Wheel Tracks Articles Archives

Enthusiast of the Month: Tom McHugh

Tom McHughRegular readers will know that during our 50th year (2003) Wheel Tracks has been sharing information on some of our most special members… those that have by their time, ability and continued work, have won our “Big E” award. We all are Vermont Automobile Enthusiasts and the Big E is for Super Enthusiasm.

This month’s nod goes to a two time president who is still young enough to do it again… except he has been so busy doing so many other things for the club that there hasn’t been time. Our 1979 President, Gen Morgan, endorses this Big E as follows:


Who is Mr. Flea Market of the VAE? It’s Tom McHugh of course. Tom has been doing the flea markets for all shows for many years. Before completing requests for vendor spots for the Shelburne show, he is also receiving requests for the Stowe show. It is now small task to handle the correspondence, phone calls and emails.

Tom goes to Stowe a week previous to the event to get everything organized. For instance, he draws a good size map, which shows the location in the field of every vendor. It is a most convenient sort of reference. The trailer has become an information center.

Tom joined the club in 1971, did the offices and served as president in 1974 and again in 1989. He has hosted home meets with chicken BBQs, planned mystery tours, and worked on Wheel Tracks to name a few activities. In other words, you name it and he has done it for the club.

With his committee, he has just finished the Book of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Club. A lot of hours were spent on this project. As a result, we have a wonderful book of VAE history, which also includes many fine photos. The membership is gratefully appreciative of all the work and effort involved. Tom is retired from General Dynamics but has gone back to work for the company again.

Besides his interest in Antique Cars, of which the Oldsmobile is his favorite, he also collects antiques and is interested in genealogy. Somehow he finds time to be a volunteer tour guide for Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington.

Tom is a busy person, but never too busy to help or chair an event for the VAE. Oh, and don’t forget his bean hole beans!

The Club extends condolences to Tom and his family on the recent death of his granddaughter, Jennifer.


Congratulations Tom for work well done and thanks Gen, for reminding us that it is people like Tom McHugh that keep the “E” in the VAE.

Infamous Lemons: 1938 Phantom Corsair

1938 Phantom CorsairThe Corsair, based on a Cord automobile chassis, was more an out-right failure of styling than of design. The Cord Company had been responsible for some very good-looking automobiles. This was party because Cord chassis, with their high-performance engines and exotic front-wheel-drive configuration, were naturals for any designer with a yen for sleekness and and exclusivity. Among the designers Cord cooperated with were Gordon Buehrig and Carl Van Ranst, who turned out notable designs for the L-29, the 810 and 812 Berline.

There were, however, those designers who had dreams of beauty and elegance but were unable to realize them – either through their own love of idiosyncrasy, or through lack of talent. Perhaps the worst designs were those perpetrated by the designer with zeal but unclear purpose

The design was supposed to be a sleek, futurist bombshell of a car, powered by a high-performance Lycoming straight-eight engine. In a way it was ahead of its time with completely faired-in fenders, and a low silhouette. Its proportions, however, were all wrong, and the fender sides dropped straight down from the windows like the sand guards on British Crusader tanks of the period – an effect that was only emphasized by the full skirts on the front and rear wheels.

The headlights were like cat’s eyes, vertical slit units set in sockets that were molded bulbs of metal. They strongly resembled the eyes of a semi-submerged hippopotamus and evoked a sense of bemused loneliness. As a whole the car looked fat and behind the strange front end, the sides ran back in unbroken plainness, without even door handles in the seamless panels.

A limited production run was planned but never realized. This may be due to the car’s reception in its big chance at a public-relations coup… the car was featured in the 1938 Selznick International Films motion picture “Young at Heart” staring Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Janet Gaynor. The Corsair emerged from this venture with a new, popular moniker – “The Flying Wombat”.

Increase VTC Scholarship Donation

Vermont Life Magazine is partnering with the VAE to raise money for the Vermont Technical College Scholarship Fund. Vermont Life is offering VAE members a discounted price for a one-year subscription, just $13.95. That’s $2.00 off the regular $15.95 subscription price.

And with every new paid subscription, renewal or gift subscription from this offer received by January 1, 2004 – Vermont Life Magazine will donate $5.00 to the VAE’S Vermont Technical College Scholarship Fund!

Call 1-800-284-3243 by January 1, 2004 and give the operator code “VAE03” to subscribe, renew or to give gift subscriptions. Gift donors will receive gift announcement cards.

For each address outside the US, please add $6.00. Vermont Life Magazine accepts VISA, MasterCard, and Discover Card or if you prefer, you may request to be billed.

