Monthly Archives: May 2016

My First Indy 500

This past week at my Toastmasters club, each member reminisced about his or her first Indy 500. I thought I would share my memories of the race along with some documentation from the Indianapolis Star.

As some of you might know, I attended Indianapolis 500 practice and qualifications with my dad and uncles starting in the early 1950’s. I really enjoyed watching the activities from many vantage points around the track. One of my favorites is in the grandstand outside of turn one. I especially liked watching the drivers work their roadsters through the curve. Every driver had his particular groove around the track.

My dad enjoyed listening to the race on the radio instead of being there in person, so I was left to my own devices to go to the race. Finally, on Thursday, May 30, 1963, my chance arrived. One of my neighborhood buddies, dad was an Indianapolis Motor Speedway patrolman and saved us a place along the fence inside of turn one. There I was with 275,000 other people watching all of the pre-race festivities from our prime spot on the fence.

Dennis E. Horvath at Indy 500
Copyright ©1964 Indianapolis Star

We were unaware that Indianapolis Star photographer Tommy Wadelton was documenting the action from the other side of the fence. There we were in the middle of his photograph published in the Indianapolis Star on May 24, 1964. That skinny kid in sunglasses with a flat-top in the second row is me. Just to my right behind me was Jay Skoda and to my right in the front row was Larry Stroudman. I wasn’t wearing a hat to cover my head on that sunny day and that caused me to get a bad sun burn on my scalp. So that’s why you most always see me with a hat of some kind.

Oh well, back to the race. My favorite driver, Parnelli Jones, started the race in pole position. Jim Hurtubise started in the middle of the first row. Hurtubise led the first lap of the race, but Parnelli recaptured the lead on the second lap. About mid-way through the race, signs of oil started to show on the external oil tank of Parnelli’s car. Every lap we wondered if he would be black flagged for dropping oil. Finally, the concern about dropping oil went away. Yahoo! Parnell won the race with Jimmy Clark finishing second in a rear-engine Lotus Powered by Ford racer.

Memories of my first Indy 500 are fresh in my mind today, some 49 years later. That 1963 race was the first of many at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was probably one of the things that sparked my interest in automotives. See you at the track.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

The Speedway as an automotive proving ground

How many are aware that one of the motives behind building the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was as an automotive proving ground?

Carl Fisher
Carl G. Fisher
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

In late 1908, Carl G. Fisher, after being a competitor and spectator at numerous auto races across the nation since 1905, had the inspiration to build an automotive proving ground “to establish American automobile supremacy.”

The idea formed while Fisher and his real estate associate Lem Trotter were returning to Indianapolis on a trip from Dayton, Ohio. Their car overheated twice and just inside the Indiana state line the vehicle blew the third tire of the day. The projected one-day journey had turned into a fiasco. Fisher kept grumbling to Trotter about how unreliable American cars were and that the nation really needed a huge test track. Trotter challenged Fisher to stop griping and start acting. “You’ve been talking about a racetrack ever since you got back from Europe,” Trotter bluntly said. “If you think it would make money, why don’t you build it yourself.” Trotter later claimed “I just kept nagging Fisher and his three partners.”

Trotter’s words ignited Fisher. From then on during the business trip, Fisher talked of little else. He grilled Trotter to think of a spot where he might build. Trotter had the “perfect” spot in mind. It was a 320-acre plot known as the old Presley farm located about five-miles northwest of downtown Indianapolis. By the time they got home, Fisher had commissioned Trotter to inquire about purchasing the site. Trotter sounded out the owners, who confided that they might be persuaded to part with it for $80,000.

Fisher consulted James A. Allison, his racing associate and Prest-O-Lite partner. Allison was excited by the notion as was Fisher, and readily agreed to the plan. These two speculators approached three other mutual friends: longtime racing chum and president of Diamond Chain Company, Arthur C. Newby; carburetor manufacturer Frank H. Wheeler; and Indianapolis banker Stoughton Fletcher.

All but Fletcher joined in. Fisher soon figured this section of land would not be large enough for the track they envisioned. They soon purchased adjacent land and controlled 539 acres. On February 8, 1909, they filed incorporation papers under the name of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company, capitalized at $250,000. Fisher and Allison each subscribed at $75,000; Newby and Wheeler $50,000 each.

