NEFERTERI part Four
Larry Pointer, our Forrest Gump of the Conquistador Car Club, carries us along in his journey through the era of streamline moderne styling. These were the influences in the build of Neferteri, his hand-built custom 1936 Diamond T truck. The full figured styling of commercial vehicles was to give us some of the most unique icons of those exciting times and designs.
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
Neferteri, Part Four
Streamline Moderne. Pretty heady stuff. Duesenbergs, Auburns, Packards, Cadillacs and Cords. The Exotic Bugatti’s and cars whose names I couldn’t pronounce. An expensive private world of the rich. I could only marvel and wonder, hardly able “to afford to pay attention”.
But in those War bond years of sacrifice most of us made do with that which was left over from Depression’s hard times. A bare-foot boy could find the odd summer job, and squeeze that nickel till the Buffalo groaned. His imagination, though, could stream an Art Deco world of possibilities through his head.
An old man lived up the hill from me, out on the edge of town. An old man and his German Shepherd dog. Inseparable. I never knew much more than his name. Angelo. That, and he worked as a forester through the summer months, up on the Bighorn Mountains. Each spring, he would load up his bedroll and supply of food items in the back of his truck, carefully tucking it all securely under a tarp. He’d readjust his ever-present pipe between his teeth, cluck at the dog, and the pair of them would climb onto the seat, fire up the old truck and head for the mountain. Leaving an envious boy staring down the dusty road. Oh, the wonders and adventures I imagined, up on that mountain.
As the days would grow shorter, I would anticipate the day when Angelo and his German Shepherd would come down off the mountain. I can still see them coming home, lumbering up our high school hill, that Depression survivor truck growling slowly along in “low-down-low”. Angelo never seemed to hurry. Perhaps, somehow, he sensed he would have 92 years to do what he had to do.
If you would ask me what Art Deco looked like to me, the answer would be simple. Angelo Tomasi and his dog, side by side in that faded and battered old 1937 International truck. Those three…the old man, his dog, and his truck… just went together, merging in my childhood memories to forge an image that imprinted on my very soul.
That 1937 International pickup was different, even distinctive in its bulbous Art Deco styling. It had pontoon fenders with a bit of a peak up through their centers. The grille work was wide with a center prow and a series of thin, horizontal slots on either side of center, punctuated by a tastefully few stainless strips. The headlights were born on stands, convex rounded glass lenses set into short egg-shaped pods. The hood had long slits down the sides, continuing the theme of the grille. The windshield was divided, to repeat the shape of the grillework nose.
It would be almost a lifetime before I would find more of Angelo Tomassi. He was born in Austria before the turn of the Century, had migrated to America to seek the American Dream, and to send money back home to his parents and many siblings. He became a naturalized citizen in Camp Davis, “renouncing absolutely all allegiance and fidelity to Charles, Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary,” before shipping out with the US Army to fight for America in WWI. Later he would find his own American Dream among the mountains and streams of Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. Angelo, his German Shepherd dog, and a tired…but elegant to me…’Cornbinder” truck.
Art Deco design had many carry-overs, most in taken-for-granted forms that went about their functions daily all about us. Art Deco’s streamline style was not at all exclusive. All about us were motor vehicles of the workaday world that just had that streamline “thing”.
Streamline design for the working truck owed much to the creative mind of the émigré Count Alexis de Sakhoffsky. His styling for the White company especially captured the imagination. Perhaps the most distinctive grille in the industry was that of the White trucks and the buses for our National Parks, from the drawing board of de Sakhnoffsky. That design rivalled the noble Packard nose, in my humble opinion, and without a flapping cormorant. De Sakhnoffsky instead added a simple tapered ornament in a nod to the streamliner trains. What also made that tall, vertical sculpture in stainless stand out, were the crisply incised and exaggerated pontoon fenders to either side. The very low location of the headlight pods allowed the grille full attention, and did draw the attention of countless hot rodders who would mount the headlights on their gow jobs as low as was legally allowed back in the day.
Perhaps de Sakhnoffsky’s crowning achievement in utility design is the swoopy streamline for the matching tractor and trailer rig of Canada’s LaBatt’s Brewery. This rolling art has become an icon of industrial design. (Richard Spiegelman photos)
From de Sakhnoffsky’s drawing board came a raft of futuristic forms to fit any number of cars, trucks, and busses. He even provided the practicality of oil and gas delivery a proper challenge, with long rounded fender pod extensions from the cab to the sloped tail, which concealed the piping and valves for fuel delivery.
