Saturday, February 18, 2017

Fun With Scooters Part 1:
The Powell Streamliner


Last February Vintagetvs posted the above photo over on Shorpy with his original title "The Wild Ones" and captioned "Not even Brando could make that scooter look cool. From the negatives I found at a Whittier book store." The photo itself was named "three-guys-on-a-vespa.jpg"

In mid-December Rivet Head posted a copy with no caption that—as of this date—was reposted on 11 other sites, including my favorite Belgian photo blog Jalapeno in the eye (occasionally NSFW).

It next appeared on the track east, with a link back to the original Shorpy post, but also with a different caption. The new caption, which has been copied to an additional 23 or so sites, says "Young men on a homemade scooter." Well, young they may be, but homemade it is not, nor (with apologies to Vintagetvs) is it a Vespa.

The scooter is an early 1939 Powell P-39 Streamliner as made by the Powell Manufacturing Company in Compton, California.

1939 Powell
Powell P-39 Streamliner

Hayward and Channing Powell graduated from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles in 1924 and immediately started manufacturing radios. In 1926 they formed Powell Manufacturing. Around 1938 they started manufacturing motor scooters, and by 1941 were producing small motorcycles. During World War II the factory switched to war work, and when the war ended they resumed scooter resumed production. Starting in late 1954 and continuing through early 1957, Powell manufactured pickup trucks and station wagons.

1956 Powell
1956 Powell pick-up (with an incorrectly painted hood) carrying a 1954 Powell P-81 scooter

In the 1960s they began building trail bikes, changed the name to Powell Brothers, Inc., and moved the company to South Gate, California. They ceased production in April 1979.

Maybe Brando couldn't make that particular scooter look cool, but a number of Hollywood stars (and wannabe stars) were photographed on Powell P-39s, P-40s, and P-41s.

Lou Costello       Lou with sidecar       Dolores Moran

 Frances Gifford in the sidecar   The Three Stoogies*     Sally Wadsworth

    Claudia Drake        Joe E. Brown       Broderick Crawford

    Charles Korvin        K. T. Stevens         Gail Patrick
  (on Lou Costello's scooter)     & Peter Van Eyck

And three unknowns just because:

  Claimed to be a U.K scooter     Party Hat         Shiny Chrome
  girl, but no source cited

*Often mistaken for a Crocker Scootabout, but no. That diamond shaped cutout on the front of the motor housing is a Powell thing, not a Crocker thing.

As far as I can tell, the single Powell Streamliner that has been seen by the most people anywhere is this one:


As the ad copy states, this P-40 participated in the September 2, 1940 Labor Day parade in Los Angeles, appearing before some 400,000 spectators—which must have been a hoot since the vast majority of the 100,000 strong marchers were Roosevelt supporters. It was the first public display of the scooter-borne ad medium created by the Los Angeles-based Bentley Advertising Company. Clymer Motors, being the "World Distributor" of the Crocker Scootabout, did not seem too apologetic for showing the advertising device attached to a Powell rather than a Crocker. After all, they also represented Powell, as shown by this flyer advertising used Powell P-40s.


This would have been after the Powell factory had switched over to war production, as no new scooters were being produced.

Floyd Clymer was, of course, the famous auto dealer and enthusiast who at the age of 11 had been the world's youngest automobile dealer (REO, Maxwell, and Cadillac) in Berthoud, Colorado in 1907.

At least two Streamliners made it to Hawaii:


The image on the right was taken from a one second appearance in a 16mm film shot on VJ Day in Honolulu. Watch the entire three-and-a-half minute clip here. See if you can spot the Navy gray Divco truck.

This screed isn't intended to be a treatise on all things Powell. Rather, it's just a brief look at the Streamliners of the late 1930s and early 40s. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there was a post-WWII afterlife for the Streamliner design. Sort of. Maybe. Or maybe not. Check back for Part 2.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Edwin Columbus Juergens

The last post detailed the Juergens Air Propelled Car and the publicity surrounding it. This post studies the life of the inventor—Edwin Columbus Juergens, or simply E. C. Juergens, as the stories of the day named him—and looks at his pre-propeller automotive design experience. To do that, we start with a brief history of his family in America.

