While the famous statues on Cleveland’s Lorain-Carnegie Bridge have served as guardians of transportation since 1932, the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum has served as a guardian of transportation history since 1943. That’s when Crawford namesake Frederick C. Crawford opened the Thompson Products Auto Album at Chester and E. 30th in Cleveland.
Fred started collecting cars in 1937, when–as president of automotive parts maker Thompson Products (the precursor to TRW)–he had the company purchase a 1910 Duryea that had been on display at the Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland.
From that initial purchase, the collection grew quickly. When Thompson Products’ traveling salesmen would come across interesting old cars in fields, garages and barns, they would wire Fred, who would authorize the purchase and shipping of the vehicle back to Cleveland. It could easily be argued that Fred was one of the original buyers of “barn finds,” which are now a big deal in the car collecting world.
As cars were acquired, the collection began to take up more storage space at the Thompson Products factory on Clarkwood Road in Cleveland. That growth, coupled with the start of WW II and the need for Thompson Products to expand production of aircraft and automotive parts, led to a new, dedicated museum in a former Cadillac showroom at the corner of E. 30th and Chester. The museum, known as the Thompson Products Auto Album, opened for business on August 13, 1943, making it one of the first car museums in the country.
Fred donated the Thompson Products Auto Album to the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1963, and the collection moved into a newly constructed (and its current) home in 1965. The collection now features nearly 200 vehicles, including cars, trucks, motorcycles and airplanes.
Most recently, the Museum participated in the seventh annual Fuel Cleveland motorcycle show, held at the former Cleveland Twist Drill factory at East 47th and Lakeside. We brought our 1918 Cleveland single-cylinder bike, along with our ultra-rare 1956 Vincent Black Prince, and the positive response was immediate.
Around five thousand visitors packed the one-day show, and the variety of choppers, customs, bobbers, and vintage bikes was remarkable. Machines like the Vincent are so rarely seen that quite a stir was created, particularly among the motorcycle media. Our friends at Lowbrow Customs sponsored and organized the show, and with some good fortune, we may be invited back again next year! We would like to thank Bob Vail, Tim Dunn, and Bill Glavac for their kind assistance transporting our bikes to the show.
Late September saw the Crawford participating in the Molto Bella car show, held at Stan Hywet Hall on the 12th, where we displayed our newly-acquired 1956 Citroen Traction Avant Familiale to great interest from the crowd. Also, on the 25th, our Macedonia Preservation and Storage Facility hosted its second ‘Coffee and Cars’ of the year, but with dire weather forecast for the day, attendance was sparse. The rains held off however, and a highlight of the event was the firing up of two aircraft engines owned by Macedonia volunteer Frank Sesek (see Frank’s profile in News from the Crawford, Issue One). His 1943 Jacobs R755 radial was originally used to power training aircraft for future B17 bomber pilots, and the jet turbine is a Garrett Auxiliary Power Unit, which was used to start the Navy’s F18 Hornet fighters. Frank hit the afterburner on the jet and one could feel the heat blast thirty feet away! Really impressive! Keep an eye out for our next Coffee and Cars coming next Spring!
On September 11-12, BMW Motorrad (BMW Motorcycles Corporate) held a two-day rider experience at the Crawford in coordination with Pamela Dengler of Sill’s Motor Sales, Cleveland. Pam was featured in News from the Crawford Issue Two earlier this year. The BMW factory team arrived with a huge, purpose-built semi tractor-trailer housing eighteen of their new R-18, massive-engined touring motorcycles, designed to compete directly with Harley Davidson within this market niche.
Over eighty local riders signed up for the experience, with around ten rolling tours occurring each day. Snacks, beverages, and music were provided by Sill’s, and the BMW folks were pleased with the turnout, and considered the event a great success. Because of the support of local businesses like Sill’s the Crawford is able to extend a warm welcome to previously unengaged members of the motoring community. A big ‘Thank you!’ to Pam and her team!
August 28 saw the Crawford ‘Invaded’ by a group of local bikers celebrating a ‘Mods vs Rockers’ tribute to classic British motorcycling, where owners of scooters faced off against traditional large-displacement motorcycles with a display of their machines and a tour of the Century exhibit.
Of course, it was all good-natured rivalry, but their gathering served as a reminder of the very real confrontations created when ‘Mod’ scooter riders faced off against traditional ‘Rocker’ bikers in 1960’s England. The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr famously replied, when asked whether he was a ‘Mod’ or a ‘Rocker’, ‘Neither. I’m a Mocker’. Cleveland’s Skidmark Garage serves as headquarters for the ‘Mods vs Rockers’ group, and the Crawford looks forward to hosting this bunch of local rowdies again in the near future.
Occasionally, great classic cars are like comets; they burn brightly across the night sky, remain for a short time, then continue on their unseen and mysterious journey. Such is the case with our featured car, a 1929 Auburn 8-120 Speedster, originally owned by professional boxer Johnny Risko of Sheffield Lake, Ohio.