The first auto races were in August 1909 on the macadam track, with the first Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day 1911 on the track paved track with 3.2 million 10-pound paving bricks. Automotive innovation began with Ray Harroun inventing the first rear-view mirror for his winning Marmon Wasp.

1911 Marmon Wasp
Ray Harroun with the 1911 Marmon Wasp
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Early on company founder, Howard C. Marmon recognized that weight was the enemy in car design. His early automobiles featured cast aluminum bodies, which weighed substantially less than other makes.

His engineer and driver, Ray Harroun had designed the number 32 Marmon Wasp with the rear-view mirror to replace the need for a riding mechanic to warn him of cars approaching from the rear. Eliminating the mechanic provided an aerodynamic and weight-saving advantage to his Marmon racer. He won the 500 in six hours and 42 minutes at an average speed of 74.6 miles an hour.

This was the first notable innovation made at the Speedway as an automotive proving ground. It all began with Carl G. Fisher’s foresight and continues today.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

Motoring for Pleasure

An article in the June 8, 1911, Motor Age Magazine shares some century old ideas about motoring for pleasure.

The article states: “When you go after pleasure on a motor tour you can make it a genuine Holiday. The best definition of a holiday is getting your mind off your work; being able to go from morning to night without even thinking that such a place as an office exists; and being able to go from Monday morning until the following Sunday night without once being disturbed with a remembrance of a business transaction, or having a solitary shadow of work flit across your memory. On a pleasure tour of this kind you never hurry.”

The article goes on to talk about taking time to stop along the roadside and spend an hour or so reading the inscriptions and taking snapshots of the many monuments and markers. In some areas you can pause and inquire about the history and industry of a locale.

Winooski River
A typical 1911 road scene along the Winooski River
on the run from Montpelier to Burlington

I believe these are good ideas for today. With all of today’s hustle and bustle we don’t truly enjoy the journey.

One hundred years ago auto tourists faced a different set of challenges on their journey. As you can see in the photographs, outside of urban areas most roads were unimproved in any fashion. Headlights of the day offered poor illumination, and few road signs marked the way. The autos themselves offered rough riding and little protection from the elements. Roadside gas stations and accommodations were only found in major towns and cities.

Care, maintenance, and outfitting the auto were another concern. Before starting on a trip the autoist conducted a thorough inspection of running gear, battery, trunk rack, tires, tire pump, jack, tool box, anti-skid chains, lamps, and adjusted the brakes. Tours of a week or more required six spare inner tubes, two tires, and five-gallons of lube oil.

Ausable River
1911 Along the Ausable River in Wilmington Notch
between Upper Jay and Lake Placid

Packing for the tour was another routine. If more than three adults were on tour it, was best to pack everything in a trunk. It was best to put rain coats, sweaters, or overcoats on the robe rail on the back of the front seat. Spare tools, a coil of wire, and other small items could be stored under the front seat cushion. The fore door pockets were a great location for the Blue Book route directions, spare goggles, and matches.

Whew, with today’s modern autos we don’t have to worry about many of these items because of the longevity therein. We can just check the oil, coolant level, clean the windows, get gas, and set our GPS to begin motoring for pleasure.

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

What Everybody Ought to Know about Auto Advertising in the 1910’s

Auto advertising promoting a certain lifestyle came on the scene in the mid 1910’s. A lifestyle illustration portrays the message while the ad copy plays a lessor role.

1912 Inter-State ad
1912 Inter-State ad
Copyright © 2012 Dennis E. Horvath

In the early 1910’s, we see a transition to retouched photographs for illustration. Inter-State Automobile Company’s July 1912 Cosmopolitan Magazine ad shouted, “The Automobile for Women. Inter-State starts and obeys the will of the woman driver as readily, as simply as an electric coupe.” The copy regarding the self-contained tire pump proclaims, “Any woman can attach the valve to the tire, turn on the pump and in a few minutes have tires just as solid and as perfectly filled as if done by the greatest tire expert in the world.” The retouched photographs portray women using these new features.

1916 Pathfinder ad
1916 Pathfinder ad
Copyright © 2012 Dennis E. Horvath

An elegant line illustration promoted the ambiance of women going to the country club in a Pathfinder ad from 1916. The copy read, “A great deal more than money is involved in the purchase of a Pathfinder. Love of luxury and beauty, cultivated taste and keen appreciation of what is best in motor car construction are important factors in the equation.” Car description and pricing are downplayed with eight point type.

