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19TH HOLE: The readers take over


Dorothea Walker is a woman who is respected here only for her knowledge of protocol. Her lack of sophistication in other areas has appalled Renoites for months, and the incredible naiveté" of her comments about Nevada in Mary Ham-man's article (White Tie at Squaw Valley, SI, Feb. 22) has turned polite snickers to loud laughter.

Example: her vision of the magenta dinner jacket and girls practically naked at 11 a.m. in Reno is just that.

Also, although she expresses great concern over the crude manners, upbringing and general gauche western behavior of Renoites, it is these people—Reno society—who have been given the full burden of officially welcoming and entertaining foreign visitors. True, Mrs. Walker is used as a protocol checkpoint (which side of the car does a maharaja enter?) in about the same way the IBM RAMAC 305 at Squaw Valley is used to get a bioperse on an athlete. But the brunt of the business has been left to people who she indicates are all descendants of Tom Mix or Tarzan.

Most revealing of all is her shock over western cowboy (not Indian) costumes at Governor Sawyer's party. Dress western clothes are common here and no more gauche or insulting to foreigners than their native costumes are to us.

Reno society is a pretty impressive lot to anyone who really knows anything about society. They have given a great deal of time to entertaining foreign dignitaries in their homes during these Olympics and have done it as well as anyone could. However, they have not done it on the basis of the phony snobbery which seems to have characterized the administrative setup of these Olympics.

Your piece on my friend Marianne Moore {The Poet, the Bums and the Legendary Red Men, SI, Feb. 15) is delightful.

Many a magazine has given as long essays on her "metrics"—but Robert Cantwell has captured the real person. Nothing sums her up better than your statement, "There is a profound unaware-ness of the impression that she makes on other people.... one of the most delightful personalities in the history of American literature."

It would amuse you to know, I think, that, talking to her on the telephone, I spoke of this so true tribute. And she seemed scarcely to have noticed it—being more taken up with the Dodgers and your exciting account of Carlisle. And anybody else would have cut it out, framed it in gilt and hung it over the bed! Well, she knows about it now—and said, in her modest way, that she was "most grateful."

As I am too, for the pleasure your article gave me.

Of all the articles ever written about my sister Marianne Moore I like your article the best.

I find it very hard to express my deep sense of happiness about it. Your grace in emphasizing her modesty—and the beautiful relations between the Indians and her you have brought out perfectly. Your final lines in recording Jim Thorpe's courtesy about her parasol and "lived something like poetry on their campus," I would have her remembered by for all time—because that's the truth.

In his eulogy of the Model A Ford (The Forgotten Fun of Driving, SI, Feb. 1), I'm afraid that A. W. Miller has overlooked the wonderful little Mercer also designed by Finley Robertson Porter from 1911 through 1914. The cornering ability and gear box of this high-performance car have never been equaled, to my knowledge, in this or any other country.

If a Porter automobile or an F.R.P. is turned up as a result of Mr. Miller's question, "A Porter Alive?", I would love to have the opportunity of bidding on it. Redheaded hussy or scarlet woman she might be, but a wonderful companion for my lovely little blonde Mercer runabout.
Glendale, Ohio

•Author Miller did considerable research on the Porter car. Here are some of his notes: "From what I can learn, the story of the Porter is that around 1914 Finley Robertson Porter, chief engineer of the old Mercer Motor Car Co., designed the F.R.P. (as he called it then) to be the apotheosis of the four-cylinder car—the big boiler to end all big boilers. He built half a dozen experimental models, then dropped it to go into airplane-engine development work during the war. Afterward, in 1919, he made a deal with a Bridgeport, Conn. war baby that was looking for something to do, to manufacture the Porter car under license. It was made only in 1920; the manufacturer went bankrupt in 1922 after a long shutdown." A thorough study of the Porter cars appears in a learned monograph by Keith Marvin, secretary of The Automobilists of the Upper Hudson Valley, Inc., and editor of The Upper Hudson Valley Automobilist (April, 1959).—ED.

The following additional points may be of interest.

Finley Robertson Porter never went to college and in fact told me that he "never went to school." His wife wrote later and told me this was not the fact, that he had "gone to school" in Portsmouth, Ohio and also in Southampton. I gathered from the way she wrote that this meant grammar school and that he never went to high school. I remember that when I was graduated from high school in 1909 I considered myself one of the educated elite; most boys got working papers at 14 when they got out of grammar school.

Porter p√®re was a product of that great social, economic and industrial force in the U.S. in those days, the International Correspondence Schools; all he ever learned about engineering he learned from them, except where engineering is really learned—from other engineers on the job.

Porter's first design was a steam car for "a man who wanted one." They found out the hard way that the car was O.K. if it kept moving but would blow up if kept standing. They were to meet the man at the railroad station, drive him home, turn the car over to him and get their money. So they didn't start the fire until they saw the train coming. Unfortunately, they got into a traffic delay on the way home, and the boiler went powee.

These, of course, were flash-tube boilers, which are kept red-hot, and the water is "flashed" into steam as the injector forces it into the red-hot tubing. There never was enough steam in them to make a very dangerous explosion. But they would, and this one did, explode. No sale.

According to Porter Jr. his old gent made several of these steamers. I asked Porter what they did about boiler scale, which in a boiler of this type (particularly when the feed-water is drawn from horse troughs and ditches) is bound to be troublesome. Porter said thoughtfully that he doubted if any of the boilers had ever lasted long enough for this to become a problem.