Risko, now largely forgotten, was a sports superstar in the 1920’s and ‘30’s, going toe-to-toe and sometimes beating boxing legends like Gene Tunney, Max Baer, and Max Schmelling. He became known as the ‘Rubber Man’ because of his ability to take a punch and keep coming forward. In approximately 140 fights, he was stopped only three times, and counted out only once, when he was 38 years old.
Because of his success, Risko could afford the finer things in life, one being the purchase of a new 1929 Auburn Speedster. When most cars of the period were capable of speeds in the 40 mph range, the Auburn could push nearly 100 mph. Risko, although a great boxer was an average driver, who promptly wrecked the car. Undaunted, he purchased another 1929 Speedster, drove more carefully, and kept the car until his death in 1953. From that point on, the Speedster became the proverbial comet, hidden from view in a Lodi, Ohio barn from 1956 until Auburn enthusiast Alan J. Atkinson of Houston, Texas recently discovered it while purchasing another Auburn from the the owner.
The Speedster was then sent to Doug Pray of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Co. in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma for a complete restoration. 3000 man-hours later, the Auburn was ready for the show circuit. On September 4th the Speedster gained top honors at the prestigious Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival, and on October 9th, took a top award at the AACA Hershey Fall Meet. Immediately afterward, Mr. Atkinson transported the car to a gathering of Johnny Risko’s remaining relatives in Sheffield Lake, where the Speedster became the instant center of attention. Family members were encouraged to sit in the car for photographs, and October 10th was named ‘Johnny Risko Day’ by Sheffield Lake’s mayor.
The 8-120 Speedster is a true work of art in the automobile world. The steeply raked windscreen and unmistakable ‘boat-tail’ bodywork distinguish it clearly from its contemporaries. The silver-over-blue paint scheme fits the car perfectly, and the subtle bordeaux-rust paintwork on the wheels provides a subtle counterpoint. In a word, the car is stunning. A dove gray leather interior complements the styling beautifully. In later developments of the Auburn Speedster, the ‘boat-tail’ is present, but the fenders are faired more completely into the surrounding bodywork. The early versions, like the Risko car, are certainly more distinctive, and arguably more dramatic.
So, is this 1929 Auburn Speedster a true ‘Million Dollar Baby’? Perhaps not quite yet, but it certainly is within spitting distance of that seven figure number. It was, for a brief moment in October, a blazing comet that burned its way into our collective memory as an incredible automobile, and a living testament to the life and career of a local sports legend.
*Special thanks to Crawford volunteer Stan Kohn for making us aware of the Auburn’s appearance in Northeast Ohio.
In 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt. When his financial patron Lord Carnarvon, who was looking over Carter’s shoulder asked if he could see anything inside, Carter replied, ‘Yes, wonderful things.’
The Crawford’s Macedonia Restoration and Storage Facility may have little in common with the Valley of the Kings, but it too contains ‘wonderful things’ in a myriad of rooms which are not open to the public.
One room reveals shelf upon shelf of carefully stored vintage headlights; from oil-fueled to acetylene, to electric-powered. Nearby are corresponding glass lenses for the headlamps glimmering like jewels. Another room contains a trove of silver trophies, from aviation’s Golden Age to classic automobile races to awards garnered by some of the Crawford’s most noteworthy cars.
It was in a rather dark corner of a small storage area that the subject of this article was discovered, surrounded by equally rare and beautiful objects. It is an original casting of ‘La Cigogne’ (The Stork) created by French Sculptor Francois Bazin in 1920. Not only is it a beautifully executed bronze work of art, but significantly, it is the prototype for the ornaments which graced the radiator caps of all Hispano Suiza motorcars from 1920 onwards. It is an iconic image familiar to most vintage automobile enthusiasts and has been reproduced in all sizes and materials throughout the past century.
Bazin’s inspiration for the sculpture was the image that adorned the flanks of the aircraft of French flying ace Georges Guynemer during World War I. Bazin served in the fighter squadron led by Guynemer, and the artist wished to create a tribute to his commander who was lost in action. Coincidentally, the black prancing horse seen on all Ferrari automobiles was given to the automaker by the mother of the Italian fighter ace Francesco Baracca who carried the symbol on his aircraft, and was also killed in the last year of the war.
The stylized image of a flying stork was not exclusive to Hispano Suiza however. The wildly exquisite French Bucciali cars, produced from 1922 until 1933 had the bird emblazoned on each side of the engine cowlings, creating a unique and unforgettable impression of speed and elegance. They are among the rarest and most desirable of the great classics from the Golden Age of motoring.
Bazin went on to become a very successful artist, creating many significant works in bronze and porcelain throughout his long career. In addition to ‘La Cigogne’, he was responsible for several additional sculptures that eventually became coveted hood ornaments for exotic automobiles. To own one of Bazin’s hood ornaments is a collector’s dream, but to have one of the original sculptures on which they are based is extraordinary.
