More CT EA Plate Origins: Tracking Down Some Interesting Early Connecticut Automobile History from Branford... Discovering an Interesting Connection to CT 'EA' Registration Plate History... And Hearing From A MOST Notable Name Associated with all of this!
(This page originated 4/28/2011)
Navigational Links For This Page: PART ONE - The Branford Connection | PART TWO - "The Photo" | PART THREE - "The Final Chapter": Exciting Contact from Mr. Bruce Duffie
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"...Columbia Gasoline Carriage designed by Mr. Maxim, an automobile pioneer. This machine won the first automobile track race held in America, at Branford, Conn., in 1899. Mr. Maxim is at the controls..."
The image at right & associated caption, above, both came from the "Hiram Percy Maxim - Automobile Pioneer" page: http://earlyaviators.com/emaxim10.htm
On this new SAAC web site feature page we are extremely pleased to be able to showcase what we feel is some very exciting news, about the very unique place that BRANFORD has in Connecticut Automotive History--not only in terms of a groundbreaking auto racing event that took place there, but also its special connection to the design that appears on our "Early American" (antique automobile) registration plates. In a wonderful coincidence, while doing further research on these topics, we ran across what appears to be THE PHOTO upon which our CT EA plate graphic is based! And finally, what do you know--a short time later we heard from a VERY SIGNIFICANT EXPERT on CT automobile history, who chipped-in with a superb copy of The Photo, plus a WEALTH of other tremendous historical information via his web site...
PART ONE - The Branford Connection
Branford, Connecticut's Special Place in Early Auto Racing History ... Doing some internet browsing in February of this year, I happened to run across an article about Connecticut Automotive Racing History, where it was mentioned that:
"...Connecticut's first recorded auto race was at Branford Park, a horse racing track in New Haven, on July 25, 1899..."
This reference was noted in an article by Allen E. Brown published in "Hog River Journal" (now called "Connecticut Explored") located online at: http://www.hogriver.org/issues/v06n02/Destination_Racetracks.pdf (and was also published in print, in the Spring 2008 issue of HRJ, pages 52-53; and if and when that copy of the article ever goes away, I've also uploaded a copy for our own use: http://home.comcast.net/~shorelinesteve/CTEAPltHstry/HRJRacetracksArticle.pdf). The article notes that
"...the race was five miles long and was won by Hiram Percy Maxim in his Columbia Special..."
Amazingly enough, a bit of further internet searching revealed a New York Times article about that exact same first CT auto race, entitled "Autos Sped On Race Track - Novel Competition Opened for Motor Vehicles at new Haven, Conn," published in the July 26, 1900 edition of NYT (no author credited), and viewable online at: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F00A11F93A5F1B738DDDAF0A94DF405B808CF1D3 (or a copy we also uploaded for our own use at: http://home.comcast.net/~shorelinesteve/CTEAPltHstry/NYTimesBranfordRace.pdf). It can be seen noted in the N.Y. Times article that H.P. Maxim won the "...Five-Mile Four-Wheeler Motor Vehicle..." race.
Remembering the old "racetrack" area of Branford, which I believe is approximately the industrial park just down the hill from the Exit 56 truck stop off of I-95 (on the west side of Leetes Island Road), I am going to assume that the Hog River Journal article made a slight mis-statement about "Branford Park" having been located in New Haven, and an old Branford trolley map, circa 1903 (see the image above) published on an interesting B.E.R.A. page (http://www.bera.org/articles/bery100p3.html - "B.E.R.A.," by the way, stands for "Branford Electric Railway Railway Association," better known as the Shore Line Trolley Museum), clearly shows the oval shape "RACE TRACK" right in that area (I've added a red arrow to the copy of the map shown here). A "Yankee Racer" page on Connecticut auto racing tracks history - http://yankeeracer.com/tracks/ - also identifies the "...Branford Park 1/2 mile dirt oval..." as being "inactive," but apparently it was active during the one-year period: "...7/25/1899 - c.7/25/1900..." (there were probably many more years when it was active for horse racing).
Who would have thought that Branford had such a significant role in Connecticut automotive history (which itself was a hotbed of automobile development back in those early days)?!
