them! There's more than two. I don't know exactly how many there were. They're in a town in upstate New York. There's a slew of them. Holbrook, the coach builder, had a contract to build Ruxtons. In the meantime, Cord and Ruxton were engaged in a lawsuit concerning who had copied whom. Ruxton lost the lawsuit. As a result, they either had to pay court damages or destroy the cars. A Mr. Holm of Holbrook had a house with a cliff behind it with a thirty foot drop. He dumped the Ruxtons in there and covered them with dirt, and had a thirty foot bigger yard. And that's why you haven't seen many around since 1935.
HAC-Is there a river in back or something that might cause the cars to deteriorate?
RWC-No, there was no river. There was a railroad trestle in the vicinity, but no water. The last time I was in the town, I drove around trying to find this house. You see, I'd only been there once. I wanted to find this back yard again, of course. I had doubts as to whether I'd located the house but I think I found it.
HAC-It hasn't changed a lot, has it?
RWC-No, you'd be surprised. It hasn't changed too much.
HAC-You should go to the library and find an old city directory and look up the fellow's address and go see if these cars are still buried there.
RWC-Concerning these cars, Ruxton and Cord, there's still a question as to who should have had the rights to the first front wheel drive. That is to say, whether it was Cord, Ruxton, or actually, Miller. You see, Miller built a front wheel car before the both of them.
HAC-How about FWD of Wisconsin? They built a four wheel drive car in 1907.
RWC-Well, still Miller did build a four wheel drive car later on, and he was, 1 believe, associated with that company with that headlight; they built the car with the headlight right in the middle. What was the flame? Oh, yes, Tucker.
HAC-I believe it was Harry Miller who did all that front wheel drive work. One of his beautiful cars is at the Henry Ford Museum, in that Sports Cars in Review show.
RWC-I built a Buick racer for Clarence Gibbs, a big shipbuilder from Westchester. He was always getting arrested for speeding, always losing his license. Whelan was the Police Commissioner in New York. We also started a car for Jimmy Walker, the Mayor of New York City. I got the speeder a sheriff’s emblem on his car. It said "New York City Sheriffs" in a star on the side of the car. Now, both Whelan and Walker had just purchased Duesenberg cars. The racer, for Mr. Gibbs, was a Buick. It looked like a canoe upside down.
HAC-I believe Gibbs is the man who recently gave a 1903 Mercedes to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
R WC-Gibbs saved my life when the war started. He got me a Liberty ship contract for cowl ventilators. Boy, did we go to town! I was outfitting a ship a day. It was all because of Clarence Gibbs. It was very funny. I went to see him right at the beginning of the war. We couldn't do any automobile work. There wasn't any. The first thing he said when he saw me was: "Hi, Rudy. Good to see you. Why don't you paint my car?" I said: "The hell with that. I want work!" Then he steered me onto the idea of building the cowl ventilators for the Liberty ships. Boy, was that a good contract. I once had eighty-five tons of sheet steel brought in one delivery on eleven different trucks. We had trucks from 11th Avenue to Broadway tying up all the traffic. Our plant was at 66th and West End Avenues.
HAC-Was that the original Rollston place?
RWC-No. The original place was 47th Street. That was Rollston with a "t."
HAC-There's one thing I've always wanted to know and have never gotten straight yet. \\Thar happened to the letter "t" in Rollston:, so that it became Rollson?
, RWC-Rollston, with a "t," went out of business. And when they went out, of course, they lost the name unless they paid off the debts. So when we reorganized, we made it: Rollson. R-o-l-l-s-o-n, without the "t." Rollston went out in the spring of 1938, and reopened in the fall of 1938 as Rollson. When we reopened we had Packard financing us. At that time, I became a partner. Prior to that I was only a designer and an engineer of the company. The old owner, Harry Lonschein, he's still alive. He's about ninety-two now. He owned it when it was Rollston, and continued as a partner in Rollson. Remember, at this point, I had four partners and as each one got older and retired, I was left holding the bag at the end. That's how come I now own Rollson. I haven't retired yet. I have nobody to retire all I'd leave it to. I have a son, but he's not ready yet. He needs a little more time. Of course, he doesn't think so. '
HAC - I remember visiting, with your son-in-law one time.
RWC-Oh, yes, the tall fellow. He also happens to be car-minded. He found a Packard, a standard 120 Packard. I told him: "That has no value in the Classic Car Club." He bought it for five hundred bucks and so he sold it for a thousand. So he said: "What do you mean, it has no value?"
RWC- Rockefeller, up there in Westchester, has one of our custom cars. Near Sommers or Mahopac, or somewhere. We constantly get conflicting stories on it. I'm really not sure where the car is. I've been trying to' get in there to see it. The old Rockefeller, the original, had a son-in-low, Colonel Prentice. (E. Parmalee Prentice married Alta Rockefeller about 1901 Ed. note). This fellow "became Rockefeller's lawyer. You See, Prentice at one point had a lawsuit against Rockefeller and won. So Rockefeller said: 'Any lawyer that can beat all my lawyers has to work for me." So then he worked for Rockefeller and eventually married his daughter and became Rockefeller1s son-in-law. For him I built a Packard convertible car. Our name is right on the car. I've heard stories that he did not permit the name of the car such as Cadillac or Packard to be on any of the automobiles he owned. But I don't think it's true.
