June 8, 1019 – On the Saturday evening, prior to the Cars-R-Stars show, the Packard Motor Car Foundation held an Ice Cream Social to introduce some special, out-of-town guests.
The quick story is that we could not have picked a better night for the event. The weather had recently changed from being long, cold, rainy days to sunny, warm and dry. An enthusiastic group of people came out to enjoy some Ashby’s vanilla, chocolate and butter pecan ice cream served up by the folks from Double Dippers of Shelby Township.
The real story is about our special, out-of-town guests that we introduced to the assembled crowd; the Valpey family members and the Vincent family members.
Let’s talk about the Valpey family members first as they graced the stage first to tell their story. Every time I walked into the Tank Test Building at the PPG, I saw this large bronze plaque that formerly resided in the Packard Plant on East Grand Boulevard. The plaque was dedicated in 1927 to James Ward Packard for his leadership and who retired as president in 1908. I knew Robert Valpey donated this plaque to the Packard Motor Car Foundation, as well the Collier Aviation Trophy that was awarded to Packard in 1931. What I did not know is how these significant, historical artifacts came into his possession and I wanted to learn more.
Foundation president Mark Smucker invited the family to attend the Cars ‘R’ Stars car show to display their 1929 model 645, Murphy-bodied towncar and tell the story of how Bob found these artifacts. Regrettably, Bob passed away on April 5th, about two months before the show. Fortunately for all of us his wife, Alice, son, Wes, and collection manager Pat Curran were able to take the stage and tell his story. Alice related tales of hunting down cars with Bob for their collection and how meticulous he was in their preservation or restoration. Pat echoed these stories and demonstrated some of the note-worthy features of the Murphy-bodied, towncar.
It was Wes that told us his father also enjoyed collecting automotive artifacts as well as the cars themselves. At one point in his collecting career Bob was also a member of the board of the Studebaker Museum. It was there that a fellow board member knew that Bob had a Studebaker artifact that they wanted for their collection. He offered Bob the Packard bronze plaque and Collier Aviation Trophy as a trade and Bob accepted. A few years later, Wes, now a commercial pilot, was looking at the Collier Trophy and asked his father if he realized what he owned. Bob was unaware of the significance of the aviation award so Wes gave him a quick tutorial about the DR-980 diesel aircraft engine that Packard developed and the subject of the award. Thankfully, Bob entrusted these relics to the Packard Motor Car Foundation to share with all our visitors.
Charles H. Vincent, his wife Lucile and daughters, Dorothea, Cornelli and Roberta (Bobbie) lived in the Lodge building at the Packard Proving Grounds. In 2006 Bobbie visited her childhood home and spoke at the Packard Club national meeting. We tried to arrange a return visit during the 2013 national meeting, but a month before her planned visit she fell, broke her hip and had to cancel her trip. We’ve been trying to get her back ever since and this year we got lucky. Not only did she return, but she brought two of Cornelli’s daughters, her nieces, Karen and Mary along with her. While Karen and Mary had never visited the site before, they had been told many family stories of living in the Lodge home by their mother.
This part of the evening could be described as ‘Ask the Lady Who Lived Here’. Bobbie was thrilled to be back home. She let the audience know how much she appreciated all the work the volunteers have accomplished to restore the buildings, the grounds, but most of all her bedroom in the Lodge. She even brought along a special gift – a stuffed, toy dog named “Scotty” that she has had since she was just a year old. So now a part of Bobbie will remain forever in her bedroom.
Karen and Mary were both moved by seeing the home where their mother and grandparents lived. They told how their visit answered a lot of questions regarding family lore for them and how much interest was being paid to their grandfather. Both knew that grandpa Charles was an important figure at Packard, but visiting the PPG and speaking with volunteers really drove this home for them. Karen had also brought some gifts for us. One, was a Packard lap robe used by Charles and Lucile and the other item was a shadow box that Karen made for her grandfather over 40 years ago. The box contained many of his personal artifacts, from target shooting awards to a stopwatch used by him when timing cars on the test track.
Both the Valpeys and the Vincents answered numerous questions from the audience and all of us learned more of the history of Packard, the proving grounds and the people that worked there. This event was a once in a lifetime occurrence. Fortunately, it was all video recorded for posterity by the Boustany Film Company.
If you would like to hear more from Bobbie, then click onto this link to see part of an oral history that was recorded during her visit: https://vimeo.com/345774105