PART TWO - "The Photo"
A little more recently in early March of 2011, I stumbled across what appears to be The Photo upon which the CT EA plate graphic is based. I happened to be talking to a coworker who is interested in early CT automobile history, and I mentioned to him about that 1899 Branford race that H.P. Maxim reportedly won, and later, I did quick bit of googling on Maxim's name, and ran into this page: http://earlyaviators.com/emaxim10.htm - the lead graphic on that page is the one I've reproduced at the top of this article. And apparently, according to the caption, that was also The Car in which Maxim won the historic Branford auto race! HOW COOL! For reference, here (below) is what an actual first-generation porcelain Connecticut EA plate looks like--and click directly on the image (or HERE) to bring up a larger copy of the same plate photo (note: the "50" tab shown on this plate is incorrect since EA plates were first issued in 1952--we occasionally display this plate on our 1950 VW, hence the discrepancy):
Incidentally, CT historian Paul Pellerin's new book "Connecticut Created Cars" (info: http://www.antiqueclassiccarsvcs.com/) notes that 1500 pairs of these first-generation porcelain EA plates were made, starting at number 100 and running consecutively through number 1599 (click HERE for an image of another early 3-digit porcelain EA pair that very recently made its way into our collection!). The "Second Generation" flat aluminum plates started up with number 1600 and continued onward...
Anyway, I thought that image source discovery was pretty cool. At that point I realized I had to revise my original CT EA plate graphic origins page (http://home.comcast.net/~shorelinesteve/CTEAPltHstry/MFullerFALawCTEAs.html) for the SAAC web site--where I have been crediting a very similar photo, from the "Hartford' s Golden Automobile Jubilee, 1897-1947" program (excellent reprints of which are available from the Belltown Antique Car Club - http://www.belltownantiquecarclub.org/) as the basis for the EA graphic. An image of the Cover of the reprinted 1947 Hartford Jubilee Booklet is posted online at the BACC web site: http://www.belltownantiquecarclub.org/images/booklet/booklet-500.jpg. Later I thought that, instead of revising that page, I'd "add to the database of knowledge" about the origin of the CT EA plate graphic by CREATING THIS NEW PAGE.
Back on that original EA plate origin page, I am thrilled to have been able to feature a ton of unique & exclusive information about the origins of the EA plate graphics thanks to Marcy Fuller--who, perhaps not too coincidentally, also has an article appearing in the previously-mentioned Spring 2008 Hog River Journal (page 56) about her great-grandfather Fred A. Law having been the passenger in that famous photo upon which the CT EA plates graphic is based, with H.P. Maxim driving. In the "Contributors" section of that HRJ issue (page 12), Marcy Fuller is noted to be a "radiographer living in Westbrook," and had this following quote about why she wrote the article:
"...I decided to write this article about the Connecticut antique license plate because of my family connection to this bit of history and the fact that it seemed a part of our state's history had been forgotten. When I would tell this story, people seemed so amazed that I thought others, especially car buffs, would enjoy reading about it." Marcy Fuller was further quoted in the section as being noted to be "...currently struggling to transcribe my great-grandfather's 700-plus-page handwritten manuscript of his life. It is a fascinating story that I hope to someday see published..."
Back issues of the Hog River Journal (including, at the time of this writing, the above-mentioned Spring 2008 edition) are available--see the Connecticut Explored "Archives" page - http://connecticutexplored.org/?page_id=42 - for more info...
We again thank Marcy Fuller for sharing her wonderful bit of unique and interesting CT automotive history! For more information, please do visit the SAAC's Marcy Fuller page: http://home.comcast.net/~shorelinesteve/CTEAPltHstry/MFullerFALawCTEAs.html
PART THREE - "The Final Chapter": Exciting Contact from Mr. Bruce Duffie
One of the cool things about having a web site with which to publish your ideas, creations, opinions, etc, "to the world" is that eventually, if someone is really intent on researching a particular subject about which you may have written something, they may eventually find your web site (thanks to the magic of search engines like "Google," "Bing," and others). This appears to have been what was at work, when I received an interesting email at the beginning of this month, from one Mr. Bruce Duffie of Chicago...
Quoting from Bruce Duffie's e-mail of 4/1/2011:
"...First, let me introduce myself... I am Bruce Duffie. My grandfather is Lawrence Duffie, the man on the left in the photo on the cover of the 1947 Hartford Golden Jubilee Booklet. I have much to say, but will restrict this message to the license plate shown on your Marcy Fuller page.
I cannot say for certain if the man pictured is Maxim or Law (or Bert Holcomb, perhaps!). However, your use of the photo from Henry Cave (webmaster's note - click on that link to bring up the photo to which Mr. Duffie refers), while similar, is probably NOT the model for the license plate! I have another photo which is much more identical to the plate. It is on my website at this location... http://www.kcstudio.com/colviiiB.jpg (webmaster's note - I've also inserted the image from Mr. Duffie's web site below--click directly on it, or HERE, to bring up the original size copy of the shot)
You will notice the angle of the car is the same in the photo and the plate (which the Cave photo is not); there are headlights (not in the Cave photo); the relationship of the heights of the two men is correct from this photo to the plate, which, again, the Cave photo is not; also the lines on the side door match. None of these details is correct in the Cave photo.
