The Studebaker Wheel

A breezy, newsy, human interest magazine written for the entertainment and the education of the car owner. Full of interesting pictures and illustrations to put across in a subtle, unobtrusive way the story of Studebaker quality and dependability.” (From: The Studebaker News - 1926)

 

The Studebaker Wheel

by Richard Quinn

(Note: This article originally appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of the Antique Studebaker Review)

 

I have been collecting Studebaker literature for more than forty years. The ultimate aim was (and is) to acquire one of everything that Studebaker ever printed. Of course that is an impossible goal to achieve but that it what makes it fun and challenging! If it was easy it wouldn’t be enjoyable and interest would soon fade.

Of course this all got started by trying to collect everything related to the particular year and model that I owned at the time (a 1940 Champion) and things soon got out of hand! Showroom literature was first, then dealer books, accessory information, service data pricing and any other promotional items that may have been available (showroom photos, banners, pins and buttons, key fobs, post cards, etc.). 

In my quest I have traveled thousands of miles, attended hundreds of swap meets, visited scores of dealers, talked to dozens of ex-employees and bid on scores of items posted for sale on various Internet sites. If I had spent all that time and money on more productive endeavors I would probably be a rich man living on a luxurious estate somewhere. However I would probably not be very happy and would likely be void of the hundreds of friends and acquaintances that I have met in this strange journey. 

I like to think that the material I have collected over these many decades has served some useful purpose. Indeed this is the principal reason I edited the Antique Studebaker Review for 17 years and wrote for the SDC’s Turning Wheels for 37. I see no good reason in possessing all of this material unless it can be put to some useful purpose. What I have attempted to do is make as much of it available as possible thru the various publications for which I have written.

In previous columns of The Antique Studebaker Review I covered some of the many regular publications that Studebaker issued during its 100+ years in the transportation business. These included service manuals and Service Bulletins, annual financial reports, the house organs including the Studebaker Review, Cooperator, Accelerator, and Spotlight, the owner’s manuals and The Studebaker Almanac. All of these publications contain mountains of information with regard to not only the company’s wide range of products but also inside information on the work force, dealers, executives and the firms remarkable history.

The two publications that I most enjoy are the Studebaker News and the Studebaker Wheel. The former was published between 1912 and 1965 and sent to dealers only. The News contained information on model introductions, sales promotions, pricing, colors, personnel changes and lots and lots of photos. Much of this information was available thru no other Studebaker source. While my collection of The News is not complete it does include about 75% of all the issues printed.

Despite the importance of the News as the most historically valuable and reliable resource I would have to say that my favorite publication was The Studebaker Wheel. It was introduced in February 1926 as an owner’s magazine and within a period of just seven years one million copies were being printed every month and circulated throughout much of the world.

The Wheel was always issued in a magazine format and featured original art on the front cover with each being “season related” and featuring a Studebaker vehicle. Most issues contained 24 pages and all four covers had Studebaker related ads or photos. Original articles on a variety of topics were included within. Of course travel features were popular as were stories on noted people of the era including writers, sports figures, politician and Hollywood notables.

Of course there were regular features that promoted Studebaker products. One long running example was called “Among Studebaker Owners” in which Studebaker owners were identified and pictured with their vehicles. Another was entitled “Interesting Folks and Other Things” which tended to focus more on prominent members of society and their cars. “Service Sam Says…” was generally found on the last page and offered owners valuable tips on a variety of service related issues. “Laughing Gas” featured a full page of jokes, witticisms and brief anecdotes aimed at bringing a smile to your face. 

Studebaker history was a frequent topic as was the annual model introductions. Thru the 1933 issues speed and endurance trials were a regular feature but after 1936 the focus changed to articles on economy.

Most of the names for The Wheel mailing list were submitted by the dealers who paid five cents per name, a sum matched by the company. Generally dealers would have copies sent to their regular customers and good prospects. However the Studebaker advertising department urged the dealers to take full advantage of the direct mail advertising and to include the local barber shops, doctors and dentists, fraternal organizations and local politicians. For the September 1927 issue the company announced that it would imprint the dealer name on the front cover for an additional one cent. This would assure the recipient would know from whom the magazine was being sent. In late 1931 it was announced that dealers who ordered 1000 or more issues of The Wheel would have the option of having the entire back cover for their personal ad at no extra charge.

I began collecting issues of The Wheel in the early 1970’s and it took approximately 15 years to acquire a full run from 1926 thru 1956. Since Studebaker did not use a system of volumes and numbers to identify the various issues it required several years to establish exactly what constituted a complete run. By cross checking the inventories of other dedicated collectors and relying on original Studebaker sources this was finally established. In response to numerous inquiries I made up the chart that shows the months and years The Wheel was issued.

