Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Car That Started it All

Recently I heard from Michael White of Bridgewater, Massachusetts.  He is the new owner of the 1910 White Touring Car that started the obsession that resulted in the James Melton Collection. (The JM Collection numbered 110 automobiles when he sold the contents of his museum to Winthrop Rockefeller in 1960). 

My father’s obsession began with a small boy's promise to himself.  As a youngster back in the tiny town of Citra, Florida James Melton took pride in polishing the brass of his Uncle Charles's handsome 1910 White Touring Car.  As my father said, "That White was the finest car ever made.  Uncle Charles always said so.  He’d drive over from Micanopy every Sunday to visit our family.  I’d polish it, I’d pump up the tires, I’d do just about anything to get a ride in that car. I always wanted one.  Always said, some day I would have one." There rarely was such a thing as wishful thinking in his life—if he wished for it, he usually made it happen.

 My father bought his first White in 1935.  After soliciting help from Robert Black, president of the White Motor Car Company, he finally found a duplicate of Uncle Charles’s car. It was drivable, but in pretty tough shape. A White mechanic drove it to New York. When my father's “new” 1910 White Touring Car sped over the Pulaski Skyway, bound for New York City, from its long-time hideaway in Clarence Zahner’s barn in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, a motorcycle policeman pulled over the dilapidated vehicle for speeding.

It was beautiful only to my father, for in the dingy, rusty vehicle, he saw his Uncle Charles's brazen red beauty.  He fussed with the car for months.  First a new paint job, then new leather and authentic accessories. She was a spirited creature, brass lamps catching the sun, her scarlet coat and cream spokes dancing down the road.  He drove it in the 1937 Easter Parade down Fifth Avenue in NYC. with fellow radio singers Jessica Dragonette and Lanny Ross as his passengers.  He managed to stall it right in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, eliciting cries of “Get a horse!” from the crowd. But they applauded wildly when he got it going again, and of course the incident made the papers next day. The publicity it drew caused people from all over the country to write him offering cars for sale. He had his longed-for White, and that was enough, or so he thought.

And NOW look at her!  Isn’t she gorgeous?


  1. What a clear picture you paint. Thanks for sharing a cheery story on a grey day.

  2. What a delightful story! I always wanted to know more about the James Melton Collection and know the car that started it all is a wonderful bit of information.

    The Stanley Museum's Quarterly newsletter will have a new section called "The White Pages," starting with the next issue.

    Best wishes!

    Don Hoke, Consulting Director
    The Stanley Museum, Inc.

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  4. Hi, I'm delighted to find this blog about James Melton, who I consider the finest tenor ever. Aside from a beautiful voice, he was certainly the most versatile. I will be looking forward to the stories about him. What a wonderful story about the beginning of his auto collection. Many thanks for sharing this. God Bless!