Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Car Talk


I found this picture online. Someone was auctioning it off. The body is by Farnhan Nelson.



I have a particular interest in manufacturing in Jamaica Plain. I suppose there are two reasons. First, the Jamaica Plain I grew up in was almost exclusively residential and retail. There was some industry on Washington Street between Forest Hills and Green Street, but in any case I didn't pay attention to it. Second, I've worked in factories, and I have a general interest in old machine tools and technology. I certainly would never have guessed that Jamaica Plain was home to more than one automobile manufacturing plant. I had a little Detroit just up the street and I had no idea!

Near the top of this 1914 map, you can see the pink (brick) buildings of the former Sturtevant Blower Works. Near where Union avenue makes its right angle turn, you can see the Farnham and Nelson name on an angled brick building, part of the old Sturtevant facility.




Jamaica Plain News Saturday January 27, 1912


A Growing Local Industry

The Farnham and Nelson Co. of Jamaica Plain Have Built Up Large Business in Building Automobile Bodies


The rapid and almost universal spread of the automobile the past few years finds a striking illustration locally, not only in the number of machines owned and operated in the district, but in the development of various lines of business connected with the automotive trade. Among the instances of the business development there is none in the local district that has been more rapid and substantial than that of the Farnham & Nelson Co., of Jamaica Plain, the large and well-known concern engaged in the building of high-grade automobile bodies and all that pertains to the automobile above the engine and running gear.

This firm is located at 47 Union Avenue, Jamaica Plain, in one of the best of the large brick buildings formerly a part of the Sturtevant blower works. The proprietors are J.T. Farnham and F.D. Nelson and the business was established in December, 1908. The concern is, therefore, just beginning its fourth year, and some idea of the rapid rise of the business can be had from the fact that the volume of business done during the year just closed will approximate $75,000.00.

Previous to establishing their business on Union Avenue, both Mr. Farnham and Mr. Nelson were superintendents of different departments in two large automobile concerns, one in Boston and one in Cleveland, and are, therefore, men of large experience. That they are successful businessmen is shown by the fact that they started with nothing, in the way of trade, and the second year more than doubled their volume of business, while the third year will yield a one-third increase over the second year.

The secret of success of the firm is due, in addition to the skill and business ability of the two proprietors, to the fact that they supply a special product for a special class of people. They are designers and makers of special automobile bodies, tops, windshields and other equipment for people who cannot purchase ready-made cars that are entirely to their liking, so that a large portion of their trade is making bodies for imported and domestic cars which are purchased without bodies by some customer who then engages them to design and build a special body to suit their particular taste or requirements. It is interesting to note, and it may be a surprise to some, that people cannot buy an automobile ready-made from the factory that is satisfactory to them in all respects any more than they can get a custom-made suit of clothes that is to their liking in fit, style, etc., so they buy the chassis and have the body of the car built to order.

In the factory, they have a large portable blackboard, some 20 feet in length by 10 in height on which they draw the designs at full size so that the customer can see exactly how the finished body of his car is to look. In addition to building bodies, they make and repair all other parts of the car above the engine, making a special windshield and doing a fine class of leather and upholstering work, and making the tops for high-grade cars. All of their work is of the highest-class and their customers include the owners of the largest and most expensive cars in use. The firm handles the line of work both for private individuals and manufacturers.

A considerable portion of their factory work is also supplied in making bodies for those cars whose owners desire a closed body for winter, and an open one for summer. If a machine has a limousine top they will build an open type for the summer, and vice versa.

An interesting feature of their business is that of a large proportion of the bodies they build are of aluminum and their factory is equipped with the latest devices for metal working, including a power trip hammer, and other appliances.

The firm employs 50 men and its factory includes a woodworking, painting, upholstering and blacksmithing department. The large factory building is heated by steam and equipped with electric power, with separate motors for all departments. The factory thus being heated makes a desirable place for automobile owners to leave their cars during repairs or through the winter when they are having a new body built, and a walk through the building reveals about 75 cars in various stages of completion, some entirely new with bodies being made for their first use, and some limousines for which the firm is building open bodies for summer use. All cars for regular customers are stored free of charge. Special bodies for cars devoted to special uses such as hospital and sanatorium use are also built there. One that attracts particular notice of a visitor to the factory is a body specially constructed to admit sick persons who are obliged to ride on a cot and which is used for carrying invalids to and from trains, and, for other private purposes.

In brief, the firm makes and repairs everything about the automobile except the engine and running gear, and the rapid development of the company's business in the last three years it has been established shows clearly the large and growing field its particular line of work fills, as well as proving the fact that the firm meets the demand well with its equipment and quality of work.

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