It will be noted that publication was fairly regular between February 1926 and March 1933. Publication was suspended when the company went into receivership in 1933 and was not begun again until the May 1936 issue. Thereafter copies were sent out on an irregular schedule until the October 1940 issue after which publication was suspended. In the immediate post WWII period (1949-53) only a few hundred copies of each were published and those simply to maintain the copyright.

In January 1955 Studebaker announced that it would again resume a regular publication schedule for The Wheel. It was to be issued on a bi monthly basis in order to, “Create and build dealership good will through its feature articles and other interesting reading matter, and to promote the sale of new and used cars and trucks, accessories, parts and services by means of specific sales messages and full page advertisements.” During the next 12 months six issues were sent with the final edition being the Dec./Jan. 1955-56 edition. Apparently it was discontinued due to poor dealer participation.

There were a total of 117 different issues of the Wheel circulated during its 30 year of existence. 104 were pre World War II and 13 post WWII. They can often be found for sale on the Internet auction site EBay with an average price being in the $20 to $30 range. Of course the lower circulation issues in 1926 and some of the 1936-38 issues seem to do much better. A February 1926 issue sold a few years ago for over $200 and some of the 1936-38 have brought close to $100. Acquiring a complete collection today would require a lot of time and money and is probably not a practical goal. However it would be within most peoples budget to acquire copies from the year of a particular car they owned.

 

Some interesting facts about The Studebaker Wheel magazine.

  1. There were 117 copies of The Wheel issued, 104-pre war and 13 post war.
  2. Issues from February thru October 1926 were 20 pages in length. From November 1926 thru October 1940 all issues were 24 pages.
  3. The total number of pages in all issues was 2,464.
  4. From February 1926 thru January 1930 The Wheel was slightly oversized at 8 ¾ X 11 ¼.” Thereafter all issues were standardized at 8 ½ X 11.”
  5. Beginning with the September 1927 issue dealers could have their name and address imprinted on the bottom of the front cover. Later it was moved to the back cover.
  6. Beginning in 1932 dealers who had 1000 or more names on their Wheel mailing list could have the entire back cover specially designed for their use.
  7. The April 1940 issue of The Wheel was superceded by the Champion issue of the 112 page Automotive News..   

The top year and month for circulation of The Wheel was March 1933 when over one million copies were printed. This was just before the company went into receivership. It would never again approach that number. The highest after that was the May 1939 Champion issue which was sent to 805,000 prospects.

 

Side bar:

Raymond James Stuart - Artist (1882-1970)

Raymond James Stuart was born in Aurora, Illinois, the son of George and Della Stuart. Spurning a career as a druggist he entered the Art Institute of Chicago at age 16. Upon completion of his formal training he began his career in Chicago as an artist and designer.  

In 1926 he went to work for Studebaker and one of his first assignments was the front cover of a new owner’s magazine that came to be known as the Wheel. Between this his first effort and the last in October 1931 he executed sixty-two covers for this fine publication. Each followed the pattern of the first that being the telling a humorous story, with a Studebaker involved of course, in a single frame.

Reportedly Studebaker paid Stuart a generous salary and also twice a year he was given a new Studebaker to drive. While we are not certain why the relationship ended with the October 1931 issue but we do know that Stuart lost most of his savings in a bank failure in that same year.

He moved to Minnesota and purchased a barn that he made into a studio apartment and loft. For the next thirty-three years he supported himself by creating art for the masses. This included hundreds magazine covers and calendars many of which are still found for sale on EBay and other sites. While the printed copies of his work are not particular rare or valuable the original art, if found, might do better. 

Stuart spent the last ten years of his life in a nursing home in Owatonna, Minnesota. He died on April 2, 1970 at the age of 88.

 

So what happened to all of the original R. James Stuart oils?

Each of the covers was originally done in oil on canvas and measured twenty-three inches square. Of course the printer set the lettering seen on the actual covers. It appears that all of the original art became the property of Studebaker and many of these adorned the walls of the Studebaker administration building.  While a few of these original oils have survived most have disappeared. The Studebaker National Museum has only one that being the July 1929 cover. Were most destroyed when the administration building was abandoned in 1964? Unfortunately that is a distinct possibility.        

This writer chanced to be visiting with Elwood Dalton back in the 1970’s. He resided on the near east side of South Bend and claimed that his home was the first in the city to be equipped with central air conditioning. While Elwood had had a long association with Studebaker it was his father, Harvey Dalton, with whom I was chiefly interested.

He had been comptroller at Studebaker for many years and had passed away some time earlier.

 Elwood had been the recipient of most of his father’s collection of Studebaker material and he shared some of that with me. Just prior to my departure I noted a painting hanging on a partially concealed wall in the basement. I recognized it immediately as the original oil from the first issue of the Studebaker Wheel. I inquired as to whether he was aware of the painting, its origin or significance and he indicated that he was not. I informed him of what I knew of its history and inquired if it might be for sale. He stated that he would contact his daughter and see if she wanted it and if not I could buy it.

