Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The 1934 Jinx Day Auto Derby
Please check this blog site’s archive for two earlier articles which provide background information on the 1933/1934 Chicago World Fair.

The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair proved to be so successful, with over 22 million visitors during 1933, that the Fair’s governing board extended the fair’s run into 1934 to run from May 26 to October 31. The highlight for automobile racing fans came during the fair’s second year, when on Friday, July 13, 1934, Chrysler Motors presented the "Jinx Day Auto Derby." The ‘Derby’ featured thirteen antique cars scheduled for 13 laps around the Chrysler demonstration track and was broadcast coast-to-coast over the NBC “Blue” and the CBS radio networks.
Photo of the Chrysler Pavilion from the 1934 Century of Progress Records in the Special Collections and University Archives University of Illinois at Chicago Library  

The Chrysler test track, outside the giant Chrysler pavilion, measured a quarter mile in length with banked turns presided over by Barney Oldfield “the world’s master driver.”  The “far straightaway” had a 100-foot long ramp pitched to a 25% grade on the inside of the track, while the opposing straightaway featured a 45% banked ramp on the inside.

Each day a group of "Barney Oldfield's Hell Drivers"  performed a thrilling program on the track six times daily. At the end of each program one of “Hell Drivers” would deliberately roll a new car off the 45% banking into the sand pit in the center of the track to demonstrate the strength of the all-steel 1934 Plymouth body.

Billy Arnold, left, Walter P Chrysler, center, and Barney Oldfield right
in front of the Chrysler Motors building at the 1934 World's Fair

We only know the identity of two of of the "Hell Drivers;" retired 1926 AAA national champion Harry Hartz and Billy Arnold, the winner of the 1930 Indianapolis 500 in Harry's Miller-Hartz Special.  The pair later starred with Oldfield in a 1934 Plymouth promotional film, entitled ‘Death Cheaters Holiday.”

The thirteen cars  

All the antique cars for the "Jinx Day Auto Derby" were selected from the Chicago World’s Fair "Wings of a Century" display which had been assembled by John Ross Reed.  Several of the antique automobiles for the display came from the local collection of Roy Monsen, one of two sons of pioneering automobile racer and manufacturer Adolph Monsen whose life was detailed earlier in this blog.    

The first entry was an 1897 Stanley Steamer, produced by the twin Stanley brothers, Francis “F.E.” and Freelan, “F.O.” Stanley five years before they founded the Stanley Motor Carriage Company. The Stanley twins had earlier created a process for coating dry plates for photography which they sold to George Eastman (Eastman-Kodak) for $500,000 a portion of which they used to self-finance their automobile manufacturing business.

The Stanley twins with their creation

The 1897 Stanley, powered by two double-acting cylinders with the steam generated by the under-seat vertical fire-tube boiler, was rated at five horsepower with the power transmitted to the rear axle via chain drive. The Stanley’s two-seat wooden buggy body was perched atop a tubular steel frame outfitted with tiller steering and bicycle-like wire wheels.

Although the 1906 Stanley “Rocket” held the world’s automobile speed record at 127 miles per hour until 1911 (and the steam speed record until 2009), the rapid advancements of gasoline-powered cars eventually rendered steam powered cars obsolete.  The Stanley Motor Carriage Company was sold by F.O. Stanley shortly after his brother died in an automobile accident in 1918, and the new owners closed the company for good in 1924.  

Two of the “Jinx Day Auto Derby” entries were 1907 versions of the International “Auto Buggy,” produced by the International Harvester Company of America Incorporated of Chicago Illinois. The ‘buggy’ name is quite accurate, as the machine shared more in common with a horse-drawn buggy than an early automobile; for instance, it used 38- and 42-inch diameter wooden wheels with 1-3/4 inch wide hard rubber tires mounted.

Each of the International entries were powered by an air-cooled five-inch horizontally opposed two-cylinder engine with a two-speed transmission that fed dual chain drive to the rear axle. Publicity before the ‘Jinx Day’ race stated that with the two-seat International “Auto Wagon” was rated at 12 horsepower and the four-seat Surrey-topped machine was rated at 15 horsepower, although the International factory claimed 18-20 horsepower in period literature.

An old drawing of an IHC "Auto Buggy"

The International Harvester Company produced the "Auto Buggy" from 1907 through 1916, and then focused on the manufacture of farm equipment, implements, pickup trucks, and the world’s first sport utility vehicle, the Scout, beginning in 1960.  

Sears-Roebuck sold Lincolns like this one

Also entered for the “Jinx Day Auto Derby” were a pair of Lincoln automobiles. These cars built in 1900 and 1902, were not related to our present-day Lincoln automobiles; rather these machines were sold by the Sears Roebuck & Company through their catalog.  Each automobile was powered by a horizontally opposed two-cylinder air cooled engine that produced 10 horsepower, which was supplied to a friction drive transmission.

