The Path Less Traveled: Tom Marshall’s First “Tour” in the 1932 Packard Phaeton

Tom Marshall, founder of the Marshall Steam Museum, took the path less traveled when he took his 1932 Packard on a trip from Delaware to Northern New England. The Packard Phaeton will be on display during the Winterthur Invitational on May 7 at Winterthur. Read about Tom’s challenging journey and join us every Saturday in May to see historic automobiles.

Photo courtesy, Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve

Photo courtesy, Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve

Having made many trips in steam engine-powered Stanley cars over the years, including my first transcontinental tour from Montreal to Tijuana in our 1912 Stanley (total mileage 8,328), it seemed I should use my 1932 yellow Packard for such a trip. I was not sure this “modern” Packard would make the trip challenging enough, but it turned out to be both challenging and enjoyable. In late July 1974, a trip was planned with my good friends to travel from Auburn Heights in Yorklyn, Delaware, to northern New England, where we were to meet Frank and Eloise Gardner and friends. The trip would encompass 1,280 miles.

The Packard was running well as we left on a hot summer afternoon, but it started to miss and soon snorted to a stop near Boyertown, Pennsylvania, with the fuel line vapor locked. Although leaded gasoline was still in use, the 87 octane fuel proved too high for the Packard, originally designed to run on 76 octane fuel. Sunoco sold a lower grade fuel rated at 86 octane, and we put in as much as the tank would hold. We were able to putter along through the afternoon until a heavy thunderstorm occurred in Rip Van Winkle country, and the cool, damp air made the Packard run 100 percent again. We spent the first night in Kingston, New York.

Photo courtesy, Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve

Photo courtesy, Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve

Photo courtesy, Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve

Photo courtesy, Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve

The next day we crossed the Hudson and made our way through the northwest corner of Massachusetts into Vermont. We were expected at Woodstock, summer home of the Gardners, by dinnertime. In mid-afternoon of another hot day, we paused at Plymouth, Calvin Coolidge’s birthplace, to tour the site. As we got into the Packard to leave, we were surrounded by many spectators. As I tried to start the car, white fumes arose from the louvers in the hood. Obviously the carburetor was flooded, and the fuel was running across the very hot manifold. We expected fire to break out in the middle of the crowd of tourists, since the motor wouldn’t start! I knew the car could drift downhill, so we drifted 1/10 of a mile away from the throng, and I stopped and raised the hood. That was what the raw fuel needed: a little air to light it off. We had a fire! One of us ran up to a restaurant to get an extinguisher, but by the time they got back, the fire was subsiding, and we decided not to douse it. The needle valve in the carburetor had apparently stuck open, and the bowl had filled and run over with the electric fuel pump, feeding the fire.

The paint on the top of the hood was badly blistered, but no other damage was done. That night my friend Frank Gardner allowed me to use his lathe to reface the point on the needle valve, and we had no more serious trouble on our trip. One of my friends on the trip sewed a yellow banner that we tied across the top of the hood to hide the blisters, and we labeled it “1932 Packard.”

After spending two nights in Woodstock, we drove with the Gardners to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and stayed at the attractive Spalding Inn. In gorgeous weather we left Whitefield after two nights, said goodbye to the Gardners, and drove to the Old Tavern at Grafton, Vermont, another very enjoyable spot. On our last night away, we splurged and stayed at the Lake Mohonk Mountain House in the Catskills. On August 4, we arrived home in the evening after coming through rain and flooded roads on the final portion of the trip. It had been a wonderful week, and the Packard had given me both a challenging and enjoyable trip.

Post by Tom Marshall, founder of the Marshall Steam Museum, Yorklyn, Delaware

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One Response to The Path Less Traveled: Tom Marshall’s First “Tour” in the 1932 Packard Phaeton

  1. Richard Sanger says:

    Delightful, Tom! My father was partial to Packards. The first one I remember was, I believe, a 1934 sedan in the same trademark yellow as your ’32 Phaeton. We were out for a Sunday drive in it, with me nursing the last small piece of an ice cream cone in the back seat, when Dad swerved to avoid a car backing out of a driveway. The big Packard hit a phone pole, but sustained a lot less damage than the pole. I was unhurt, but swallowed what was left of the cone. Later we had a 1937 sedan, Packard green, quite a bit smaller than the older car. That was the car we moved to Wilmington in, in 1939. Dad switched to a powerful V-8 LaSalle in 1939. It was the car I learned to drive on, nearly 10 years later.

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