Monthly Archives: November 2015

Finding Your Way – Yesterday and Today

In a time with Google Maps and GPS navigation systems, you have it easy finding your way along America’s highways. During the automobile’s early days even road signs were scarce.

Carl G. Fisher w 1913 Packard Runabout
Carl G. Fisher w 1913 Packard Runabout

A story about Carl G. Fisher, one of founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, illustrates the lack of adequate facilities for traveling any distance in the early days of the automobile. Around 1912, Fisher and a few friends were driving in unfamiliar territory nine miles outside Indianapolis’ city limits. Night fell along with a torrent of rain. In an open-top car, Fisher and his friends were drenched in seconds and miserably lost. There were no street lights to guide them in the pitch-black night, nor road signs marking the way.

They did, however, feel comfortable that they had guessed the way back home until they came to a three-way fork in the road. No one could be sure which fork to take, but someone thought he saw a sign at the top of a pole. Fisher lost the competition as to who would have to climb the pole to read the sign. So he shinnied up the pole and lit a match so that he could read the sign. One match after another was extinguished by the rain. Finally, one lit so that Fisher could read the sign – “Chew Battle Ax Plug.”

The experience may have contributed to Fisher’s vision in making night travel and long-distance drives a reality. He was instrumental in developing head light systems and building modern highway systems.

In 1913, few people had knowledge of roads beyond a 15-mile radius from home, and road maps and signs were nearly nonexistent west of Chicago, Illinois.

Guidebook’s provided some help, but one had to rely on local landmarks in directions. Here’s an example from 1916 Scarborough’s Official Tour Book Central States Edition to travel from Monument Circle in Indianapolis to Lebanon, IN, a 23.6 mile trip.

0.0 Leave Indianapolis at the Circle. Go north on Meridian St. ½ block. Turn left on Ohio St. 0.1 mile. Angle right onto Indiana Ave. and straight out.
0.7 Over canal bridge and straight out Indiana Ave.
1.3 Cross iron bridge over Fall Creek and angle left immediately onto Crawfordsville Rd. and Speedway Blvd.
2.0 Slow. Cross railroad.
2.6 Slow. Turn left thru archway and over concrete bridge at White River.
2.8 Turn right.
3.0 Indianapolis Canoe Club on right.
4.2 Flackville. Straight ahead.
5.1 Slow. Cross railroad.
7.8 Snacks. Straight ahead.
10.3 Boot Jack. Straight ahead.
11.6 Traders’ Point. Cross iron bridge and straight ahead.
12.2 Brick school on right. Up hill.
14.6 Iron Bridge.
15.2 Slow. Up hill and straight thru. Royalton.
17.8 Brick school on right. Straight road thru.
23.2 Angling crossroad. Straight ahead.
25.9 Slow. Cross railroad. End on Indianapolis Ave.
26.1 Turn left on Main St.
26.3 Lebanon. Court House on right. Turn right onto Lebanon St. E. A. Brenton Garage.

Hotel English 1916 ad
Hotel English 1916 ad

These tour books offered a plethora of information on hotels, garages, and other miscellaneous auto items. Indianapolis listings included the Hotel English on the northwest quadrant of Monument Circle (the terminus of all official auto routes), Horace F. Wood Garage at 210-16 N. Meridian St., Modern Electric & Machine Co. auto repairs at 936 Ft. Wayne Ave., The Briskin Mfg. Co. radiator repair 539-41 N. Capitol Ave., North Side Garage at 30th & Central Ave., French Steam Dye Works cleaners at 49 Monument Circle, Carl L. Rost jewelers at 25 N. Illinois St., Denison Billard Club in the Denison Hotel Lobby, Lieber’s Gold Medal Beer brewed by Indianapolis Brewing Co., and Dan Smith’s Bar at 117 N. Illinois St.

If you were planning a long automotive trip of any kind, it was wise to consult one of these guidebooks. In addition to the information noted above, the books provided information about official information stations and popular travel destinations like Shades State Park and French Lick Springs.

If you are looking for a touch of nostalgia, be sure to locate one of these guidebooks like Scarborough’s to travel off the beaten path. We use them to retrace some of the early Indiana auto routes.

For more information on Indiana rides & drives follow this link.

Made in Indiana 1913

Over one hundred years ago, Indiana made a name for itself in the automotive industry. In spring 1913, Indiana ranked second among the states in the manufacturing of automobiles. More than 40 manufacturers of pleasure cars and commercial vehicles marketed their products with a total value exceeding $50,000,000. Plus, Indiana manufacturers won the first two Indianapolis 500 mile races in 1911 and 1912.

But the story of early success begins a few years prior. Indiana’s plentiful supply of lumber lured several industries into its borders, including the makers of carriages and wagons during the mid to late 1800’s. The automobile industry in this time frame was a natural offspring of carriage manufacturers, which could provide not just parts but skilled labor as well.