‘La Cigogne’ is cast in dark, low-luster bronze and is affixed to an elliptical, veined marble base. Dimensionally, it is 13 inches tall, 16 inches long, and around 6 inches wide. Its weight is approximately 20 pounds. The artist’s signature appears cast into the ‘cloud’ base supporting the stork. It clearly is part of a small edition of sculptures, but the exact number is unknown.
In the near future, the Crawford hopes to have the exquisite ‘La Cigogne’ on display for everyone to enjoy. It may not have the same cachet as King Tut’s belongings, but it truly is one of the rarest of birds.
As the temperatures lower, and the fluffy white stuff makes more frequent appearances, most of us face the sad reality that our vintage, sports, and classic cars must go into storage for the all-too-long winter. Before the garage is shuttered for the final time, here are some recommendations to follow so that come Spring, your car’s recommissioning will be headache-free.
Change your oil. Fresh oil will limit the amount of water the lubricant absorbs while static. Most folks don’t realize oil is hydroscopic, and with absorption of water it can partially lose its viscosity.
Over-inflate your tires. This is to reduce the possibility of incurring flat spots due to the tire remaining static while supporting the weight of the vehicle. The best method to avoid flat spots is to store the vehicle on jack stands to eliminate concentrated pressure on the tires.
Fill your gas tank. Having a full tank helps to prevent moisture from building up in the tank and corroding the fuel lines. A good fuel preservative is highly recommended as well.
Protect the undercarriage. A large piece of plastic dropcloth placed beneath your vehicle can prevent excess moisture evaporating from damp concrete and settling on your chassis. This is an easy, inexpensive way to prolong the metal bits underneath the shiny bits.
Install rodent deterrents. Mice and (heaven forbid) rats are incredibly injurious to automobiles in storage. They love to eat wiring, insulation, leather, and just about anything else they can sink their teeth into. They also love to create nests in the engine bay, heating system, and exhaust areas. First, block off your tailpipe(s) to prevent mice from using them to get into the exhaust system. Also, if possible, block off the intake to airboxes as well. If your car is running rough, you just may find the air filter chewed to pieces and a season’s worth of acorns stored there too. Electronic pest chasers are very effective in reducing the number of unwanted garage guests, and for those who do get through your first line of defense, mouse and rat traps are a must.
This is just a short list of suggestions to keep your stored car in top condition, and to avoid frustration when the weather warms once again.
The name ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ conjures up images of the Old West, where blue-clad cavalrymen galloped from their stockade forts to confront restive Native American tribes. With the clarity of hindsight, the romanticized notions of chivalry and valor associated with the cavalry have become a bit tarnished as awareness has increased regarding the mistreatment of indigenous peoples.
The real Buffalo Soldiers, however, were a largely forgotten group of six African American cavalry and infantry regiments, created by Congress in 1866. Ironically, they were a minority group facing discrimination who were tasked with suppressing another discriminated-against American minority rebelling against life on Indian reservations. They fought their way from West Texas to Kansas, on to Montana, eventually being billeted in San Francisco, where they became acting federal park rangers in the Sierra Nevada. Their exploits are chronicled in the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston, Texas.
Fast forward to around 1993 in Chicago, where African American police officer Ken Thomas founds the ‘Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club’ to promote a positive image of Black motorcyclists which would counter the prevailing perceptions of motorcycle clubs as ‘gangs’. Members were recruited from active-duty and retired military, law enforcement, and professional groups. The aim was to create not only an active brotherhood of riders, but an organization whose interaction with the community was based on charity, goodwill, and education.
The Buffalo Soldiers quickly grew to become one of the largest African American motorcycle clubs in the United States, with over 5000 members in around 140 chapters. Unusually, women were encouraged to become members in their own right as well.
Gone are the days when Buffalo Soldiers mounted up for adventure in frontier America. Now they straddle their ‘iron horses’ with a different and more positive approach to their mission; to give back to the local community, and to keep alive the memory of those African American troopers who faithfully served their country for nearly a century.
Stay tuned for more information on the Buffalo Soldiers when the Crawford’s exhibit ‘Open Road: The Lure of Motorcycling in Ohio’ begins in Mid-April, 2022.
The last quarter of 2021 has been (and continues to be) packed with activities and events here at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum.
Our Year of the Motorcycle program launched on August 19 with the opening of the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum exhibit, A Century of the American Motorcycle. This outstanding display of around thirty-five select machines from the Barber collection embody the very finest in American motorcycle technology and design from 1905 to the present. The exhibit has been a great success, generating much media coverage, and of all surveyed guests visiting the Cleveland History Center, around seventy percent cited the Century exhibit as their primary interest. When the Barber exhibit closes in Mid-March, 2022, it will be followed immediately by a complementary show of like size entitled Open Road: The Lure of Motorcycling in Ohio, featuring British, European, and Asian motorcycles, each with an important connection to this region. As Ohio ranks third overall in the nation with motorcycle registrations (behind California and Florida) the Crawford team feels a strong obligation to support and acknowledge the contribution made to local transportation history by motorcycling.
