NEFERTERI part One
A Forrest Gump run through the Art Deco scene of the Streamline machine.
Larry Pointer found himself a survivor of Y2K, retired, a widower, and a more or less empty nester. He needed a project. In this series, he shares his passion for all things “Streamline Moderne”, and how it all turned into a 13-year labor of love, to create “Neferteri“, his custom Diamond T truck.
By Larry Pointer with Rik Hoving
“Run, Forrest, run!” Those urging words launched the hit film Forrest Gump and propelled actor Tom Hanks forward in his remarkable acting career. Growing up, this ski stick skinny kid in Wyoming had much in common with Hanks’ character, and why I came to dub myself the Forrest Gump of the Conquistadors Car Club of Sheridan. Somehow, like Forrest, I would wind up “there”, in momentous happenings and unforgettable places through my life’s journeys.
“Run like the wind!” As we turn our eyes to Rio and another World Olympics, I muse how we have strained against our mortal bonds, to run faster, slice through water, and soar higher than ever before. Always, our goals lie just beyond.
In our little neck of the woods, Wyoming’s coal deposits attracted peoples of all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. This rich diversity was a gift for which I’ve always been grateful. I ran in track, but always behind Leroy Westika; pole vaulted, but always beneath Denton Buss; high jumped, but a barrel roll below Coco Madia. We did Wyoming well in the relays, but when I went to Iowa and walked into the locker room, I saw every one of their relay team was consistently running faster than the Wyoming individual record. A quick U-turn got me out of there.
When Roger Bannister broke the four-minute barrier in the running mile, at Oxford, England on May 6, 1954, I could only stare at the Life Magazine images. Maybe there were no limits?
Then in 1967, on a partly cloudy Spring day in Eugene, Oregon I saw three collegian milers cross the line under four minutes. In the infield, Dick Fosbury performed his revolutionary backbend Flop in the high jump. Bob Seagren sprung over the bar from a hand-stand in the pole vault, on his way to Olympic Gold. And Parry OI’Brien let fly a shot put nearly as far as I could throw a rock. Limits? What limits.
In air, on land, and through water, this year in Rio, again the “agony of defeat and the ecstasy of victory” will play out in memorable human performance. There will be flashes of brilliance; records will fall. But still there will be that Above and Beyond. The human Spirit will deny limit, and Spirit will strive to reach beyond and above.
“Like the wind!” Mankind always has had envy for the flight of the bird, the fish that swims so effortlessly, the grace and speed of the running animal. Our Spirit seeks to soar in the wind; slice through the waves; run with grace and speed. “Why, oh why then, can’t I?” Innate in our Spirit is Innovation. Where the human body fails, the mind can imagine. And by Invention, and the magic carpet of the inventions we create, we can Fly, Sail, and Run.
Greek legend has it that Icarus and his son built wings, covered them with feathers, stuck them together with wax, and flew. Until, in soaring closer to the Sun, the wax melted and they came crashing down. Then, on December 17, 1903, over the sandy Atlantic beach at Kittyhawk, Orville and Wilbur Wright did fly. Somewhat. From that flimsy kite of sticks and sheets, we began, and through trial and error learned the lessons of Form Follows Function.
My first father-in-law Carl Church was a pilot in WWI. Through that War to End All Wars, much was learned of flying machines. Afterwards many pilots, Carl Church among them, took their new skills to barnstorming across the country. Carl and his friend Dick Leferink took paying passengers for loop-de-loop thrills of a lifetime over the Great Salt Lake in Utah.
Then in 1920 came Prohibition. Wyoming proudly was last of the States to ratify what became the great experiment in legislating morality, the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution. Until its repeal with the 21st Amendment in December 1935, Prohibition brought opportunity to the enterprising. Leferink would pick up a load of the outlawed beverages across the border in Canada. By arrangement, Church would drive out to the prairie west of Sheridan’s veteran’s hospital, Fort McKenzie. In the dark, Church would light their makeshift runway with his car headlights. Leferink would land, transfer choice deliveries to Church, and Sheridan kept “wet” through “dry” times. Leferink in 1930 acquired a Stinson SM8-A, and launched Wyoming Air Service. He successfully bid on a US Mail contract in 1934 for Wyoming Montana and South Dakota, and expanded barnstorming, sight-seeing, and charter services to pioneer the coming passenger air industry. His Inland “narrow gauge” feeder airline later would merge into Western Airlines.
I don’t know what all this did for Carl Church. He did rise to exalted ruler of the Elks Club, and got into the beverage business: RC Cola and Nesbitt’s Orange.
I’d always hated History in school. But the living drama that acts out on the human stage makes a topic as dry as the 18th Amendment come to life. Vicariously, like Forrest Gump, I was “there”, through Leferink’s inimitable storytelling.
Flight’s limits were broken once more in this period, when Charles Lindbergh in his Spirit of St. Louis successfully crossed the Atlantic, May 21, 1927. Then, in an aircraft that epitomized Streamline Moderne, Amelia Earhart piloted her Lockheed Vega over the Atlantic on May 21, 1932, the first woman to accomplish that solo flight.
