The over-hanging boughs of my maples beckoned a heart-felt howdy. My brother Bob, from the wind-swept plains of Oklahoma, had just breezed in for a visit. However, he couldn’t park his RV among the gyrating maple branches that lined the drive. The RV was a seeker of space…just like him. He had a hankering for RVing, riding the road, being a free-wheeler. All those lengthy limbs, boasting of years of growth, made unworkable his plan of lodging with me. We quickly formulated a solution. He maneuvered the elongated RV into a space at the KOA in Auburn, Indiana – a not so close country mile to my house south of Fort Wayne.
The drive felt awkward, advancing north on Hwy 69 to pay a visit at the KOA in Auburn. On arrival and lagging behind in state-of-the-art RV technology, I traipsed through his topnotch RV. I had a look-see at slide outs as they slid in and out and witnessed all the conveniences of home that were everywhere present. He was so proud.
As a show of hospitality, we rambled into Auburn to tour the 120,000 square foot of exhibits at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. We were mesmerized by the grandeur of the Tschannen art deco building. Then – something magical happened. My hair appeared bobbed and a chemise-style dress made me look like a flapper, or no; more like a gold-digger. A feeling of nostalgia swooped into my stomach while strange speech submerged from my lips. We were back in the 1930s and I yelled out to brother Bob. “Wow, this place is the cat’s meow, the cat’s pajamas, and the cat’s whiskers.” Did I say that?
In this new space of time, we stared as men in white shirts and ties dashed about – into and out of – offices labeled Design and Advertising. Others concentrated on forming precise clay models. There were – no assembly lines – only circle teams of men, and they worked like a ball of fire and were hitting on all six to put five cars a month out the door.
We entered the showroom where a Duesenberg leap-frogged into view. It was a lollapalooza. We ogled every inch of steel and leather and read the historical information of each and every car. At times, I listened, as he read every word out-loud digesting them for future reference, I’m sure. We strained our necks and scrutinized the interiors uncovering radios, bars, vanity cases and hat racks. Trivia from the year of the auto sparked even more excitement. Trivia – as in – the scoop on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and the escapades of Al Capone and John Dillinger. I felt I was putting on the Ritz having a really regal time.
The cars were all strictly custom built. The owners selected their own body styles, their own body makers, and selected their own colors. We headed toward the baby blue one with the dark blue pin stripping. “All the women like that one,” someone said. Yes, it was the bee’s knees. I’d need to dress in glad-rags to ride in it.
“Wow, look at that breezer!” It was a 1932 Duesenberg Model J-476 Murphy Torpedo Convertible Coupe. “Hubba. Hubba.” I know my onions and that car can burn up the road and seduce my eye. Only a sugar-daddy could provide a ride in that.”
He marveled at the Lycoming straight V-8 engines. “Look at that,” he said while pointing to the massive exhaust pipes trailing down from the engine. “There were engines back then just like today,” he said. In a pig’s eye would I ever have enough clams to buy one of those. It gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.
We read all the historical information provided around the massive room. We read about the Duesenberg brothers who were a German family that found their legacy in the corn-saturated Middle West. We read about Mr. E.L. Cord, who bought the Deusenberg Company with a vision of making luxury cars on a larger scale. Every car was individualized, suited to the rigorous requirements of rich customers. I swooned over the photo of Clark Gable leaning on his car. He was the proud owner of a Duesy, also included were Mae West and Gary Cooper. Mrs. Mars, like most Duesy owners, claimed that possession of the car was more deeply gratifying than owning any other material object. Mr. & Mrs. Mars started making their candy bars in the family kitchen. I can just hear her nagging that no one had better drop a dab of chocolate on the seat of her Duesy.
“Well, if we’re done batting our gums, let’s get something to eat. Dig me?” I’d spend my money down the road at Fazolis and bat my gums on pasta and bread sticks.
“Let’s shove in the clutch, Sis and jitterbug on out of here,” he said. And off we went.
As we enjoyed our meal at Fazolis, I became fully aware that we had arrived back in the current year. My white shorts and purple shirt were back, and my hair was straight and long. And, after spending three full days with him, I realized that he and the Duesy had a lot in common.
He and the car both emerged form the heartland of Indiana. He and I were both precisely constructed which made us click as brother and sis. The car combined the dizzying speed of a racing car with the cosmetic splendor of Hollywood living. He, in his seventies, ran nine miles every morning and was still exceptionably good looking for his age, a Clint Eastwood kind of Hollywood guy.
The Duesy was heavy duty all the way. He was likewise. He had the engine power to handle the trials of life and stay on the narrow road, confident, and much wiser for it. The Duesy fulfilled people’s dreams, it was heroic. He has fulfilled my dreams, been my hero. Even though we are far apart, he stimulates my soul, and his spirit draws something out of me I didn’t know I had. I feel charged chatting with him. If he were a Duesy, I would be hopelessly incapable of affording him, but the love he shares is free.
In 1937, the Depression erased the Duesy audience and it fluttered away. Over so many past years and empty miles, he has fluttered away. Then – that hunk of steel and V-8 engine emerges once again. Kind ‘a like the Duesy, to be preserved forever in the museum of my heart.
A dressy ad campaign in the Vanity Fair magazine proclaimed that the Duesy was the “World’s Finest Motor Car.” It is only fitting for me to proclaim that he is the “World’s Finest Brother.”
It has been deeply gratifying more than owning any material object to know that – he is just that – a Duesy!
Ref: 2001 Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival Magazine and The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life From Prohibition Through World War II.
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