Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Marmon Newsletter, February

This is February's column for "The Marmon News".
It is so icy here on the ranch that driving down the half mile long driveway is just like steering down a bobsled run. If there were not frozen snowbanks on either side to gently guide the tires back to the middle there would be a lot of fencing and fenders needing repair.

There are many lucky readers that do not have to deal with snowy roads, but I'm not jealous (I actually am, but I'm trying to be polite). I just thought I would tell you a little "history" about roads, snow, and Marmons in the great white north.

A century ago the preferred technique of road maintenance was not to push the snow out of the way, but to squash it down. Horses pulled large wooden rollers that were six feet in diameter or bigger. Bigger towns had bigger rollers. These rollers were weighed down with rocks. The resulting surface was hard and slick. Horses could walk on the hard surface and pulled sleighs. Most of the time you could also travel with wagons because a it's wheels are not driven, they merely roll across the surface. A wagon wheel merely supports weight, it doesn't propel you forward.

Large chain-drive trucks were being used with some success in the winter on packed roads because they had wide solid-rubber tires with a square profile. Virgil White in West Ossipee New Hampshire sold 25,000 kits to convert your Model T into a SnowMobile, a name coined by Mr. White. You merely unbolted your fenders, moved the front wheels, added crawler treads, and the front was fitted with steerable skis. They were very popular, but the transition from snowy roads to non-snowy roads and back again always meant quite some time in the barn with a wrench.
Farmers and Doctors started venturing out on the roads with their brand new little cars and they found that even if they couldn't afford the SnowMobile kit they could wrap their wheels with chains. They could start and sometimes stop, and with enough practice they could actually get to a destination and back without having to push themselves out of a snowbank very often. A small car was always getting into predicaments that could only be solved because the car was so lightweight. "Two strong men" could push a car out of almost any 'hazard'.

Every town had a rich person. Bigger towns had more rich people. Rich people didn't drive Model-Ts.
Rich people drove Marmons, Rolls-Royces, Oldsmobiles, Pierce-Arrows, and other worthy vehicles.
These cars were not lightweight. When a five thousand pound car stuffs it's nose in a snowdrift, it will take more than "two strong men" to extract the vehicle from the snowdrift and the building behind it.
Rich people could not drive their fine automobiles in the winter. They had to ride in carriages, or a commoner's Model T. What is the point of being wealthy if you can't show it off?

The Snowmobile kits would not work on a luxury car because you just don't pull the fenders off of a car that has a custom body that is considered a work of art. The OctoCar with eight sets of chains might have worked, but the OctoCar was not pretty and never caught the eye of the wealthy.

The town where we lived until recently, Antrim NH, had the very first Main Street that was illuminated with electric lights. This did not happen because of some kind of grant, it happened because Antrim's

rich guy, Mr. Goodell paid to install lights from his house all the way down to his knife factory downtown. Eventually the town inherited the lights and paid for their upkeep. That is the way things worked: The rich guy built it, bought it, or commanded it, and the town keeps it going.
Side Note: The very first automobile that was seen in the town of Antrim was a Marmon, when it was purchased by a resident. According to Pete Wallace, they never had an automobile even drive through the town before the Marmon arrived.

So the wealthy people couldn't drive their fancy cars on hard packed snow that (because of the crown of the road) actually launched any vehicle that drove faster than a walk.
The rich folks paid for a snowplow. A snowplow was a large-slow-noisy-cleat-tracked-beast made by Caterpillar or Buffalo-Springfield that had an over-sized vee-plow mounted on front. It would push the snow into "snowbanks" on the side of the road instead of packing it down and the wealthy were then free to drive their handsome luxury cars down the relatively dry road. Since everybody else is town benefited slightly from the roads being plowed instead of rolled, it wasn't long before the plowing was paid by taxes. Plowing roads also lead to changes in paving materials. Cobblestones do NOT plow well, square paving stones were better, but eventually all roads were surfaced with a "plowable" texture.

Driving was a sport for the wealthy,
a hobby for the mechanically gifted, and it became a tool for farmers, doctors, and businessmen. We Marmoneers should take pride in the fact that without the luxury car market of the teens and twenties, our countrymen may not have learned to plow snow when we did. Cobblestones with their bone-jarring ride would still be touted as the safest surface to apply brakes on. The luxury car market changed all that. Think about that the next time you are shoveling out your driveway. We can drive to work on the snowiest of days because of those rich folks and their plowed roads.
That's a good thing... right?


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