Monday, June 6, 2011

It Followed Me Home, Daddy--Can I Keep It?

"What is it?"
"It's a Frazer."
"Yeah, but what is it?"
"It's a Frazer."
"Yeah, but is it a Chevy?"
"No, it's a Frazer."
--Actual conversation I had with a car buff about my new car.

NOTE: Clicking on any picture will open a new window with a full-screen view of the picture. Also all links open in a new window.

As most of my regular blog readers know, I'm in the process of putting together a photo book about Montana's fifty-six counties. That book is currently a work-in-progress and I've been sharing it on line in a separate blog site. Over the past four years, I've crossed Montana numerous times, camera in hand, and there's always something that I've missed. Go figure. Easter weekend this year, Kevin and I took to the road heading for the north central part of the state so I could fill in the blanks on Phillips and Hill Counties. We actually took the long way round, driving first to Billings, then north to Havre, and back along the hi line home. Now most of you are probably aware that I love photographing cars, especially old cars, and I'm always on the lookout for a car or truck, sitting out in a field, just begging to be photographed.

A bit of history here. The first car my father bought new was a 1947 Kaiser. 1947 was the first year that the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation sold cars, and for some unknown reason, my father, who owned more Fords than any other make, bought one. Parenthetically, it was also the only car he ever bought "on time," and the experience of having to make regular payments on a car that was depreciating taught him to ever after pay cash for his vehicles. My dad normally kept a car for three years, and so it was that when I was born in October, 1949, my dad was still driving the Kaiser. I can't say that I remember the car at all, but I do have a few of my dad's pictures where the Kaiser shows up in the background.

I'm sure at this point that I have hundreds of different car photos in my portfolio. I recently had a one-man show that featured twenty-some cars and trucks, neatly matted and framed. One car that I have never seen to photograph is an original Kaiser. Now I've asked my friends to be on the lookout and to alert me if they should ever see a 1947 Kaiser so I could add its image to my collection. No, I didn't want to buy one, just grab its portrait, as it were.

As things happen, on Good Friday 2011, as Kevin was driving east on Montana Highway 200, approaching Lewistown and the geographic center of Montana, I spotted a car and yelled "Stop! Turn Around! There's my Kaiser!" And sure enough, in a field on the north side of the highway, parked with several old (1930s old) pickups, was what at first appeared to be a first-generation Kaiser. Kevin pulled off the road and I jumped out, camera in hand, running toward this beautiful emerald green vehicle which turned out to be, not a Kaiser, but its up-scale brother, a Frazer.

My first view of the Frazer (note the snow)

I was so excited to find this car, that I barely noticed the fact that it was snowing heavily, and in fact I was trudging through knee-deep drifts to get to the car. I happily shot the front, back, both sides and the hood emblem (first image above) before moving on to the old pickups and eventually to the heat of the Volvo. Even though we had been driving through blizzard-like conditions, I failed to register the snow as I was happily clicking away. It was only back home, as I processed the digital images, that I noticed all the white streaks crossing the green car at an angle. Talk about being caught up in the moment.

Now remember, I didn't want to buy a Kaiser, only photograph one, so I didn't really pay too much attention to my surroundings. I did notice a sign indicating that a nearby business was engaged in welding, but that was it. We drove on, turning north at Lewistown to cross the Missouri and enter Phillips County where we stopped at the almost ghost town of Landusky which I wrote about in my Phillips County blog post. From Landusky, we continued on to Havre, and a couple of days later, were back home in Missoula.

Somehow I couldn't get that beautiful green car out of my mind, and once home, I went on-line to find any welders in the Lewistown area. Finding one that was located west of town, I gave them a call. "You may not be the people I need to talk with, but I know you'll know where to send me." I explained about seeing the car, and yes, they weren't the right welders, but also yes, they knew exactly with whom I should be speaking. A second call got me to the man who owned the field where the Frazer was parked. No, he didn't own the car, but yes, it was for sale. The welder told me the sale price, and I said, thanks, that's a bit more than I have to spend right now. So much for buying the thing. Remember, I was only looking for a photograph--and I had that.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I get an e-mail from the welder. It seems that the car's owner had decided to auction it off, with no reserve. What that means is that if a person bid one dollar and no one outbid him, he would get the car for one dollar. This is a risky move to take with anything of value, including old cars in beautiful shape, but the owner had decided that he just didn't want to deal with the car any longer. I wrote the welder back. "Tell me when and where, and I'll be there bidding."