This style of transmission required the driver to keep a pedal depressed while driving to maintain contact between the rubber roller contact wheel and the flywheel. The Sears catalog advertised the ‘Motor Buggy’ capable of a top speed of 25 miles per hour, was delivered complete with 36-inch wooden wheels mounted with solid rubber tires, fenders, and a top all for $395.

The Lincoln was designed by Alvaro Krotz and built in a Sears-owned factory run by Mr. Krotz on Chicago’s near west side before Sears sold the factory and remaining stock of unassembled cars to the Lincoln Motor Car Works in 1911. Sears Roebuck & Company stopped selling the cars through their catalog in 1912, but the idea of catalog automobile sales was resurrected during 1952 and 1953 when Sears Roebuck & Company sold the Allstate, a rebadged Kaiser-Frazer Henry J economy car.   

The oldest car in the 1934 “Jinx Day” race was the 1896 “Tally-Ho,” manufactured by the Chicago Vehicle Company from the southern Chicago suburb of Harvey Illinois. It was powered by two-cylinder water-cooled engine with shaft drive and a buggy style body with a fringed “surrey” top. According to owner Monsen, the original owners took the car out for a drive shortly after its purchase and were so frightened by the experience that they parked the “Tally-Ho” in the corner of their basement and never drove it again. The car sat idle for 32 years until ten days before the “Jinx Day” race.

1904 Cadillac

A 1904 Cadillac Model B was also entered, but it is unclear which body style it used. Model B Cadillacs featured a 72-inch wheelbase pressed steel frame and axles powered by an 8 ¼ horsepower single-cylinder horizontal engine connected to a two-speed planetary transmission with chain drive which rode on 12-spoke 30-inch wooden wheels.

The Cadillac Motor Company was formed after Henry Ford left his first eponymous company and his partners brought in Henry Leland to build a new car that used Leland’s won design of a proven single-cylinder engine. The company founded in 1902 was named after the Frenchman who founded Detroit, Michigan in 1701. At the time of the 1934 World’s Fair, the Cadillac brand had been a part of the General Motors family for 25 years.

The National Auto Museum in Reno Nevada
displays this 1904 Buick recreation
no actual 1904 Buicks are known to exist

There was also another General Motors legacy car, a 1904 Buick Model B in the “Jinx Day” starting field. David Buick founded his company in in Detroit Michigan in 1902 but by late 1904 he ran out of money and sold Buick Motor Company then in Flint Michigan to William Durant the founder of General Motors. At the time he sold the company only 40 Buick automobiles had been built, and the 1904 was powered by the revolutionary “Valve-in-Head” 15 horsepower two-cylinder overhead valve engine.  The cast-iron block 159 cubic inch engine was mounted mid-frame underneath a rudimentary wooden frame that supported the seat and chain drive supplied power to the rear axle. 

The 1902 Holsman also built in Chicago was perhaps the crudest of the entries, a buggy design with 48-inch diameter wooden wheels and hard rubber tires. Instead of chain drive, the Holsman used a hemp rope to drive the two pulleys. Company founder Henry Holsman started his career as an architect and founded the company in 1902 with the motto “High Wheels Travel All Roads Because All Roads Are Made to be Traveled by High Wheels." The driver of the 1902 Holsman faced a severe performance disadvantage in the “Jinx Day” race with a five horsepower two-cylinder engine which provided a top speed of perhaps 10 miles per hour. 
1907 Staver
The final Chicago-built car in the “Jinx Day” race was the 1907 Staver Model C Stanhope High Wheeler, which was the company’s first production car. The car was built in their factory located at 76th and Wallace Streets by the Staver Carriage Company which had been founded in 1899 by Henry Staver.  Similar to severe other “Jinx Day” entries, the Staver, though it was powered by an eighteen horsepower four-cylinder engine, was more buggy than automobile as it rode on 36-inch diameter spoked wooden wheels that featured hard rubber tires. 

After founder Henry Staver died during 1907 his son Harry took the reins and started to grow the company rapidly with twelve different models offered. The Staver-Chicago was an expensive car, which sold at three times the price of an Oldsmobile, and this eventually caught up to the fast-growing company which Harry closed in 1914 to focus on real estate and finance.

Staver entered four cars in the 170-mile 1911 Kane County Trophy Race on the Elgin Road Course for cars with engines that displaced between 231 and 300 cubic inches with disastrous results. Team leader Harry Ireland was crushed to death in a practice crash after a rear tire blew out and flipped the Staver-Chicago into a ditch, while Joe Nikrent blew up the engine of his car and could not race. Of the remaining two Staver-Chicago entries only Gus Monckmeir finished as Ireland’s replacement, Fred Robillard crashed on the seventh of 20 laps when he swerved to avoid spectators on the race course.