Edwin's grandfather, Ludwig Daniel Juergens, emigrated from Prussia in the early 1840s. By 1852 he had married Magdalene Helene Koehn and moved from Milwaukee to Chicago, where they had two children - Theodore and Bertha. Magdalene died in 1859 and sometime later Ludwig married Wilhelmine A. Prosch. Together they had four children - Helene, Alfred, Doris, and Ludwig.

The elder Ludwig entered the Chicago workforce as a general painter, and used that experience to get hired in 1864 as paint shop foreman for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. His son Theodore had won a scholarship to Porter's Telegraph College after high school, and Ludwig used his influence to land Theodore a job with the Chicago and Northwestern in 1869 as a telegraph operator. Influential or not, Ludwig lost his job in the aftermath of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire and had to survive as a sign painter. His expertise with paints would eventually cause him to team up with Theodore (who had also worked as a sign painter and a decorator) in 1875 to start a large paint manufacturing business on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago - L. Juergens & Son, Paints.

and Son
Advertisement from page 609 of the 1886-7 edition of A. N. Marquis & Co.'s
Handy Business Directory of Chicago

They soon expanded into oils and wallpaper, and more. Theodore's sister Bertha married Adolph Kruger the following year and by 1880 he was a partner in the business. Of Theodore's half-siblings not much is known except for Albert, who became an artist of some renown, but only after his father had died. Ludwig disapproved of that line of work—although in 1881 he allowed Alfred to attend the Chicago Academy of Design as long as he still clerked in the family business. After Ludwig passed away in 1883 while on a trip to Berlin, Albert's mother paid his way to Europe to study.

Theodore, now married to Mary Josephine Hemmer, became the sole proprietor of the large business. In 1892, however, Theodore left that all behind and joined the Board of the American Varnish Company as its secretary and by 1905 was the president. Theodore's wife Mary gave birth to Edwin Columbus Juergens (the youngest of four children) in Chicago on August 9 in the year of that city's World's Columbian Exposition of 1893—hence Edwin's middle name.

Advertising card for the American Varnish Company on Goose Island in Chicago showing the $20,000 one and two-story brick varnish factory built at 313-315 N. Branch in 1902—just down the street from their earlier sites. From the Encyclopedia of Chicago history website.

avc ad
Repeating ad copy from the Chicago based Paint, Oil and Drug Review.

These years saw a rise in the family's fortunes, and Theodore soon moved them into an opulent Queen Anne mansion on Pierce Avenue that he had built in 1894-5. Today the house is divided into three apartments, but from the late 1950s until the early 1970s the Juergens mansion was owned by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia—also known as the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad—and was consecrated as The Holy Virgin Protection cathedral, with services held in what is now the front parlor of the second-floor apartment. A Russian Orthodox cross still graces the roof to this day.

T Juergens house
The Theodore Daniel Juergens house and former The Holy Virgin Protection cathedral at 2141 W Pierce Ave, Chicago, IL, 60622. Image from Google Maps Streetview,
recorded September, 2014. Note Russian Orthodox cross on roof.

In October of 1899, after the dilapidated Division Street bridge to Goose Island was closed, Theodore was one of nine men well-off enough to offer the City of Chicago a loan out of their own pockets for the construction of a new bridge. The city would "pay 6 percent interest on the money until such time as it could repay the business-men." In 1908 Theodore changed careers again, but this time changed industries as well, choosing one that would set the now 15 year-old Edwin on his own career path for the rest of his life. Theodore Juergens joined forces with Jacob Lauth of J. Lauth & Co. to manufacture cars and trucks.

To be continued with more on the Lauth-Juergens Motor Car Company.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

The Juergens Air Propelled Car

On Thursday The Old Motor posted to their website "Mystery Propellor-Driven Car Marysville, Michigan 1932," having come across an old 1932 newsreel showing an odd looking propeller-powered auto that is definitely not the French Helicron of the same vintage. Well-reasoned speculation as to its origin proved to have been detoured by the misdirection of the Marysville reference however, as the vehicle in question is a product of Detroit. Or rather, the product of one man who lived and worked in Detroit at the time.