1894 Haynes Pioneer
Elwood Haynes in the 1894 Pioneer
Copyright Elwood Haynes Museum

Elwood Haynes demonstrated one of America’s first gasoline automobiles along the outskirts of Kokomo, Indiana, on July 4, 1894. Nearly 20 years later Indiana was one of the leading automotive manufacturing states.

Instrumental to Indiana’s auto growth were Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison, who met in Indianapolis during the bicycle craze of the early 1890’s. They went on to form the Prest-O-Lite Company to develop headlight systems. Their bicycling companion Arthur C. Newby was one of the founders of the Diamond Chain Company and the National Motor Vehicle Company. In 1909, these individuals along with Frank H. Wheeler founded the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to establish American automobile supremacy.

These are a sampling of the innovative Hoosier auto pioneers who contributed to the growth of Indiana’s auto industry.

The April 1913 American Motorist states “For though competition is as keen in Indiana as elsewhere, the attitude of the business man in the automobile industry in that State shows a spirit which is both refreshing and significant. The men of Indiana take a big and broad view that the market is large enough to take all of their products and pay good prices for them and that they can sell the output of their factories without crushing one another.”

American Motorist further noted “The fraternal spirit of the automobile men is crystallized in the Indiana Automobile Manufacturers Association. Like the Tribes of old, the men of Indiana annually marshal their forces and carry the banner of the Hoosier State through the villages and towns near their State.”

In 1912, during the IAMA’s Four-States Tour, 28 member vehicles participated in a 16-day trip through Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky. In this way, the participants reached the eyes and ears of about 5,000,000 people. These tours were non-competitive events operated under a gentleman’s agreement, which agreement was kept in letter and spirit.

Made In Indiana
Said the man form California
To his friend from Bangor, Maine:
“Have you heard the latest slogan?
Have you caught the sweet refrain?”
Said the man from Bangor,
Yes, Sir,”
And they warbled forth this glee:
“If it’s made in Indiana,
Oh, it’s good enough for me!”
–W.M. Herschell, in the American Motorist, April 1913

I believe that Indiana’s skilled laborers, entrepreneurial Hoosier individuals, and the IAMA fostered a spirit of cooperation and collaboration that allowed the member companies to grow and prosper in the competitive automotive market of the early 1900’s.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Cars are Still Made in Indiana Part two

At the end of the Great Recession in June 2009, cars are still made in Indiana with an upturn of auto manufacturing jobs.

“Over the 2000-2008 period, statewide auto worker employment in vehicle manufacturing was virtually constant at approximately 20,000,” reported IN Context, a publication from Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University’s Kelly School of Business. This number declined to about 15,000 auto workers at the end of the recession. The upturn in the auto manufacturing in 2012 produced reports of employment growth at Indiana’s plants.

2013 Camry SE
2013 Toyota Camry SE
Copyright © 2013 Toyota Motor Manufacturing

Changes on the automotive manufacturing landscape included Subaru-Isuzu Automotive in Lafayette changing its name to Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. in 2003. The company discontinued production of Isuzu vehicles in 2004, and began to build the Toyota Camry in 2007.

Plus, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana in Princeton discontinued production of the Tundra in 2008 and commenced producing Sienna in 2003 and Highlander in 2009.

Honda Plant Dedication
Honda Plant Dedication
Copyright © 2008 Honda Manufacturing of Indiana

Honda Manufacturing of Indiana in Greensburg started building the Civic in 2008 and will add the Civic Hybrid and Acura ILX sedan in 2013.

AM General in Mishawaka sold the marketing rights to the civilian Hummer brand to General Motors (rebranded by GM as the H1) in 1999. AM General continued production of the H1 until June 2006. AMG built a separate factory in Mishawaka in 2002 to build a new Hummer H2, designed by and marketed by General Motors. Production of the Hummer H2 ended in 2008. The company began assembling Vehicle Production Group’s MV-1 on September 21, 2011. The MV-1 is the first factory-built vehicle which meets or exceeds the vehicle guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2011, the military determined that the HMMWV had reached the end of its service life and the contracts ended in March 2012. In August 2012, AMG announced that it would produce 22 prototypes of its Blast Resistant Vehicle – Off road (BRV-O) for government testing for the U.S. military’s new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV).

2012 Chevrolet Silverado
2012 Chevrolet Silverado at Fort Wayne Assembly
Copyright © 2012 General Motors Corporation

The General Motors Fort Wayne Assembly Truck Plant has produced Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickup trucks in Indiana since late 1986. The Chevrolet Silverado HD won the 2011 Motor Trend Truck of the Year Award and the 2010 GMC Sierra LD was voted Best in the Full Size Pickup segment.

Although diminished, Indiana continues in its role of producing automobiles in America.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies follow this link.

Raymond Loewy Industrial Design Icon

Many recognize Raymond Loewy as one of the founding fathers of industrial design. Loewy and his company had a hand in designing everything from cars, streamlined railroad locomotives, refrigerators and Coca-Cola’s classic bottle.