HAC-It was true in the case of a couple of his cars which I have seen in the Winthrop Rockefeller Museum in Arkansas. They had no names or logos of any sort visible.
DF -Why automobiles, Mr. Creteur? Way back when, why /did YOU decide to go into designing automobiles, rather than designing furniture or whatever?
RWC-Who knows? That's a hard thing to say. You got a job and you took it, and it turned out to be automobiles.
HAC-In other words, the Rollston Company was a going firm when you took a job with them? You went to work as a designer. When would that be?
HAC-That's the same year that Lindbergh tried to fly to Paris using a non-scheduled airliner. How long had you been with Locke before going with Rollston?
RWC- Two and a half years. Locke had been in business a long time before that.
HAC-I have a couple of early Locke bodies. I have one on a 1912 Renault. Locke was in New York City, wasn't it?
RWC- Yes. They were in New York at 56th Street and Avenue A (York Avenue), and later they opened a plant in Rochester. When they opened tile plant in Rochester, I was left alone in New York. That made me in charge without being promoted,
" JW-Tell these guys a little more about that "Rube Goldberg" car. How about that sketch that he drew for you? I think that that is one of the funniest stories that I have ever heard.
RWC-Well, the whole thing revolved around a design concept. As you know, Rube was quite an artist and quite a designer. One wheel could move the other wheel which would in turn set up a couple through a rack and pinion which in turn would drop a door latch and so forth. Totally improbable machinery.
HAC-You know that he was syndicated nationally in many newspapers. In fact, the term Rube Goldberg is part of our language and you will probably find it if you were to look it up in the Dictionary of .American Slang.
JW-Anyway, he worked from a very unusual frame of reference. Monkeys hanging from a coat hanger in this case, I understand.
RWC-No. What he did was co-design an old fashioned floor lamp with three candles hanging on it. From the bottom of each one of the candle mountings, he hung a monkey (upside-down hanging by the tail). And then he said to me; "I want a car designed like that. And I want it to be a sedan."
HAC-That must have posed you something of a problem didn't it?
RWC-Well, I designed the car and he liked it. The first time that he saw it, he liked it and said build it! This was somewhat unusual in our custom body business as most people would stare at the line drawings that we did and then request modifications. It was not unusual to have to do drawings over six or seven times. Once in a while we actually had to make full sized pen and ink drawings for people. We would hang them on the wall so that they could step back and look at them. Remember, if they declined to order the car, we did not receive any compensation for the art-work!
HAC-That is good that he took it after only one drawing.
RWC-I know, but we had more repair work than we had new work. A lot of people saved an old body and put it on a new chassis. It was common practice.
OAF-So what happens nowadays when one of these cars has to 'be judged say at a Classic Car Club meet and you've got the body built in one year and the chassis in another?
HAC-it drives the damn committee out of their minds.
RWC- Yes, well look at my Stutz. It's a 1929 chassis, but the body was built somewhere around 1942 because a guy showed me Plate #s where he used it with war materials in the trunk. So it had to be done in '42 or prior to '42 unless he modified it again. He made that whole body and it's beautiful workmanship and, of course, he did it without a wood frame. It was quite obvious that that Stutz had had another body on it prior to this one and he took it off.
JW-As I recall, Bob Turnquist said that you have to prove that the car was built before 1942.
RWC-Somebody could always question whether this car is authentic. It's going to be very difficult to prove. For example, I personally have taken Packards and increased the treads from 58'; to 60" or from 56" to 58". See we've changed the whole layout of the rear fishtail, extended the bumper, extended the chassis, and yet the car was built, in that year. So, it would be an authentic car of that year, but it's not a standard Packard. You see, with a custom car you can't disprove very easily because, after all, we were in the business of building custom cars, nor standard cars. But, we never transferred an engine to a different chassis. We didn't get involved or fool around with that. We have cut a chassis in half and added an-additional foot to its length. We once bought a Buick convcrtible chassis and when it arrived we discovered it wasn't a convertible chassis. It sagged in the middle. I made new chassis bracing for the damn thing.
HAC-Yes, that's right. Convertible chassis were always heavier.
RWC-But not the Buick convertible chassis. It simply wasn't heavy enough.
OAF-In other words, when the car was corning down the production line if they were going to put a convertible body on that particular one they'd have to insert a different chassis?
RWC- That's right. It had to be heavier and stronger. All the time this was done. Because, you see, all the door pillars are supported from the chassis. When you have a solid top, from the windshield right on down, you, don't need this extra chassis strength.
DAF-So, when these fellows say if you have a run down convertible, you should go out and buy a sedan and just simply transfer the convertible body on to it. This really shouldn't be done because it wouldn't have the strength necessary in the chassis.