Wire service photograph from the July 22, 1932 edition of The Rhinelander Daily News (Wisconsin)

When he was designing his "airdrive" car for himself in the early 1930s, Edwin Columbus Juergens worked as a draftsman for the Ready-Power Company, a Detroit-based operation that manufactured generators that were sold by, among others, International Harvester/McCormick-Deering. However, the term "draftsman" under-defined his talents, as he had previously worked in the auto industry as both a designer and an engineer. In fact, his entire family in America were a talented bunch and deserve a separate post a bit later, just so we can get an idea of where Edwin came from. Meanwhile, Juergens applied for a patent on February 16, 1932, and was granted Patent Number 1,999,296 on April 30, 1935

Patent 1
Patent Number 1,999,296, applied for on February 16, 1932, and granted on April 30, 1935

Patent 3
Page 2 of Patent Number 1,999,296

Patent 2
Page 3 of 3 for Patent Number 1,999,296

The entire patent description (7 pages) can be downloaded here.

Juergens assigned just over a third (366/1000 to be exact) of the patent ownership to his (presumably) investors: William Goldsmith of Canton, Ohio; David J. Joseph of Cincinnati; and Charles D. Jacobson of Detroit. Goldsmith was Secretary, and later Executive Vice-President of Luntz Iron & Steel Company—his brother-in-law's scrap metal and steel products concern. Joseph was President of the David J. Joseph Company, which also dealt with in iron and steel scrap, as well as new and relay (used) rail. Jacobson was a Vice-President of the David J. Joseph Company, in charge of the Detroit district. Both Joseph and Luntz held offices in the Institute of Scrap Iron and Steel, and both of their respective businesses were among the largest in the country.

In July and August of 1932, newspapers across the country ran an article supplied by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, Inc. (NEA) news wire service. The often 'edited for length to fit available space' story featured E.C. Juergens and his novel automobile. Headed by titles such as "Propeller-Drive Car" (Rhinelander, Wisconsin), or "Propeller Car May Appear Soon" (Jefferson City, Missouri), or even "Propeller May Be Drive" (Lubbock, Texas—where the heavily truncated story was squeezed in-between "New Fords Going" and "Giant Steer Sold")—and as often as not being published without the photograph—the entire copy was as follows:

Post Crescent Article
Complete NEA news wire article from the August 4, 1932 edition of The Appleton Post-Crescent (Wisconsin), without photograph (as published)

The newspaper articles attracted the attention of two other major entities: Universal Newspaper Newsreel (Universal Newsreel of Universal Studios), and Popular Science Monthly magazine. The original of the newsreel seen on The Old Motor, which had sound, is now in the Library of Congress, although a copy can be purchased here for a mere $350 transfer fee. See Newsreel Highlights of 1932 (UE32097). The Popular Science article (below), which the Modern Mechanix website posted way back in March, 2007—years before anyone else picked up on it—can be read online in the original December, 1932 issue here (page 49).

PS Cover
Cover of the December 1932 issue of Popular Science Monthly magazine featuring the Juergens Air Propelled Car

PS Article
Juergens Air Propelled Car article featured on page 49 of the December 1932 issue of Popular Science Monthly magazine

The news wire copy noted the air-drive car was "...said to be the first propeller-driven automobile to receive a license plate." Whether or not it was the first, it most certainly was licensed for the road as evidenced by the plate photographed in the article and rendered on the front cover art of the magazine (above). A screen grab taken from the video on The Old Motor site provides a little clearer picture of the 1932 Michigan license plate.

License Plate
Screen shot of the license plate taken from the Critical Past copy of the Universal Newsreel featuring the Juergens Air Propelled Car

The pictures and the newspaper and magazine articles describe a 6-to-8 seat air-drive car weighing in at a light 1,500 pounds on a 132-inch wheelbase, with a 275-pound, 100-hp airplane engine powering a five-foot, four-bladed prop that would start to move the car at 200-rpm. It also sported a unique wedge shape that took advantage of the prop wash to act as a down-force. The fuel mileage and top speed hadn't yet been tested at press time, but was estimated by Juergens as 30-mpg and 80-mph respectively. What the car did not have was a clutch, transmission, differential, live rear axle, or any u-joints.