(1942 White M2 Half Track. Crawford Auto-Aviation Collection.)
Since 1867, volunteers have contributed to the operations of the Western Reserve Historical Society. By sharing their stories, knowledge and skills, WRHS can continue to fulfill its mission of inspiring people to discover the American experience by exploring the tangible history of Northeast Ohio.
The CAAM volunteers have undertaken the extensive restoration and refurbishment of a White Half Track, an American armored personnel carrier widely used by the Allies during World War II and in the Cold War. The M2 Half Track and its variants were produced by many manufacturers including Cleveland’s very own White Motor Company.
The organization has had the vehicle in its collection since 1999. Upon inspection it was noticed that the vehicle had a magnitude of issues including engine, driveline and incorrect body parts. What started out as a minor rebuild increased in scope as more incorrect parts and damaged driveline items were discovered.
WRHS, along with the help of volunteers, has completely rebuilt the entire rear track assembly and brakes on the vehicle. The front floor and all the front sheet metal was removed due to corrosion and improperly fabricated components from its past life. WRHS will continue to fabricate, rebuild, restore or purchase what is necessary to return it to fully functioning status. The process is a tedious one as not many parts are available almost 75 years after production. There is a dedicated team of approximately 6 volunteers who work solely on this project bringing it back to its former glory.
(Photograph of Ruth Franklin Sommerlad and Frederick C. Crawford.)
Ruth Franklin Sommerlad (1912-2003), known professionally as Ruth Franklin, was one of the first female curators of an auto-aviation museum. She was born in Byesville, Ohio in 1912, and graduated from Heidelberg College with a Master of Arts degree in 1932. In 1942, she joined the personnel department of Cleveland’s Thompson Products Company. Three years later, she became the Curator of the Thompson Products Auto Album. Ruth Franklin would assist Thompson Products president Fred Crawford in expanding and defining the collection through its transition to the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1963 and was named director of the Frederick C. Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum when it opened in 1965.
Ruth Franklin was renowned through America because of her antique car expertise. She participated in nation-wide Glidden Tours of antique cars since 1946, and was the first woman on the board of trustees of the National Antique Automobile Club of America. She was also a member of the Women’s Advertising Club of Cleveland, and the American Association of Museums. By the time Ruth retired from WRHS in 1971 she had seen the collection grow to over 100 automobiles, a number of aircraft, and a variety of other vehicles and artifacts.
What better way to usher in the coming year than with the purchase of a brand new car? Hypothetically, let’s say you are shopping for a new Ford for example. Now, to have some fun, let’s say you were shopping for a new Ford exactly 100 years ago. What would be on offer, and what would the experience for today’s consumer be like? Let’s listen in on the conversation… ‘C’= Customer, and ‘D’=Dealer.
‘D’: ‘Good morning little lady, what can we do for you?’
‘C’: (With a slight frown), ‘I’m interested in buying a new car, and I see you’ve got plenty on hand.’
‘D’: ‘Sure do Miss, fresh off the assembly line in Detroit. We’ve got whatever you need; a Sedan, a Coupe, a Roadster Pickup, a Runabout, and a top-of-the-line Touring, all courtesy of Mr. Henry Ford.’
‘C’: ‘Are these the famous Model T’s I’ve heard so much about?’
‘D’: ‘Sure are Miss; reliable as the sunrise, comfortable and affordable too! Why, just since 1908, we’ve sold five million of ‘em. All those customers can’t be wrong!’
‘C’: ‘That little convertible looks very nice over there.’
‘D’: ‘Yep, that’d be the Runabout, a two-seater that has plenty of pep, and even has electric headlights! I hope you’re a pretty good driver, as this little beauty can hit 45 miles per hour, and keep at it all day long!’
‘C’: ‘I think I can manage. The black paint is certainly very shiny, but does it come in any other colors?’
‘C’: ‘How about the other models in the line-up?’
‘D’: ‘Nope! Word is that Mr. Ford got a good deal on a volume purchase of black paint!’
At this point in history, most car buyers appreciated value and affordability, regardless of available body colors. In 1921, nearly 57% of the automobiles sold worldwide were Ford Model T’s! Ford was a genius at integrated assembly as well. Outside parts suppliers were required to use a certain type of wood for the part’s shipping crates. The wood was recycled into building the wooden framework for the car’s bodies, and the leftovers were turned into charcoal briquettes, marketed under the trade name ‘Kingsford’.
‘C’: ‘The interior looks pretty Spartan. I don’t see any air conditioning’.
‘D’: (Blank look)
‘C’: Well, does it have a heater at least?’
‘C’: ‘What do you do in the winter time?’
‘D’: ‘Dress for the weather!’