Form Follows Function. Dick Leferink’s Stinson; Amelia Earhart’s Vega and the “Winnie Mae” that would carry Will Rogers and Wiley Post to their demise in Alaska, April 15, 1935; the rotary engine WACO aircraft; the Travel Air Mystery Ship; the Beech Stagger Wing. Those airplanes were beautiful beyond words. The smooth, rounded cowl fairings, the sleek fusilages, the tapered wings, the wheel “pants”. Those planes Flew, just standing by on the tarmac. Streamline Moderne. Yes! To this kid, dragging golf bags along behind the city’s movers over the golf course, I could look across at the airport and upward to catch envious glimpses of those glorious creatures of Man’s imagination winging freely into the Wyoming sky. Even if the term hadn’t been invented yet, with those classic planes I was hooked on Streamline Moderne.
Childhood impressions. I also have vivid recall of the drone of squadrons of B17’s high above, barely visible at day, ominous in the night, headed to the theaters of WWII. Unforgettable. Form and formation following function.
There were extremes, and limitations, even in seeking the ultimate aerodynamics. The Granville brothers of Springfield, Massachusetts worked out their design of the Gee Bee racer with a wind tunnel. The result was a remarkable plane that Jimmy Doolittle raced to the 1932 Thompson Trophy. The Bee Gee was short, bulbous to the extreme, with stubby wings and a cockpit located back against the vertical stabilizer, for enhanced pilot view of pylon turns in the crowd thrilling short course races. Only the most skilled pilot could keep the plane from stalling and crashing. Its extreme shape was unforgiving. After pilot Russell Boardman was killed in the 1933 Bendix Race at Indianapolis, the concept was abandoned. Today, a replica exists in a Florida museum, and diehard enthusiasts are limited to scale models on the shelf.
The photos I’ve gathered give just a hint of the gorgeous saturated colors these airships were painted. Those imaginative contrasting speedlines, stripes, and scallops surely inspired early day hot rodders and custom car painting.
Born out of Art Deco styling and design, by most accounts, through the 1925 Paris World Fair, “L’Exposition internationale des artes decoratifs et industriel moderne”. From the title in French, we make out what “Art Deco” is an abbreviation of, and there was that word “moderne”. From there, it just grew, until WWII set the brakes on such heady “artsy” stuff.
Looks like the term, Streamline Moderne, didn’t get coined until much later. Streamline style was used to define architecture, like the Chrysler Building in the Big Apple, even gas stations and diners. Items as mundane as the Coca Cola bottle, toasters, vacuum sweepers, and Wurlitzer juke boxes were given the moderne treatment. Anything to stimulate sales through those dark days of the Great Depression. The concepts of this style that had become all the rage had everything to do with aerodynamics, smooth curves, sleek forms, long horizontal lines, and flowing geometry. It implied movement and speed, efficient beauty in function; flowing movement through the air and skimming over the water.
Streamline Moderne boats
Pirates of the Caribbean may have its Johnny Depp cult following, but it was the swashbuckling Erroll Flynn who rattled the sabre over the wooden decks under the skull and crossbones in the Saturday matinees (in Art Deco/Streamline Moderne theatres) back in the day. The Sea Hawk, or Captain Blood, perhaps the best pirate movie of all time.
Then in the news reels, we could almost taste the salt in the sea spray from coverage of yacht regattas, or the speedboat races. Those wooded boats just embodied the curvilinear form. From bow to stern, their hulls were pure nautical sculpture. Inboard engines were located mid-ship or aft for weight transfer. Gar Wood put all of this together in building speedboats. The Hornet II built for Henry J. Kaiser featured a Rolls Royce V-12.
Chris Craft offerings of Chris Smith featured stunning brightwork; the beautiful grain of mahogany hulls smartly set off with crisp white caulking and layers and layers of lovingly brushed varnish. From Detroit, the Hacker Craft came to define the sleek signature look of the speedboat moderne.
Getting to see the Miss Budweiser and the hydroplane races of Seattle’s Aquatennial celebrations was my Forrest Gump moment of the speedboat era. Now there was the true “speedboat stance”, the bow lifting upward through acceleration, the rising pitch of the powerful inboard engines, the geyser spray of rooster tails. Yes!
Then there were the trains
Nothing speaks to the Industrial Revolution’s power to change civilization better than the steam locomotive. Behemoth steam engines. Just standing by the station, hissing steam, they WERE power. The sights, the smells, the sounds. All the senses came to be indelibly etched in the imaginative mind of a young boy. I can still recall those cold, cold Wyoming nights, lying snug in my bed and hearing a locomotive come to life. Choo. Choo. The sound carried crisply through the cold air, reverberating off the surrounding hills. It would start slowly at first, as the freight train would pull away from the station. Then, as it got up steam for the grade, the cadence would pick up, more rapidly, more strongly. Those steam locomotives were the engines that COULD. The rhythm of a steam train once it got rolling clickety-clack over the track, was like no other.