Enthusiast of the Month – Hugh Durnford

Fifty years can generate quite a lot of history but like any history there are defining moments. As the VAE reflects on our past 50 years there have been a number of things and people that have shaped our direction and progress. We have mentioned several of these people here in Wheel Tracks during out golden anniversary… all true great Enthusiasts. This month’s task is harder than usual because of the size and scope of the subject.

We wish to recognize our “Canadian Connection” and the help and support we received from our Northern friends in our beginning and as they continue to be a big part of our major car shows.

Thanks to one and all of you enthusiasts. That said and meant, history reveals that there were a group of really outstanding Canadians who contributed to the VAE very early on. They showed us how to organize our fledgling Stowe car show and what to do to attract participants and the public. They taught us about classes and judging and lent a general sophistication that we might have never developed without them.

They also had some outstanding cars. The following may bring back memories for some of our older members: Ian Jameson, Ian Hodge, Hugh Jockel, Don Kelso, Louis Gravel, Diddie Dunn, George Stead, Steve Weid, Ron Pickering (still an active member) and Hugh Durnford.

Hugh DurnfordIt is the latter that gets this month’s Big E Award, however. Hugh Durnford got a lot of hands-on car club experience as a founding member of the Vintage Automobile Club of Montreal and was eager to help out the new Vermont car club, the VAE. At the time his “driver” was a ’29 Packard roadster and the project was an early Dodge Brothers touring car. There was also a Kissel Gold Bug 1923 and a 1919 McLaughlin (think Buick) in the wings. Hugh went on to become the authority on McLaughlin. (VAE member Ray Unsworth has one of these sturdy cars.) At the age of 12 Hugh wrote an essay on Vintage cars; at 16 he owned his first example.

He co-authored the book “Cars of Canada” and made many major contributions to the hobby. Hugh’s death at 48 in 1979 was a shock. The old car hobby in both the US and Canada owe Hugh a lot… but the VAE and its members owe him even more. Recognizing Hugh Durnford with our Big E is little and it’s late but it’s truly deserved.


Hugh Durnford, managing editor of the book department of the Reader’s Digest Association (Canada) and for 20 years, a Montreal Star reporter, writer and editor, died suddenly Friday at the Montreal General Hospital. He was 48.

Hugh Mckenzie Elliott Durnford was born in Montreal in 1931, the son of Col. And Mrs. Elliott Durnford. He was educated at St. George’s School, Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario and McGill University, where he graduated in 1953.

Hugh served the Star in various capacities from 1954 to 1974 and then joined the Digest as a book editor. An ardent lover of Canada, he took special delight in heading the team that over a two year period produced Heritage of Canada, a popular history that was subsequently published in French as Heritage du Canada.

Mr. Durnford was a founding member and former president of the Vintage Automobile Club of Montreal and for years edited its magazine, Le Chauffeur.

He is survived by his wife Nancy, three daughters, Sally, Megan and Kendra, his mother, Mrs. Amy Durnford and a sister, Mrs. Jacis Stead, all of Montreal.

Funeral service will be at 2pm Tuesday at St. George’s Anglican Church, thence to the Mount Royal Crematorium.


It is interesting to note that both Lloyd Davis (VAE President in 1958) and Marion Saxby (Treasurer in the same year) who signed Hugh’s membership card for that year, are also both “Big E” award laureates. Hugh was in good company when he joined us in 1958. Ron Pickering with some help from Graham Gould and Hugh Durnford’s widow, Nancy, have agreed to work on an additional article about our Canadian Connection. Look for this interesting history in upcoming Wheel Tracks issues. If you have anecdotes or information about our Canadian friends, the VACM, or events we shared, please send them along to Ron, Ellen Emerson or Gale Boardman. We’d love to share the information. And look for another “Big E” (for super enthusiasm) in next month’s newsletter.

In Case You Missed It

June’s Shelburne Show was a fine effort. Great weather and good crowds. The Dr. H. Nelson Jackson transcontinental epic reenactment was terrific. Avery, Bill E. and Ellen were very convincing in their roles… The club’s 50th anniversary items were unveiled at the show and proved popular, especially the utility-bag. Nice effort, Francine!

Other items included an anniversary logo patch, coffee mugs, jackets, and handsome polo shirts. Our regular June meet was held at Ray and Nomie Unsworth’s beautiful, newly renovated lakeside cottage in Shelburne. Nomie’s traditional ”Flag Cake” proved once again that calories take a back seat to patriotism for many. “Yes, I’ll have another little slice, thank you.”

