Aug 31, 2013

Automobilists of the Upper Hudson Valley...

Even as a kid I had a passion for old cars.  I attended local automobile club meets and longed for the day that I'd get my first car.  My brother Bill and I worked at a gas station one block from Union College, so we got to work on lots of student cars (remember, Service Stations actually serviced cars in those days).  As a result, we got to work on lots of Model A Fords, which were cheap and plentiful in the early fifties, and owned by many students.  It wasn't long before Bill and I were the "go-to" guys if you needed your Model A rewired or repaired or overhauled.  In addition to our regular job at Louis Brzoza's College Garage, we had a pretty lucrative backyard business working on Model A's.

One weekend Bill and I attended a meet of the Automobilists of the Upper Hudson Valley, known more commonly to its members as simply "AUHV."  I joined the club that very day (probably in 1952) and remained a member for many years.  It was a remarkable and very energetic club.  It had been founded in Troy, New York, in 1950, by a gentleman named Keith Marvin and a group of his car-loving friends.  The stated aims of the club were ecumenical compared to many of the one-marque organization: "
The AUHV (Automobilists of the Upper Hudson Valley) is an organization of persons interested in the collection, restoration, preservation and operation of antique, classic, special interest and sports cars. The Club encourages an interest in automobiles, their construction, design, history and related subjects, and discourages actions or philosophies detrimental to these aims."

As a result of the club's open mindedness, the variety of cars that showed up on any given weekend was remarkable.  One might find a relatively recent MG-TC sports car parked next to Pauline Snook's gargantuan 1915 Crane Simplex.  There were always an abundance of Model T's and Model A's as well as a generous sprinkling of early brass-era cars and heavy classics.

The members whom I particularly remember are:
Arthur Lee Homan, who, along with Keith Marvin, published a book entitled "The Cars of 1923," so chosen because that year produced more different brands and manufacturers than any other.  This book is a scholarly text with drawings and detailed information about dozens of American automobiles manufactured during the 1923 model year.  There are over well over 150 manufacturers represented -- a great resource for anyone interested in the 1923 model year.  Mr. Homan was a frequent contributor to the club's magazine, "The Automobilist," and published a history of the Moller Automobile Company, manufacturers of the Dagmar car, in 1960.

Keith Marvin
Keith Marvin -- Keith was the editor of the Troy Record newspaper and a walking encyclopedia of automobile-related information.  He was an Army veteran of World War II and worked as a staff and faculty member of the Hoosac School in Hoosick New York from 1944 to 1948.  Upon his induction into the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (ALPCA) Hall of Fame, part of the citation read, "Keith was a fancier of early Rolls-Royce automobiles and wrote extensively on the pleasures associated with owning one.  Keith was a member of: The Society of Automotive Historians (SAH) and President in 1986 and 1987, Antique Automobile Club of AmericaClassic Car Club of America, Co-founder of The Automobilists of the Upper Hudson ValleyEuroplateThe H.H. Franklin ClubThe New Brunswick Antique Auto ClubThe Rolls-Royce Owners' ClubThe Sir Henry Royce Memorial Fund, Honorary member of The Stutz Club, the Horseless Carriage FoundationVeteran Motor Car Club of America, Board member of Larz Anderson museum in Boston, Voitures Anciennes du Quebec, VFW, Sons of the American Revolution, Mary Warren Institute and the Willys-Knight-Overland Registry.  

 wrote or co-wrote seven books and published more than 3000 articles on automotive history, including feature articles, news items, obituaries, and book reviews for more than 70 publications.  He was a guest columnist for the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (ALPCA) newsletters and Roger Haynes' Tags'n'Stuff.  He was the recipient of the Peter Helck Memorial Trophy in 2003, the Byron C. Hull award for automotive history in 1962 and the Carl Benz Award from the SAH in 1985 as well as several awards for research and writing from the AACA.  Keith believed in simple easy to read license plates and was not an advocate of the optional graphic types.  He was a champion of the obscure makes of American cars of the 1920s.  His writings comprise in many cases the only written record of a forgotten period."  

To say that Keith was a "joiner" is an understatement!