In 1933-1934, Texaco upped the ante for fuel trucks with their tubular “Doodle Bug”, contracted from the independent Diamond T Company out of Chicago.
Not to be trumped in the marketplace, Chrysler answered with their air-streamed Dodge tanker with the distinctive Airflow waterfall grillework.
“Roar With Gilmore!” This was the famous slogan for the Gilmore Oil Company of California. The company engaged in a variety of publicity stunts, including circus performers and lions on the payroll; sponsorships of racing ventures from the midget tracks to Indy; and a Yosemite Economy Run, between 1936 and 1940, between Los Angeles and Yosemite Valley. To promote the event, Gilmore secured the design services of Wellington Everett Miller, a former Packard stylist. The promotional truck was built by Advance Auto Body Works on a White Chassis. Gold, red, and blue neon tubing was formed around the truck by 20th Century Fox special effects man, W. C. James.
What kid of the day didn’t thrill at the sight of a long, low ladder truck pulling out of the firehouse. A bright ship-shape Ahrens or perhaps an American LaFrance in fire engine red with goldleaf lettering, shiny brightwork, black hoses and sturdy ladders. Firemen in hats and gear, standing at their stations, hands upon the brass rails.
The mighty Seagrave most imprinted on my impressionable young mind. Just standing on the station floor, those massive machines moved me. They had an all business look about them. The huge, waterfall grillework. The long, long hood, beneath which beat the heart of a 12 cylinder Pierce Arrow powerplant. When that fire engine went through the gears on the way to its service, the rumble and the roar were unforgettable. To me, those mammoth but graceful Seagraves looked like Alpha Romeos or Auburns on steroids. Size does matter; in the design of fire engines, it is their perfectly proportioned length and mass that leaves indelible impressions.
There were delivery vans with enclosed bodies, some integrated into the cab itself. Their sides served as rolling billboards for the wares they carried. One design by W. Everett Miller featured open door entries and a covered spare tire mounted on the body side.
Beverage trucks brought innovation to the scene, as well as carbonated soft drinks. Or something stronger for the adult customer. Streamlining helped promote instant recognition. It seemed there was no end to the creative use of streamlining in customizing the utility vehicle. Grilles, skirted fenders, curvaceous bodies, step decks, ladders and hand rails of brightwork that spoke of speedboats and streamliners. Most of all, those workhorses of industry proved that full figured models could be just as voluptuous as the boat-tailed speedster.
I needed a project. We’d survived the panic of Y2K. I was a retired civil servant, a widower, and more or less an empty nester. I had gutted a 1970s tract house, moved walls to create an open living space, and tiled floors and countertops, learning as I went. And wherever things turned out a bit rustic, I just called it “Santa Fe Charm” in Montana. Now, I wanted to design and build my own streamline modern custom. “Unique is what we seek,” my friend Barry Wright would say, “bizarre is what we are.”
My mind kept going back to that old I-H truck of Angelo Tomasi. I began to look about. My biggest mistake was to share this emerging vision with my old Conquistador friends. No one was very encouraging. In fact, some were downright disparaging. “Why a Cornbinder, Larry?” Gary “Slim” Richards would caution. “They couldn’t keep up with traffic back in the day; they were hard to steer, and they rode like a lumber wagon.” It was true, like Roger Dangerfield, they couldn’t get no respect.
“Why don’t you start with something that has value? If you’re going to spend all that time and effort, not to mention money, why not a Diamond T, the ‘Cadillac of trucks’? There’s still a few of them around. Then you would really have something when you were done.”
Gary was right, he most always was, and I knew it.
In counterpoint, I would turn to humor, just to stall the inevitable. Wicked humor is most righteous at times. “But that D Model of International is just cute,” I’d protest. “Reminds me of a cartoon. Elmer Fudd could have driven a 1937 Cornbinder. Why, he could even keep his cork gun in the gun rack behind the seat.”
Well, fantasies and scenarios are one thing, Forrest Gump, hard work and limited money were quite another. Gary won. If I wanted something Streamline Moderne, I best be serious. I went looking for an old Diamond T truck to adopt.
Next time, The Diamond T, Cadillac of Trucks.