July’s Classics and Chrome Meet at Thunder Road was actually held on July 27, but the planned promotional “Lap Around the Speed Bowl” on Thursday night featuring 10 VAE members in their vintage machines, July 24th, fell victim to cancellation of the race card because of inclement weather. The very same evening, over in Burlington, some 18 VAE drivers dodged the rain to shuttle some very important motor vehicle administrators attending a regional conference of AAMVA from the Sheraton to the Inn at Essex.

The 38 officials and their spouses were very appreciative people. Vermont DMV Commissioner Bonnie Rutledge later wrote and thanked VAE for “helping to make the AAMVA conference a huge success.” The VAE drivers and guests later enjoyed a fine couple of hours at the historic Lincoln Inn, site of many past VAE events. On July 26th, a handful of club members participated in the Barre Homecoming Days Parade.

The second annual “Classic and Chrome Meet” was held at the “Site of Excitement”, i.e., Thunder Road. Turnout of cars was down from 2002 possibly due to threatening thundershowers. However, no rain fell before we departed for home around 3:45 P.M. Gene Napoliello, event coordinator, reports that contributions collected at the gate and a couple of subsequent donations has put the total at over $1,000, all for Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, the Colchester camp for kids with cancer. Lucille’s goodies, archival photos by Jim Sears and a productive business meeting made for a successful afternoon.

The passing of long-time member Joe Bettis just before the Stowe Show was indeed a sad loss to VAE. He was actively involved in the show for many years as a flea market vendor and as a highly knowledgeable technical judge. An admirer and collector of vintage Buicks, it seemed only fitting that Joe should request a Buick hearse for his last ride. One was located in Northfield. And the driver was none other than VAE treasurer Les Skinner, an employee of the local funeral home.

The Stowe show came off very well. How about the new printed show program! Thanks especially to Biddle Duke, publisher of the Stowe Reporter and his great advertisers. A good first effort and extra copies are still available. Tom Maclay and Dick Currier and their crew deserve kudos for their fine efforts.

The temperature was down right hot. Saturday night the sky opened wide and down came the rain. Come Sunday morning, the dampened grounds of spectator parking area forced a closing. However, a shuttle bus ferried show goers from the Stowe High School to Nichols Field and back all day long. Attendance suffered for that day but overall was estimated at well over 9,000 for all three days.

A Boston radio station, WBIX 1060 AM, interviewed Stowe’s co-chairs Tom and Dick “live” Sunday noon. Peter Swiriduk and his dad, John, co-hosts of Sweet Chariot, whose program’s stated goal is: “The Search For the Ultimate Vehicle” received some needed help to set up the remote. It came from our own Chris Barbieri and the folks at Stowe Area Association, especially Valerie Rochon, SAA executive director and Jo Sabel Courtney, the energetic liaison with VAE. Ken Squier of WDEV pre-recorded a segment, too. All in all, a keen PR effort by both VAE and SAA! Peter and John had nothing but praise for all the wonderful cooperation they received. They were openly impressed and said so.

Then there were the two Bob Bahre cars: one a red, ’62 Dual Cowl Cadillac and the other a deep mahogany colored ‘29 Duesenburg roadster. Wow! Yes, the cars came from the same Bob Bahre of Oxford, Maine, owner of the popular Maine racetrack. More recently, of course, he’s built the huge 80,000+ seat-racing complex at Loudon, NH. NHIS hosts two NASCAR races each year as well as Busch North and Craftsmen truck races and motorcycles, too.

Did you notice the New Vermont flag added to the flagpoles at the Courtesy Booth? And the new ticket booth at the spectator gate entrance! And finally, thanks to all our loyal (and new) sponsors.

Auto Design & Fashion Design

Fashion design is greatly influenced by the automobile and the automobile has been greatly influenced by fashion design. One of the greatest designers was Raymond Loewy, 1893 – 1987, who is called the “Father of Design” it was his influence that started the American Institute of Industrial Design, and whose influence is still felt today with a strong presence on the international scene in the Loewy Group.

Raymond Loewy came to this country from France, and with a young family to support, started out as a window dresser for many of the top stores in New York City. From that point he started illustrating clothing, and many of his fashions made top magazines such as Vogue.

You have seen his designs, many of which are still present today such as the Shell logo. This design became so well recognized that Shell eventually removed its name from the logo. Another very recognizable design is the Lucky Strike packaging along with the Greyhound Bus, S-1 locomotive, Exxon logo, Coca-Cola bottle and many household utensils such as toasters and the Coldspot refrigerator that he designed for Sears Roebuck. He also designed the interior of Air Force One for President Kennedy, and was the designer for the interiors of Saturn I and Saturn V and Skylab. Things we all take for granted today.