Features provided for in the patent that did not make it into the prototype included: Twin radiators (Items 13 and 14 on Figure 3, Page 3 above) for a water cooled engine, if fitted; the V-shaped windshield (Page 2 above), or—possibly the most important item— a reversible prop. This last item would be controlled by a single hand lever that would allow the operator to use the prop to slow down, stop, and even reverse the vehicle. According to the patent description, feathering the prop would stand in as a clutch, and adjusting the pitch of the prop blades would allow "...for attaining different speeds with varying loads, and at varying engine speeds, so as to obtain the maximum speed and pulling power and provide for operating the car with the maximum economy of fuel."

All-in-all there 18 specific claims in the patent—all unique enough for the patent to be approved. Many of the patent features were to be employed in a lighter 3-place car, maybe weighing around 800 to 900 pounds, but still using an air-cooled aircraft engine. Juergens figured that the lighter version would get around 40-mpg and top out at just under 120-mph. It may be that we are destined to never know, since there seems to be no evidence that the second prototype was ever built. Still, it appears that, as far as actual usage is concerned, the Juergens Air Propelled Car proved to be one of the more successful builds. Edwin did indeed put more than a few demonstration miles on it. If the video over at The Old Motor is to be taken at face value, then the car made a roughly 100 mile round-trip to Marysville—where it was filmed by Universal Newsreel—and back. But before that, Juergens preformed a reliability run of his own devising. He made a 200 mile round-trip to Fremont, Ohio—his wife's home town—creating "no little interest." It was a nostalgic homecoming, the reason becoming clear in the next post about the life of Edwin Columbus Juergens.

Not much more was ever heard about the Juergens Air Propelled Car, except for being referenced in five other patents concerning cars driven by propellers. One such creation went Juergens one (or perhaps four) better by driving all four wheels using gearing off the prop. For other brave and some perhaps no-so-smart attempts at building propeller-driven cars, see here, here, and here. There is some repetition, but each has a few that are unique to that site. And then there is this candy clown—claiming to be first in 1955!

Next post: The life and family of Edwin Columbus Juergens

Thursday, May 29, 2014

1904 National Electrobile Special

1904 National  Electrobile Special
From the 1904 National Electric Vehicles catalog by the
National Motor Vehicle Company of Indianapolis, Indiana.
Click picture to enlarge.

Today over at Shorpy they posted a photo from 1906 of the Tennessee Club in Memphis. There was some speculation about the little runabout in the picture, which reader Bruce Lancaster correctly identified it as a National Electric. There is a bit more to it than that however—when this particular model was first introduced, it was the hottest electric runabout of its day.

Pictured above is a 1904 Model 105 National Electrobile Special that cost $1,250 new. Without the leather top it would have been a $1,200 Model 100. The January 23, 1904 issue of Automobile Review called it "the most powerful electric two-passenger runabout on the market."

National's "new pattern 'C' springs" in front (conventional elliptics in the rear) make it instantly recognizable. It had a track of 54 inches and 32 x 3 and-a-half inch Continental tires were standard. The Piano Box style black body was six and-a-quarter feet long, and two and-a-half feet wide with the two-passenger carmine (deep red) leather seat hanging over four inches on each side. The running gear (axles, wheels, etc.) and the supports for the top (called boot risers) were also finished in carmine. If you wanted any other colors rather than the standard black/carmine combination, delivery would take two weeks longer. The hubs, controller lever, steering lever, and the like had a nickel finish.

The six-pole 3 hp (overload capacity 9 hp) electric motor mounted on the rear axle was an improved model made by National, and drove direct through herringbone (spiral) gears that ran in oil, inside a dust-proof case. The motor drew its power from a 36 cell Western brand battery that came with a rheostat to charge from any 110 to 125-volt circuit. The car was also equipped with an odometer and a combination volt/ammeter. An Edison or Exide brand battery could be had on some other models, but the Edison brand cost between $300 and $500 extra, depending on the size and style of the battery.

