Walter Minx – NASCAR racer and extortionist

One of the fun things about doing Google searches are the unexpected pieces of information that you come across. A classic example concerns Walter Minx.

I was browsing the racing-reference.info website, and looking at the races that made up the 1949 NASCAR Strictly Stock series, which was the first season of late-model stock car racing under the NASCAR banner. Today, the series is known as the Nextel Cup, and the cars are definitely not strictly stock!

I was looking at the results of the 4th race of the season, which was held at the Langhorne Speedway in Pennsylvania on the 11th of September. 45 cars started the race, which was won by well-known driver Curtis Turner. Looking down the results, I came across the name of Walter Minx, who finished 43rd after crashing his ’49 Buick after 25 laps. I clicked on his driver page in the website, and discovered that this was his one and only NASCAR race. The website allows visitors to enter information about races and drivers, and since the only posting was his date of death and date of birth, plus where he was living, I decided to do a Google search for any further information, and make a post with what I had found. I have done this before with several other obscure NASCAR competitors on the website, in an attempt to make them more “human”, and more than just a one-line listing in a race result.

Well, I hit the jackpot when I googled Minx’s name! I found out that his main claim to fame was back in 1940, when he was involved in an extortion claim against the famous retail chain Sears Roebuck. Walter was born on the 7th of February, 1917, and his family had emigrated from Germany to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1925. By his teens he had earned the nickname of “Der Macher” (The Doer), because of his ability to construct all sorts of mechanical devices using materials located on the family property. By his early twenties Walter had opened an ornamental ironworks ship in Milwaukee, but he had borrowed money from his friends and relatives to set up the business, and was unsure if he would be able to pay it back. To get some much-needed cash, he decided to extort money from a rich businessman through a bomb-threat.

Minx first set about building a bomb using a one-inch metal pipe, gunpowder collected from 35 12-gauge shotgun shells, a wind-up clock and a spring mechanism. So far, a standard extortion set-up, but the next step really turned Minx’s plot into something very audacious and extraordinary. Minx needed a foolproof method of retrieving the extortion money without getting caught and decided that a submarine, with its ability to submerge and creep away undetected from a watery drop-off point, seemed ideal. So he commenced construction of a two-man submarine, using sheet metal and plumbing fixtures.

The first prototype was found to be inadequate and was abandoned behind the family house, with a second prototype constructed. The resulting craft was seven feet long, powered by automobile batteries connected to a small electric starter motor. It weighed about 400lbs. Moveable fins on the exterior hull enabled the sub to dive while two-gallon tin cans inside could be filled with lake water using a valve made from a kitchen sink faucet. The cans acted as ballast tanks and helped maintain neutral buoyancy once the vessel dipped below the waves. A small pressurized oxygen tank allowed the sub to stay submerged up to 48 hours. The sub’s operator navigated via a conning tower featuring clear celluloid windows on three sides. Hand-operated levers were used to raise and lower the diving fins and steer the rudder while a radiator petcock could be opened to regulate interior air pressure when necessary. The sub’s entry hatch could be bolted closed and opened from the inside. Walter and his brother Kurt tested the submarine in nearby Whitefish Bay, and it seemed to perform satisfactorily.

Walter had already chosen the target of his extortion bid – Rowland H Davie, who was the manager of the Sears Roebuck store in Milwaukee. He would let Davie know via a handwritten note that a small bomb would be detonated at the Sears store in Milwaukee and a larger one would follow if Davie didn’t deliver the $100,000 requested by Minx. Minx’s plan was for Davie to hire a small plane from Curtis Wright Airport at 7:30pm on July 26, fly in a designated straight line and drop a money bundle containing $100,000 overLake Michigan upon sighting two blinking lights (coming from Minx’s sub). The plane was to continue flying another 50 miles before turning back, giving Minx time to maneuver his submarine over to the bundle and retrieve the money. He would then submerge for several hours before deliberately scuttling the craft off McKinley Beach and swimming to shore where his car was parked nearby.

On the 23rd of July, Minx left the extortion note on the front porch of Davie’s house. Unbeknownst to Minx, however, Davie no longer lived there. It was now occupied by Circuit Judge William Shaughnessy who promptly contacted the police. The following day, Minx planted the small bomb in a storeroom at the Sears store on North Ave in Milwaukee, timing it to go off when few people would be inside. At 6:18pm the bomb exploded, holing a plywood partition and damaging a few lawn mowers. The plan started to unravel further when Walter and Kurt tried taking the submarine out into deeper waters they couldn’t fully submerge the vessel because the waves were too rough. Walter decided an alternate drop-off scheme was needed so he spent several days devising a new arrangement to be executed via motorcycle. He also drafted new letters delivered to the Davie residence explaining the change in plans, which Shaughnessy passed on to the police.