Of course, my very favorite design was the Studebaker Avanti. This four-seater sports coupe went from design to production in 18 months and was meant to compete with the Corvette and to help save a dying auto producer. The design was way ahead of anything the other producers were doing, but the price was a little more than the average person’s wages could support, and was only produced for two years 1963 and 1964 under the Studebaker name.

So the next time you pick up a fashion magazine, stop and think that just maybe that illustrator may have a wonderful career designing other things that make our life easier and beautiful.

The Martin Wasp – Motoring Moment

1925 Wasp Touring CarDo you ever bet? Do you ever win? If you bet that the Martin Wasp was the only automobile ever produced in Vermont you might win – or lose.

Yes the Wasp was produced in Bennington, Vermont for a number of years by Karl Martin. But – there was also the Lane and Daley Steam vehicles produced in Barre, and this was much earlier (1901 and 1902).

The Wasp Was the Barre vehicle and automobile? Do we count it as one? The pictures I have seen of the vehicle show it transporting people and the info on the back says “as fast as 15 miles per hour”.

The last time the writer of this bet stood up for only the Wasp. And agreed to lose when presented with the Lane and Daley photo and info.

This lead to a more complete investigation of what might have been made in Vermont anyway. Early Vermont registration data for “automobiles” shows at least a dozen registrations prior to 1020 with unrecognizable names.

These turn out to be cars built by “enthusiasts” like us for their own personal use. Further research has turned up some data on a couple of these…

There was a guy in Poultney who build a car he registered as a Mahana. It was 1910 and the car was 16 horsepower and 4 wheel drive. He mentions that it worked well in the farm fields as well as going to town.

Then there was the Gore in Brattleboro, steam, in 1837. It ran well for years unlike its successor Al Gore. Or the Hooker in St Johnsbury, the Archer in Rutland and the Spear in Windsor.

Who says that Vermont didn’t have “enthusiasts” early on? They made their own fun. Oh and be careful what you bet on!

You can see a Wasp at the Bennington Museum. More info by phone at: 802-447-1571 or online at: www.benningtonmuseum.com

Enthusiast of the Month – Lloyd Davis

You may have noticed that rewards are not always immediately following performance just as punishments don’t necessarily happen right after crimes. It would be nice, however, to think that in the long run we all got at least what we deserve. Some of our “Big E” awards are a little late in coming but this month’s award is undisputedly deserved.

Lloyd Perkins Davis gets a BIG E for his 50 years with the VAE. Years ago some wag said that the L.P. in Lloyd P. Davis was for “long playing” (it might have been Bob Jones). Lloyd has been long playing, in its best sense, with our car club.

His own interests are wide and included in his personal collection are a Chalmers Detroit, Franklin, Ford T, a Packard and a very unusual Davis car. Like many members he probably also has a secret stash hidden away somewhere. As a charter member Lloyd has had a long and significant career with us.

He has held office, organized meets, helped us plan and has brought us help and experiences from some of his other affiliations: The Franklin Club (where he is an active and respected member) and the AUHV (the Automobilists of the Upper Hudson Valley). The latter were a lot of help to the VAE in its early years and recently we have tried to involve them in our activities once again.

It was Lloyd that really helped got us going with our first “film night” in years last February and it was from his personal collection of old film that we got another look at Oliver and Hardy and other assorted mechanical mayhem from the silent film era. Many an early VAE meet came out of Lloyd’s archives of film and many a member came and stayed with the VAE because of his interests and example.

We don’t see Lloyd at as many meets as we used to… Rutland is quite a commute. But our older members know that Lloyd is just a call away for help and advice. We know that he will turn up, often a little late because of “chores”. We recommend that newer members get to know Lloyd. No one has more old car “enthusiasm” and Lloyd’s sense of humor makes any conversation a lot of fun.

Just ask him about the dog, the flat tire and the jack; all in greater Hardwick some years back… an adventure with Lloyd Davis Commentary. Lloyd could also tell you all about the Bomoseen Auto Museum, now closed and gone, as he was its advisor. Or some Glidden tours… or almost anything else.

Thanks Lloyd for our first 50 years of help and friendship.

We’re looking for many more. Here is a great BIG E for you.

Enthusiast of the Month – Avery Hall

Adding to our roster of Vermont Automobile Enthusiasts, this month the “BIG E” goes to someone who is already a “Hall” of Famer… R. Avery Hall. When you stop and think about it for a minute there are few who have devoted as much time and effort to the VAE as Avery. In addition to his club contributions, he has also managed to pretty well preserve several worthy vehicles.