To reduce overall price, the Model T was pared down to the bare essentials. The options and equipment we consider standard today were just a pipe dream back then. Climate control, heated, cooled, and massaging seats, GPS navigation, radio/stereo, turn signals, electric windshield wipers, tire pressure sensors, remote locking and starting, automatic transmission, leather upholstery; all were unavailable.
‘C’: ‘Well, I guess I’m still interested in the Runabout. What sort of money are we talking about?’
‘D’: ‘Including the electric starter option, which I highly recommend for a young lady like yourself, we are looking at right around $400.00 out the door. Since West Virginia is still the only state in the union with sales tax, you won’t have to worry about that.’
‘C’: ‘$400.00 a month seems pretty pricy for that bare bones car’.
‘D’: ‘A month?! Lady, that’s the price for the whole car! I hope you can pay in cash, as we don’t finance here.’
Henry Ford was dead set against buying a car on credit, which he referred to as ‘morally reprehensible’. Instead, Ford dealers could act almost like a savings bank, accepting regular deposits from customers until they could pay for the vehicle entirely. General Motors, forming their own financial branch for consumer loans, began to chip away at Ford’s near-monopoly of the car market, until Ford was forced to follow suit.
‘D’: ‘Well Miss, it’s been a pleasure! I think you’ll really enjoy your new Ford, and look pretty snazzy behind the wheel! Remember, she’ll run on gasoline, kerosene, or methanol, so you’ll never get stuck on empty!’
The Model T was one of the first true ‘Flex Fuel’ vehicles in America, a real advantage since many were put to use in rural environments, where gas stations were few and far between.
Let’s return to our own time, back to the spacious, modern Ford dealership, where our purchase is being concluded.
‘D’: ‘Thank you and congratulations Ms. Smith for the purchase of your new Ford SUV. I’m sure you’ll love it!’
‘C’: ‘Of course. By the way, I’m interested in one of those factory roof racks. How much extra would that be?’
‘D’: ‘Right around $400.00, plus tax.’
Today, we are living in something of a new ‘Golden Age’ of automobile production, from 300 mph hyper-cars to a mind-boggling array of sport utility vehicles, available to consumers across the financial spectrum. In the early 1920’s, Cleveland’s car buyers were also afforded a wealth of choices from domestic and foreign automakers. Around fifty American automobile companies (down from 253 in 1908) provided everything from utility to pure luxury vehicles. Detroit had surpassed Cleveland as the epicenter of automobile manufacturing, but names like Jordan, Cleveland, Peerless, Chandler, and Winton kept the flame alive in the Western Reserve.
*Ford dealership photos courtesy of Ford Model A Club of America
*Henry Ford and Model T photo courtesy of Myautoworld.com
(Photograph of Alonzo Wright’s first SOHIO station, 1935.)
Born in Fayetteville, Tennessee, Alonzo Wright (30 Apr. 1898-17 Aug. 1976) began his career as a shoe shiner and messenger. From those humble beginnings he went on to become Cleveland’s first African American millionaire. He moved to Cleveland in the 1910s with a reported six cents in his pocket. Alonzo went to night school to earn his high school diploma while also holding down various jobs as a teamster, foundry hand, mail truck driver, and most notably, a garage attendant at the Auditorium Hotel. He met SOHIO executive, Wallace T. Holliday during his eight years working as an attendant. Holliday offered Wright a desk job at Standard Oil, but Wright requested to operate a service station instead. With Holliday’s help, Wright became the first African American to lease a SOHIO station.
Wright’s first station was located at E. 93rd and Cedar in a predominantly African American Cleveland neighborhood. He improved his business by offering extra services, such as windshield cleanings and tire and radiator checks. By 1937 he operated six SOHIO stations. By the time he ceased operations in the early 1940s, he ran 11 gas stations.
From Service Station to Serving His Community
Wright was very passionate about using his success to help the African American community. He created opportunities and hired more black youths by 1940 than any other business man in America. He was also an essential founder of the Cleveland Development Fund which endeavored to eliminate African American slums.
Unfortunately, Wright was met with racial adversity despite of his business success and standing. When he moved into an all-white section of Cleveland Heights in the 1930s, his home was bombed. He later moved to a 200-acre farm in Chesterland, Ohio in 1947.
Wright left the service station business as gas rationing for World War II slowed sales. He turned to the real estate market instead, opening his own real estate investment firm, Wright’s Enterprises, in 1943. Among his most impressive purchases were Carnegie Hotel and the Ritzwood Hotel. He also established Dunbar Nursing Home. By the 1960s his focus was mainly centered on industrial and residential construction. Wright passed away at his home in Bratenahl at the age of 78 and was buried in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.
The legacy of John D. Rockefeller’s first endeavor into oil refining (1862) as the Rockefeller & Andrews Oil Company in 1862 progressed to Standard Oil in 1870, Standard Oil of Ohio in 1890 and to SOHIO in 1911. Alonzo Wright was able to prosper as a young SOHIO entrepreneur in the 1930s into the 1940s. Later in 1978, SOHIO would merge into British Petroleum., and became known as BP in 1991. Today, the Standard Oil legacy lives on in the familiar green BP sunburst logo and slogan: Beyond Petroleum (2001).
