Category Archives: Technical Features

The Packard Patents – A Graveyard of Automotive Designs From the Past

  • pack3
  • A 1919 overhead cam design by H.D. Church, a Packard Engineer

One of the most enjoyable parts of researching for The Old Motor articles is uncovering important forgotten automotive designs from the past. The other day we stumbled on to a large number of patents assigned to the Packard Motor Car Co. Many of them originated from within, but many were apparently designs Packard bought from the inventor and had them patent the design in the name of the Motor Car Co.

The drawing above shows a 1919 s.o.h.c. design by H.D. Church, who was Packard’s Chief Truck Designer. The Company had been involved with other o.h.c. designs at the time including the Packard Liberty engine, the 299 Packard engine and the 905 Packard. Church’s 1919 Packard overhead cam design may have been the first design for the automaker to use what Church called, a valve operating sleeve. This inverted cup (part no. 2), did away with all side thrust from the cam on the valve assembly.

You can learn more about this era including Ralph De Palma’s involvement with Packard and the racing car between 1914 and 1923 in an article by Gary Doyle at Packards International. The racing car engines were tied together with the aircraft designs because Packard engineer Jesse G. Vincent knew that it was easier to develop them in a racing car  on land rather than it was in the air. 

  • pack4     pack1      pack5
  • OHC cam design, 1918 – Railcar design, 1918 – A rotary valve design, 1911

Three more designs that caught our eye can be seen left to right above: Another 1918 s.o.h.c. design also by H.D. Church; a 1918 design by F.H. Dewey for converting a Packard Truck into a railcar, and a 1911 design by M. Tibbetts for a double overhead rotary valve design.

  • pack2
  •                       1903 Packard walking-beam engine patent drawing

Having been involved with Duesenberg walking-beam racing engines, finding the first application of this design to an internal combustion engine has always been of interest. The earliest reference to this concept we have found so far are these 1903 patent drawings above and below for one of the designs by none other than J.W. Packard.

The design is seen below for a two-up, two-down engine with bolt-on crankshaft counterweights. The unusual linkage designs seen above were intended for governing engine speed. You can learn more about this walking-beam engine here, and many more Packard patents here.


1 Comment
Posted in Auto photos 1885 - 1920, Technical Features | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Doing the Dirty Work in Los Angeles – Western Paint Remover and Steam Cleaning


This set of photos of the Western Paint Remover and Steam Cleaning facility on South Western Avenue in Los Angeles, taken in 1924, shows a type of specialty automotive service from the past. The operation used a large wood and coal-fired steam boiler to supply steam under pressure for cleaning. It is likely this business catered to car dealers, repair shops and paint and body shops to quickly and thoroughly clean vehicles and strip off old paint before refinishing.

steam2      steam3      steam4

The felt seals, oil slingers and gaskets of the early days left a lot to be desired, and oil leakage was common. The engine and its compartment along with the entire underside of a car all the way back to and including the rear axle where usually coated in it. Added to this was road dirt mixed in over time that resulted in a caked-up and gooey mess.

A boiler such as used here for cleaning vehicles produces a relatively high temperature pressurized steam. It removes an oil and grease film by first thinning it out and then by the effect of the steam pressure washing it away; detergents are sometimes also added to the steam to help the cleaning process.


Paint removal services were also offered by the company. Steam will soften and loosen many types of paint so it can be easily scraped off, and this may have been how the removal process was accomplished. In addition to this, water droplets in high-velocity steam under controlled conditions can be as abrasive as sand particles which may have helped the process.

  •                 steam6                              steam7

The photos give you an excellent view of the facility and the interesting steam cleaning equipment. A wide variety of vehicles can also be seen in the yard including an early Pierce-Arrow that appears to have been converted into a truck and a late-teens Cadillac Roadster. Photos courtesy of the USC Libraries.

Posted in Auto photos 1885 - 1920, Auto photos 1921 - 1942, Technical Features | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Earnest Holmes and His First Tow Truck

  • tow1
  • An Early Cadillac V-8 Sedan converted into a tow truck

Dan Strohl of Hemmings Motor News ran into the early history of the tow truck recently and reported the following:  “While perusing a recent issue of the Caddie Chronicle, the newsletter of the Potomac Region of the Cadillac La Salle Club, we came across the interesting tidbit that the first tow truck was not built atop some heavy-duty truck chassis, as one would expect, but atop a 1913 Cadillac.”

  • hol1
  •               Holmes advertisement the “Motor Age” September 21, 1922

“As the Chronicle and other sources have related the story, Ernest Holmes, a mechanic in Chattanooga, Tennessee, got a call one day in 1916 from his old business school professor, John Wiley, who had driven his Ford Model T off the road and upside down into a creek bed. Holmes eventually got the T out of the creek bed and upright, but it took eight hours and six men and untold amounts of manual labor.”

  • hol2
  •                Holmes advertisement the “Motor Age” September 21, 1922

“The experience gave Holmes an idea, though: Back at his shop, he outfitted a three-year-old Cadillac – which sat on a fairly stout 120-inch-wheelbase chassis and which used a L-head four-cylinder engine for power – with a crane and pulley system that would lift broken-down and wrecked vehicles and secure them for a tow back to a nearby mechanic’s shop. After refining the idea with a pair of outriggers to provide stability while hoisting other vehicles, Holmes filed for a patent for his idea (US Patent 1254804) in November 1917.”

  •                   tow3                      tow4
  •                    Ernest Holmes January 29, 1917 patent drawings.

You can learn more of what Dan Strohl found out about Holme’s first tow truck, his 1918 patent and his business building Holmes Wreckers on Hemmings Daily. You can also find a a number of early tow truck images here on The Old Motor.  The top photo was taken during 1932 in Lexington, Kentucky, and is courtesy of the University of Kentucky.


Posted in Garages and Dealerships, Technical Features, Trucks, Buses and Equipment | Tagged , , , , |