On The Road

September 1957 – The Edsel

1958 Edsel 2-door Citation Convertible

In September, 1957, Ford Motor Company introduced the Edsel.  Named for founder Henry Ford’s son, Edsel B. Ford, the Edsel started life as the E-car, which stood for “experimental car”.  The Edsel, placed between the Ford and Mercury brands, was intended to compete with intermediate General Motors lines, such as the Oldsmobile, while the company took the Lincoln brand upmarket.  But it was not to be.  The Edsel, after years of development, was manufactured for only three years, never appealed to the buying and driving public, lost millions of dollars for Ford Motors, and has since become a catchword for failure.

Edsels were produced for the 1958, 1959, and 1960 model years.  The 1958 models introduced in September 1957 included the Citation and Corsair, based on Mercury designs and manufactured in Mercury plants, and the smaller, Ford-based Pacer and Ranger models, manufactured in Ford plants.  All models were available as two-door or four-door hardtops.  The Citation and the Pacer also had two-door convertible versions.  Edsel innovations included its “rolling dome” speedometer and center-of-the-steering-wheel, Push-button Teletouch transmission shifting system.  Ergonomically-designed driver controls and self-adjusting brakes (earlier pioneered by Studebaker) were other special features.

1958 Edsel Pacer 2-door Hardtop

The first model year for Edsel sold 63,110 cars in the United States; the second-year sales topped out at 44,891; for the 1960 model year only 2,846 units were produced.

Why did the Edsel fail?  Speculators cite primary problems with marketing philosophy and strategy, quality control, design appeal, and competition within a car market heading into recession.  Marketing failed to sufficiently research and place the Edsel within the Ford Motor product line for the buying public; switching from Ford or Mercury to Edsel (and back) on the same assembly lines led to manufacturing mistakes; the “horsecollar” (or toilet seat!) grille and confusing rear taillights and steering wheel buttons were unattractive to buyers; and increasing consumer interest in fuel-efficient vehicles also added to Edsel’s demise.  Robert McNamara, part of upper-level management at Ford in 1957 and later the first non-Ford family member to serve as company president until President John F. Kennedy recruited him to be Secretary of Defense, never liked having separate brands within the Ford line.  He progressively reduced and then eliminated the Edsel advertising budget and finally convinced fellow managers to shut down production in the fall of 1959.

Image Credit: Carpedia

On The Road – 1957 Flxible Starliner

1957 Flxible Starliner: Photo Source Hemmings

1957 Flxible Starliner

I think I’m in love. Road trip!

The beauty on wheels above is a 1957 Flxible Starliner, gloriously restored on the outside and fully updated on the inside for modern-day glamping.

The Flxible Company cornered the market on excitement from its very beginning. Chartered in 1914 at the Flexible Sidecar Company, the Loudonville, Ohio assembly line began turning out motorcycle-sidecar combinations for civilian and military use in World War I. Flexible jettisoned the “e” in 1919 in order to copyright their brand. Bigger changes were necessary in the early 1920s when Henry Ford began cranking out inexpensive Roadsters, undercutting the motorcycle-sidecar market. Flxible adapted by flexing into custom bus, hearse, and ambulance manufacturing. Touring companies’ investments in Flxible buses paid off when they were able to comfortably carry sightseeing parties in style over long distances. One quality-built coach racked up over 275,000 miles from 1925 to 1928.

Flxible developed the Clipper, a 29-passenger bus, in the late 1930s. Cities, airports, National Parks, resorts, and movie studios maintained fleets of dependable, economical Clippers. During World War II, Flxible retooled their factories to make tank, fighter plane, and ship parts for the war effort. Touring coach production returned in 1946 with the introduction of a redesigned Clipper, displaying a trademarked front “smiley face”. In 1950, the Flxible fleet expanded with the addition of Visicoach – a Clipper-based model with extra head- and engine-room.

The Starliner was introduced in 1957. It featured a new and innovative suspension system including torsion bars, which savvy 1950s Mad Men named the Flxilastic suspension system. Early Starliners sported eyebrow windows on the roof and under-floor storage bays. A total of only 276 Starliners were manufactured between 1957 and 1967, when Clipper-based model production was discontinued. Many surviving vintage Starliners – similar to the better-known vintage Airstream trailers – have been revamped and converted into motor homes. An immaculately restored Starliner motorhome is currently on the market for – drum roll, please – $399,900.

Image Credit: Hemmings

August 14, 1957 – Interstate Highway Sign Design Adopted

On August 14, 1957, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) adopted the familiar red and blue shield design for interstate highway markers.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, had been impressed by Germany’s well-engineered Autobahn.  He could see the value of a system of high-quality roads for the United States, as well, and through persistent efforts persuaded Congress to approve and fund the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.  The initial mileage to be constructed with federal funds was set at 41,000 miles, which was later increased.  As of 2016, the interstate system covers 48,191 miles of American countryside.

