It has taken a long time to find you a picture of my old 1904 Clement Bayard and this is as close as I can go. Actually, the front end is perfect but my body was a roadster, with its seat perched high in the air, while the movie shows a taxi. This little car was what I called “My Little Limousine“, it took everywhere I wanted to go, and in those days, it was in style! These little cars were built mainly as taxis and asssembled in Marne, France, the country of Clement’s birth, right at the beginning of World War l in September, 1914.
Gotta build a boat
We lived in a beautiful part of Sydney, surrounded on three sides by the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers. Water, water everywhere but not a boat in sight. If ever there was a challenge to a small boy, this must be it.
My first calculation in the field of navel fitouts found me, at least afloat, on a small timber deck supported by nine empty kerosene drums. If you are ever unfortunate enough to be paddling a craft of this type, you would discover that it goes faster and faster in ever decreasing circles but finishes up absolutely nowhere.
In Sydney, after a year selling Chryslers, I made the decision to work my passage to Detroit in the hope of getting a job at the Chrysler plant. What I was bursting to find out was how is it possible to build thousands of cars in one day, everyday. About this time, Chrysler had reached about 5000 units per day.
Some people call it fate, but I prefer to call it the automatic guidance mechanism in my unconscious mind that took control. The decision to take the first step was all it needed and in a matter of days this is how it worked. Firstly, a free passage to New York, via the Panama Canal as assistant engineer on the S.S. Port Campbell, was arranged for me quite unexpectedly and which included a letter of introduction to the Chief Officer (a finer man you couldn’t meet who became a wonderfully helpful friend).
Although I knew my T Model Ford engine backwards, and owned a Clement Bayard 1902 vintage car, which I had bought for 17 pounds 10 shillings, I was a little surprised when offered a mechanic’s job road testing newly assembled cars before I even had a licence to drive one. The company was Harden and Johnson and the car was the baby Citroen that was selling like hot cakes.
I would take the chassis for a test run in Centennial Park which meant crossing the tram lines. Yes, you guessed it, I did get clobbered by a tram. On another occasion, it was not the chassis that was dented but my own pride. I had recommended a Citroen to my cousin, Peter Russell, whose father had left all the family money to the P.N. Russell Engineering School at the Sydney University.
Let me tell you something of the touch and go part of a rough and rugged road that lead to our marriage. It lasted for three long years and b=never seemed to have a finish. Mind you most roads were rough sixty odd years ago but this on was paved with the teeth of depression and dogma of religious stupidity. I can see the writing on the wall even now. It said, “if you marry Fil you will have to sign papers saying that your children will be brought up in the Catholic Faith”.
There were eight in Fil’s family, at least two especially biogated. Fil was the least of my worries. I knew she was anxious to get out of the Church but I could see the family pressure at work n her to the point that our engagement was in jeopardy.
Our Father (not the one in heaven) – Robert James Arthur Roberts, son of Francis Roberts, engineer and surveyor, who emigrated from Ireland to Queensland where he was commissioned by the Government to survey the border between Queensland and New South Wales. This task which was ordered along the ridges of a mountainous terrain finally became his undoing. He died of sunstroke at the age of 41. Nevertheless, father followed in his footsteps as a surveyor and rose to the position of Surveyor General of the N.S.W. Lands Department. When he retired at age 60 he was a strong, seemingly very fit man but five years later he died and his pension went with him. For Mother, especially whole as it happened, lived to 96 and I was still at school, this was a disaster. In those days there was no Government assistance whatever, no pensions, no Medicare, no anything. At this point from the sale of the old home, she did a wonderful job. But that day was eventually saved when she married Gus. By this time she must have been at least 50.
Phipps and his team (now seven in all) had performed too well. Our distributers were stocked to the limit. No one, even in a wild dream, could have anticipated the severity o the 1930’s depression. As it turned out, it took three years to liquidate stocks. H.P. had no option but to reduce staff to one man (the only American) and his secretary, the rest of us had to go. Phipps also quit and returned to England.
Except for his secretary, I was the first to join Harry Phipps as his assistant. H.P. as he was generally known, represented the US Chrysler factory in Australia. He had set up distributer-dealer organisations in each State and the new Chrysler six and 4 cyl Plymouth were selling well. But just where a raw 23 year old salesman was to fit into this picture was anything but clear.
H.P. was far too occupied a person with his own affairs to sit down and hold the hand of his fledgling – he just said “get the registration figures for all makes of cars and work out the percentage of sales we are getting in all states”. Well, I did what he asked in trial and error sort of way and finally came up with some illuminating information which prompted the nest line of instruction designed to keep me out of mischief. This time H.P. just said “this shows Queensland are always in the ‘red’. Go up there and find out what is wrong”. With that he left for England for a reason best known to himself. His secretary filled me in on a few details and off I went.
Look at that aeroplane! There are only three relatively small radial engines driving wooden props, to drag that lump of thing in the air. If I remember rightly, there were twenty passengers plus luggage, mail etc. Well, it did get airborne and flew all the way to Paris at about 1000ft. That is the equivalent to the height of the Eiffel Tower. This aircraft represents the last work in the development of passenger transport nine years after the end of World War 1 in 1918, whereas, America had nothing to speak of except some mail delivery and “Barnstorming” planes. (Joy flights in small planes.)
While on the six day crossing of the Atlantic, I had, at least, a warm bunk and three meals a day but now, as I stepped off the gangway and put my foot on English soil I began to realise I was about as far from home as it was possible to get. With about two billion people in the Western hemisphere of the Erath, I knew not one of them. Not a single solitary soul and yet I was not alone – I still had my guardian angel who had not failed me once in the nine months I had been away. There was no sense of fear or loneliness – I just knew that I would not be deserted now.
I was leaning on the railing of the Cunnard Atlantic Liner “Mauritania” as we crept past the Statue of Liberty toward the Atlantic Ocean, while the Manhatten skyline faded into the distant sky. I had circumnavigated to the halfway point of my journey with six days of very cold water and icebergs ahead. It was hard not to reflect on the thousands of people who, in their eagerness to travel between Europe and the U.S.A., had finished up on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, Two of our sister ships, the “Lusitania” and the “Titanic” accounted for nearly 3,000 of these souls. My reflections were so deep that they caused me to look up some details which read in part as follows: –
Lexington Avenue runs parallel and next to Park Avenue in the heart of New York City. Even in 1927 it was lined on both sides with skyscrapers, 30-50 stories high. The life of a skyscraper was relatively short even in those days. I was shown one that was on its way to the scrap heap after only twenty years of life. So, just about all the buildings I saw then would have been replaced by now, some two even three times.
At the top of one of these towers, I entered Walter P. Chrysler’s personal suite of officers and was soon sitting across the desk of the man I had so much wanted to meet. The man who, less than ten years earlier, had used all his savings to buy an expensive Lincoln car and, to his wife’s disgust, immediately set about unassembling it down to the last nut and bolt on the living room floor. Yes, this was the man who had designed and planned the building of the first ever light, sweet running, good performance, mass produced motor car and had just become the worlds third largest car manufacturer, trailing only Ford and General Motors. Yes, this was the man I was speaking to – my new employer – W.P.C. himself.