One of the Snooks' Crane-Simplex automobiles,
now in a Maine museum

Pauline B. Snook
-- Pauline and her husband Frank lived in Schodack Center, New York, where Frank had an automobile repair shop.  They were both avid fans of large, luxurious, pre-World War I autos.  Among their cars were several very rare Crane-Simplex vehicles that the Snooks had rounded up and saved from the scrap heap starting in the 1930s.  Pauline was quite a mechanic herself and fearlessly attended meets driving one of the enormous Simplexes.  We often formed caravans to drive to meet locations, and I recall more than once Pauline's huge vehicle bringing up the rear with a prominent sign on its stern, "Antique Car Caravan - Caution - Do Not Pass - We Pull Over Often."  When we arrived at our destination, a common sight was that of Pauline covering one of the huge running boards with a table cloth and carefully placing the contents of a large picnic basket as she sat down to enjoy her lunch.

Bruce Armer sets up the
"Mother-in-law Seat"
on a 1904 Pierce Stanhope,
1 cylinder, 8 H.P.
4-passenger Runabout

Bruce Armer
-- Bruce was an engineer who worked at the General Electric Company in Schenectady.  Over the years, I recall Bruce owning a number of different early cars and he was a fellow who offered his help to many different members of the club.  Remarkably, our paths crossed many years later in an event that I described in an earlier blog entry.

Hollon B. "Bob" Avery -- Bob Avery had two sons who were close to my age and he took me under his wing when I joined the club.  One of the cars I own today is a 1948 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet.  Bob had one identical to mine for a long time before it was destroyed in a fire.  He certainly influenced my decision to buy the car I have.  He also had a beautifully restored 1914 Model T Ford touring car that we often took to meets.  He would come by the house and pick me up and later drop me off.  When I was somewhat older, Bob went back to the home where he'd grown up in New Hampshire and retrieved the remnants of a 1932 Model B Ford convertible coupe that he had owned when he left for the navy during World War II.  Regardless of the car's decrepit condition, Bob proceeded to perform a miraculous restoration which turned the car into a national prize winner.  He left the upstate New York area and we lost touch, but many years later made contact again through the Lincoln-Zephyr Owners Club.  After we made contact again, Margo and I visited Bob and his wife Marjorie a couple of times in their retirement home in Glasgow, Kentucky.

A 1931 Packard Series 840 exactly
like Owen Fraking's
Owen Fraking -- Owen was a Packard lover.  He acquired a small stable of very elegant and beautifully crafted cars, every one a Packard.  And he drove them.  And he was a man who offered to help any club member who needed assistance with anything mechanical.  One of his cars (my favorite, as a matter of fact) was a long-wheelbase 1931 Packard Series 840 DeLuxe Eight Sport Phaeton.  That very car, having passed through a few other caretakers since Owen's death in 2000, was sold at auction in 2010 for $198,000.  Owen certainly had good taste at a time when a decent 1930's Packard could be had for a few thousand dollars.
A 1929 Mercedes SSK exactly like Earl's

Earl Pfannebecker
-- Earl lived in Latham, New York, only about 15 miles from my home.  His house, an old rambling farmhouse, looked as if it had seen better days.  But crouched next to it was a gorgeous, state-of-the-art, climate controlled, 10-car garage.  He owned a number of very exotic and valuable cars.  In the early 1950's, he imported the first 1929 Mercedes SSK to be brought to the USA.  This was 
the last car designed for Mercedes-Benz by Ferdinand Porsche before he left to found his own company.  It was a stunning car and a huge hit whenever he drove it to a meet.  His car was written up in the Salon section of Road and Track magazine and they described it thus: "This car is the owner of Mr. Earl Pfannebecker of Latham, New York."  I also recall Earl's Cord L-29 Cabriolet, another magnificent machine.  And a search for Earl's name on Google today reveals that he owned Serial No. 66 of the Ferrari Series 375 plus.  I don't know what Earl did for a living, but he must have been very good at it to have been able to afford such a fabulous stable of fine vehicles.

Peter Helck in his studio
Peter Helck -- Mr. Helck was an internationally recognized artist who was perhaps best known for his automotive art, although he produced prodigious amounts of illustrations, advertising art, and what we today would call "fine art."  He was a very close friend of Keith Marvin.  Peter Helck was the proud owner of the 1906 Locomobile speedster known as "Old 16" that, as a youngster, he had seen win the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup race on Long Island.  As he described in his memoir, "Another factor in shaping future art objectives was the 1906 Vanderbilt Race. Here I saw my new-found friend Poole crouched beside driver Tracy in booming flight down the oil-soaked North Hempstead Turnpike. Who could have guessed that the 13-year old witnessing his first auto race would many years later own this very car, the Bridgeport-built Locomobile widely known now as 'Old 16'."  