In the meantime, police were able to determine that metal fragments from the Sears store bomb blast were of a type used in ornamental iron-work. A Sears store employee then remembered that some cashiers cages had been built by one Walter Minx. The police paid a visit to Walter’s shop and found scrap metal matching the bomb fragments. Arrested at his home, Minx immediately confessed to the extortion plot. Minx was also identified in a line-up by two young boys, who said Minx gave them money to deliver several of the new extortion arrangements to Davie. But despite his insistence that his brother Kurt had backed out of the scheme earlier on, he too was arrested and tried, along with his brother-in-law, Daniel Carter. All three men were convicted and sentenced to prison. Minx escaped from the Union Grove prison in September 1944, but was recaptured shortly afterwards.

Minx was not released from prison until 1946, and moved from Milwaukee to Saukville, Wisconsin. He married, opened a hardware store (Minx Hardware) and later became a master plumber. He also obtained a pilot’s license and built a 36-foot cabin cruiser in his backyard, along with competing in that NASCAR race in September 1949. In 1983 Minx and his wife moved to Florida, with Walter dying in Fort Myers on the 30th of June 2009, aged 92 years.

The following wikipedia article on Walter Minx served as the basis for this blog entry:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Minx

Here is the finishing order for Minx’s only NASCAR race:

http://racing-reference.info/race/1949-04/W

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1920-1922 Ferris Six

Ferris

The Ohio Motor Vehicle Company of Cleveland, Ohio decided to get into the car manufacturing business in 1920, after previously manufacturing trailers. They named their new car the Ferris, after Ohio secretary-treasurer William E Ferris. Like may cars of this era, the Ferris was an “assembled” car, in that most of the major mechanical components (engine, gearbox, wheels) were purchased from outside suppliers, and then assembled at the company’s Cleveland factory.

For all of its life the Ferris was powered by a Continental 9N 6-cylinder engine. The C-20 and C-21 Models were offered for sale in 1920 and 1921, with prices ranging from $3350 for a touring car and sports sedan through to $4875 for a closed sedan. Bodywork was one area which made the Ferris stand out from other assembled cars. Aluminium bodies looked custom-built, the high curved radiator was distinctive, and disc wheels with side-mounted spares were offered as standard equipment. The Ferris had the advertising slogan of “The Car of Character”, and in promotional literature the Ferris was dedicated “to the man who would not live on a street where all houses are alike.” To help project this image, the majority of publicity photos of the various Ferris models were taken in front of the exclusive Union Club in Cleveland.

In 1922 two new models were introduced – the Model 60 and Model 70, with six different body styles for each model. Prices for the Model 60 ranged from $2595 for the tourer through to $3895 for the sports sedan, while prices for the Model 70 ranged from $2795 for the tourer through to $4100 for the sports sedan.

Like many independent manufacturers of this era, the 1921 mini-recession dealt a fatal blow to the company. The company went into receivership in the middle of 1921, and this arrangement continued until production finally ended in 1922. Total Ferris production was approximately 440 cars. The drawing at the top of this blog entry is a 1921 C-20 or C-21 Sports Sedan.

The following books and websites were used in the preparation of this blog entry:

Beverly Rae Kimes and Henry Austin Clark, Jr, “The Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942”, 3rd edition, Krause Publications, Iola, WI, 1996
Nick Georgano “The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile”, Stationery Office, London, ENG, 2000

Attack of the killer pawns!

Time for another chess posting, and another miniature. The game in question was played between Frank James Marshall and Hyman Rogosin, and was played during the championship of the Marshall Chess Club in New York city in 1940.

Frank James Marshall (born August 10 1877, New York; died November 9 1944, New York), was United States champion from 1909-1936 and a respected international competitor for the first quarter of the 20th century. He won several tournaments, and challenged Emanuel Lasker to a match for the World Championship, which he lost convincingly (0 wins, 8 losses and 7 draws). Marshall voluntary relinquished his US championship in 1936 so that a tournament could be played to decide who the best player in the country was. Tournaments have been held since then to determine the United States champion. Previously, a player had to defeat Marshall in a match to gain the title.

Marshall founded the club that beared his name in 1915, and along with the Manhattan Chess Club, were the two biggest chess clubs in New York City until the Manhattan club closed down in 2002. Marshall was famous for his attractive, attacking style of play, and for his “swindles”, in which he would turn a losing position into a won position through a tactic or combination.

Hyman “Rogie” Rogosin (born April 15, 1908, New York; died March 16 2004, Laguna Hills California) was a Marshall Chess Club player whose strength was just below the top level of players in the United States during the middle part of the 20th century. Like many other players, he is mainly remembered for this loss, rather than for the many victories that he achieved in tournament and club play.

What makes this game truly bizarre is Marshall’s play with the White pieces. Instead of developing his pieces, Marshall moves all eight of his pawns within the first fourteen moves, in an attempt to trap one of the two black knights. it is amusing to see the Black knights moving all around the board as they are constantly attacked by the advancing White pawns. Here is a video of this amazing game with some analysis.

This game still holds the record for the most consecutive pawn moves from the start of a serious tournament or match game.

Elvis tours Australia in 1968….well his Cadillac does!

For many people, nothing better expresses the notions of success and the American Dream than owning an expensive luxury automobile. When Elvis Presley became rock’n’roll’s first superstar in the mid-1950s, one of the first things he did to celebrate his newfound fame and fortune was to buy two Cadillac limousines — a pink one for himself and a matching white one for his beloved mother Gladys.

