1928 San Francisco Research The Cars

1928 San Francisco The Cars

One piece of advice pitched to writers entails tailoring a character part for a particular actor or star. It indeed can be helpful, especially if you intend to approach that actor later.  But what if you have a comedian in mind for a serious part? It’s hard enough as it is to keep your character reined in to your purposes without losing it all to ensuing wackiness.

But that is not the subject of this post, thankfully, rather I had a different question.

What kind of cars should I include?

This was a question I tackled in my background research for my script set in 1928 San Francisco. I definitely wanted a Duesenberg as one of the “players.” But was it available in San Francisco at this time?

The Internet Archive to the rescue again. A search there turned up scans of a weekly publication that proved helpful – the San Francisco News Letter. In its January 28th edition for 1928 there was an article about the Twelfth Annual Pacific Automobile Show set to run from that date through February 4. It lists what the attendees will see – Haughty limousines – sporty racing models – family cars – roadsters – sedans and sedanettes – coupes and couplets – broughams and landaulets. Or as it more prosaically describes them – “Shining things of steel that are the magic carpets of modern transportation.”

I gleaned some interesting facts from the article. Rather than extolling the virtues of the mechanics of their operation, as had been the past habit, they were now touting the comfort for the people within – seats that conformed to the body’s curvature – lighters, mirrors, match safes, vanity cases – and some items switched from the accessory category to standard – bumpers, shocks and headlights. And San Francisco itself was being praised for its climate as being perfect for year round motoring. It went on to add that a coastline highway from British Columbia to Mexico was then underway, and of particular note – San Francisco was not yet directly connected to Santa Cruz in that manner. A good fact to know.

Flipping through the pages I came upon a Duesenberg. So that was in. The main antagonist gets that one. But what about the rest of the cast?

I’ve always wanted to include a vehicle that had this capability:

1928 San Francisco Research The Cars2

The arsenal behind the front seat back. An online search alerted me to Al Capone’s car of choice, the 1928 Cadillac. Seems like an apropos choice.

(Aside – I was checking on the magazine’s next edition to see if there was any follow up and found this headline – Street Murder – from which I take the following excerpts – “our first taste of the thing which is disgracing Chicago…a man shot in the public streets of San Francisco by an assassin from a closed car…in connection with the liquor trade…the similarity to the Chicago affairs is very marked”).

So I was on the hunt for a Cadillac in San Francisco.

Here is a list, regrouped into their “families” and their points of origin. First, those outside of Detroit and Michigan:

Franklins (of Syracuse NY.  Luxury car. It had a radiator grill that was for looks. It actually was a dummy and functioned as the air intake for its air-cooled engine).

Chandlers (from Cleveland OH, medium priced cars).

Stutz (of Indianapolis, IN).

The Kissel (made in Wisconsin. Amelia Earhart drove one of these).

The Kleiber (of San Francisco, CA. A truck firm that built some passenger cars, a five passenger Brougham went for only $1950. Sold only on the West Coast).

Locomobiles (of Bridgeport CT, originally a steam car, but converted to internal combustion shortly after the turn of the century, at this time part of Durant Motors).

And switching to Michigan, we pick up with the Durant Company again:
The Star
The Durant
(both built by the Durant Company (1922-28). William C. Durant was the founder of the General Motors Holding Company, but at this time was out of GM and looking to duplicate the philosophy he had created there with a range of offerings for various tastes and pocket books).

Hudsons
Essexes
(both by Hudson)

Chryslers
(With some interesting omissions – Plymouths, DeSotos and Dodges. The Plymouths and Desotos were new for 1928, and perhaps not yet available. And the troubled Dodge company was bought by Chrysler this year, so maybe their deal was not yet consummated).

Lincolns
(at this time part of the Ford company, though operating separately. There are no other Fords listed, which I thought odd).

GM products (in order from cheapest to most expensive).
Chevys
Pontiacs
Oakland All-Americans (not from the community across the bay, but of Pontiac MI; bought by GM in 1909; absorbed into Pontiac in 1931)
Oldsmobiles
Buicks
LaSalles (recently introduced to fill the gap between the Buick and the Cadillac).
But NO Cadillacs.

For that matter there are no Packards and Pierce Arrows mentioned either. But my mind is made up, I want a Cadillac, and a Cadillac it will be. So there!

If anyone complains, I can always build a backstory.

You Say Potato I Say Desoto

You Say Potato I Say Desoto

Since Evergreen High School in White Center was so far away, there was no school bus service near us. My folks would drop me off in the morning, but they couldn’t always pick me up. I remember a couple of times having to walk home after classes. It soon became paramount that I get my driver’s license and a car.
There were no openings in the Driver’s Ed class at school, at least not soon enough to satisfy my necessity. So instead we found a private company down on 1st Avenue where I enrolled.
The classes met in the evening, and after covering the basics in a classroom situation we were ready to hit the road.
I admit to being nervous. Not on the side streets where there was little or no traffic, but on the busy thoroughfares with traffic lights and multiple lanes. Add to that the fact that it was night time, and you felt like you were on a tightrope. Come time to take my test, it was day time, and I just passed. Maybe if it had night time I would have done better.
Soon afterwards I got my first car for a couple hundred bucks – a DeSoto, which rolled off the assembly line the very same year that I was born. Though my Dad said it ran like a top, is was definitely not your sporty ride. To my mind it was a clawfoot bathtub, flipped upside down and outfitted with wheels and windows. It was a two tone brown, almost faded pink – but one of the hues showing through in spots may have been actually the primer coat, as if some sand-blasting had uncovered it. But it moved. And it gave me an introduction to a clutch, which had not been covered in my Driver’s Ed class. You used the clutch only to shift into first gear, it was automatic after that.
It got me to school, and to work at the Cinema, and home again. I liked the drive to work, especially the back way through Tukwila to Renton. There was a freeway alternative, but I think the car felt more comfortable with a 35 mph speed limit.
But the Tukwila back way was the site of my first accident. It all happened one day after school on the way to work. I had a friend with me as a passenger. We were approaching an intersection where a bridge connected on the right. The bridge spanned I-405, and came up from the South Center Shopping center to the street we were traveling on.
A car coming up across that bridge either misjudged their timing or did not stop. They collided with us – their front left bumper to our front right. The DeSoto was built like a tank. I watched as the other vehicle bounced off, spun 180 degrees and was propelled back down the bridge hitting the abutment. We came to a screeching halt, and I watched in horror as my friend was thrown forward against the dashboard. As we sat looking at one another my jaw dropped, for the bone of his forehead appeared to be caved in. (For his part he probably thought my jaw was unhinged). He raised his hands to feel his forehead and then spoke to reassure me that all was fine. He told me not to worry, because his forehead had always been like that.
It was all rather confusing after that. I think my father picked us up (he doesn’t remember for sure). Since we were ambulatory neither of us was sent off to the hospital. The insurance companies took over, both vehicles were totalled. The other driver was injured and taken to the hospital, but I never heard much after that.
Fortunately the previous owner of the Desoto had fitted it up with seatbelts. At least for the front seat. Bolted in by hand, they had been secured to the floor well of the back seat.
Thank God for seatbelts.