Saturday, June 28, 2008
Daddy and The Ghost Car
Daddy and The Ghost Car
Jane- Ann Heitmueller
"You can't judge a book by its cover". My, my what a true statement, especially with respect to my daddy, Fred R. Merrill, Sr. Although Daddy was born, reared, and spent most of his 86 years in New England, he was referred to , by my Uncle Thurman, who conducted his funeral service, as "A True Southern Gentleman". I choose to remember him as both a gentleman and a gentle man! While growing up, Daddy was just Daddy to me and like any child I never questioned or wondered about the man himself. Now that he is gone, having died in 1990, I truly wish that I had taken time to sit down and just listened to my dad and his life stories, for I have since discovered that they were many and varied! Fortunately, my dad was a packrat, (in the Merrill genes), and his various adventures are recorded in faded photos and yellowing, tattered newspaper clippings. Perhaps it was his wish in saving these items that he could talk to us when he was no longer present. Nonetheless, I feel blessed to learn these stories now and shall happily pass them along to upcoming generations of our family.
In 1932 when he was 28 years old and living in New York City, Dad was employed by Socony Oil Company . In March of that year he was chosen to drive the Socony Ford Snowmobile on an exhibition tour for winterproof testing. The Snowmobile was unique because of the fact that it was driven the farthest north in Ontario, Canada of any previous automobile. Beginning in New York Dad drove 1,250 miles to test oil and gas performance under the severe sub-polar conditions of the Hudson Bay Territory. The "Polar Auto", as it became known, traveled the last hundred miles over uncompleted railroad tracks. Still three miles from its final destination of Moose Factory, a town seven hundred miles north of Toronto and sixteen degrees south of the Arctic Circle, it was necessary to build roads to the river. After descending a fifty foot embankment and being ferried on an antiquated boat the car finally reached the island where Moose Factory was located. The population of Moose Factory that year was four hundred and only eight of the residents were Caucasian. Dad and his unique "contraption" were on display Saturday, March 5, 1932 at Chevrolet Sales and Service Station for the entire population to scrutinize.
The following May Daddy hit the road once again as a special engineer for Socony. He drove the first V-8 Ford to be sold to a customer 5,000 miles, over a six week period, to test the gasoline and oil performance of the new car; which was the Socony policy of keeping abreast of the fuel factors involved in all new automobile developments. The car, known as Socony Test Car No. 11 was equipped with an elaborate instrument board and specially designed instruments: an accurate speedometer-odometer, Zenith gasoline mileage tester for measuring gas consumption, a viscosity indicator for determining the grade of oil best suited for minimum consumption, temperature indicator and thermostat. The instruments would supply Socony, at the conclusion of the trip, with all of the necessary data, enabling them to recommend to owners of the Ford the fuel and lubricants best suited for this new model. Socony's marketing of the V-8 Ford was particularly unique at that time, for it was the first car ever painted with a luminous paint and thus became known as "The Ghost Car" as it streaked through the dark night.