Wednesday, October 13, 2010

1942 Antique Auto Derby

Through my trusty "Google Alert" for any mention of the name James Melton, I came across the following blog, which links to a marvelous video of a 1942 Antique Car Rally in which my father played a large part.  Do check it out; it's wonderful!


And here's what I've written in my book about the event in the chapter about my parents' wartime activities:


Meanwhile, my mother was contributing to the war effort in her own way.  On a hot July day in 1942, she and Mrs. John Davis Lodge sailed coolly and silently along the back roads of Connecticut at a stately 25 miles an hour in a 1904 Baker Electric, bound for a committee meeting at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.  The saucy electric, which looked like a buggy waiting hopelessly for a horse, had a leather whip affixed to the dashboard, just in case.  Perhaps it was to scare off dogs who, alarmed at a carriage without a quadruped, stormed the little rattle-trap as it passed?  No, the whip was for the horse—the one that had to be summoned to pull the buggy home when the batteries died.


An antique auto derby was to be held the following Saturday for the benefit of United China Relief, sponsored by the Veteran Motor Car Club, and chaired by my mother.  Attendees included local residents Henry and Clare Boothe Luce, Lily  Pons and her husband Andre Kostelanetz, Time publisher Roy Larsen,  the Lawrence Tibbetts,  and veteran auto racer Ralph DePalma.  Gasoline needed for some of the cars was sanctioned by the government in view of the benefit nature of the rally.  Two thousand people attended the event and $3,000 was raised at the derby for China Relief.   Clare Booth Luce cautioned spectators not to laugh at the ancient buggies, “because if we don’t win this war, we’ll be lucky to have them.  We’ll probably be riding in rickshaws if we don’t lick Japan, or worse than that, we’ll be pulling them!”  Political aspirant Mrs. Luce was hoping to get a nod from the Republicans to run for Congress. 


As “Cholly Knickerbocker” wrote in his August 2, 1943, column in the Journal American, “Time has ‘reversed its field’ up in Connecticut, and junior doesn’t have to turn the pages of the old family album to see the gentry riding high and handsome in vintage electric broughams.  It was tough on the dogs and horses at first, but now that the James Meltons have thoroughly ‘electrified’ the countryside around Ridgefield, Fairfield, Westport, etc., the dogs have become less distrait and the horses more nonchalant when they see one of Melton’s mechanical marvels swishing along minus the racket we all have become accustomed to since the advent of the motorcar.  When gasoline shortages threatened to isolate the good people of these communities, civic-minded James Melton, noted radio artist, whose antique auto collection is famous throughout the country, sold most of his priceless cars to his neighbors to tide them over ‘for the duration’—with the understanding, however, that after the war the purchasers must sell them back to him so that he can again cherish his precious ‘collection.’


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