1929 Essex the Challenger

We bought a box of radiator caps the other day, and in the bottom were not one, but two, 1929 Essex radiator caps.  Back then, these distinctive, twelve-sided caps were described as “faceted in semi-modernistic design,” whatever that means. 

The full name for the automobile in ’29 was “Essex the Challenger,” and it was powered by an L-head inline 6. This label was conceived, according to the Hudson/Essex organization, when test after test revealed that the Essex could match more costly cars on every count including speed, acceleration, hill climbing and gasoline consumption. Dealers who had gathered at the Detroit factory for a private demonstration were so impressed by its performance that one dealer enthusiastically proclaimed that the new Essex could challenge anything, and thus a new slogan was born.

Every dealer in the Hudson/Essex organization took part in a National Challenger Week, putting the automobiles to every conceivable test and even taking suggestions from the public as to which tests the cars would be subjected.

In Wichita, for instance, an Essex underwent a five-day continuous run on a treadmill in the Mosbacher dealership window.

In Albuquerque, an Essex was driven the 302-mile stretch to El Paso in five hours and 57 minutes with state highway police clearing the way, and in Akron, an Essex was given to a traffic cop to use in place of his motorcycle for the week. In Chattanooga they focused on hill-climbing with demonstrations given on Lookout and Signal mountains. The subject matter of the following advertisement is all the new records set by the Essex during Challenger week, including a new record for climbing California’s Mt. Baldy by covering 8.05 miles of hairpin turns in 10 minutes 16.4 seconds.

The promotion was a successful one, and enough cars were sold to make Hudson/Essex third in the industry behind only Ford and Chevrolet.

Vacomat Automobile Mileage Tester

This vintage gadget is a mileage tester:

The full name for this particular piece of equipment is the Vacomat Automobile Mileage Tester, and it was manufactured by Donat A. Gauthier of Detroit. It came with quite a lot of hose, which this one is missing, that was used to by-pass the fuel pump. It held 1/10th of a gallon of fuel so that a car didn’t have to travel very far (and use much gas) in order to obtain a result. A result, incidentally, that was 99-2/3% accurate, at least according to the label:

According to the inventor’s 1988 obituary, Donat A. Gauthier was a French-Canadian engineer who relocated to Detroit as a young man in search of employment.  He ended up staying for 63 years, during which time he worked as a consultant to automobile companies, served as a French consular official, and founded his own company to manufacturer this device to test gas mileage. This is a photo of Gauthier from 1950:

In 1958, the Vacomat was utilized in a Ford dealer’s weekly contest. To participate in the contest, entrants simply took a Ford for a test drive. The Ford was equipped with a Vacomat, and the driver achieving the best miles per gallon won fifty gallons of gas:

The Vacomat surfaced again when gas prices began going up in the 1970s. In this 1973 advertisement, the tester was used to determine the mpg capability of the automobiles on the lot:

A hundred gallons of gas was offered as a very nice reward for purchasing one of this dealer’s cars, but that would only take you about 680 miles if your automobile of choice was that ’69 Lincoln Continental.

’56 Continental

Cut Loose, Footloose . . . . With A Bowser Red Sentry Long Distance Pump

We picked up this amazing gas pump the other day, and I am afraid I am going to have to keep this one. That original patinaed finish is simply irresistible.

This is a Bowser Red Sentry Long Distance Pump, and the patent dates cast into the base are from the years 1911 and 1914.

A quick search of the company’s namesake, S. F. Bowser, revealed that he was the inventor of the automobile gas pump, that the “S. F.” stands for “Sylvanus Freelove,” and that this is an actual picture of the man:

At this point, I am seriously intrigued.

Bowser was born in 1854 and started his kerosene oil tank company in 1885. He had many years’ experience as a traveling salesman and was heavily involved in the management of the business. The company was successful, and Bowser became a prominent citizen in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

1905 was the year he first developed an outdoor, self-measuring pump for dispensing gasoline conveniently and, more importantly, safely.

These pumps, aptly called “filling stations,” were located at the curb in front of garages and general stores.

You may be wondering about the Footloose reference in the title. Apparently, S. F. Bowser was the John Lithgow of the Industrial Age in that he severely disapproved of dancing. A condition of employment with S. F. Bowser & Company was compliance with the posted “Rules That Govern This Office,” and one of those rules forbade this activity. In 1907, newspapers reported that five employees of the firm had been terminated for “tripping the light fantastic” and being “addicted to the dancing habit.” I have no idea what Bowser was doing in the above photo, but I guess we can safely rule out the rhumba.

The Bowser Red Sentry operated with a hand crank and was not a visible pump. One that has been restored was auctioned off by Bonham’s a few years ago:

Photo credit: Bonham’s

Mine is missing many of the parts seen on the one pictured above, but it does still have a number of the original brass plates:

Sylvanus Freelove Bowser died in 1938 at the age of 83. Interestingly, gas pumps are STILL referred to as Bowsers in some parts of the world like Australia and New Zealand.

1953 International Travelall, Ancestor to Your SUV

This incredible 1953 International Travelall made an appearance at Kearney Cruise Nite ’22. 

For 1953, International introduced an entirely new line of trucks, the R-line, with 168 basic chassis models in 296 wheelbases.  It was a complete line of light, medium and heavy-duty trucks providing what International described as truck-to- job specialization to a degree never before achieved. The line was powered by seven different valve-in-head engines with horsepower ranging from 100 to 162.

This first generation Travelall had two passenger doors with additional rows of seating that could comfortably seat eight.  Those center and rear seats could be removed for quick conversion to an all-purpose carrier with a payload approximately seven feet long by five feet wide. The original power plant would have been a 100-hp Silver Diamond 220 engine, but the one pictured above has gone an entirely new direction with a 6.0L/6L90E, and that would make this ancestor to the modern SUV an absolute blast to own and drive.