On one occasion, I had driven with my brother to an AUHV meet in Altamont, New York.  It was raining cats and dogs and 
Old 16
attendance was low.  Suddenly, everyone's attention turned to the thundering behemoth plowing through the muddy fairground.  It was Keith Marvin wearing a rain-drenched slicker, replete with bevel-paneled aviator goggles and a leather helmet, driving Peter Helck's car, Old 16.  He stopped directly in front of me and motioned me into the other bucket seat, the navigator/mechanic's seat.  I climbed in and off we roared for a few laps around the old fairgrounds dirt track.  And times being what they were, I doubt if a single soul there gave the slightest thought to liability or any of the other reasons that today would probably make that joyous scene very unlikely.

The club was an energetic, friendly, and competent organization.  They knew how to party, but they were also sincerely dedicated to the restoration and preservation of historical vehicles.  I ran across an old newspaper article about one of the club's meets.  Note below the variety of cars represented - from Fords to Ferrari -- and distance people drove to participate.  It exemplifies the broad areas of interest that existed in the club and the lack of parochialism that unfortunately pervades many more recent car clubs.  Very few members even owned a trailer.  It was unheard of to trailer a car to a meet.

The Amsterdam Evening Recorder, on October 13, 1959, described a meet held by the AUHV the previous Saturday in Broadalbin, New York.  "Attending the meet Sunday with their antique or sports  model cars were Virgil Clow, Greenville, 1931  Ford; George Scokol, Scotia, 1929 Ford; George Bornt, Amsterdam, 1935 Terraplane; Anthony Sifo,  Schenectady, 1937 Cadillac; G. Shenandoah, Syracuse, 1938 Jaguar; James Zimmer, Syracuse, 1959  Chevrolet Corvette; Bob Sharp, Schenectady, 1953 Jaguar; Owen Fraking, Schenectady, 1932  Packard; Bernard Schaeffer, East Greenbush, 1926 Dodge Brothers;  Harold Elmendorf, Gloversville,  1923 Ford; M. W. Jewett, Schenectady, 1931 Ford; H. Bradford Albany, 1928 Pontiac; Ernest Bundy,  Cobleskill, 1926 Rolls Royce; Bruce Armer, Selkirk, 1932 Hupmobile; Vernon Magee, Oak Hill, 1917 Dodge; John Gerken, Scotia, 1922 Studebaker.

Walker LaRowe, Northville, 1922 Hudson Phaeton; Fred Soule, Hudson, 1949 Willys Jeepster; Pauline Gypsum, Albany, 1930 Buick; Harvey Gallagher, Amsterdam, 1920 Model T; Gus Elliot, 1923 Model T; Edward Sutton, Duanesburg, 1927 Model T; Charles Rothermel, Kinderhook, 1926 Ford; Sam Napoli, Troy, 1924 Dodge Brothers, Roger Chase, Syracuse, 1924 Model T; Clayton Thomas, Bovine Center, 1941 Packard; Kenneth Watkins, 1916 Buick; H. Cole, Ballston, 1930 Chevrolet; Robert Elmendorf, Johnstown, 1929 Ford A; William Tanner, Johnstown, 1930 Ford A; Douglas Maidment, Gloversville, 1930 Model A; Pauline Snook, Castleton, 1915 Crane-Simplex; Earl Pfannebecker, 1931 Rolls Royce.

George Herold, Schenectady, 1929 Graham Paige; Morris Safford, Guilderland Center, 1923 Model T ; David Ormiston, Gloversville, 1915 Model T; James Cook, Gloversville, 1931 Franklin; R. J. Dunham, West Glenville, 1922 Jewett; Robert Mehl, Ballston, 1941 Packard; John Englis, Broadalbin, 1959 Volkswagen; H. Lee, 1951 Ferrari-Vignale; Ronald Kosinski, Broadalbin, 1929 Ford Club Sedan."

No comments: