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Packard Chauffeur School to WWI Aircraft: My Grandfather's Experiences

My mother has told me so many wonderful stories about our rich family history. There is much to learn by reviewing the past.

My grandfather as a chauffeur

My grandfather as a chauffeur

Family History

I never met my paternal grandfather because he died when my dad was only seven years old, so I have only heard stories about him from my grandmother when she was alive. She always spoke of him as being such a "fine man."

Recently due to some family history put together by a first cousin and his daughter on Ancestry.com I have come to learn more.

Between that and some photos and old typed as well as a hand written letter of recommendation I feel as though I am learning more about my grandfather.

Previously I have written about some handwritten letters to my grandfather from a Mr. Howard Rogers. One was dated 1920 and the other, 1921. They were safely tucked away in an old cigar box and related to friendly discourse about crops and such in Frisco, Texas. But they also had references to shared experiences they both had in World War 1 on those early airplanes in the 50th Aero Squadron which is obviously where they met and from which time they maintained a friendship.

The letters that will be shared here are earlier and pertain to what my grandfather had accomplished leading up to those days.

1913 Packard

1913 Packard

Packard

This first letter is dated December 8, 1910, on Welch Bros. Motor Car Co. stationary. It also had a Packard emblem in the upper left corner, so they were in some way affiliated with the luxury car manufacturer before selling out to the Packard Motor Car Company on November 4, 1911. The first Packard vehicles were built in 1899.

My grandfather grew up on a farm in Sullivan, Wisconsin. Whatever made him interested in learning how to become a chauffeur, I will probably never know for sure. Perhaps he liked tinkering with motors and engines? Maybe he had some wanderlust?

The first Model T Fords were just being produced late in the year 1908, and the Wright brothers first lifted a man off the ground and successfully flew for a short time in their flying machine called an airplane in December of 1903.

So these were times of change and big dreams of how people moved from one place to another. The entire world was about to transition from a slower-paced society to one of more rapid developments in many ways yet unimagined. Horses and carts were to be replaced by these new "horseless carriages," and flying machines would have people traveling further and faster than previously possible in past years.

Early 1920s Model T Ford at center with 1936 Chevrolet at right

Early 1920s Model T Ford at center with 1936 Chevrolet at right

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

These first two letters show that my grandfather went to Milwaukee, which was about 30 miles from where he lived. After learning what he did at the Packard factory (which was probably the one in Detroit, Michigan), he graduated from the Packard Chauffeurs' School in Milwaukee. He then successfully worked for Mr. Washington Becker, president of the Marine National Bank, who then recommended his services as a trained and conscientious chauffeur.

Chauffeur training taught them to be courteous and respectful to their employers and be proficient with their driving skills. They also had to keep the luxury automobiles in tip-top shape, and that is where the mechanic training would have come into play.

Only the wealthy people back in that day and age could afford chauffeurs, which would have been a full-time job for the chauffeur. Today many companies offer chauffeur-driven limousines or other vehicles available for regular or special occasions.

Letters of Reference

Welch Bros. Motor Car Co. letter of reference dated December 8, 1910

Welch Bros. Motor Car Co. letter of reference dated December 8, 1910

Bank president letter of reference

Bank president letter of reference

Pasadena, California

Judging from the timeline of these letters and the recorded memories of my grandmother, my grandfather took his first chauffeur job (after his training and evaluation period) in Pasadena, California, and he worked for a Mr. Edward F. Robbins for over five years.

He loved to dance and did some dancing as a background character in some movies and earned a little money doing that. But apparently, he made enough money as a chauffeur that he had a home built in Pasadena, which he later sold after marrying my grandmother to fund the building of their home on Okauchee Lake in Wisconsin, as well as a string of cottages as an income investment.

Letter of recommendation from California

Letter of recommendation from California

Family Fun in the Early 1950s

I admit that I do not know that much about cars. If I cannot read the name attached to the outside, I rarely know the name of the vehicles on the streets today, with few exceptions.