By John C. Lutsch, CAAM Program & Marketing Manager
Macedonia. The name conjures images of the ancient birthplace of Alexander the Great, or perhaps of the recently formed breakaway republic of the former Yugoslavia. But there is a Macedonia of local repute as well, not ancient, but loaded with significance.
In 1999, the Western Reserve Historical Society purchased a nearly 60,000 square foot warehouse in the southeast Cleveland suburb of Macedonia, Ohio. Its purpose was to house museum artifacts, documents, and perhaps most importantly, classic automobiles and aircrafts in the Crawford Auto-Aviation Collection. Additionally, space was allocated for the maintenance, preservation, and restoration of those vehicles.
Today, the facility’s three-tiered storage racks hold around fifty-plus cars, trucks, motorcycles and aircraft, all awaiting attention, or an opportunity to be displayed in the Crawford. Although the building is unmarked (and rather unremarkable), the activities within are crucial to the operation of the Crawford, and the care of its world-class collection. .
The Crawford’s mission statement establishes the need, first and foremost, to preserve the vehicles for posterity and to avoid a complete restoration whenever possible. The Crawford team has to rely on extensive automotive backgrounds to determine whether a car can be conserved in its present condition, or if it requires a total rebuild to be presentable. It is a delicate balance of judgment, as well as the availability of adequate funding. Many of the automobiles in the collection are nearing the century mark in age, and parts are no longer available. Fabricating them from scratch is both difficult and expensive.
Larry Davis, Crawford Collection Manager, brings a wide skill set to Macedonia, as his machining and construction background can keep the fabrication of parts in-house, reducing costs and margins for error. His is no position for a mere mechanic. Welding, brazing, fiberglass work, sheet metal fabrication, and machine tool work are all daily requirements at The Preservation Facility, as well as guiding the volunteer force as they apply the aforementioned techniques. Engine rebuilding, frame restoration, and safety system upgrades are on tap as well.
Occasionally, the doors of the Preservation Facility are opened to the public, and crowds of over three hundred guests have jumped at the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of activities there. Having a large parking lot allows crowds of enthusiasts to bring their favorite rides to the open days as well.
Although the Preservation Facility usually keeps a low profile, it’s highly skilled team of Davis and his volunteers (many of whom are former engineers and craftsmen) continue to ensure that the Crawford’s vehicles are afforded the best of care, protecting and preserving them for future generations to enjoy.
Open house days at Macedonia have been curtailed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but as state and national restrictions ease, keep an eye out for your opportunity to visit this remarkable facility, right in our back yard! Meanwhile, one can enjoy the results of this work with a visit to the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum at the Cleveland History Center.
In 1902, Studebaker entered the automobile business by adding a line of electric cars to their wagon production. Just one year later the Studebaker-Garford was the combined effort of the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana and the Garford Manufacturing Company of Elyria, Ohio. Between 1906 and 1913, Studebaker acted only as the selling agent for cars made to their order and produced by other manufacturers. The Garford Manufacturing Company of Elyria, Ohio, made the more expensive models that were sold as Studebaker-Garfords. These models were favored by ladies and were intended for town use, shopping, visiting, and so forth.
This luxurious Model H landaulet (an automobile with a half-folding rear roof) was custom-made for Mrs. Bertha Palmer of Chicago, the widow of Potter Palmer, owner of the Palmer House Hotel. Their house was called “Palmer Castle,” and Mrs. Palmer was the grand dame of Chicago society. The car’s exterior is in her favorite shades of purple, Heliotrope (lighter) and Amaranth (darker) with red striping. The mauve velvet interior is accented with tapestry trim, beveled glass, and rich cherry wood.
In the year 2000, the Crawford Museum was contacted by the Signature Models firm to make toy scale models of some of the collection’s most popular cars. One of those chosen was the 1920 White truck. (WRHS accession 2003.23.4).
Cleveland-based, White Motors got its start thanks to sewing machines. Thomas White, founder of the White Sewing Machine Company, relocated to Cleveland to be closer to the Midwest markets. His sons, Walter, Windsor, and Rollin became fascinated by innovations with the automobile instead. Rollin White, educated and trained as an engineer, designed an early steam-powered automobile, and the White brothers were able to convince their father to build it. Its success spurred Thomas to allow the brothers to take over a corner of the White factory, and begin production. White cars were known for their quality engineering and became the most popular steam-powered vehicles in America. The White brothers also introduced a line of trucks, at first steam-powered and later gasoline-powered. By 1915, the automobile department at the White Sewing Machine Company was spun off into its own company, the White Motor Company.
