The Boneyard

James Edward "Ed" Klingler was a Tri-State newspaperman for more than 50 years and at the time of his retirement in 1972 was considered the "Dean of Evansville's Reporters".

In 1945 Klingler was publicly recognized by the government for his notable contribution to the morale and operations of the Evansville Shipyard through his coverage of Evansville's Industrial effort during World War II.

Specializing in "pocketbook" news as the business reporter, Mr. Klingler covered the Tri-State Oil Boom from the day of the very first wildcat strike. He created the column "Aisle Seat" that led to his "most enjoyable stint" as the movie reviewer. For many years Klingler attended every movie that came to town.

Klingler spent 43 years at the The Evansville Press

Mr. Klingler died in 1977 at the age of 70.

The Graham Brothers
"Evansville was the Capital of the Universe"

By Ed Klingler

Produced by John Baburnich

Reprinted Courtesy of Klingler Family

The Evansville Boneyard - Winter 2014

During the history of the automobile in the United States, there have been thousands of different makes of cars. More than 260 were produced in Indiana , and of those, 11 were manufactured in Evansville.

Indiana was in the forefront of automobile production before Michigan became the big producing state. Today, there are no automobiles manufactured in Evansville.

Evansville pioneered in the design and production of the horseless carriage during a period that didn’t end until 1959 with the departure of Chrysler’s Corporation’s Plymouth assembly plant.

Evansville missed becoming a motor city for the same reasons many other communities missed. The first men in the industry in Evansville had no experience, hardly any were adequately funded, and in at least one instance the Depression of the 1930s was fatal.

During the years it appeared Evansville might be a vehicle capital, there were three different truck ventures, and Evansville factories produced bodies, parts, and assemblies for other manufacturers.

One of the most popular stops on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was Washington, Indiana. As the trains ground to a halt at the station, passengers would crowd to the window on the north side of the cars in hope of seeing an automobile.

Usually, there was a motor buggy at the station, and for a number of the passengers, it would be their first look at the new- fangled horseless carriage.

The driver was a mere youngster, usually accompanied by one or two others to pick up express packages removed from the train. Sometimes a little excitement accompanied the presence if the automobile. Express wagon horses reared and buckled, while drivers cursed.

In warm weather, the passenger train windows were open, and those close enough to the automobile would try to communicate with those in the seat.

Sometimes a train passenger called out” “What kind of car is that?” The youthful driver would answer: “A Graham,” and the train passenger came back with” “Never heard of it.” And the boy’s answer: “You will!”

The year was 1901 and hardly anyone owned an automobile.

When the train passengers were lucky enough to see the boy in the automobile, they were seeing half the cars in Washington. The other half was owned by the boy’s father, Ziba Graham. Zib Grhaham bought his car, the boy built his. As a teenager he was probably Indiana’s youngest car manufacturer.

He started his project just as did many other car builders. He removed the wheels from an old buggy, and replaced them with wheels from two second-hand bicycles. Over the year axle, he mounted a one-cylinder engine originally used to propel a boat. The engine was linked to a rear wheel by a bicycle chain.

The driver sat on the right side of the seat, as was to become custom in European built cars. He steered by means of a rudder attached to the front axle and curving up over the dashboard. Since the car had no reverse, if there was no room to turn around, the driver simply dismounted, picked up the front end of the car and headit it another direction..

Creator of the car was Joseph C. Graham, the oldest of Ziba Graham’s three sons. Second oldest was Robert C. Graham, and the youngest was Ray A.

In addition to being brothers, the three boys were also close friends, and throughout their lives remained social and business associates. Joe Graham’s boast to the train passengers wasn’t idle. They made their mark in the auto industry, and as Joe, Bob, and Ray, were easily the most popular men in the automotive business.

From the beginning it was their intention to make their mark in Evansville, and but for a misfortune over which they had no control, Evansville might today be a vastly different city.

The Graham family pioneered in Daviess County, Indiana when the Indians still had possession of the property. The original Grahams put together the biggest farm in the area, 1,400 acres just north of Washington and saved their scalps, and also their farm, by negotiating with the Deleware Indians, instead of trying to shoot it out.

The Grahams thereafter,described themselves as farmers, but the farm had grown to 4000 acres. It adjoined the showplace farm of former U.S. Senator Homer C. Capehart. Between the Grahams and Capehart, the joint ownership probably represented the finest farm land in the state.

In short, the Grahams were never poor. Ziba F. Graham, father of Joe, Bob and Ray, owned and operated Washington’s first electric utility, and like many other utilities, also owned the electric quality system that served the community. The trolley was Graham’s biggest customer.