I cannot vouch for the veracity of the claim, but I was told the driver is Maxim and the passenger is possibly Bert Holcomb. Holcomb, by the way, is the other man in the 1947 Jubilee photo. You might ask Marcy if this photo is clearly Mr. Law...
Hope this helps... BD, Chicago..."
The "Marcy Fuller page" to which Mr. Duffie referred, of course, is the one that I previously mentioned (the actual online URL of the Marcy Fuller page is: http://home.comcast.net/~shorelinesteve/CTEAPltHstry/MFullerFALawCTEAs.html).
In a follow up note, after we had exchanged a few emails back & forth, Mr. Duffie followed up with another note, dated 4/7/2011, in which he supplied me with an "approved for publication" paragraph, for use whenever I would be able to create a new page to showcase the recently-uncovered materials about the discovery of "The Picture" upon which the CT EA plate graphic is based:
"...The cover of the 1947 Hartford Golden Jubilee Book...shows a 1904 Columbia auto with its two drivers, Lawrence Duffie on the left and Bert Holcomb on the right. Duffie's grandson, Bruce Duffie has sent us some information about the CT license plate, including a photo which is probably the model for the drawing on the plate. Duffie has put together a large website for the Columbia cars - http://www.bruceduffie.com/thecolumbia.html - which he hopes our readers will enjoy..."
We have taken a few browses of Mr. Bruce Duffie's phenomenally extensive and well-documented web site and are positively bowled-over at what a tremendous resource it is, for enthusiasts of Columbia cars, and early automobile history in general! We applaud the wonderful work that Mr. Duffie has done in producing this magnificent collection of materials, and thank him again most sincerely for his specific help with our own small CT EA research project!
Finally, in specific referece to the historical image to which Mr. Duffie refers in his approved-for-publication paragraph, I'll also include a rendition of that same image on this page (it is shown at right, and was downloaded from the Belltown Antique Auto Club's web site; image located at: http://www.belltownantiquecarclub.org/images/booklet/booklet-500.jpg) is, of course, the cover of the "Hartford' s Golden Automobile Jubilee, 1897-1947" program (excellent reprints of which are available from the Belltown Antique Car Club - http://www.belltownantiquecarclub.org/). Mr. Duffie had of course noted in his original correspondence that his grandfather Lawrence Duffie appears in the Jubilee booklet cover image! On the inside front cover of the program, there is a description of the program's cover image--following is an exact transcription of the caption:
"FRONT COVER PHOTOGRAPH: At the end of the record run from Chicago to New York by Lawrence Duffie (left) and Bert Holcomb (right) in a 1904 Mark XLII Columbia Car made in Hartford by the Columbia and Electric Vehicle Company. (courtesy of Fred Wright Collection)"
The small inscription at the bottom of the Jubilee program cover image (unreadable at the size we're reproducing it here--although you can also click directly on the image shown at the right to bring up the original size image, as it is published at the Belltown web site) includes a rendition of the Belltown Antique Car Club official logo, plus the words: "Reprinted 2005 by Belltown Antique Car Club East Hampton, CT." I am very pleased to own two copies of the excellent Belltown reprints (one with "authentic Hershey water stains" sustained from carrying it around in my backpack after purchasing it one very rainy year at the AACA Hershey Fall meet...).
The Hartford's Golden Automobile Jubilee booklet itself is 76 pages long, plus full front and back covers, printed on both sides, full of articles about cars featured at the Jubilee ("An Exhibition of Early Model Cars in the Connecticut State Armory, Wednesday, September 17, 1947") and related ads from that time period. There is also a "Hartford's Automobile Pioneers" section toward the back of the booklet, written by Henry Cave, where key people in Hartford's auto history have small biographic sketches--included among these "heavy hitters" of course, are Bert Holcomb, Fred. A. Law, and Hiram Percy Maxim, and many, many others. I highly endorse this fantastic reprinted reference, and hope that the Belltown Antique Car Club still has additional copies available for sale!
In the interest of the pursuit of historical information related to the history of Connecticut's Early American registration plates, I absolutely welcome any and all other input on this subject. Do you have more information, old documents, what-not, that can possibly add to this discussion? We are interested! Please feel free to contact us at any time, via email: CommonGear@aol.com or by snail mail: Shoreline Antique Auto Connection, P.O. Box 3353, Stony Creek, CT 06405.
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