Broadway Limited w 38 Stude Pres
Broadway Limited with 1938 Studebaker President
Courtesy Dennis E. Horvath archives

Loewy had always enjoyed drawing automobiles, and in 1932 he restyled the Hupmobile line. The 1938 model year marked the beginning of one of the most famous affiliations in Studebaker’s history. By then, Loewy, one of America’s most famous industrial designers, consulted with Studebaker and developed the all new line-up. These full-width bodies were offered in Commander and President versions. Studebaker’s innovation of windshield washers premiered in this model year. Thanks in part to the popularity of Loewy’s designs, Studebaker sales rose. Studebaker moved to tenth place in domestic auto sales with 92,200 units.

It is interesting to note that the streamline design for the 1938 Studebaker President was influenced by Lowey’s design of the 1937 Pennsylvania Railroad Broadway Limited Locomotive #3768.

Loewy with 53 Studebaker
Raymond Lowey with 1953 Studebaker
Copyright © 1953 Studebaker Corporation

The all new “Studebaker Century Models of 1953” were previewed to dealers in January of that year. The Loewy-influenced Starliner hardtop coupe is probably one of Studebaker’s most recognizable post-war offerings. The coupes are known for their sleek low profile that flows in an unbroken line from front to rear. They have improved weight distribution and a reduced center of gravity.

Visibility was improved by about 33 percent with wrap-around windows at the front and rear. The sedans were not quite as stylish and complicated as the engineering requirements for working on the same chassis. When the dust settled, a total of 186,484 cars were built.

1963 Avanti
Copyright © 1962 Studebaker Corporation

In retrospect, it appears that Studebaker saved its best for the last—the Avanti. In early 1961, Studebaker President Sherwood Egbert began concept drawings for a new car that would repair Studebaker’s tarnished image. With his desire to introduce a new car at the New York International Auto Show in April 1962, he enlisted Loewy’s firm to look at his drawings and return with a new model proposal. In the first part of April, Loewy’s one-eighth scale clay model and styling drawings were in South Bend. Egbert introduced the Avanti full-scale styling model to the board of directors on April 27, 1961. By the fall of 1961, orders were placed with outside suppliers for items that Studebaker could not produce internally.

The Avanti is best known for its under-the-bumper air intake and “Coke-bottle,” wedge shape design. The fiberglass body sat on a modified Lark Daytona convertible chassis. Avanti’s safety theme was prominent throughout with a recessed and padded instrument panel with red lights for night vision, built-in roll bar, and safety-cone door locks. The car was also one of the first American passenger cars to use caliper-type disc brakes.

In spring 1962, the Avanti was named the honorary pace car with a Studebaker Lark Daytona convertible selected as the official Indianapolis 500 pace car. I clearly remember Pole Day 1962. What a sensation! I was drawn to the Avanti’s aerodynamic Raymond Loewy styling, which I believe is timeless even today like his other industrial designs are.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Indianapolis-built cars at the 1910 New York Auto Show

It is interesting how two Indianapolis auto manufacturers marketed their wares at the 1910 New York Auto Show. Both exhibitors touted their recent successes at 1909 Inaugural events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Marmon ad 8-29-1909
1909 Nordyke & Marmon ad
Copyright © 1909 Nordyke & Marmon Co

Nordyke & Marmon featured their “Thirty-Two” models with the racer that Ray Harroun drove to victory in the 10-mile Free-for-All Handicap race on Thursday, August 19, 1909. Other show models included touring car, suburban, and roadster models.

These Marmons showcased their patented oil pressure lubrication system that was introduced in 1904. This use of full-pressure lubrication was the earliest application of a system that has long since become universal to internal combustion engine design.

These 1910 models also utilized a trans-axle unit rear end. This arrangement afforded easy inspection and servicing of the single unit. Oversized brakes with an adjusting feature showed careful forethought in design. The equipment on the Marmon was of exceptionally high quality.

National ad 8-21-1909
1909 National ad
Copyright © 1909 National Motor Vehicle Co

The display of the National Motor Vehicle Co. centered around National “40” models with one five-passenger touring car, one four-passenger toy tonneau, one two-passenger Speedway model, and a reproduction of the stock models they had been using in speed contests at the Atlanta Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Vanderbilt Cup race.

National’s exhibit centered on an unfinished National “40” chassis. This model with a list price at $2,500 was a worthy successor to the company’s previous car. This 40 horsepower model offered a great deal more power, a longer wheelbase, a roomier interior, larger wheels, and tires for less money. The company felt the National “40” covered all of the requirements of the average purchaser who was seeking to get more for his money each year.

National was proud of its racing heritage and emphasized its undefeated string of class hill climb wins and its share of speedway victories. The company pride showed with introduction of National “40” model for the 1910 season.

In the early days of the automobile, Indianapolis-built cars were proudly displayed across the country.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies follow this link.