Monday, March 31, 2008

Grandpa Loved Franklins

My grandfather loved to tell me about Franklin cars. Why he chose me to talk to about them, I have no idea as I was totally uninterested. Grandpa was not a talker and I don't remember many conversations but there were several times I can recall him bringing up Franklin's. The few times I accompanied him to Onondaga Valley Cemetery to tend to my grandmother's grave he'd point out the Seneca Turnpike hill and tell how they tested the Franklin cars. The Franklin's would make it to the top when many others wouldn't. While I never had a car that couldn't climb that hill I had several that objected so I figured that was a big deal. The fact that they were air cooled meant nothing to me then but that fact stuck with me. Unfortunately nothing else he said about them did.

The Franklin was manufactured in Syracuse, NY from 1902 until 1934, a victim of the Great Depression. Engineer John Wilkinson invented the Franklin automobile and Herbert H Franklin manufactured it in his H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Company. The plant was huge and filled the city block at Franklin and Geddes Streets and provided jobs for men from across the city. The Onondaga Historical Association has some good pictures of the inside of the factory in their Franklin Automobile Collection.

H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Co.
Post card image © Onondaga County GenWeb

The Franklin was a luxury car made of light weight aluminum, making the company the largest user of aluminum in it's early years. The engine was air cooled was was considered by some to be more reliable than a water cooled engine. There were several models available and they could also be custom ordered. Over 32 years 150,000 Franklins rolled off of the assembly line. The cars consistently set coast to coast speed records and achieved gas mileage that we would all love to have today.

1914 Frankin Motor Car
Image © Onondaga County GenWeb

The company went bankrupt in 1934. In 1937 the rights were sold to Doman-Marks Engine Co, the name changed to Aircooled Motors Corp. and the Franklin engine found new life as an aircraft engine.

So why did grandpa love the Franklin?

My grandparents, Kim and Mary Berry, moved to Syracuse, NY shortly after their wedding in 1922. Kim's uncle, Daniel Hollington was living there on Magnolia St. Initially Kim got a job driving some type of tanker truck but soon he landed a job as a machinist at the Straight Line Engine Co. (they made steam engines) on Geddes St, within sight of his uncle's apartment. Kim would work there for decades. Across the street from the Straight Line was the Franklin Manufacturing plant. Daniel Hollington is listed as a night watchman at the plant on the 1920 census. This is the only family connection I can find to the Franklin.

This photo from my family collection is marked, in my sister's handwriting, "Kim's car, Westvale." On the 1930 census my grandparents were renting a house on Lathrop St in the Town of Geddes, only a few blocks from where I was raised. This area is known as Westvale. There is no date on the photo so I have guessed at the date based on my father's year of birth, 1926.

Mary Berry with son Harvey circa 1928-1930
© Apple's Tree

So this must be a Franklin! Or is it? I started looking at hundreds of pictures of Franklins from the late 1920's. I found lots that looked very similar but the bumper, vents and insignia didn't seem quite right.

I knew that grandpa always owned a Chrysler as far as I could remember. I called my mom and she thought that when she met him in the 1940's he had a Plymouth so I started looking at Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth. This ad looked close.
Photo from the University of Michigan,
Automobile in American Life and Society ©2004
accessed 30Mar2008

A closer look and the bumper isn't right.
Photo courtesy of John MacDonald @ Old Car and Truck Pictures
" 1931 Dodge DH 4 Door Sedan Canadian Model
This car is owned by Dave Houlihan, Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, Canada"

My husband and son both thought it might be a Ford. Again the bumper wasn't right and the Ford insignia is oval, not triangular.
Photo courtesy of John MacDonald @ Old Car and Truck Pictures
1929 Model A Ford 4 Door Phaeton

Photo courtesy of John MacDonald @ Old Car and Truck Pictures
1930 Model A Ford Fordor

I wish I'd found John MacDonald's Old Car and Truck Pictures sooner! I started looking at pictures of other car companies. My great-aunt worked for Studebaker in South Bend, IN for years but I wouldn't have thought of them on my own. On close inspection I don't believe it is a Studebaker either.
Photo courtesy of John MacDonald @ Old Car and Truck Pictures
"1928 Studebaker Director Royal Sedan
This car is owned by Steve K. of Sydney, Australia.
This picture was taken in about 1992 at
Silverwater in Sydney Australia. Steven says
that he is the 3rd owner from new and that the
car was restored by the previous owner in 1984."

I started looking at Hudson pictures. Hudson? I'd never heard of them. Based on the front bumper and the triangular insignia I do believe that Grandpa owned a Hudson! Do you agree or should I keep searching? Not all of the Hudson's from this time period had this distinctive bumper but I haven't found any other car that did. A search found several more 1929 Hudson's with this bumper.
Photo Courtesy of John MacDonald @ Old Car and Truck Pictures
1929 Hudson Super 6

The Hudson was manufactured in Detroit from 1909 to 1954. A good, brief history of the company can be found here.

Why did Grandpa love the Franklin? I wish I'd asked him. I don't believe he ever owned one.


John MacDonald, Old Car and Truck Pictures
accessed 30Mar2008

The H. H. Franklin Club website, updated 21Mar2003, accessed 30Mar2008

Wikipedia. Franklin (automobile) This page was last modified on 19 March 2008, at 03:33. Accessed 30Mar2008

Onondaga County GenWeb
All information contained within these pages is the property of the
Onondaga County Coordinator and each contributor and author of materials herein.
Data cannot be published for profit and is for free public use.
© Pamela Priest, Onondaga County Coordinator, 1996-2006

Smithsonian, National Museum of American History; America on the Move collection website. Accessed 30Mar2008 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005. For details on the contents of the film numbers, visit the following NARA web page: NARA.
Note: Enumeration Districts 819-839 on roll 323 (Chicago City. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1920. T625, 2,076 rolls. Accessed 30Mar2008 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2002. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls. Accessed 30Mar2008

University of Michigan,
Automobile in American Life and Society ©2004
accessed 30Mar2008

Hudson - Essex - Terraplane Club, Inc
Accessed 30Mar2008


Tex said...

I see that both of our "car memories" postings for this Carnival included our grandpas. And I, too, was amazed at what resources were available online about automobiles--it brought back lots and lots of memories. I didn't know about Franklins--thanks for the story and the explanation of the process.

Terry Thornton said...

Apple, What an interesting story and what a great article! Not only do you honor you grandfather and his love of Franklins, you cover some early makes and models so well. THANKS.