Mar 26, 2011

Memories of Glenn Pray...

Glenn Pray at a recent gathering of the cars he built and loved (Image courtesy David Turner)
I lived in Norman, Oklahoma, from 1965 through 1972.  I was into old cars.  When I got my navy orders to go to Oklahoma to be a NROTC instructor, my 1932 Plymouth was my everyday car.  So I did what any young, single, slightly crazy old car nut would do -- I drove my 33-year-old 4-cylinder Plymouth from New London, Connecticut to Norman, Oklahoma.  I drove it another year as well before I retired it for a future restoration.

One of the legendary characters I got to know in Oklahoma through my interest in old cars was a gentleman named Glenn Pray, a resident of Broken Arrow, near Tulsa  I learned today that he had passed away last Wednesday.   The world has lost one of its most colorful characters.  I'm humbled to have known him.

Glenn Pray built cars.  That may not seem so unusual until you realize that he built modern versions of vintage cars in a former pickle factory.  These cars sold for lots of money, and there was a long waiting period to get one -- they were quite exclusive.  At the time I first met Mr. Pray, he was producing extremely high quality replicas of the 1936 Auburn boattail speedsters.  They were magnificent.

The first generation Glenn Pray built Cord Model 8/10,
powered by a front-mounted Corvair engine
Previously, he had built a modestly downsized version of the Model 810 Cord convertible.  It was 8/10 size so he called it the Model 8/10.  

How he got into the car business reads like a fairy tale.  As he related it to me, he was a school teacher with a wife and a couple of kids and he restored Cord automobiles and bought and sold them to supplement his teacher's salary.  He often bought parts from Mr. Dallas Winslow, who had acquired the remnants of the Cord-Auburn-Duesenberg Company when it went into receivership in 1938.  In the Spring of 1960, Glenn heard a rumor that someone was planning to buy the company from Mr. Winslow and he immediately became concerned.  What might happen to his source of vintage parts?!  He had hoped that maybe someday he himself might buy the inventory, but on his teacher's salary, he had never come up with the kind of money it would take.

He told me that he borrowed a few dollars from the teachers' petty cash fund and convinced a fellow teacher to go with him to Indiana to see about buying a car company.  This friend had a 1956 Mark II Continental that had been badly wrecked on one side, but the other side looked pretty good.  Glenn made an appointment to meet Mr. Winslow at a certain location, and he made sure to park the car with the "good side" toward the building.  Mr. Winslow showed Glenn the remnants of the A-C-D Company -- hundreds of bins full of vintage parts.  Glenn said that the universal joints needed to restore the front wheel drive of the Cords had become quite expensive and here he saw hundreds of them in a bin!  After the tour, they discussed the price for a buyout (remember, Glenn doesn't have a pot to pee in) and agree on a price of $75,000!
The Cord production line in around 1963

Glenn and his friend dashed back to Tulsa to cover a check he wrote for a down payment.  He convinced his teachers' credit union to give him a short-term loan.  He had told Mr. Winslow that he needed a couple months to liquidate some assets to come up with the balance.  Glenn told the bank that the owner had committed to financing half the deal.  That somehow convinced the banker that this was an acceptable risk, so the bank loaned him nearly $40,000.  He then went back to Dallas Winslow and asked him to to finance the balance.  As Glenn related it to me, "Mr. Winslow figured if the bank would loan me that kind of money, I must be a pretty good risk!"  Mr. Glenn Pray, school teacher and car enthusiast became the proud owner of the remaining assets of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Company.  This included tons of parts as well as documents and trademarks and copyrights.  Over the next several months, Glenn moved everything to Broken Arrow.  During this time, I recall that he also took on a financial partner, a Chevrolet dealer from Illinois named Wayne McKinley.

Within a few years of acquiring the company, Mr. Pray designed (with the help of Mr. Gordon Buehrig, the designer of the original Cord model 810) a smaller version of the 1936 Cord Model 810.  It was about 8/10 scale, so Glenn named it the Cord 8/10.  Over the next couple of years (1964-1966), the company built close to 100 of the cars, powered by Corvair air cooled flat 6 engines and front wheel drive.  That business got acquired by another firm that produced a version of these cars for a few more years.

One of Glenn Pray's beautiful Auburn Model 866 boattail speedsters

Glenn Pray then decided to build reproductions of the beautiful 1936 Model 852 Auburn boattail speedsters, using Ford running gear in a custom-built chassis based on Ford components.  It was during this period that I first drove from Norman, Oklahoma to Broken Arrow and met Mr. Pray.  Coincidentally, when I first met him, I was driving a 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II, the same kind of car he had gone to Indiana in to buy his car company.  That initiated our conversation about his acquisition of the company.  He also took me into an area of his factory where he stored parts and proudly showed off a brand new set of 5 Mark II hubcaps that he owned but would not sell.  These wheel covers were impossible to find in any condition and he had 5 brand new ones!  I visited Glen several times over the next 3 or 4 years until I moved to the Mississippi gulf coast.  He was always a terrific host.