The two-seat phaeton bodied 1906 Ford Model N entered was allegedly the fourteenth such car built. A front mounted 149 cubic inch inline upright four-cylinder engine rated at 15 horsepower drove the rear wheels via a long driveshaft. Unlike the later Ford Model T which was only available in black, the Model N was only available in maroon.  With a two-speed planetary transmission and internal expanding brakes the 1906 Model N retailed for $500 ($12,000 today).

The last two entries a pair of Maxwells were virtual “factory hot rods,”  The 1904 two-cylinder water-cooled 12 horsepower Model L ‘tourabout’ built in Tarrytown New York before a fire destroyed the factory in 1907 featured a two speed planetary transmission, shaft drive, and two-wheel mechanical brakes and had sold for $750.

The 1908 two-seat Maxwell Model LC “tourabout” the newest car in the “Jinx Day” race built after the factory relocated production to New Castle Indiana, boasted a horizontally opposed two-cylinder engine rated at ten horsepower that fed a large diameter cast-iron flywheel and a two-speed planetary transmission. Maxwell had experienced several years of automotive racing excellence in 1915-1916 with the Prest-O-Lite racing teams with drivers Tom Orr, Pete Henderson and Eddie Rickenbacker.  The Maxwell Model LC in the race had been driven by its South Dakota owners to the site of the Chicago World’s Fair.

The thirteen drivers

The names of some of the “Jinx Day” racers will be familiar to racing historians, while others are obscure and known only in the Chicago area. This article will list the car that driver drew for the “Jinx Day” race if it is known.        

The first entrant of course was Berna Eli “Barney” Oldfield. Although he had retired from racing more than fifteen years prior, in 1934 his name remained virtually synonymous with automobile racing to the average American citizen. Originally a champion bicycle racer Oldfield had started automobile racing in 1902, and on June 20, 1903, Oldfield became the first driver to race a mile track in one minute flat (60 miles per hour) on the Indiana State Fairgrounds dirt oval. For much of his later career, Oldfield and the AAA feuded over his appearance at “outlaw” (non-AAA sanctioned events) and exhibitions which led to long suspensions.

Barney competed in the Indianapolis ‘500’ twice; in 1914, he finished fifth in a Stutz, and in 1916 he again finished fifth in a French Delage. Before he retired from driving in 1918, Oldfield had raced the Harry Miller-built “Golden Submarine” on the board tracks for the final two seasons, but the car was frequently plagued with mechanical failures.

In retirement, Oldfield was president of the Oldfield Tire Company, a division of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, and Oldfield tires were used on the 1920 Indianapolis 500 winning Monroe which completed the race without a tire change.  In the “blind draw” for car assignments in the “Jinx Day,” Oldfield drew the highest horsepower car, the 1904 Maxwell Model L but also was scheduled for the final starting spot.

The second famed driver was Chicago’s own Cliff Woodbury the famed nineteen twenties board track racer who had driven his entire three-year career for one car owner and sponsor Chicago “labor organizer” IBEW local 134 Business Manager VP Michael Boyle in his “Boyle Valve Specials,” in 91 cubic inch inline eight cylinder supercharged Millers. Woodbury who only had a fourth-grade education drove with abandon, and if the car held up or he did not crash, Cliff was a contender- he scored two victories and 15 top five finishes over his 35-race career.

In his rookie start at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1926 Cliff finished third in the rain shortened race and then in his there for the 1929 Indianapolis ‘500’ Cliff started from the pole position, but crashed out  in the fourth turn on the fourth lap. Cliff retired after he was seriously injured during the fatal Ray Keech crash on the 1 ¼-mile board track in Altoona Pennsylvania in June 1929 and operated a service station and garage in Chicago. Cliff Woodbury drew the 1907 Staver for the Jinx Day race.

Andy Burt from Gardner Illinois raced in AAA races from 1915, when he drove for the Stutz team, through the early board track era with Duesenberg and Peugeot. His last appearance came in the 1921 Indianapolis ‘500’ when he relieved Percy Ford for eleven laps in the Frontenac enroute to Ford’s third place finish. Burt was a huge disadvantage in the 1934 “Jinx Day” race as he had drawn the tiller-steered Stanley steam powered car.    

There was one active AAA driver on the Chrysler track that July day, a native Iowan living in  Chicago named Harry P. Hunt who had failed to qualify for the 1932 ‘500’ in the Brooks Romo Lycoming-powered entry and more recently the 1934 ‘500’ with his own modified Duesenberg. Harry would try twice more to qualify that same car for the 1935 and 1936 500-mile races but fell short both times. His luck was better for the “Jinx Day Derby,” as he was scheduled to drive the 1906 Ford Model N.