It had a compression band style brake along with an electric auxiliary hub brake—both claimed to be "very powerful" in the National Electric literature. First gear would top out at 5 mph, while fourth gear was good for 17 mph. Reverse gear was activated by a button in the end of the controller lever. The controller lever itself (B) is pointed out in the detail below. There was another push-button in the handle of the steering lever that operated an electric gong—their version of a horn.

National Electric levers
A) Steering lever with "gong" button in the handle.
B) Controller lever with push-button at the top for Reverse.

More later.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

A. M. Chase and the Chase Track System

Chase Track Newton
"Tank; Key Bridge in background, Washington, D.C."
Incorrect original title to Harris & Ewing photo from the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC). Click on pictures for larger images.

Updated April 3, 2015

On April 27, 2014 The Old Motor posted an article [since scrubbed and no longer available] provided by reader Tin Indian from the May 5, 1921 issue of Automobile Industries that identified for the general internet audience the tread system above as being the "Chase Track" invented by A. M. Chase. This has been not-so-common knowledge for some time, as some subscription sites have been discussing the tracks and the pictures for a few years now. As we will see, there is much more to the story. Interest in the picture above became wide-spread for the first time when Shorpy posted it on April 21, 2014.

The Library of Congress photos of the 1921 test of the Chase Track System have been making the internet rounds for a few years now, along with other photos taken from military journals. In a causal search, the earliest mention I can find is from July 2002 on the Cargo Carriers/Personal Carriers page of William A. Kirk Jr.'s TANKS! Armoured Warfare Prior to 1946 website, which had the most photos of vehicles with the Chase Track System outside of Fred W. Crismon's 1992 book U. S. Military Tracked Vehicles.

After a lull, some pictures showed up again around 2008, and then again with regularity starting in 2010, when many of the Ford oriented sites found them on the pages of my favorites such as Just a car guy, Jalopy Journal, Hemmings, and now Shorpy and The Old Motor (although I thought that The Old Motor had posted something earlier, but if so I can't find it now). The latter's post had more than anyone to that time—but in the interest of full disclosure, after my preliminary research I had uploaded most of what you see below to Shorpy a few days before The Old Motor post, but for some reason Shorpy didn't post it. It doesn't bother me, but those grapes were a bit off anyway.

As for the picture in the Shorpy post that has caused the recent surge of renewed interest, the 1917 Model-T Roadster in that particular photo has just emerged from the muddy banks of Rock Creek under the [William Howard] Taft Bridge at a location that is right about at today's junction of Rock Creek Parkway NW and Beach Drive NW (below). The Taft Bridge is often referred to as the Connecticut Avenue Bridge because it carries Connecticut Avenue traffic over Rock Creek, while the officially named Connecticut Avenue Bridge—an Art Deco steel-arch bridge located near the National Zoo—is more commonly known as the Kingle Valley Bridge because it carries Connecticut Avenue across that feature. Due to the information on the picture in the Library of Congress, the bridge had been identified as the [Francis Scott] Key Bridge, and that error was repeated over the years until Hemmings reader Tim identified it in October 2013, and then Shorpy reader, Washington D.C. radio personality, and D.C. history buff John Dowling was next to correctly identify the Taft Bridge on April 21, 2014.


When the original picture was taken the military nomenclature for the tracks was "Endless-Tread Attachment for Light Autos." Later it became known as the Chase Track, and today as the Chase Track System. Based on subsequent publicity, the photo was probably taken around early-January 1921. Seated behind the wheel is Secretary of War Newton Baker, who was decidedly not the test driver. The fellow standing on the ground (who "doesn't look convinced" in the Shorpy comments) is actually Aurin M. Chase—the inventor—positively identified through correspondence with his grandson, Doug Tomb. Mr Tomb is a car collector and the current President of the George Washington Chapter of the Model A Ford Club of America. In his collection he has four Chase vehicles, including the very one that was special built for A. M. Chase in 1911. Mr. Tomb tracked it down and brought it back into the family in 1994.

Chase graduated from M.I.T. in 1900 (it was still known as Boston Tech then) as a mechanical engineer and joined the family firm, the Syracuse Chilled Plow Company.