A couple of years after I had moved to Mississippi, I ran into Glenn at the Kruse Brothers antique car auction in New Orleans.  He was prospering, had a beautiful lady on his arm, and informed me that in addition to building Auburns, he had started collecting motorcycles and was going to start a motorcycle museum near the plant in Broken Arrow.  Later that year, I saw him again in Hershey, Pennsylvania at the annual Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) National Fall Meet.  He was making quite a splash, introducing a new, 4-door phaeton version of tha Auburn speedster.  I would guess that it was around 1975 or 1976.
Few cars could compete with the sleek lines of the boattail speedster built by Auburn in 1935-36 and reproduced by Mr. Pray in the 1960s and -70s

At that same Hershey meet, I acquired an early airplane propeller in trade for an antique motorcycle.  I did the deal sight unseen and had the propeller shipped to my home in Mississippi.  I expected a nice wooden propeller that I could put a clock into and give to my brother as a Christmas gift.  To my amazement, the propeller that arrived was over 12 feet long and weighed well over 100 pounds!  It was a Wickwire Automatic airplane propeller from the mid 1920's.  It was beautiful, gleaming in laminated wood and sparkling brass, but way too large for any wall hanging.  I wasn't quite sure what to do with it.  I attempted to determine its origins by contacting the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the Air Force of the Confederacy, and the Experimental Aircraft Association.  Each of them informed me that "Wickwire never built a propeller that large."  I knew that they had because I was looking at it!

The following year, I ran into Glenn Pray at the New Orleans auction again (with a different beautiful lady on his arm).  I asked about the progress on his motorcyle museum.  He informed me that he had decided not to pursue that because "everybody's into motorcycles."  Instead, Glenn informed me that he had started collecting vintage airplanes and was thinking of starting an aircraft museum.  I immediately told him about my propeller.
The Mark II hubcap
I traded the propeller in an even trade for the five Mark II hubcaps, and I even talked Glenn into paying the shipping on both items!  I was thrilled and I think he was happy.  He told me in a later conversation that he had tracked down the history of the strange propeller.  It was a spare propeller made for an experimental army bomber that crashed in testing at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.  He had acquired the wreckage and was attempting a restoration.  That sounded so typical of the Glenn Pray I knew.   A lot of people will miss him.

Mar 20, 2011

Our Hope for the Future...

The President meets with the finalists of the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search in the East Room
The other evening, while watching the news, I learned of the winners of the Intel Science Talent Search.  They were a very impressive group of young scientists and engineers about to embark on what we all hope will be rewarding and fulfilling careers.  And I think there's a second hope that we and our nation will benefit from their talent and hard work.

The Intel Science Talent Search is a cooperative effort between the Intel Corporation and the Society for Science and the Public (SSP).  According to the SSP Website, "
The Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS) is the nation’s most prestigious science research competition for high school seniors. Since 1942, first in partnership with Westinghouse and beginning in 1998 with Intel, SSP has provided a national stage for the country's best and brightest young scientists to present original research to nationally recognized professional scientists.”  In 1957-58, I not only had the opportunity to participate in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search; I became a semifinalist.  How that happened is interesting.
The Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab (1951)

I have always had an interest in science.  In the early 1950's, I begged for the A.C. Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab as a Christmas present, and I received it, probably in 1951.  I described that event in this blog in 2007.  That single gift had a profound impact on my life.  It introduced me to a world of subatomic physics in much more accessible, tangible way than I had ever experienced through reading about it.

The centerpiece of the Atomic Energy Lab was its Wilson Cloud Chamber.  This is a device that enables its user to see the tracks of subatomic particles as they are being emitted from a radioactive source.  These tiny particles leave a path of electrical charge as they move through a medium such as air.  The Wilson Cloud Chamber causes condensation to take place on the charged atoms left along the path of the subatomic particle.  The first time I saw that wisp of vapor, a tiny filament of "smoke", I was hooked.  I wanted to be an atomic scientist.  Suddenly, I could see a phenomenon that supported the theories.

A few years later I attended Mont Pleasant High School in my home town of Schenectady, New York.  This was one of three so-called "technical" high schools in the state.  It had a curriculum available that concentrated on science and math to a greater degree than other schools and it had the faculty to support the program.  I was fortunate to cross paths with an earth science teacher named Donald B. Stone, a co-author of the leading earth science text at the time.