Joe was educated at the Jasper, Indiana Academy and Christian Brothers College in St. Louis; Bob attended St Simon’s Academy in Washington, got his degree at St. Mary’s (Kansas) College, and studied at Fordham. Ray also graduated from St. Mary’s, but did his post graduate work at the University of Illinois.

While all three of Ziba Graham’s sons liked the farm and did their share of work on it, they were educated in business and intended to pursue it with the eventual aim of establishing themselves in Evansville. Their father, successful himself in business, was willing to see them try.

Joe Graham was barely of voting age when his father helped him finance the purchase of the Southern Indiana Glass Works in nearby Loogootee, Indiana. The enterprise was in difficulty, but under Joe Graham’s management, its situation steadily improved. The product was mainly glass container, chiefly bottles. In those days, containers were formed by glass blowers, an operation in which professionals forced the glass into its necessary form with breath from their own lungs. It was a slow process.

The business speeded up when Joe Graham bought the patent rights on a device that mechanically blew bottles into their desired shape.

There was however a weakness in the process. The mechanically produced bottles had a weakness in the shoulder of the bottle, where it joins the neck. Joe Graham devised an alteration in the process that strengthened the shoulder, and had it patented. The bottle were recognized in the trade as the strongest in the market, and also the most favorably priced.

With this advantage to go on, the Grahams built a plant in Evansville at Kentucky and Canal in 1913 which shortly was the biggest independent bottle producing plant in the world. Three years later, they sold it to the Owens Bottle Company of Toledo, Ohio, later to become the famous Owens-Illinois Glass Company. Owens shortly moved the operations to Toledo, and the building became the Triple-A Catsup Company plant for few years before being sold to Servel. When Servel closed its business in Evansville, it was acquired by Sign Crafters, Inc., an Evansville company designing and producing electric signs on a national business.

The Graham brothers, Joe, Bob, and Ray, young for so much success, now were in the big money, sill sold on Evansville as a place to do business and ready to venture further. They built a big plant at Stringtown and Maxwell and in 1919, formed the Graham Brothers Truck Company.

They selected their time with a great deal of acumen. The truck had proved itself a worthy industrial, commercial, and utility vehicle on the battlefields of Europe during World War I, which had just ended. As yet, they could envision no great demand for it as a farm vehicle, although Ray, the youngest brother, was predicting that only the lack of an adequate highway system worked against that market and that it would soon be corrected. In selling farm tractors for Hercules during the war, he reported he encountered frequent inquiries from farmers regarding the availability of trucks.

Besides, Evansville had a comfortable backlog of experienced body builders who had learned their trade building slip-on bodies for trucks in the Hercules body plant.

Their plant contained almost 500,000 square feet of floor space, the biggest one-story industrial structure in Evansville.

Since they didn’t plan on building engines or transmissions, it was a question where they would get the power trains to install in their trucks because a competitor wasn’t likely to supply the equipment.

The brothers rated the Dodge truck engine the best vehicular power plant in the business, so their arrangement for engines and transmissions was made with the Hartmetz Brothers' Dixie Motors Co., then Evansville’s Dodge dealer.

The Graham truck was an overnight success, largely due to the fact they built a full line of trucks of trucks and buses to meet almost any requirement. Their catalog of that day shows the most complete line of such vehicles available in the nation from any one manufacturer.

Of course, it didn’t take Dodge long to find out where it Evansville dealer was disposing of so many engines, and the Grahams found it necessary to make a deal direct with Dodge. In this transaction, Graham trucks became the tailed that wagged the dog, surpassing Dodge in truck production and becoming the second biggest producer in the nation, topped only by General Motors.

In 1924, Dodge bought control of Graham Brothers Truck in exchange of stock, with the provision the brothers continue as producers. But the operation began to move slowly to Detroit over the objections of Joe, Bob and Ray, who always had intended to remain in Evansville.

The brothers sold their Dodge interest in 1927, thus writing off the Graham truck and used the money to buy control of the financially plagued Paige-Detroit Motor Company, which in the previous year had lost $4 million. As was usual with them, they turned it into a good deal. They changed the name to Graham-Paige and sold 78,000 cars the first year; this, in those days, was a lot of automobiles.

The success of the brother in Evansville had a side effect of advantage to their hometown of Washington. The family sold the electric utility to the city of Washington, The mayor, John McCarthy took it over in 1920.

The city’s tax rate at that time was $1.37 per $100 valuation on real property. Mayor McCarthy applied the profits from the utility to paying city expenses, cutting the tax levy to 38 cents per $100 valuation. During the Depression years, the rate never went above 46 cents.

