- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

When future genealogists map the family tree of Aurin M. Chase, who died in 1953 at the age of 78, they should draw a direct connection to Doug Tomb, one of his 17 grandchildren. Mr. Tomb shares an affinity for Chase automobiles with the grandfather he never knew. He is the son of Lavina Chase Tomb, the sixth child of Mr. Chase.

Mr. Chase lived in Syracuse, N.Y., and earned an engineering degree in 1900 from Boston Institute of Technology, later known as Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He returned to New York and went to work at the Franklin Auto Co., which produced air-cooled automobiles. By 1906 he had formed his own manufacturing business, Chase Motor Truck Co. In the next dozen years or so it produced about 5,000 air-cooled trucks.

For the customer who couldn’t afford both a truck for business and a car for pleasure, Chase offered a Surrey that permitted the work body to be replaced with a seat for passenger use. Not very many of the Surrey models were manufactured but one in particular, a 1911 Model F stamped with serial number F754, was built as a passenger vehicle for Mr. Chase himself. The selling price in 1911 was $900.

It featured a 20-horsepower, three-cylinder, two-cycle air-cooled engine with a Bosch high-tension magneto. It rolled on four wheels, each with 16 wooden spokes. Solid rubber 36x2-inch tires supported the 1,500-pound right-hand-drive vehicle on a 100-inch wheelbase. To help soften the ride, the Chase is equipped with eliptical leaf springs at all four corners.

The car has no instrumentation and only spark and throttle levers on the four-spoke wooden steering wheel. The two-speed planetary transmission in its advertised “dustproof case” is operated by the three foot pedals and single lever on the outside of the car. The right pedal operates the brakes on the rear wheels and has a latch that can lock the brakes for parking. The middle pedal puts the car in a reverse gear and the left pedal is for use at low speeds.

To go faster (that would be above 5 mph), the high gear lever on the right side of the car is pushed forward, enabling the vehicle to speed up to nearly 20 mph.

The “Operation and Care of Chase Trucks” manual offers a valuable hint: “Drive SLOW. Don’t be in a hurry. You can double and treble the work of a horse and not run over 10 mph. Fast driving races the engine and tears your car to pieces. You lose time by it in the end. Drive slow and keep going. That is the way to save your car and yourself trouble.”

The manual also suggests mixing one quart of oil with five gallons of gasoline before straining the mixture into the fuel tank. A Holley carburetor then feeds the mixture to the engine.

Mr. Chase’s Chase eventually sat exposed to the elements for years in Rochester, N. H. before a Boston man bought it for restoration. The renewed car spent two decades in Boston before being sold to a Port Jervis, N.Y., man. “By the mid 1970s,” Mr. Tomb says, “it had disappeared.”

A decade later he began looking for his grandfather Chase’s vehicle. In November of 1992 in a barn in Dunstable, Mass. where the car had once been parked, he found the original front wheels, which had been replaced with new ones. “Once I had the wheels,” Mr. Tomb says, “I had to get the rest of it.”

The search continued for what he considered the Holy Grail of Chase vehicles.

In late April 1994 he was scrolling through an auction Web site when he saw a familiar picture on his terminal. It was a Chase but was misidentified. The auction expired with no bids and later Mr. Tomb telephoned the seller in Florida to see if the car were still for sale. It was and the seller mailed him a detailed set of photographs.

That’s when the real excitement began. He identified a couple of idiosyncrasies on the car in the photos that matched those in family photos of his grandfather’s car. He got a price commitment from the seller and with his wife, Beverly, set out for Fort Lauderdale towing an empty trailer.

Three days and 1,000 miles later, they arrived in Florida and located the car. The first thing he checked was the serial number stamped on the engine. When he saw that it was F754, he asked if he could drive it around the block and was answered in the affirmative. The seller then had a friend connect the Chase to a trailer hitch on the back of a modern car that then towed them around the block. The title changed hands, Mr. Tomb loaded the Chase into the trailer and after one hour in Fort Lauderdale, set about the three-day, 1,000-mile drive back north to Virginia.

His grandfather’s Chase appeared in great condition from its previous restoration, with the chassis and wheels a cream color, the body maroon and black fenders and detailing. “It was overbuilt,” he remarks. “It is a good, solid car that was marketed to farmers familiar with horse-drawn wagons. It’s not refined in any way.”

There is a kill button on the wooden dashboard that grounds out the magneto, which stops the engine. “It’s unique,” Mr. Tomb says, “It’s primarily wood, you sit high and never get anywhere fast. Even in 1911 it was not leading-edge technology but tried and true.” That formula evidently appealed to at least 5,000 customers.

As for the company slogan for the 1911 Model F Chase, which stated that the car was designed “For Business or Pleasure,” Mr. Tomb says, “I take the pleasure part seriously.”

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