Mr. Stone was thoroughly acquainted with the Westinghouse Science Talent Search and introduced me to it.  He fervently encouraged me to enter the competition and said he would assist me in any way he could.  I agreed to enter and informed Mr. Stone that I wanted to develop a state-of-the-art Wilson Cloud Chamber.  I had in mind a chamber with every variable I could think of, one in which I could vary the volume of the chamber, the gas used in it, the type and timing of the lighting, the pressures involved, etc.  Mr. Stone agreed that this would be an appropriate and challenging subject for research.

At that time, our school system had established a cooperative program with the General Electric Research Lab (located in Schenectady) to assist and encourage promising students in science and math.  GE would provide mentors from their "faculty" of scientists and engineers to guide high school students who wanted to conduct independent research.  Through Mr. Stone's endorsement, I found myself being helped by a General Electric scientist, Dr. Donald H. Miller, in the pursuit of an award from Westinghouse Corporation, one of GE's major competitors!

An image created in a bubble chamber

Dr. Miller was a leading researcher in the field of bubble chambers which were devices that succeeded the cloud chambers and were then the latest in research instruments for studying subatomic particles.  He had successfully built a number of liquid hydrogen bubble chambers used for research into the origins of subatomic particles such as the recently discovered Pi- and Mu Mesons.  He encouraged me to abandon the idea of the super sophisticated Wilson Cloud Chamber.  In lieu of that project, he suggested that I try to build a liquid freon bubble chamber, something that had not been successfully done.  I took his advice and began the design of such a device.  Under Dr. Miller's guidance I learned a great deal about freon, the phases of organic compound gases, pressure-temperature-state diagrams, and other ideas I had never previously encountered.

A few months later, the deadline for research submittals approached.  Although I had not yet completed the bubble chamber to the point where it could be tested, I documented my research and design, as well as the extent of completion of the project.  This is what I submitted to the competition.  I did not expect to do well because the whole process had taken months longer than I ever expected and I had no evidence that my design would work.

I waited for a couple of anxious months.  No one was more surprised than I when I was notified that I had been selected as a semi-finalist.  Out of 40,000 entries, my project was one of 200 semi-final competitors.  I was not down selected into the final pool of 100.  Those people got to go to Washington DC, all expenses paid, and got to meet President Eisenhower in person!

There was an unexpected result of all this.  I began to receive unsolicited scholarship offers from colleges and universities all over the country and Canada.  These were schools I hadn't even applied to!  I never followed up because I had already decided where I wanted to go to school.

I am still grateful to all those who made this experience possible -- my grandmother for the gift of the Atomic Energy Lab, Mr. Stone for his insight and encouragement, Dr. Miller for guiding me toward the most current technology at the time, and all the teachers who had guided and encouraged me up to that point in my education.  I count myself as very blessed by encounters completely out of my control.  What a great adventure!  

Mar 16, 2011

Food that Looks Back at You...

The THAIPilin as seen from outside
Tonight I ate at a Thai restaurant.  I am on a business trip in the Washington, DC area.  I thought it might be fun to try an ethnic restaurant and ran across this little place, THAIPilin, close to my motel.  I started with a wonderful cucumber salad with a spicy-sweet sauce -- outstanding!
The fabulous cucumber salad!
Thinking it would be filets, I ordered the tilapia entrĂ©e.  It was delicious, but not the filets I expected!
Here's lookin' at you!!!
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Mar 6, 2011

Wonderful Design...

I absolutely love this design!

This steampunk Personal Computer is called Telecalculograph Mk II and is built by steampunk artist Jake Hildebrand. The  Telecalculograph Mk II is actually a cutting edge PC and is being given away to promote the new steampunk Damnation game. The damnation
 steampunk PC can be yours for free, all you have to do is create some sort of media like video, artwork etc. to show your love for steampunk designs.

Mar 5, 2011

Pursuit of Persistent Rumors, Part 2...

The Nadji participates in an ocean race in 1930
Photo courtesy of the Mystic Seaport's Rosenfeld Photographic Collection
I spent most of the 1970's on the Mississippi Gulf coast, while working at the Litton shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  I joined the local car clubs and was active in the Lincoln Zephyr Owners Club as well.  From the time I arrived on the gulf coast, whenever the car conversation turned to my 1948 Lincoln Continental, I heard rumors of a Lincoln V-12 engine powering a sailboat "somewhere on the coast."  I followed up one day by going along the waterfront in Pascagoula asking the shrimp boat crews if they knew of such a boat.  I actually found one crewman who directed me to some bayou on the Pascagoula River in the Moss Point/Escatawpa area.  I pursued this lead to no avail.  I found a pier but no boat.

