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John Glenn and the Franklin Automobile

By Tom Rasmussen
October 31, 1998

The current space shuttle mission reminded me of an interesting story. Several years ago, my mother called me to tell me that her friend and distant cousin Lyn Glenn was bringing her mother Annie and her father, Senator John Glenn, to her house for dinner. I tried unsuccessfully to get an invitation from mom as I had always been captivated by the space program and those who made it to space. An evening with John Glenn and family would certainly be a memorable one.

Dinner invitation or not, I decided to drop in to my mother's to at least meet the first American in orbit. A quick wash job on my Ser. 12 sedan and I was off. Pulling into my mom's driveway, I could see I timed it perfectly as the Glenn's had just arrived ahead of me. Introductions were made all around and upon shaking my hand, Senator Glenn smiled and tilting his head questioningly in the direction of the trusty late '28 said "Is that a Franklin?"

Now it's a fairly rare event when a 'regular person' (not a Franklin person) recognizes the distinctive deCausse styling and correctly identifies the marquee, so I was pleased as can be to reply in the affirmative.

Things went from rosy to downright exciting when he asked " '27 or 28?"

Wow! This guy was relay in the mix! Maybe he wasn't a 'regular person' after all, but just possibly a “Car Guy", or, even better a "Franklin Person"! We all know what it's like when we run across such a person in a totally unsuspecting situation like a mother's dinner party. It's like finding a long lost brother in a crowd of hostile cheek-pinching Aunts.

Well, I knew I was in for a treat when he glanced upward and his eyes got that far away gaze one gets when recalling some past glory. I managed to nearly shout out "1928 Series 12-B!"

Astronaut Glenn asked "Air Cooled with the blower up front?"

"Yes. Yes!" I replied. Nearly on my knees now: "Did you once have one?" I asked.

Again the smile, the upward gaze, the faraway look. I knew I was in for a great story. A great man - THE John Glenn was going to tell me all about the family car, or his own car that he drove for years, that faithfully carried him to and from in supreme comfort and luxury - without fail - year round through mud, sleet and 10 foot snowdrifts. The car he will never forget. The car that brings the kind of grand memories that can make one of the original Mercury Seven beam at the simple thought of them. This was going to be a story worth repeating. John Glenn's fascination, understanding and love for the assemblage of machinery that I myself was in love with.

I was in orbit myself as I listened attentively to his story:

"A friend of mine and I as kids played with one in a neighbor's yard. It was a rotted out old sedan. We asked permission to get it running. When we did, we removed the top engine cover and packed the passage to the fan tightly with fallen leaves. Upon starting the engine and stabbing the throttle, those leaves would go shooting up out of the fan housing and blowing high into the air. We did it over and over - it was great fun!"

Well, I came quickly back to earth as we said our good-byes and the dinner party headed for the house and I headed for my trusty Ser. 12.

I guess I felt some disappointment at the thought of a disrespectful kid playing such a cruel trick on a defenseless old car. The recent space shuttle events brought it back to memory. As I am now a few years older, I see it in a different light. A kid fascinated by machinery - old machinery at that. Fascinated enough to make it run again and make it perform in a manner that delighted him. That kid may not have developed a life-long respect for the intricacies that make a Franklin such a fine mechanism, but he certainly went on to great accomplishments in a field of mechanical gadgets and great wonders. As I write this John Glenn is in his 3rd day of orbit around the earth. It's wonderful what these Franklins can do for people, isn't it?