That was not always the case. When I was a child and my family would be taking road trips, one of our games was to name the types of cars on the road. There were not that many different kinds back then, and they had distinctive body styles and hood ornaments, which identified them as to the carmaker.

Seeing how many license plates from different states we could identify was another game. Even if there were radios in the cars, the reception was not always good, so we would talk, sing and interact with each other in these ways.

Rolls Royce car logo / hood ornament

Rolls Royce car logo / hood ornament

Brewster & Co.

The letters of reference below refer to the work of my grandfather while working at Brewster & Co. Seeing these letters of reference on Brewster & Co. letterheads and learning about this high-end automobile manufacturer in New York was an education for me.

Obviously, my grandfather wished to enlarge his body of knowledge and worked as a mechanic, learning even more than previously taught from the Packard school.

A prestigious French car back then was the Delaunay-Belleville imported by Brewster & Co. in 1905. They were also the sales agent in the United States for Rolls Royce and produced a luxury car known as the Brewster Knight by 1915.

The auto plant producing these rare and expensive cars was in Long Island City, and that was my grandfather's next destination. People like the Vanderbilt's, Astor's, and others could choose the color on their Brewster cars during production, and no one else could have the same color.

Brewster & Co. letter of recommendation

Brewster & Co. letter of recommendation

Brewster & Co. letter of reference

Brewster & Co. letter of reference

After his time spent learning the mechanics of these luxury cars worked at Brewster & Co., my grandfather once again worked as a chauffeur in New York City for around a year and a half for Mr. J.H. Eagle before enlisting as a soldier for World War 1.

Photo of my grandfather as a chauffeur before World War 1

Photo of my grandfather as a chauffeur before World War 1

J.H. & C.K. Eagle

The person for whom my grandfather worked as a personal chauffeur was J.H. Eagle.

J.H. Eagle and his brother, C.K. Eagle, built and operated silk mills. They had facilities in six different places but had their main office in New York. The raw silk was purchased in Asia, shipped to the United States where it was dyed and spun into thread, and where the weaving took place.

When World War 1 broke out, my grandfather and many other patriotic men joined the war effort. He became affiliated with the 50th Aero Squadron and became responsible for keeping those early biplanes functioning and air-worthy.

Obviously, according to the letter below, Mr. J.H. Eagle would have welcomed him back to work for him once again as a chauffeur after my grandfather's war service ended.

Letter from Mr. J.H. Eagle to my grandfather in the 50th Aero Squadron during WW1

Letter from Mr. J.H. Eagle to my grandfather in the 50th Aero Squadron during WW1

My paternal grandfather during WW1

My paternal grandfather during WW1

Early Airplanes

This last letter also refers to my grandfather's expertise concerning automobile engines which also (obviously) translated to know about those early airplane engines since that is the area in which he served during the First World War.

It is not dated, and I do not know how or why my grandfather would have known the president of this company from Crystal City, Texas, and for a seven-year duration of time. Alexander Boynton signs the letter as an infantry captain. Perhaps they only knew one another during their war days?

Letter of Recommendation

Letter of Recommendation

Charles Lindbergh

According to my grandmother, my grandfather knew Charles Lindbergh. Charles Lindbergh gave the following photo to my grandfather.

My grandfather had worked at Brewster & Company in Long Island, New York. Did they meet there, or was it overseas during the war? When my grandmother was still alive, I unfortunately never asked her how or why this connection occurred. Both men were interested in motors and the early days of flight.

Charles Lindbergh became instantly famous worldwide when he completed the first solo trans-Atlantic non-stop flight in his airplane named the Spirit of St. Louis. He piloted the plane from an airfield in Long Island, New York, to Paris, France, in May of 1927.

Post-WWI

After the war, my grandfather returned to his hometown of Okauchee, got engaged, and later married my grandmother. They had been corresponding with one another for many years.

I found this journey looking through these old letters and photos interesting not only because of learning more about my grandfather for their historical references to some of those early luxury cars and the people my grandfather got to meet along the way.

Where my grandfather married and settled after WWI.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Peggy Woods

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