Everywhere, there was a love affair with the railway train. Songs of every genre, every place, every time, have come to rest in the songbooks of the people. The halcyon days of steam powered trains may have gone into the history books, but the rhythm, that unmistakable rhythm of the train, infuses music everywhere to this day. Hear that lonesome whistle blow!
What a history they made! There was the Flying Scotsman, the turn of the last Century pride of the United Kingdom. In America, the engines of Budd, Hudson and Pullman. Locomotive power and speed, down the shiny twin tracks.
My grandfather Frank Headley was a cocky engineer on the CB&Q line. In 1919, he attempted a speed record through Wyoming’s twisting Wind River Canyon. With a full head of steam from coal shoveled into the boiler, he pushed her to the limit going into the gorge. About two curves in, she shot off the rails and skidded on her side to a grinding, scalding halt among the canyon boulders. Head injuries and a broken pelvis notwithstanding, he had enough sense, and fear for what he’d done, that he crawled ½ mile down the track to trip the red warning signal. This from my family album was my own “Forrest Gump” connection to those giddy times.
To enhance the romance of locomotive power, the industry turned to the best industrial designers of the day. Here was the birth of the true Streamliners.
Henry Dreyfuss, Otto Kuhler, Raymond Loewy, these were the men with vision to carry us in style down the track to a glorious future. Here was the pioneer Spirit that would feed the car customizers, the George Barrises, Neil Emorys, Clay Jensens, even the Larry Watsons, on down the way. Ingenuously, the pioneer designers would re-shroud the crude, adapting those work-a-day locomotives with shaped metal to create a modern look of power-and-speed-in-motion. Just as the customizers of the automobile would adapt and reshape parts to individualize their rides.
It’s a fascinating study in human puzzles to see how often hard times brings out unexpected resilience and invention. The Prohibition era became the Roaring Twenties period. But it was a no-brainer puzzle, when you think of it, that speedboat development traces so often to the border waters with Canada. The G-men had real challenges intercepting booze deliveries over those waters. In turn, the Great Depression brought out the best of Streamlining in trains.
The re-shrouding of locomotives made economic sense. Rather than build those massive, expensive steam engines from scratch, when “scratch” was so hard to come by, the industry brought forth the best of industrial designers to create a marketable image of Progress. I believe the Depression did much to create the field of industrial design.
The economics of market competition also brought new fuels and materials to the scene. Diesel power would ring the death knell to steam locomotion. Stainless steel and Aluminum clad engines would bring down that heavy mass of inertia. The Choo Choo cadence of “steamliners” would come to be heard only in the downbeat of jazz rhythm.
The Pioneer Zephyr, in stainless steel, was the Burlington line’s statement of Progress. In 1934 this Budd-built flyer brought revolution down the tracks. Dubbed a “cruise ship on wheels”, it made a phenomenal “Dawn-to-Dusk” run from Denver to Chicago, set a record, and changed the game forever. That same year, the movie, “The Silver Streak” hyped the diesel powered Zephyr, and helped Depression-era movie goers find hope for a promised future. Ford Motor Company was quick to capitalize on the romance, with their Lincoln Zephyr offerings not long after.
In challenge for ridership, the Union Pacific came up with an aluminum clad engine, the M-10,000. Actually, its unveiling preceded that of the Zephyr by two months. It weighed much less than the conventional steam train, but its aluminum cladding didn’t hold up too well. Media wags didn’t help much either, labelling it “a great bulbous-headed caterpillar”.
General Motors also jumped into the game with their Electro-Motive Engineering section. Their demonstrator in 1938 made inevitable the industry shift to diesel power. As I look back over the distinctive look of all the GM streamliners that would follow, it is fun to place an image of the 1948 through first series 1955 Chevrolet and GMC pickup truck next to, say, a Santa Fe or later Burlington engine out of the GM stable. The rounded forms are undeniably similar; a case study in the influence of the streamliner on future automobiles.
The GM demonstrator came out with a livery of deep green accented by long, flowing horizontal stripes in yellow. They emanated from the front of the engine in a “bow wave”, a nod to the nautical influences of streamline design. Across the board, the industrial designers’ palettes brought us exciting, saturated hues spun off the color wheel. For each railway client, they would offer up a livery of distinction. Color combinations and streamline styling lines were as “moderne” as the smooth streamliners they so regally clothed. Everyone would know the Royal Blue of the Cincinnatian, the Green Diamond, Pennsylvania line’s Tuscan Red, the Orange Blossom Special, and the Santa Fe Warbonnet Express.
A picture does speak a thousand words. In the November, 1935 issue of Car and Track, Jack Juratovic shared his artwork in The Race, pitting the 100-mile-an-hour Milwaukee Hiawatha against the best automotive offering, the Duesenberg. There, better than any words could explain, was Streamline Moderne.