His work is an inspiration for us all and having a national prizewinner at many of our meets is a big plus for members, guests and the hobby. None of this happened overnight. R. Avery (think “our” Avery) has had the bug for some time. Although he now tends to deny it, there is evidence in the 40th anniversary publication of an early interest… Avery appears in print in a Model A Roadster.

He denies a Ford-inspired old car career but we know better… Ford has always outsold Packard, Avery and look what a used Model A has done for you! This writer remembers Avery first attending VAE meets in 1954 at the Lincoln Inn in Essex Junction… often in the inspiring company of John (Hawkeye before Alan Alda) Hawkinson. Avery had a military crew cut, wore a black sweater and smoked a curved-stem pipe. Sort of a cross between Marlon Brando and Albert Einstein. John Hawkinson was revered as an auto guru and drove the cars to prove it. Avery was his quiet and wise sidekick. Time has confirmed the wise part. I wonder what happened to the quiet?

Avery grew up in the Charlotte / Burlington area and has long-term connections here. As a younger enthusiast he drove his “old car” as daily transportation. I remember running across Avery in the ’28 Packard sedan on a back road somewhere in south-central Chittenden county as he was transporting folding metal chairs… the Packard was stuffed with them… off to a church supper or wake somewhere. Always the organized and helping volunteer.

As I saw more of Avery, and Mahlon Teachout joined our car interest group, we had some interesting times together. Avery told us one time about moving back to Vermont with the family vehicle (think old Packard). The weather was very warm and Avery had questionable tires. Always the engineer, Avery told us that out on the highway in the daytime (it was cooler at night but then there was the issue of headlights), he always tried to drive so as to keep at least 2 of the tires on the white line.

He reasoned that the highway temperature would be lower on the reflective white line and that would be easier on the tires. Fortunately for all involved he made it back and has stayed to become VAE President, Board Chairman, Director and Meet Co-chair of major events at Essex and Shelburne.

Avery has raised money, written advertising, represented us to the media, judged, and attended hundreds of meetings. In odd moments he has operated Avery’s Garage, taken driving courses, attended technical schools for engine rebuilding, and produced some really nice restorations.

He has an additional interest in old boats and I saw him looking with considerable interest at an old airplane at Basin Harbor awhile back… and then there are sports cars. We have many great Enthusiasts in our VAE but few have proved it like “Our” Avery. A big collective thank you comes with this “BIG E” award.

Women in Automotive History

Florence Lawrence

Turn signals and brake lights are standard on all automobiles manufactured today—in fact, it’s hard to imagine cars without them. The inventor of the earliest versions of both was Florence Lawrence, who was, at the time, the highest-paid film actress ever.

Lawrence was born in 1886 in Hamilton, Ontario, as Florence Bridgwood. Her surname was changed when she was four to match her vaudeville actress mother’s stage name. Acting was, apparently, in Lawrence’s blood: she started in silent films in 1907 and by 1910 was so popular that she became the first actress to have her name used to advertise a picture. At the height of a career, playing heroines on the silver screen, she invented two key automobile safety devices.
According to Kelly R. Brown’s 1999 biography Florence Lawrence, the Biograph Girl, Lawrence was an automobile aficionado at a time when relatively few people owned cars. “A car to me is something that is almost human,” she later said in an interview, “something that responds to kindness and understanding and care, just as people do.”

She soon set about improving the vehicles she loved. By 1914, she’d invented the first turn signal, called an “auto signaling arm,” which attached to a car’s back fender. When a driver pressed the correct button, an arm electrically raised or lowered, with a sign attached indicating the direction of the intended turn. Her brake signal worked on the same principle: another arm with a sign reading “stop” raised up whenever the driver pressed the brake pedal—the essential concept behind today’s brake lights.

Lawrence’s mother, Lotta Lawrence, got into the act, too: she patented the first electrical windshield wipers, which used a system of rollers, in 1917. But her daughter’s inventions weren’t properly patented, and others soon came out with their own, more refined versions.

By the time the first electrical turn signals became standard equipment on Buicks in 1939, Lawrence’s contributions were long forgotten.

Alice Ramsey

Thanks to the re-enactment at the Shelburne Show we all know who made the first cross-country trip by auto in 1903. In 1909, however, the same trip was attempted and completed by Alice Huyler Ramsey; who made automotive history by becoming only the tenth person and the first woman, to drive across the United States. Ramsey made her trip in a sedan made by the Maxwell-Briscoe Car Company, and the trip took her and three female companions just 59 days, which was faster than any other crossing before that time. Her route took her from Hell’s Gate in New York City to the Golden Gate in San Francisco for a total of 3,800 miles. The same trip that took Ramsey nearly three months almost a century ago would be a mere 8 days today.