White trucks soon gained a reputation for toughness and durability, and very quickly White trucks were adopted by the U.S. Army, as well as a variety of commercial businesses. During WWI, the White 2-ton truck was selected as the standard Class A truck of the U.S. Army, and Whites saw extensive service in Europe. White trucks were doing so well that by 1918, White Motor dropped all automobile production and shifted solely to truck production, which continued until 1980.
Among the commercial users of White trucks was the Dan-Dee Potato Chip Company, which began in 1913, and moved to Cleveland in 1915. Starting with horse-drawn wagons, the company soon moved to gasoline-powered vehicles. This 1920 White 3/4-ton panel truck was acquired in 1952, when Dan-Dee employee Truman J. Fisher conceived of the idea of acquiring and restoring an early White to honor Dan-Dee’s founders, Charles V. Pike and Harry Orr. Fisher supervised the restoration and realized his dream in 1953. The truck displays the 1928 Dan Dee logo and blends images of the company’s products from the late teens to the 1930s.
In addition to promoting the Dan Dee brand for forty years, the truck served the community appearing in countless parades and visiting schools, nursing homes, and hospitals, usually driven by Charles P. Pike, son of the company founder. The truck was donated to the Crawford by Charles P. Pike in 1994.
Remember the last scene from ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”; a vast warehouse jammed with sealed wooden crates stretching as far as the eye can see? When you think of the term ‘museum’, is this the image that pops up first?
Sadly, for some folks today, the ‘dusty warehouse’ label applies to many cultural institutions, especially if they’ve never taken the opportunity to visit. Perhaps their preconceived notions hearken back to a time over a century ago, where museums were repositories for items of great historical or cultural significance, populated by wooly-headed scholars, researchers, and well-to-do connoisseurs. They were largely a province of society’s elite.
With the passage of time, wise administrators understood that museums could be a wonderful resource for the surrounding community, not only serving to educate and entertain, but becoming a point of civic pride as well. The collective doors were thrown open, with the public invited to participate in educational programs, lectures, tours, and special exhibitions. The ‘dust’ began to fall away.
By the time Fred Crawford began to amass a serious collection of antique automobiles around the mid-1940’s, the notion of creating a museum for the enjoyment of the public was well established. Since Mr. Crawford was the president of Thompson Products, the resources of the huge corporation were brought to bear on creating one of the first automobile museums in the United States, repurposing a former Cadillac dealership in downtown Cleveland. Twenty years later, with the dealership lease expiring, plans were put in motion to transfer the growing collection to a purpose-built facility within the grounds of the Western Reserve Historical Society. The Frederick C. Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum opened in September of 1965, and has been in continuous operation since then.
The museum houses a world-class collection of around one hundred and seventy automobiles, aircraft, and motorcycles, as well as a plethora of related support materials. Visitors can examine in detail cars that were produced at the dawn of powered personal transportation, through the Classic or Golden Age of automobile design, right up to the present with autonomously piloted vehicles.
A pressing issue for nearly all museums today is how to address the visitor’s question of ‘I’ve seen it once, why go back?’ (A valid yet troubling inquiry). Museums can no longer function as remote, elevated, or exclusive bastions of preservation of the past. They must remain current, engaging their visitors with ever-changing exhibits, programs and offerings to keep the experience fresh.
The Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum has taken this mission to heart, and is continually striving to elevate the quality of time the visitor spends. One might ask about the relevance of a gallery filled with antique cars; they were built so long ago that there is no current point of connection to them. Perhaps, but as exemplified by the Crawford’s latest exhibition, ‘Electric, Steam, or Gasoline’, visitors became aware of Cleveland’s significant past contributions to alternative power, anticipating innovations by manufacturers like Tesla by over a century. People were literally shocked by a late 1930’s Citroen that was powered by coal; something few even knew existed, and were wowed by the all-electric, ultra high-tech Chrysler Portal prototype which points the way to our future modes of transportation. Several of the alt-fuel vehicles were sourced from the Crawford’s permanent collection, and provided the viewer with insight as to how innovative thinkers decades ago influenced current design directions.
The Crawford experience can be very akin to listening to a delightful musical composition. If it resonates, one is prompted to go back to it over and over. So it is with a great museum; with each visit, something new and interesting can be gleaned, and our present is given definition and meaning by our past. The museum’s objects are touchstones to what has preceded us. Leave the dusty crates to the movies, and embrace the living and constantly evolving entity that is the Crawford. It will be time well spent!
As the weather warms, even a ‘bread, milk, eggs’ trip can become an adventure, if you’re driving…a convertible!
At the dawn of the automobile, virtually all were open vehicles, but it wasn’t until 1927 that the formal definition of a ‘convertible’ was generally agreed upon in the United States; that of a car with a permanently affixed folding top and roll-up windows.
It seems as though the idea of producing a ‘fun’ open-topped car occurred to several domestic manufacturers simultaneously. Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, and Lincoln all introduced models in 1927 that fit the definition perfectly.