Encouraged by their first venture in the auto business, the Grahams again turned their attention to Evansville. While Chrysler Corporation was buying Dodge Brothers Company in 1928, the Grahams were leasing the Johann Manufacturing Company building, the former Karges wagon works at Read and Morgan, in which to build automobile bodies.

It was early in the year, and the Grahams already had decided on a new plant in Evansville at 820 E. Columbia in which to build bodies on a big scale. The plant at Read and Morgan in reality was the training ground for the new enterprise.

On November 19th, 1928, a bitter cold day, the new Graham plant was inaugurated. The Chamber of Commerce sponsored Graham Day, with one if the biggest parades in Evansville history. The celebration was topped off by a civic dinner that night, with Joe, Bob and Ray as honored guests. Their response was to present the police department with an especially equipped limousine, and a souped-up engine that would drive it at 120 miles per hour.

It was a significant year in other respects vital to Evansville. In 1928, Chrysler brought out the Plymouth, a family car and the lowest priced in the Chrysler line.

Evansville’s new Graham-Paige body plant was in full production in a matter of weeks, employing 1,600 and turning out 360 bodies a day. They were shipped to the Graham Paige plant in Detroit where the car was assembled.

What the Grahams had in mind was moving the entire operation to Evansville, piece by piece, until the completed car was assembled in Evansville in a complex surrounding the body plant.

Fate decreed otherwise. In October,1929, when the body plant had been operating hardly a year, the market crashed, launching what would later be termed The Great Depression.

It took a while for the disaster to make itself felt. The Graham-Paige was available with three six-xylinder models and two eights. The body design was the box-like configuration shared by most autos of that day. But the business began to decline, not only for the Grahams, but for the entire auto industry. They decided to slug it out for a larger share of what business there was.

In 1930 the name of the car was changed from Graham-Paige to Graham, and in 1931 the brothers introduced a revolutionary new design they called Blue Streak. It was a streamlined body in a style known in the design trade as ‘tear drop’. It was a real eye-catcher which was to establish an entirely new trend in body design.

Robert W. Baskett, the Evansville Graham dealer, later was to recall that as the new cars were delivered from Detroit by trailer, crowds of several hundred would gather around to marvel. A part of the attraction was a new paint finish developed by the Grahams, which made it appear the metal itself provided the color, a metallic look with a bright sheen that in years later would become a standard in the industry. The fiction soon started that the sheen was achieved by grinding fish scales into the paint. Another innovation was the rubber cushioned chassis springs to eliminate noise and soften the ride and the first aluminum engine pistons. The next year Plymouth started mounting Plymouth engines on rubber cushions. Another first from the Graham Brothers: the four-speed transmission, one day to become the famous ‘four on the floor”.

But it was an uphill climb merely staying in the business, and by 1932 the Evansville body plant was closed as the Grahams sought to cut the cost of operations in order to stay afloat. The entire auto industry built hardly a million cars that year. Body operations went to the former Wayne Body Company in Wayne. Michigan, which the Grahams had acquired in 1928 when they bought the Paige Detroit Corporation.

And 1932 was a disastrous year for the brothers in another respect, the untimely death of Ray, who had been their financial expert.

Joe and Bob threw out the dice in the auto industry for the last time in 1940 with another radical venture in design with which they hoped to cope with the sagging market.

Unlike their venture into streamlining with the ‘Blue Streak’ model, they undertook to salvage a proven quantity, pioneered by Cord, a product vastly admired to this very day, but unsuccessful in the marketplace of the Depression year of the early 1930’s. They bought the tools, dies, jigs and fixtures from Cord, and the last pre-war Grahams has the Cord styling which the Grahams called ‘Hollywood’. Fate intervened again and Grahams would never know if their effort was a success or failure. World War II restrictions stopped all auto production before they found out. They publicly announced in 1944 they would resume production following the war, but they did not. In 1947, a post-war coalition of Joseph W. Frazer and Henry J. Kaiser, both of whom had grown financially fat producing war goods, bought the Graham auto production assets in which to build Frazer and Kaiser cars. The new venture did not make it.

Meanwhile, the Grahams found a resounding success in another field: real estate management. They bought a series of sandbars off the coast of Miami coast and put together another fortune with the creation of Bal Harbour, Greater Miami’s most exclusive hotel and residential area.

The dream of an industrial empire centered in Evansville was finally ended.

Not long before his death in 1970, an eighty-eight year old Joseph Graham wrote an Evansville friend a letter in which he said, ”When we were boys and young men, Evansville was the capital of the Universe. We always thought it had everything a successful industrial town needed. We loved the town. We never understood why it failed to achieve the destiny we felt was inevitable.”

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