1918 Haynes ad
1918 Haynes ad
Copyright © 2012 Dennis E. Horvath

An August 1918 Haynes ad proclaimed, “Haynes Stability.” The copy talked about Haynes’ Silver Anniversary of motor car building. The illustration portrayed seven fashionably dressed women in a touring car at the beach.

1919 Apperson ad
1919 Apperson ad
Copyright © 2012 Dennis E. Horvath

The Apperson 8 is announced as, “The Eight with Eighty Less Parts” in 1919. “For the owner who considers his car something more than a mere conveyance, who demands that in color, line and appointments it reflects a patrician taste – the Apperson 8,” read the copy. The illustration showed a chauffeur waiting as the lady of the house is assisted with her coat before going out for the evening.

These early auto advertisements demonstrate the evolution of advertising in the early part of the twentieth century. They move on from a product emphasis to promoting a lifestyle.

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

Indiana’s Historic National Road Part 2

This installment continues our journey along Indiana’s Historic National Road in central Wayne County. We start at the historic stone mile marker on the north side of the road showing four and one-half miles to the courthouse in Richmond and one mile to Centerville. This mile marker serves as a GPS marker from the early days of travel along the National Road.

Next up is Centerville, known as the hub of Indiana’s Antique Alley. Centerville has a number of row houses, enchanting inns, and interesting antique and specialty shops. The Lantz House Inn at 212-214 W. Main Street, c. 1830, is a bed and breakfast with one of the five existing early 19th century brick archways.

Lantz House Inn
Lantz House Inn
Copyright ©2012 Dennis E. Horvath

In 1870, when Richmond’s population and business surpassed Centerville’s, a dispute arose to move the county seat east to the new courthouse. Centerville residents twice rebuffed efforts to move the records. Their first try was with locked gates and guards, and the second by firing on their own courthouse with a three-pound cannon loaded with iron scraps. Later, soldiers were brought in to move the records to Richmond. Holes from the cannon shot are still visible over the door of the old courthouse that is now the Center Township Library.

At the west end of Centerville are two places (one on each side of the road) with old cars for sale. 1960s and later cars are for sale on the north side of the road, and 1940s & 1950s era cars on the south side of the road. Stop by and see what is available.

Another stone marker on the north side of the road, about three miles west of Centerville, shows 13 miles to the state line, six miles to Cambridge City, and three miles to Centerville.

Huddleston Farm House
Huddleston Farm House
Copyright ©2012 Dennis E. Horvath

Travel a little further past Cambridge City to Mt. Auburn to see The Huddleston Farm House Inn Museum, which showcases early commerce along the road. Travelers in the mid-19th century stopped at the farmstead for meals, provisions, and shelter and feed and rest for their horses. New exhibits allow visitors to hear from a covered wagon traveler about the conditions on the road, the food they ate, and where they found lodging. Visitors can experience the road surfaces over time, from a bumpy mud track dotted with tree stumps to brick, concrete, and the current asphalt. Tours are available April-December, Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and by appointment. June-October on Saturdays, visit the on-site Farmers Market.

To travel an original road section, follow the Historic National Road marker in Dunreth. Just past the intersection of S.R. 3 where it goes north, turn left (south) onto Old National Road. You’ll notice that it’s not as straight as U.S. 40. The original road conforms to the natural terrain by curving and winding around features. Turn left (west) back onto U.S. 40, east of Knightstown.

In Knightstown turn right (north) onto Washington Street for one block to see the original town center. Knightstown was the first Indiana town platted on the road after it was surveyed through the state.

U.S. 40 continues into Greenfield. Here, the Hancock County Courthouse is the focus of a traditional town square. The birthplace and home of James Whitcomb Riley, known as the “Hoosier Poet,” is located at 250 W. Main Street. An adjacent museum to the house displays items from the 1850s to 1870s, the period when the Riley family lived there. In western Hancock County, the roadside landscape makes the transition from rural to urban environment as you head into Indianapolis.

This installment ends on Indianapolis’ east side. Check back next time for a tour of the Hoosier Capitol and more experiences along Indiana’s Historic National Road.

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