The AASHO was given the task of numbering the new network of gleaming asphalt.  They decided to use a mirror image of the numbering system created for the US highway system; low numbers would start on the West Coast (I5, etc) and then increase  moving east across the continent.  AASHO’s Executive Secretary, Alf Johnson, created a map of officially numbered routes, which was adopted in September, 1957.

But a design for a special sign to mark individual routes on this new transportation web was needed.  AASHO decided to get state highway officials involved by inviting them to submit their own proposals – a contest of sorts.  The best designs were installed on a road leading to the site of a highway officials’ meeting in Illinois.  On their way to the meeting, attendees were asked to observe the signs, both in daylight and at night.  Which ones did they like?  Which were the most visible and easiest to read?  Which ones said “Get out on the road and explore this great country!” to them?  The AASHO gathered their feedback, and the Texas shield design was declared the winner, with the addition of the word “Interstate” across the top as suggested by Missouri (the “Show-Me” and also, evidently, “Tell-Me” state).  The final design was approved on August 14, 1957.  It has since been trademarked to prevent advertising signs from capitalizing on and diverting interstate motorists’ attention from the road ahead.

Interstate Highway Numbering Plan

Interstate Highway Numbering Plan

Image Credits: AASHO; Federal Works Agency

Vintage 1957 – DJ Wee Willie Nelson at KVAN

 

 

In 1957, Mrs. Myrle Nelson tended bar at the Goble Tavern in Goble, Oregon. The tavern and the grange hall were aging remnants from the small community’s timber industry past. Across the Columbia River, in Vancouver, Washington, radio KVAN employed Meryl’s son, a 24-year-old aspiring country singer-songwriter who went by the on-air name of “Wee Willie Nelson.”

Willie already had a songbook started and probably played for the tavern’s patrons. Kathy Dalton Showalter, whose parents owned the Goble at the time, says, “everyone played in those days . . . and it was just the employee’s son, you know? . . . Nobody would have paid attention.” Current Goble resident Harvey Meyers lets the cat out of the bag with a story from his father, Rusty Meyers, who led “the best Western swing band in the Northwest” and was also a disc jockey at KVAN. Willie approached Rusty to sit in with his band. Rusty refused because he “just couldn’t stand Willie’s voice,” which he described as “whiney” and likened to a “stuck hog.”

But 1957 turned out to be the start of something big for Nelson. He cut his first single under the “Willie Nelson Records” label. Side A presented “No Place For Me.” Side B offered “Lumber Jack,” a “lumberjack-theme . . . pandering to Oregonian pride.” It went exactly nowhere.

Not so with Willie. The man who arrived in the Northwest to “cadge money from his mother,” went “on the road again” for Texas and the big time. Patsy Cline recorded “Crazy” in 1961, which climbed to No. 2 on the country music charts in 1962. Willie also released his first album that year, “. . . And Then I Wrote.”

Vintage 1957 – Curly Redwood Lodge

Curly Redwood Lodge LogoRedwood trees are big. Really big.

How big? Tom Wyllie, who already owned the Redwood Room in Klamath, California (and knew a thing or two about big redwoods from looking out his window) wondered if he could build an entire lodge out of one redwood tree. And not just any enormous redwood tree – an enormous curly redwood tree!

“Curly” wood trees are a genetic variation in which the wood fibers form in a wave pattern. The waves can vary in size and direction. The greater the wave size, the more the “curl” will show up as a stripe when the wood is finished. Curly wood is often used to beautiful effect in crafting furniture or musical instruments.

Wyllie and Redwood

Tom Wyllie

Tom found his tree. It was over 18 feet diameter at its base. To be transported, it needed to be cut into five separate logs and then each log needed to be quartered. It produced 57,000 board feet of lumber and then those thousands of feet of lumber produced Crescent City, California’s Curly Redwood Lodge.

The tree came down in 1952. Five years later, in 1957, the (curly redwood) doors opened to the public. Every piece of wood that went into the homey, horseshoe-shaped lodge – floor, walls, joists, paneling, posts, doors, and more –  have been lovingly maintained and preserved to this day. In the mood for hiking in a redwood forest, walking on the beach, and enjoying a retro-blast from the mid-century past? Check into the Curly Redwood Lodge.

Curly Redwood Lobby

Curly Redwood Lodge lobby

Images Credit: Curly Redwood Lodge/Facebook

Vintage 1957 – Page, Arizona

Page Business District

A Page out of history: Page, Arizona Business District, 1957.                                             Image Credit: Petey Lloyd Dietz

One of the largest – and most controversial – government projects of the 1950s and 1960s was the construction of Arizona’s Glen Canyon Dam and the ensuing creation of Lake Powell. Those in favor of sufficient supplies of water and electric power for the western states, and those in favor of preserving our nation’s natural landscape were in conflict from the very beginning of the project and continue so to this day.