Not long after this adventure, I saw an ad in the local paper - "1941 Lincoln V-12 Marine Conversion Engine, extra V-12 parts, extra V-12 engine.  Make offer."  I figured it had to be the same engine I had been pursuing.  I called the number listed in the ad and was given directions to the same bayou I had already visited!

A Seawanhaka Schooner's hull receives its coats of paint
in the boatyard of the Bath Iron Works in the 1920's

Tied up at the pier was a very large vessel.  It turned out to be the
Nadji, a 60-foot staysail schooner of the Cox & Stevens designed Seawanhaka class.  There had been 16 of these boats built in the mid-1920's at the Bath Iron Works in Maine (although they were wooden vessels).  Remarkably, I was told by the owner, 12 were still afloat some 50 years later!

The Nadji had been provided with a Kermath Sea-Zephyr propulsion system in 1941.  This was a marine conversion of the Lincoln-Zephyr V-12 automobile engine.  The conversions were done by the Kermath Marine Engine company of Detroit.  The owner was in the process of converting this vessel from the Kermath powerplant to a more modest (and vastly more efficient) Volvo diesel system.  I made a modest offer and had to assist the owner in removing some remaining parts of the original installation, but I got the engines and parts.  I apparently was the only respondent to his ad.

Today, the only surviving Seawanhaka class vessel,
renamed the Seawanhaka, is circumnavigating the globe
The engine was coupled to an enormous "Upton Reverse and Reduction Gear, Model VUD" hydraulic transmission.  The whole rig weighed over 1,200 pounds!  The owner advised me that the engine had burned fuel at a rate of 1-1/2 gallons per mile when propelling this 60,000 lb. vessel.  He also said it performed flawlessly to the end.
An early Kermath advertiseent
As I understood his story, he had crewed on this ship as a youngster while it belonged to someone at the Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans.  It went to the bottom alongside the pier during hurricane Betsy in 1965.  The New Orleans owner had then contacted the man I met and told him that the boat was his for the taking if he chose to salvage it.  The latter owner had refloated the boat and moved it to the Pascagoula area where he had been restoring it for many years.

I later heard that the Nadji had left for South America to be used as a Christian missionary vessel.  I had intended to convert the engine back to an automotive use, but decided it was too rare an item to use in that way.  I sold the engine and transmission to a marine engine collector in Canada.  I still have some of the many V-12 parts that came as part of the deal!

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Mar 4, 2011

Circus Time...

Mary Ann and I went to the circus this week along with about fifty other church friends.  We had a stupendous time.  The circus' Facebook page says it all...

"Ladies and Gentlemen... children of all ages... the greatest show on Earth just got greater with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Presents Barnum's FUNundrum!  Featuring 130 performers from six continents, almost 100,000 pounds of performing pachyderms, cowboys, pirates, and mermaids, Barnum's FUNundrum! is a super-sized spectacle so massive you just can't miss it!

The monumental, once-in-a-lifetime event celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of the legendary P.T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman on Earth! and can only be experienced at The Greatest Show on Earth, Barnum's living legacy!

Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iversion invites the audience to leap aboard the Ringling Bros. Express and go on a family FUNtastic adventure to meet exotic characters and witness thrilling performances that attempt to answer Barnum's FUNundrum! "What special wonders create The Greatest Show on Earth?"

Step right up and see the Flying Caceres attempt to complete the elusive quadruple somersault on the flying trapeze; a feat that hasn't been mastered in over three decades. Watch the Puyang Troupe from China dazzle with a stunning display of dexterity as they bounce, flip, and twirl to new heights on a two tiered trampoline. Be amazed as you witness the impossible contortions of the body benders who fit three humans in a cube the size of a milk crate. Enjoy the wondrous ability of the Mighty Meetal, the strongest man in the world as he lifts over 1,200 pounds. And savor the stupendous skills of the hand balancers featuring Duo Fusion, a married pair of performers with a twist; the wife does the heavy lifting.

The thrills continue as you cast your eyes above at the Sky High Ice Gliders who take the high wire to new extremes and in new directions, from horizontal to nearly vertical, combining intricate acrobatic skills and extreme agility as they execute flips, perform splits, and even walk while balancing their partners on their head. Rev up the energy as the Torres Family blasts around inside a 16-foot diameter steel globe with seven motorcycles at speeds up to 65-miles an hour with only inches to spare between them in The Spherical Miracle.

In addition to treasured Asian elephants, the most of any circus in North America, Barnum's FUNundrum! features a dazzling array of exotic animals you cannot see together anywhere else including horses, ponies, llamas, Pygmy and Nubian goats, tigers and even a rare Watusi.

So get your ticket today and hop on board the Ringling Bros. Express at Barnum's FUNundrum! for an un-miss-able, colossal, historic extravaganza."

This was the first Ringling Brother show I've seen in probably 40 years.  Highly recommended!