During the ‘Golden Age’ of American motoring, from the late 1920’s through the following decade, automotive styling reached its zenith, with a mind-boggling array of color choices, power plants, and custom bodies available to the well-heeled customer. Add a canvas drop-top to the equation, and the results could be pure poetry. Have you ever attended a car show where a 1930’s Duesenberg convertible rolled in? The crowd response can become almost reverential.
Despite their attention-grabbing good looks and general popularity, the volume of convertibles has always been a mere fraction of total automobile production for a given year. When first introduced, the figure was around one tenth of one percent. During the seminal cultural changes of the 1960’s, that figure reached a high of 6.4 percent; still small by any measure.
The conundrum facing the potential convertible customer was one of enthusiasm and style versus practicality. Growing families required roomy interiors, protection from the elements, and an affordable product. Convertibles usually came at premium prices, had dodgy weather seals, couldn’t be used for hauling much, and a second ‘fun’ car was usually outside most folks limited budgets.
Possibly the most radical example of the sacrifice of practicality in a convertible was the 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner, a two-door retractable hardtop convertible that used an astonishingly complex system of seven electric motors, four lift jacks, four locking mechanisms, and ten limit switches to lower the top into the trunk. The top was so large that it required the front third to be hinged to fold for storage. They are a crowd pleaser at current shows, but their production lasted only three years.
From a boom in popularity in the 1960’s, domestic convertibles began a slide that concluded in the mid 1970’s, occupying merely one percent of total sales. Pending (although never enacted) government safety regulations regarding rollover protection influenced the Big Three automakers to stop convertible production altogether. Of course, European and Asian manufacturers knew an opportunity when they saw one, and offered a variety of convertibles to desperate enthusiasts. Sales were strong enough to influence the Americans to resume production six years later in 1982, and the drop-tops have been rolling off the assembly lines ever since.
Most current automakers have some sort of open car in their yearly lineup, particularly in the exotic luxury or hyper car sector. Usually, a new model is debuted as a hardtop with a convertible version following on at a later date, exemplified by the new Corvette C8.
Convertibles are not for everyone, but if you’ve ever driven one on a summer evening, moon ascending over the horizon, newly mown hay on the wind, and temperatures changing with every hill and valley, the experience is unforgettable and visceral. Pure automotive joy.
The first ‘family car’ was invented rather by accident in 1888, when Bertha Benz, the intelligent and adventurous wife of automobile inventor Carl Benz decided on a whim to leave with her husband’s latest prototype vehicle and visit family in the neighboring town of Pforzheim, Germany, some 66 miles away. She bundled her two adolescent sons into the car, which lacked even rudimentary protection from the elements, and ventured off. Keep in mind that her spontaneous jaunt occurred in an era when there were no fuel stations, no service facilities, and limited communication other than telegraphy. After a day-long journey, packed with numerous improvisations to keep the car running, Bertha and her brood arrived safely. Upon returning home several days later, the unapologetic Bertha suggested various design improvements to her husband’s automobile, which he dutifully adopted!
Although designs progressed rapidly over the next two decades, it wasn’t until around 1926 that the automobile became a ‘family-friendly’ vehicle with the introduction of hot-air heaters in the Ford Model A. Of course, earlier cars could easily transport several people, but the adoption of glassed-in passenger compartments and heaters provided year-round comfort and protection, perfect for routine errands or a weekend cruise in the country.
In 1926, the Jordan Motor Car Company of Cleveland contracted with the Wiedman Body Company of upstate New York to adapt their “Sport Model” camper body to the Jordan frame. Jordan marketed the hybrid as the “House Car”, and it became one of the earliest examples of what is now known as a “family camper”. This rare time capsule vehicle is currently on display at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum.
Concurrently, the expansion of the nation’s road infrastructure allowed easier access to distant locales, spurring development of roadside hotels, or ‘motels’ along several interstate highways. The ‘family vacation’ no longer depended upon rail or marine transportation, and savvy automakers took note of the growing popularity of automobile travel.
The term ‘family car’ has become synonymous with the development of the station wagon, first marketed by Ford in 1929. Early versions were mostly used as utility vehicles, but at the end of World War II, given the average American’s growing wealth, abundance of babies, and migration to the suburbs, station wagons became the transport of choice for growing families.
Domestic automakers provided a bewildering variety of station wagons from the 1950’s through the ‘70’s, many of which could carry ten passengers plus baggage. How many of us recall riding in the rear-facing ‘jumpseat’ of a wagon, waving or making faces at the following cars. Perhaps the most exotic of the wagons was the Chevrolet two door Nomad of the mid-Fifties, a favorite of custom and hot rod builders today. Who can forget the ‘Wagon Queen Family Truckster’ from the 1983 film ‘Vacation’, or the revered ‘Vista Cruiser’ from ‘That 70’s Show’?
Station wagons have faded into obscurity in favor of today’s SUV’s and pickup trucks, but how many lasting memories will be created in these vehicles? Was it really freedom to crawl around a car without seatbelts, wind in one’s hair, or just youthful naivete?