Situated on Manson Mesa, overlooking the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, Page, Arizona has grown from a temporary tract of trailers to a city of over 7500 people. The original trailer community, know initially as Government Camp, formed in 1957 to provide housing for project workers and their families. Additional land was added in 1958, after a 24 square-mile land swap with the nearby Navajo Nation. Streets were laid out as part of a plan for future housing, shops, schools and churches. From the start of construction in 1956 until completion of the dam, power station and associated infrastructure in 1966, lives were lived and memories were created by families drawn to an outpost on the wild and beautiful border of Utah and Arizona.

One of those families belonged to Mike Adams. Mike’s father was a pilot and their first home was at the airport. They arrived in 1959 or 1960, Mike recalls, and he started attending 1st grade. His family moved quite a bit, including time in trailer courts (where he watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan), apartments, and park ranger housing. When he was in high school, the family moved into a house his father built on Date Street and First Ave. As Mike writes in his blog, his “first bike, first girlfriend, first job, first bank account, first car, first home of my own, and first wife (and only wife – we’re still married)” all happened in Page, as the town came to be called in 1975. He no longer lives there but he has found a way to reconnect with his past and his friends through his photo blog of Page history.

With his permission, here are a few of the great photos he and his friends have shared on his site:

MCS Trailer Court

The MCS Trailer Court. Image Credit: Petey Lloyd Dietz

1272-usbr-p-557-420-03586-apr-1959-the-mens-store

The Men’s Store. Image Credit: USBR

Ernie Severino

Ernie Severino inside the original Page Jewelers. Image Credit: Ernie Severino, Jr.

The best histories always include the history of individuals and the real lives they lived. Mike writes well and has great memories to share. Thank you, Mike, for sharing your history with us.

Mike Adams

Mike Adams

Image Credit (Page, AZ): City of Page, Arizona website

On the Road: 1957 Jeep FC-150 Wrecker

Jeep FC-150 Wrecker. Photo: Fourwheeler Network.

Jeep FC-150 Wrecker. Photo: Fourwheeler Network.

How cute is this mini-tow truck?!

The 1957 Jeep FC-150 was one of the first light-duty forward control (FC) trucks manufactured in the United States. “Forward control” means that the cab sits all the way up front, over the engine. At only 147″ in length, and 71″ in width, this FC-150 shares the same wheelbase as the classic Jeep CJ-5 and is only ten inches longer. Tiny! Jeep sold the FC-150 in several body styles: pickup; cab and chassis; stakebed (what I think of as a panel truck); stripped chassis (just a frame and engine); and flat-faced cowl (stripped chassis plus front fenders and hood, ready to be customized into a school bus or special delivery van). The cab came in Standard or Deluxe versions. Deluxe treated the driver to dual sun visors, dual armrests, rear quarter windows, a better padded seat, and other fancy touches.  A heater and defroster were extra! And no radio! There were several engine sizes to choose from. This FC-150 is powered by the smaller, 134 I4 four-cylinder, which delivered about 75 hp to haul loads up to 1730 lbs in a tight 18′ turning circle. Jeep FC models were in production from 1956 to 1964 and went through several upgrades and revamps. When the first models rolled out, Tom McCahill of Mechanix Illustrated quipped, “It’s rugged as an Olympic weight-lifter and as able as a three-armed Irishman in a bar fight.”

This particular FC-150 has an amazing story. Look close at those tires. They are original! FC collector and expert Craig Brockhaus found this little wrecker in 1989 just miles from his home in Missouri. Jim Allen at Fourwheeler Network reports that the wrecker

“was only showing 2,817 miles but had been sitting a very long time. It started life as a service station truck in Des Peres, Missouri, and the original owner installed a dealer-accessory dual-rear-wheel kit as well as a Towboy wrecker. He didn’t use the truck very long. In the mid-’60s, the land upon which his service station was built was purchased to build a mall. The truck went to his home and sat for about 25 years before Craig came along. The truck now has 2,892 miles on it.”

Watson Towboy Ad. Image: The FC Connection.

Watson Towboy Ad. Image: The FC Connection.

So, what’s a Towboy, you ask? Craig Brockhaus explains on his website, The FC Connection.

“The Watson ‘Towboy’ is a bolt-in, hand crank wrecker unit that was produced to help garage owners move vehicles easily around the shop without tying up the big wrecker that was used mainly for emergency vehicle retrieval. The Towboy unit was easily installed or removed in about 5 minutes from any vehicle and proved invaluable to many an automotive shop owner.”

More pictures of this great little slice of 1957 Americana can be viewed using the Fourwheeler or FC Connection links. Check out the fully restored interior, which also includes the original seats!