Porter Sr. designed the Mercer race-about, and this picture shows him seated in the prototype in 1910.

I can't prove it, but I don't believe the Porters ever manufactured as much as one of the F.R.P.s or Porters. Remember that in those days the "assembled" car was common and admired by some over the home-produced one.

What really killed the Porter was that it ran head-on into the massive shift in the entire industry from four cylinders to six in the postwar (World War I) years. With others advertising six cylinders, no one would be found dead with a four.
New York City

Alfred W. Miller's article started my memory cells into action. Perhaps a few recollections of a period long before that which Miller describes—in terms of automobile development—might be amusing to your readers.

One fine day in 1899 my Uncle Ernest, with his brother Lyndon at the wheel, arrived in our home town of South Orange, N.J. in a bright red Packard, effectively causing numerous runaways among the horses pulling the local equipages. Lyndon was a "mechanician," one who loved to tinker with machinery, and it was due to him that the Packard was able to run for 15 or 20 miles at a time.

One of the main bearings kept melting, and Lyndon made a mold into which he could pour the molten babbitt, which he caught in a large tin pan fastened under the main bearing, and thus produce a new bearing. Lying on his back he would somehow restore the bearing to its proper place, and the Packard would proceed on its travels.

My father's imagination was inflamed by the performances of the Red Devil, and in 1900 a salesman pulled up in front of our house with an Orient buckboard. This consisted of a pair of flexible boards upon which two small seats were mounted, with an air-cooled motor back of them, the whole being carried by four wheels, without springs. Mother took one look at the thing and vowed she would never have anything to do with it. But Father was not to be denied.

In the spring of 1901 he cautiously chugged up to our home in a "piano box" Olds, with a steering tiller and a curved dashboard. It had a one-cylinder motor under the seat. Not content with a seat facing forward, it had a dos-a-dos seat facing backward. Very swank. We drove this great car to Spring Lake where we were spending the summer, and when Father was in New York at work I would drive this car very carefully around the block. So my career as a motorist actually began in 1901.

Father got wind of the fact that a Colonel Phelps had made a three-cylinder car which won the Mount Washington Hill Climb. So in 1902 he bought one. It really did go! Toward the end of the summer, in Spring Lake, a series of automobile races were held on the drive along the shore. We stripped everything off the Phelps, including the hood, and with Pa at the wheel and me leaning over the motor so that I could hold the throttle wide open, we entered the race. Our chief competitor was E. R. Thomas, who had a real racer, and we got second.

Toward the end of the summer a Mr. DuBois, who also lived in South Orange, invited me to accompany him on a long trip from Spring Lake to our home town. He had a Crestmobile. It had a body made out of wicker, like a baby carriage, with a single-cylinder air-cooled motor mounted aft of the seat on a little platform. From the flywheel a leather belt went down to the rear axle, and if everything worked the car moved. It also had bicycle tires which picked up a horseshoe nail about every five miles. The roads in that part of New Jersey were sand, which was very good for horses, but lousy for Crestmobiles.

One thing I recall very clearly: the road signs just didn't make any sense. First we would see one that announced that some place was three miles ahead. The next one would say that the same place was only 11 miles further. That country was a real wilderness 60 years ago.

The Vanderbilt Cup Race was a great event by 1906 and, as Joe Tracy was setting records in it in a Locomobile, nothing would do but that Father must get one of those fine cars. And they were fine cars. Four great big cylinders with make-and-break spark, chain drive and just about the best-looking thing on the road. Why, you could go over Schooleys Mountain in second! There was a stinker at the top who had a good well, and he only charged a dollar for enough water to refill the radiator.

Probably fearing that I would run the Loco when he was not around, Father bought a second car, a two-cylinder Buick, which I was allowed to run. The motor was under the front seat. We were nuts about cars; they were for fun, not transportation. I once took a girl out for a ride in this Buick and she kissed me! First time I ever enjoyed that experience, either afoot or on tires. So the Buick served a good purpose.

In 1907 someone sold Father a Palmer and Singer, and I still think it was the best-looking car I have ever seen. It was gunboat gray, with bucket seats, and was made of lead. Every time you hit a bad bump, the springs would flatten and stay that way, or the strut rod would bend and the car wouldn't steer. I was coming down the Pompton Turnpike hill at 63 mph one afternoon when the left steering knuckle broke. We sailed off through a field, hit a small tree on the edge of a ravine and survived. Sixty-three miles an hour wasn't peanuts in 1907. Next day we borrowed the front end of another Palmer and Singer, put it on our car and drove home in style. But my real adventure with this beautiful thing took place right in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. With two school friends I was giving the populace a chance to admire us when, right in the middle of the block, a hansom cab turned in front of me. I bumped one of the wheels and the cab tottered slowly to the pavement. The cabby's silk hat got dented, and one of the candle carriage lights was broken. A ten-dollar bill took care of those details to everyone's satisfaction.

I was so imbued with the idea that I could be a great road racer that I talked a girl friend who had a "jinricksha" Olds runabout, with very large wheels, and which would really move, into entering the Riverhead Road Race, with me as driver. We practiced quite a bit, and things were going fine until I threw a tire one day. It rolled down the road ahead of us, but we came through safely—until her family got wind of our plans. That about ended my career as a road racer.

The only other really important thing that happened to me in a car was a few years later. In a small white Buick runabout my wife finally agreed to marry me.
South Orange, N.J.