C.A. Englebeck claimed to have started the first Indianapolis ‘500,’ but AAA records listed him only once, as he finished fifth in a Stoddard-Dayton at the 1909 Crown Point Indiana ‘Cobe Cup’ road race before he later worked in automotive sales in Chicago for Peerless and Cadillac.  Another entrant E. H. “Eddie” Snazenberg claimed to have raced in the 1903 and 1904 Vanderbilt Cup races, and said he drove in 1910 and 1911 at Indianapolis behind the wheel of a McFarlan. Snazenberg drew the 1907 International “Auto Wagon.”

Charles Coey an Irish immigrant who settled in Chicago was an early balloonist and racer who had won 24-hour races at Harlem Illinois and Detroit who had been associated of Barney Oldfield since 1906. Coey was a Thomas Flyer sales agent, who ran Chicago’s first public garage, first driving school and the first taxicab service which he sold to John D. Hertz. Coey also briefly built, sold, and raced “cycle cars” during the second decade of the twentieth century and was one of the founders of the Chicago Automobile Club.  Coey would drive the 1908 Maxwell Model LC in the Jinx Day Auto Derby.”   

James Levy also of Chicago was a long-time Chicago car dealer who had represented such marques as Chalmers, Oldsmobile and Autocar. During the first decade of the century, Levy had competed in and won several hill climbs in the Chicago area with Autocars.  There were two other former bicycle racers in the “Jinx Day” race; Curtis Betts, and Arthur Gardner who drew the 1896 Tally-Ho.

Adolph Monsen born in Norway in 1867 was an interesting man, profiled in three archived articles on the blog site. An early racer, race car sponsor, and a failed automotive manufacturer, Adolph catapulted to racing fame when he drove a 28-horsepower Marion, built in Indianapolis, to third place in the 1909 Indiana Trophy race for small displacement cars. After he drove in the G & J Tire Company (from Indianapolis) trophy race in 1910 at IMS and several other AAA road courses, Monsen limited his competition to hill climbs and reliability tours that covered thousands of miles.

There were several “Jinx Day” drivers whose claims of participation in races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway simply cannot be confirmed. Harry W. Cooper claimed to have competed in the 1919 Indianapolis ‘500,’ but research suggests that Cooper was a one-time bicycle racer who retired and sold automotive accessories in Chicago. 

The final entrant can only be described as a wild card. William Benjamin “WB” Chenoweth was a member of a pioneering Texas family who led a varied life - in his  autobiography, Foolin' with Gasoline, Electricity and Wind, he claimed to have invented the six-cylinder automobile engine in 1890, the first successful flying machine in 1908, the ‘Big Ben’ farm tractor in 1918, and atmosphere-produced electricity in 1920. 

After Henry Ford demanded $2,700 each to build two of Chenoweth's prototype six-cylinder engines, "WB," a garage owner in Snyder Texas, instead paid the Western Motor Company in Logansport Indiana to build them for $375 each. With those two engines, “WB” started the first intercity bus line in Texas around 1907. Chenoweth drew the rope-drive high-wheeled Holsman buggy for the race.

The race

Keeping in the spirit of “Jinx Day,” the American Automobile Association Contest board issued sanction #0013 for the event.  Harry Hartz was in charge of inspecting the vehicles and former Vice-President of the United States and 1925 Nobel Peace Prize winner General Charles G. Dawes was named the event referee. Official starter Thomas T. Hay of Chicago, the former President of the Chicago Automobile Trade Association was set to drop the green flag at 2:15 P.M. on July 13 1934.

There were few rules for the 13-lap race. Each car was to carry a driver and riding mechanic each attired in period clothing. Each car was assigned a pit stall if repairs were needed, but any car would be disqualified if it was pushed by a team of more than four men. With the cars all traveling counterclockwise, all overtaking during the race had to occur on the right of the slower car. Competitors were warned that “crowding” other cars off the narrow 18-foot track was not allowed.

An extra grandstand had been built specially for the event, and fifteen thousand people were in attendance for the race, but the ‘Jinx Day Auto Derby’ was not an artistic success.  The race was called after just seven laps were completed when only four of the original thirteen cars were still running. Barney Oldfield drove the 12-horsepower 1904 Maxwell to victory in the “Jinx Day Auto Derby” over former cycle car racer Charles Coey who drove the newest car of the race, a 1908 Maxwell.

Oldfield and his unidentified riding mechanic, who stood on the running board to provide “inside weight” on the tight turns, reportedly averaged 13 MPH. There was no purse awarded but Oldfield received the trophy topped by a black cat sponsored by Bernard E. Hutchinson long-time treasurer and vice president of Chrysler Motors.   

Why don’t race track promoters stage similar “fun races” like these anymore?



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