 Unfortunately he passed away before any of this happened and I missed my chance. I was eventually able to track down the daughter but she was unwilling to sell it. Later I believe it passed on to her son with whom I also had a conversation. Unfortunately I have now lost track of him and the painting. I am hoping that it will eventually end up in the Studebaker museum and can only hope it is being well cared for.

  

Ralph Jones editor - The Wheel 1932-33

Studebaker did not provide the name of the editor anywhere in the pages of the Wheel. I have however, has been able to identify several of them through reading various company publications and interviewing former employees. The list include the following:

W. E. Gibson, Morrow Krum, Morgan Gibney and Ottis Lucas Feb 1926 to May 1932; Ralph E. Jones May 1932 to March 1933; Frederick O. Schubert May 1936 to c1938; Walker Everett c1938 to 1940.

It was my pleasure to be able to meet and interview Ralph E. Jones in April 1992. At the time he was 88 years old but his recollections of his days at Studebaker were very sharp. He had started his employment with the company in 1927 after graduating from DePauw University in 1925 and serving a stint as a reporter for the South Bend Newstime.

From the start he was involved with sales and promotion with Fred Rigby as his boss. He served for a time in New York before returning to South Bend to take over editorship of the Wheel from Ottis Lucas in March 1932. During his tenure Lucas had changed the general format of the Wheel and hired Marquette Lithography in Chicago (who also did the beautiful four color showroom catalogs for 1932 and 1933) to do the printing. Thereafter each Wheel issue through March 1933 would feature from four to eight pages of beautiful color lithography in the centerfold.

Jones wrote all the Service Sam articles during his tenure plus an occasional feature. He also arranged for the cover art and used several different artists. He related that he had once contacted Norman Rockwell for the assignment. However Rockwell’s fee of $1500 was about five times the norm that was usually around $300 so there would never be a Rockwell cover on the Wheel!

Jones also related that it was he and Fred Rigby who went out to the Proving Ground in the Spring of 1930 and chose the final location for the large wooden 1931 Studebaker roadster. He further stated that Jean Goldkette the leader of the Studebaker Champions orchestra at the time had written the story “Wild Flowers” in about 24 hours. The enactment of this movie short in, on and around the large roadster was told in detail in the May/June 2004 Review.

One of Jones’ more interesting assignments during his seven-year tenure was piloting the Studebaker Elks cars on their annual cross-country tours. Each year starting in 1929 the Elks (BPOE) purchased specially painted (purple and white) Studebakers from the factory and had them driven cross-country stopping at Elks lodges (and Studebaker dealers) along the route. The purpose of the purple and white fleet was to encourage Elks members to attend their national convention held annually in a different city. The number and model of cars varied over the years (1929-37) but they were always painted in the same striking colors. Studebaker sold the cars at a 25% discount and offered the special paint for no extra charge. In return they received free adverting in the monthly Elks magazine and lots of exposure. 

Jones participated in two of the tours in 1932 and 1933. For the ’32 excursion he drove a President model 91 convertible sedan and in ’33 he piloted one of three Commander model 73 convertible sedans. That same year a Rockne 10 convertible, painted in identical colors, accompanied each of the three Commanders. According to Studebaker’s calculations the accumulated distance traveled by the six cars was 53,000 miles.   

During one of the two trips he recalls running into a serious windstorm in Texas and the car running poorly thereafter (and burning a quart of oil every thousand miles). He stated that when they reached Los Angeles they tried to a tune up but it helped very little so they had the engine replaced at one of Paul G. Hoffman’s branches. He felt the problem was caused by dust getting into the engine. When ask if he enjoyed the Elks Club experience in those years he replied, “It was the most fun I ever had in a Studebaker!” 

With the companies receivership in March 1933 the Wheel was discontinued and Studebaker fell on hard times. Jones left later that year and soon formed his own advertising agency with another Studebaker man Lincoln Carter who had been the editor of the Studebaker News. Along with a third party they created Carter, Jones and Taylor (in 1949 changed to Jones and Taylor) and had a very successful business career representing some of Indiana’s larger accounts including O’Brien paints, Tolkien Pumps, and Essex Wire. The business was sold in 1965.

Period photos of R.E. (as he was known) show him to be a distinguished looking gentleman, well dressed and groomed. When I met with he and his wife at his apartment in April 1994 I came in my customary blue jeans and sweatshirt. Both he and his wife were immaculately attired and looked much younger than their 88 years. Fortunately they overlooked by rather slovenly appearance and we had a nice chat. He related that his days at Studebaker were some of the most interesting and memorable of his long career.

Jones later served on numerous boards and commissions and volunteered countless hours to civic and charitable organizations. In honor of his over 70 years of selfless service to his community the city of South Bend named a street in a new business and light industrial area on the north side for him. Ralph Jones passed away on Sept 12, 1999 at the age of 96.