A very classy interior

Fast forward another couple of weeks, and Kevin has decided we need a vacation, so we're back in West By Gawd Virginia, and the auction is fast approaching. Oh well. I didn't need another car. Kevin and I own more cars than we can possibly ever drive, and why for all that's high and holy do we need to take on one more project when we don't even know if we'll have an income after July 1st? I was willing to let the matter drop, but Kevin went on-line, found the Lewistown auctioneer, and called him. Claiming to be me, Kevin told the auctioneer that while we were 2,000 miles away, I wanted to bid on the Frazer. He named a top bid, and the auctioneer said that Jason would be bidding in my absence. And that was that.

The auction was scheduled for the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and due to other business concerns, we were racing home. It was even possible that we'd be able to attend the auction, if we drove straight through and didn't stop to sleep. Forget that. We'd been told that the auction would be held from 10 to 5, and that the Frazer would go on the block around noon. By six thirty we still hadn't heard anything from Lewistown, so concluded that the car had sold for some figure more than my maximum bid.

Out of curiosity, Sunday morning, I called the man who had been bidding for me to ask what the car sold for. When told the final bid amount, I asked, "So why didn't I get it," as the sale price was lower than my top bid. Jason replied, "You did get it." Turns out the auction had been packed, had run to after 10 pm, and Jason hadn't gotten around to calling me yet. While I was on the phone with Jason, Kevin called our friend Mike, and arranged for Mike to pick up a trailer and drive to Lewistown to bring home our new car.

Loaded on the trailer for the trip home

We were home by mid afternoon on Sunday, so we met Mike at U-Haul, rented the trailer, attached it to Mike's Excursion, and got set to drive to Lewistown early Monday morning. Springtime in the Rockies. Driving east on Montana 200, we encounted so much snow on Roger's Pass that a rear-wheel drive Mustang heading west had lost control and was unable to move forward up the mountain. We determined that we would not return via Roger's Pass. Not pulling a trailer holding a 3500 lb car.

Once in Lewistown, we located the car, handed Jason a check, received a packet of information from Jason, including the title, and loaded the car on the trailer. I was not able to get the car to start, but Kevin, who grew up driving old farm equipment started it right up, drove it around the fairgrounds, and up onto the trailer, where it just barely fit. I didn't take any photos out the back window of the Excursion, but every time I looked back, that big green nose was right up against us. It truly followed us home.

Ok, I hear you asking, "So just what is a Frazer?" Well, here's a bit of automotive history. At the end of World War II, Henry J. Kaiser decided he wanted to build cars instead of battleships. He'd been remarkably successful at shipbuilding. His ship yards in places like Richmond, California and Vancouver, Washington were churning out a battleship a day. But with the end of the war, there wasn't much call for more battleships. And there was a tremendous market for new cars. American automotive production had turned to strictly military vehicles in 1942, and it wasn't until 1946 that civilian production resumed. Kaiser, recognizing that while he knew construction, he didn't really know cars, got together with Joseph W. Frazer. Now you may not have heard of Mr. Frazer, but he had a long history in the automobile industry. It was Frazer who suggested the name of Chrysler's new low-cost model. "Why not call it a Plymouth?" Frazer supposedly said. Frazer left Chrysler to go to work with Willys-Overland, and was there when that company got the U.S. military commission to produce the Jeep. In 1944, he bought an interest in the Graham-Paige corporation and was named President of that firm. He announced that after the war, Graham-Paige would produce a car named for himself, the Frazer. But Graham-Paige transferred all their assets to the new Kaiser-Frazer Corporation, and when the Frazer appeared, it was under the KF banner. To all intents and purposes, the new Frazer was an upscale model of the basic Kaiser, much as Cadillac is a big sister to a Buick. In fact, when new the Frazer cost as much as a Cadillac and was considered a luxury vehicle.

My Frazer now sits at home. I've driven it a bit around town (yes, I can start it now), and have even taken it on the road to a car show in Superior, Montana (of which more later). It's definitely a project car, with some major problems to solve, most notably replacing all the wiring, but what a beauty. You'll be seeing much more of this car in the future, as I intend to enter it in as many car shows as possible, and write up each and every one of them.

Till later.....

The Frazer parked at home by the lilacs

No comments: