DEALER RECALLS FRANKLIN CAR ERA

15 March 2018 23:12 น. Garland, General Assorted History

DR. W. G. LANGLEY, Farmers Branch native, born February 24, 1880, is a lifetime member of the Dallas Real Estate Board, who remains active in large-scale dealing in Dallas city and county property after forty-two years as a licensed broker. Yet the doctor’s years as a real estate dealer represent only one of three separate careers in his lifespan to date of more than eight decades, all of which have been spent in his native county.  Armed with a college degree in veterinary medicine, Dr. Langley began the practice of that profession in Dallas in 1905; he was named State Veterinarian two years later in the administration of Gov. Tom Campbell. In 1910 Dr. Langley left animal husbandry and acquired a dealership for the famous Franklin automobile, whose air-cooled engine, the first in any car made in America, had been invented eight years before.

John T. Jones and Franklin Car, 1912

John T. Jones and Franklin Car, 1912

He was attracted to the Franklin by one owned by his friend, Will Bishop, a Dallas County rancher living near Carrollton. “I knew I was getting hold of a good product,” Dr. Langley recalled. “I was able to sell a carload of three of them even before I opened my first showroom. These first three cars were sold and shipped to Terrell, which had long since been made automobile conscious by the pioneer motorist, Col. E. H. R. Green, and others. The buyers were State Sen. R. L. Warren, Matthew Cartwright (father-in-law of Summerfield Roberts of Dallas) and Banker Allen.”
During the next sixteen years, or until he left the automobile business in 1926 to enter real estate, Dr. Langley became one of the nation’s leading automobile distributors. He was, in turn, Dallas, North Texas, then state dealer for the Franklin. Before World War I and later, the Franklin was rated as one of the four top luxury cars in America. Others were Pierce-Arrow, Packard, and Cadillac. Made in Syracuse, New York, the stock, 4-door Franklin sedan sold in Dallas for $4,000, the equivalent today of at least twice that amount.

With a lively instinct for publicity and advertising, Dr. Langley was a pioneer in effecting tie-ups between his product and notables visiting the Dallas scene. Thus when Vernon Castle, the romantic idol of carefree youth, the nation’s most publicized ballroom dancer, came to Texas in 1916 to train as a flier in the Canadian Royal Air Force, Dr. Langley extended him the use of one of his Franklins. Castle was stationed in Fort Worth where the flying field was located but spent a considerable part of his spare time in Dallas. Dr. Langley has a photograph of Castle behind the wheel of a Franklin sports model, which was taken in City Park and was run in the Dallas News. (Langley’s agency by then was on South Ervay opposite City Park and the present Ambassador Hotel, then the Park, the first high-rise apartment hotel in Dallas.)

Clara Kimball Young, one of the first tragediennes to win fame on the silent screen, was another Dallas visitor of the period. Dr. Langley placed a Franklin at her disposal. The movie star later wrote thanking him for his kindness in giving her “the pleasures of riding in the lovely Franklin limousine while in Dallas.”

One of Dr. Langley’s most prized mementos of the great and neargreat who rode in cars furnished by him is a letter from the White House. It bears the date of January 12, 1918, and is signed by Margaret Woodrow Wilson, daughter of President Wilson, who had visited Dallas as a singer in a tour on behalf of war work.

“At last I am able to write you,” wrote Miss Wilson, “of my grateful appreciation of your generosity to me while in Dallas. As it happens, the Franklin is my favorite car, and I would rather use it than any other kind. I appreciate your kindness doubly.”

In the spring of 1916, the twenty-six Dallas dealers in automobiles staged their yearly auto show. They were then handling thirty-two makes of cars in all. Today only six of these are still being manufactured: Foal, Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, Dodge, and Oldsmobile. In addition to the Franklin, Pierce-Arrow, and Packard, the Chalmers, Hupmobile, KisselKar, Maxwell, Oakland, Velie, Stearns, Saxon, Paige, Marion, and Milburn Electric are among the cars that have since gone out of existence.

Among Dr. Langley’s fellow automobile dealers in Dallas in 1916 were L. R. Munger, who handled the Cadillac; J. H. Connell, Chalmers; R. N. Randal, Packard; H. O. Adams, Chevrolet; M. A. Sacksteder, Velic; R. H. Davis, Oldsmobile, and W. C. Lemmon, the Case, which was built by the J. I. Case Implement Company.

Promoters of the 1916 automobile show in Dallas were particularly proud of their assemblage of “the latest models of motor machines.” They were said in the newspapers to be convinced that the line of new cars for 1916 “held gripping interest” for those who desire “either to conserve their health and enjoy life by outdoor recreation ( in automobiles) or to facilitate their movements and economize time by rapid transportation.” The new features stressed in 1916 motor cars were said to be among the most exciting and important in automotive history. One advance was “multicylinder engines.” As many as nine and twelve cylinders were mentioned, although the four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines remained the popular favorites. Decreases in weight were cited by a number of car manufacturers. This was said to male for greater mileage per gallon of gasoline and less wear and tear on tires. Some of the premium tires, it was claimed, could be used for seven thousand miles without being replaced. But the most sensational feature of the 1916 motor year was the growing popularity of “the part payment plan for sale.” Frowned on by many of the more conservative bankers and others, the time-payment purchase of cars was to give a tremendous boost to the spread of the automobile in America. Automobiles were eulogized nonetheless as “these health angels, these distance annihilators, these wheeled typifies of the new American spirit.”

Courtesy Dallas Yesterday by Sam H. Ancheson.  Photo, John T. Jones of Garland, Texas courtesy Garland Landmark Society.