A few years later he was at the Franklin Automobile Company, where he designed the flywheel suction fan for their air-cooled engines. In 1907 he started the Chase Motor Truck Company to build commercial grade motor trucks that were powered by three-cylinder two-cycle, air-cooled engines of his own design (and incorporating the same fan as the Franklin—he had kept the rights to it):

Chase 3 Cylinder

And light duty trucks with a two-cylinder engine:

Chase 2 Cylinder

Later they switched to Continental engines and by 1917 one out of twelve trucks in New York was a Chase.

Chase Motor Truck Co 1912 Model D

In 1909 the company added cars to the lineup, and from September of that year until 1912 they teamed with Brockway Carriage Works to help build the first Brockway trucks. In 1911 Chase added tractors.

Chase Tractor Brochure

In late 1919 the company was sold to a Canadian concern and moved to Toronto where tractor production continued for a few more years.

Chase Tractor ad

A. M. Chase himself, however, had moved on. In early 1916 he was the Chief of the Truck and Trailer Unit of the Ordnance Department in Washington, D. C. In January 1918 he was mustered into the Ordnance Reserve Corps of the U.S. Army as a Major. While in Washington he designed and supervised the production of field-artillery tractors, scout cars, mobile machine shops, and trucks with special bodies for carrying munitions, guns, and range-finding instruments.

In June 1918 he was stationed in Tours, France with the A. E.F. serving as Chief of the Motor Equipment Section with a staff of eighty-five officers designing emergency equipment in the field and supervising production of equipment in France. He also organized schools in the use of the new equipment.

In March 1919 he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. He returned to the states at the end of May and mustered out a month later. It was said that, in large part, it was due to Chase that at the end of war the American Army was more mechanized than any other. He didn't really leave the service however, as his next job was to serve as the District Designing Engineer of the Ordnance Department back in Syracuse (hence the 1920 New York license plate on the Model-T when you invert and flip the photo).


While there, and in response to requests for various new vehicles, he began the designs that would lead to the Chase Track system of fabric belts connected by metal links, for light vehicles.

One of the first requests was for a Tractor Hand Cart that reconnaissance scouts could use to pull equipment and supplies over difficult terrain. The Syracuse Tractor Hand Cart—the first vehicle to utilize the Chase Track—was the result.

Syracuse Tractor Hand Cart Afield

Syracuse Tractor Hand Cart Afloat

That's Aurin M. Chase pulling the Hand Cart in the upper picture, and standing in it while it's afloat in the lower picture.

Then, in order to carry both the equipment and the reconnaissance scouts themselves, the Syracuse Reconnaissance Tractor came along.

Syracuse Reconnaissance Tractor

Next the idea was applied to a regular vehicle, albeit one with a special axle, extra wheels, and extra large rear brakes for steering.

Chase Track ORD

Chase Track Artillery

In the Spring of 1921 the Rock Creek trial was featured in a number of popular journals including the above-mentioned May 5, 1921 issue of Automobile Industries, the April issue of Popular Mechanics, the May issue of Illustrated World, and more—not to mention being written up in newspapers across the country.

Chase received two patents for the system.

Endless Belt Patent 1

Endless Belt Patent 2

The steering wheel was retained because the tracks could be removed, reverting the vehicle back into an ordinary one. And, on a Model-T, the throttle and spark lever are mounted on the steering wheel.

Ford Control

Below A. M. Chase is running more trials on May 17, 1921, and has the turtle-deck removed from the back.

AM Chase in Ford with Chase Track

Chase Track Hill

Below - The system was later applied to the Dodge Light Repair Truck (Chase to the left wearing the 1898 Field Hat) :

Dodge Light Repair Truck

And even the 3-ton Militor, seen here at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1922. It could hit a whopping 13 mph.

Militor with Chase Track

Testing continued for years and despite improvements, technology eventually surpassed the Chase Track, and while it never was approved for production for the U. S. Army, it did see some civilian applications. Other countries did adopt versions of the system, and at the start of WWII at least two foreign armies were still using the Chase Track System.

More will be posted about Chase, his academic and professional careers, family, and the Syracuse Chilled Plow Company. Check back for updates.