Get Your Car Ready for that Decoration Day Trip

I have been dealing in classic car parts for many years, but I recently found something I have never seen before: a vintage “car awning” that dates to the 1940s.

I have a pair of them, and they are in remarkably good condition for their age. They are made of blue “plastic-coated canvas” over a metal frame, and the brand “WEATHER MASTER” is marked on the inside of the canvas:

This advertisement from 1942 points out that the awnings will keep out both sun and rain:

It also indicates that occupants will still be able to move the windows up and down, and this is because the awnings attach to the door frame in the same manner that a peep mirror does:

Here are two more advertisements from 1947 and 1948 that showcase the car awnings next to other ways to keep cool, namely the Cool-O-Matic Car Cooler and steel Venetian blinds for the rear window. The bottom ad also points out that the awnings can be folded up when not in use.

My awnings do collapse to an easily stored size:

This 1942 advertisement recommends utilizing these user-friendly awnings to get your car ready for a Decoration Day trip.

Decoration Day originated after the Civil War and eventually became Memorial Day. Can’t you just picture a family using the awnings to keep the kids cool as they head out to the cemetery or a parade and picnic, complete with patriotic speeches?

Decoration Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, and James Garfield was the one giving a speech that day at Arlington Cemetery. If you have never read it, you should look it up because it is beautiful. This is the conclusion:

“Hither our children’s children shall come to pay their tribute of grateful homage. For this are we met to-day. By the happy suggestion of a great society, assemblies like this are gathering at this hour in every State in the Union. Thousands of soldiers are to-day turning aside in the march of life to visit the silent encampments of dead comrades who once fought by their side. From many thousand homes, whose light was put out when a soldier fell, there go forth to-day to join these solemn processions loving kindred and friends, from whose heart the shadow of grief will never be lifted till the light of the eternal world dawns upon them. And here are children, little children, to whom the war left no father but the Father above. By the most sacred right, theirs is the chief place to-day. They come with garlands to crown their victor fathers. I will delay the coronation no longer.”

Kelley Blue Book Origins

In my last post, I mentioned finding this Kelley Blue Book for March and April of 1969. That makes it a fairly old one, but KBB origins go back much further than that.

The Kelley Blue Book story begins with R. Leslie Kelley, an innovative entrepreneur who founded the Kelley Kar Company, a used car dealership, in 1918 Los Angeles. He was extremely good at it and eventually owned Les Kelley Ford, touted as the largest Ford dealership in the world. To acquire needed inventory in the early days, he would publish a list of cars he was willing to purchase and the prices he was willing to pay.  Others in the industry began using this list as a guide in their own endeavors, and Kelley soon realized there was money to be made providing this service to lenders and other dealers. The first Blue Book appeared in 1926, and Kelley’s brother, Buster Kelley, was eventually put in charge of publishing. Many early automobile advertisements, like these two from 1926, referenced the Blue Book:

Kelley also published a monthly report on conditions in the auto industry and even became involved in determining car values for tax assessment purposes for the State of California. This story appeared in 1928:

The name “Blue Book” was apparently influenced by the snooty social register of the same name. Kelley also sold what he termed “Blue Seal Automobiles,” as seen in this 1932 ad:

In this 1928 photo taken at the Kelley Kar Company on South Figueroa, you can see that the sign features the same blue and gold ribbon medallion that is used on the cover of the above Blue Book.

The purchaser in the above photo is Eddie Quillan, an actor who appeared on both the big and small screens from 1926-1987. You may recognize him from Mutiny on the Bounty or The Grapes of Wrath.

Another historical footnote: Kelley played a small role in one of the biggest crime stories of 1925-1926, the first federal agent killed in the line of duty. The agent was Edwin C. Shanahan of the FBI, and he was killed in Chicago by a prolific car thief and all-around bad guy named Martin J. Durkin when he attempted to arrest Durkin for transporting stolen automobiles in violation of the Dyer Act. After murdering Shanahan, Durkin fled to California and sold the car after changing the serial number on the engine and forging a pink slip. The car was then sold to Kelley, and the story made the papers when the original owner filed suit to get his car back. Hoover prioritized the pursuit of Durkin, and he was later apprehended and imprisoned.

Kelley eventually stopped dealing cars and focused only on the publishing service where later innovations included the effect of a car’s mileage on its value. It all started with used cars, however, and Kelley’s own description about the humble beginnings of his business appeared in a 1929 newspaper article:

And what a career it was.

Flea Market in a Ghost Town (with Car Parts)!

There is a ghost town called Sparks in rural Kansas that hosts an impressive flea market with ties to the past. I had never been there, so my daughter and I decided to make the four-hour trip yesterday to attend this biannual extravaganza. My sister drove up from Kansas City to meet us at this little junction located 23 miles west of St. Jo, Missouri, in what constituted a leap of faith as none of us knew what to expect. After eating at the Bread Bowl in Hiawatha (amazing pie) we headed down the barely paved road that led straight to Sparks. Keep in mind that Sparks is an unincorporated town with a population of around nine. Not nine hundred, mind you, just nine. When the flea market came into view, it was quite a shock to see 500 vendors, crowds of people, and cars parked along the highway as far as the eye could see.

This is the view walking up to the market. I meant to take more pictures, but I was soon overcome with a bad case of rust fever which caused me to forget all about photo ops.

I found lots of car parts and would have purchased more, but I did not want to force my family members to schlep around the heavy metal remnants of automotive history (again). Here are some of my favorite purchases:

I was particularly happy with the lighting finds. Lower right is a ’58 Caddy taillight, and the torpedo light sitting in the upper left corner of the picture is for a ’40 Chevy car or truck. Leaning against it is a ’50 chevy taillight, and the fog light with the amber bulb has a seldom seen International tag. I could not resist the 1969 Kelley Blue Book, and that old “winged Viking” radiator cap is broken but still oh-so-beautiful.

The flea market is open through Sunday and will return August 31st if you want to see what treasures you can uncover. While researching the history of Sparks, I discovered that the town used to be a thriving community with a bank, blacksmith, restaurants, stores, schools and, of course, churches. It is fitting that the town comes alive again the last week of August as this is something of a modern continuation of a long-ago tradition for the community. That tradition was described in a 1916 newspaper story:

“One of the best of all assets for Sparks . . . attracts more people to the town in a brief period than most all others combined. That is the annual fair and picnic. This event has occurred regularly for the past sixteen years and it embraces the best of all fall festivities in Doniphan County.

The fair and picnic at Sparks lasts four days and is usually held the later part of the month of August each year. . . The people all around become enthused to a high state over the event and it is beyond peradventure the greatest occasion for a brief season of annual enjoyment and sociability that is known in any community the size of Sparks.”

This photo depicts the citizens of Sparks laying a church cornerstone in 1915. I especially love the jaunty little gent in the lower left corner posing with the automobile. You just know that was a future “car guy!”