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BILL URBAN, of Lititz, Pennsylvania, told me about the Road-O-Plane. In fact, Bill is the SimanaitisSays correspondent for Lititz and its environs.
Lititz is in Pennsylvania Dutch country, about 75 miles west of Philadelphia, yet it has an interesting California connection: John Augustus Sutter, of California Gold Rush fame, is buried in Lititz. He was residing in this town while awaiting Congressional decision concerning his property rights. He died in 1880 in Washington, D.C.
And we complain about today’s Congress.
The Lititz PA website has a tag line “America’s coolest small town.” And, why not? For example, name another town that had John Longenecker’s Road-O-Plane?
“John Longenecker and the Road-O-Plane,” by Cory Van Brookhoven in The Lititz Record Express tells a wonderful tale. There’s entrepreneurship, inventiveness, humor and more than a tad of unintended misunderstanding on the part of others.
Van Brookhoven is president of the Lititz Historical Foundation. He notes that in the early 1900s John Longenecker opened the first horseless carriage dealership in Lititz, the second one in Lancaster County. In 1918, Longenecker constructed a car/boat for the town’s July 4th parade.
The Longenecker car/boat didn’t float, mind; it was a float, and a popular one at that.
Then, for July 4, 1919, he build his Road-O-Plane. Its basis was a Scripps-Booth car, atop which perched biplane wings, an elongated tail and a revolving prop. Scripps-Booth was one of the automobile brands for sale at Longenecker’s. Others included Chevrolet, Nash and Studebaker.
For handy storage, the Road-O-Plane had folding wings, a novel feature. In fact, word got around that maybe the Road-O-Plane was capable of flight, a claim that Longenecker never made.
Before long, though, he was receiving queries from all around the country. Cory Van Brookhoven cites several that share that era’s quaint combination of enthusiasm and naïveté concerning flight.
A doctor in Minnesota wrote “I was wondering if you could just skim the surface with your device without going high in the sky, say only a few feet from the ground or merely touching the top of snow drifts or ground. Kindly inform me the price….”
A prospective business partner from Virginia suggested, “Owing to the fact that we have splendid manufacturing facilities and considerable inactive capital and some rather bad roads in this vicinity, we believe Norfolk would be a splendid place to manufacture such a product as you have.”
Kenton, Ohio, put itself in the running too: “As a small city, Kenton has low rent, low taxes, no labor trouble, happy home life and reasonable living expenses, three railroads reaching out east, west, north and south, plenty of electric power and excellent factory sites.”
As Van Brookhoven notes, “Not too shabby for what was intended to be just a small attraction at a local parade.”
Longenecker opted for his regular day job. In fact, his granddaughter recalls “Many of his clients were Amish. They didn’t drive cars, but bought them and had their hired man drive them around.”
Apparently the Amish had no wish to fly. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017