HAC-Well, that's not necessarily true. You might be able to do that in the smaller Chevy’s or Dodges or something like that, but since we're discussing large custom cars, this is where you need the strength in the .heavy iron.
RWC-Someone, right now, in 1977, is taking Cadillacs and making them into convertibles. Now I don't know what he does with the, frame, unless, of course, this year's frames are strong enough.
RWC- Did you ever hear of Hildebrand, George Hildebrand?
HAC-Yes, I've had some correspondence with him. He, was working on a safety GM project for Republic.
RWC-Do you know where that car was 90 percent designed? We went out to lunch together, either in this place (the "Maine Maid Inn) or Milleridge, and that luncheon helped that car a whole lot. Well, do you know anything else about Hildebrand?
HAC- Yes, he's up in Heritage Village in Connecticut.
RWC-That I know. I'm invited up there to visit him. Do, you know any more than that about hint? When George went to Columbia University, he used to spend time in our shop and I showed him many things and then, later, he was my apprentice boy. And he worked for me until we closed up the place.
HAC-Is he a good man?
RWC-Well, he's a smart man. He's aggressive. He certainly got ahead. He now is a professor of automobile design. He works for some college, I think.
RWC-I remember the Classic Car Club - one speaker, Buck Hill, and, when mentioned a certain year had a car, he said, d:A... _ iL- After he made his speech, I got hold of him and said wait a minute. You're claiming you designed = a£. fro claiming I designed it." "Oh," he says, "well, maybe I made a mistake."
You see, in the days of designing cars, you really didn't know. Is it his or is it not yours? The design, that is. Let's say you design a car, you submit it to Packard. Packard is Mr. Parvis. He would take that design and say, "Gee, Rudy, if you could make the back of the roof just a little bit more round. Or, change die slant of the windshield. Give it a little more slant." Or, perhaps he'd say, "Give it a little less slant." So then you got the design back and you modified it. Then you would re-submit it. Then he'd come to you and say, "And here's a Brunn design. Oh, I like that cowl treatment." So you'd go back to the office and copy the Brunn design and make the cowl treatment better. You did this, of course, to suit him. Not because you thought it was better. He is the buyer. They're selling the car. So when you're finished you may have a car with a corner of Mr. Brunn's design. a corner of Hugo Pfau's design, but, generally speaking, it: is your design. Then there's always the question, is it Mr. Parvis' design? Whose design does it actually become? For example, I have a car in the Essex House Hotel in the cornerstone. It's a Packard Victoria. The famous Waterhouse Victoria. According to the newspapers of that year, it was designed by Grover Parvis. He couldn't design a car to save his neck. He was an office manager who knew who to sit down and talk to. We, being the designers and the builders, didn't dare say we designed it so we just had to keep our mouths shut.
OAF-Here's what I don't understand. You, Rudy, were actually working for Packard, Packard was ordering these cars? Is that correct? I had always envisioned a customer walking into your shop and saying, "I want such and so car."
RWC-Oh, yes, we had customers coming in and we built for customers. But Packard would order ten cars for this season. Two in Boston, two in Philadelphia, two in the New York show, etc. That's how usually these cars were sold. And very often we didn't see who bought them. Then we had the specials come in. They would not accept one of ten cars built. They wanted the car individually designed for them and they came to us direct. When I sold a Packard, I had trouble. Packard didn't want to give me a chassis because they said, "We'll sell the body for you." In order to protect their commission, of course. They wanted me to turn the order over to them and I said no.
Finally, I found (in Ridgewood, New Jersey) a dealer, named McGuire, who would give us a chassis at a reasonable discount. Tom McGuire would actually give us a lower price on the chassis than Packard would. This is the same McGuire whose son was the famous World War II flying ace. He was killed over Japan. They named the Air Force Base in New Jersey after him. On his last mission, he was supposed to be on, leave and one of his fellow aviators was sick. He said: "I'll take his place, I'll go one more before taking leave." On that mission he was shot down. Anyway, his father was the biggest, Packard dealer in New Jersey.
OAF-And what did the people at Packard suspect that he was doing with the chassis?
RWC-He was a dealer. They didn't care. They moved another chassis.
OAF-So when you would "obtain" a chassis, you would then start from scratch to build the rest of it? Would the chassis include fenders or just what?
RWC- Yes, front fenders and rear fenders unless it was an altogether special. In that case I wouldn't buy 'em. I would make the purchase without hood, without fenders, without running boards.
DAF-But in the ordinary case a chassis would contain the hood and front and rear fenders-bumpers, too?
RWC-Bumpers, all the time. Grille, too.
DAF-So the section of the car that most concerned your operation was just the body from the windshield?
RWC-From the firewall which we called the dash board and from the chassis frame up. Of course, if the job required changing the chassis we had to get permission from Packard. This was to protect the guarantee for the final customer. This was done by submitting drawings to Packard for approval. For example, I changed every spring on every Packard I ever worked on. Their springs were horrible.
HAC- They always rode like a used watermelon.
RWC-Well, they were the softest riding car on the road.