Thus began Presley’s lifelong obsession with the Cadillac — indeed, Elvis became the veritable king of Cadillac buyers. He spent millions buying Cadillacs — at least a hundred of them — and spent millions more having them customised. Many were given away to family, friends, aquaintances and, on occasion, even to complete strangers.

But perhaps more than any other car he owned, the fabled Gold Cadillac embodied and expressed Elvis’s stardom and wealth, his flamboyant taste and his almost limitless capacity for extravagant self-indulgence. As befitted his status as the King of Rock & Roll, his Gold Cadillac, a customised 1960 Series 75 Fleetwood convertible limousine, represented the last word in Sixties automotive luxury and opulence.

goldcad

By 1960, his recordings and movies had made Elvis rich beyond the dreams of avarice, so price was no object. To create this dream machine, Elvis commissioned George Barris of Barris Kustom Industries in Hollywood. Barris, the “King of Kustomisers”, designed and built some of America’s most famous custom cars and hot-rods. Some of his wildest creations were for films and television series, including the Munsters Koach, the “Black Beauty” (made for the cult action-adventure series The Green Hornet, which co-starred Bruce Lee) and his best-known vehicle, the world-famous Batmobile, which BKI built for the Batman TV series in just three weeks.

Elvis spent US$100,000 (something like AU$2 million in today’s figures) on the Gold Cadillac and had it fitted out with virtually every luxury accessory that money could buy. Inside and out , the style was pure Elvis and as ‘over-the-top’ as Graceland itself.

The passenger compartment and the trunk were upholstered in white pearled leather-grained vinyl and imported gold-coloured crushed velvet. The floor was carpeted in white sheepskin. The interior metal trim and upholstery buttons were plated in 24-karat gold, as were the engraved dashboard plaque and the gold records set into the headlining. Gold lame curtains covered the back windows and separated the front and back seats.

Elvis loved gadgets, and the Gold Cadillac was crammed with them — all gold-plated, of course! They included dual French-made radio-telephones, a Kenwood anti-theft system, a shoe buffer, electric clippers, a refrigerator, a bar and a state-of-the-art entertainment system that included a Kenwood multi-speaker stereo system, 10-disc auto-changer RCA record player, Kenwood tape deck, Kenwood AM-FM radio, and a gold-plated swivel-mounted colour TV.

The gleaming bodywork was as ostentatious as the interior. The two-tone white and gold duco was built up of forty coats of custom-made ‘pearl of essence’ lacquer that contained diamond dust and opalescent fish scales imported from the Orient, hand-rubbed to a dazzling finish, and highlighted by hand-swirled 24-karat gold plate striping. The bumper bars, the hand-spun hubcaps, the wheel rims and covers, the headlight rims, the grille and the custom-made Elvis guitar hood ornament were all plated in 24-karat gold.

“…The Solid Gold Cadillac took the operative fantasy to a grandiose extreme … It was a theme car, honoring gold records and Elvis Presley hits. And it was also, as experience soon proved, undriveable. Traffic stopped whenever the Elvismobile appeared. Mobs surrounded the car. It couldn’t be left unattended for a minute. Every time a fan got close enough to touch a bumper, Barris presented Elvis with a bill for several thousand dollars worth of repairs. Disgusted, Elvis shut the Cadillac up in the garage at Graceland.

“Toward the end of 1966, with his client’s movie career tailing off into something worse than mediocrity and record sales on the wane, Colonel Parker talked RCA into buying the car for $24,000 and sending it on tour as a kind of surrogate for Elvis Presley, who hadn’t made a live appearance in years. So the Cadillac opened shopping centers and allowed itself to be admired in the parking lots of theaters where smaller-than-usual crowds were expected to turn out for the star’s latest film epic … The car tour was a great success. In Houston, 40,000 came to take a look and take home a free `Elvis Presley’s Gold Car’ postcard. In Atlanta, the car was the guest of honor at a dinner for 250 dignitaries…”

from Graceland: Going Home With Elvis by Karal Ann Marling

RCA toured the car internationally with great success in the late Sixties, including the 1968 Australian tour. In the late 70’s it was donated to the Country Music Association Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee, where it is on permanent public display.

In late 1967 Australian Elvis Presley Fan Clubs were thrilled to learn that the Gold Cadillac would be coming to Australia for a fund-raising charity tour. The tour had been arranged by the Benevolent Society of NSW to raise money for the seventeen Australian charities they supported. The tour exhibited the Cadillac in all states, including country areas. “We only have the Cadillac for a set period of time” advised Mr Hanrahan, spokesperson for the Society.
Before it left Memphis, Elvis generously placed US$1,000 worth of toys in the car for needy children around Australia. Mr Walsh, General Manager of RCA Victor finalised the arrangements with Elvis and Colonel Parker, and the Gold Cadillac left the USA on 8 December 1967. It arrived in mid-January 1968 and during the tour thousands of Aussie fans flocked to see the fabulous car that ‘The King’ himself had driven.

Fans could also purchase a range of souvenir items, all of which are collectors items today, and fetch large sums of money when offered for sale. They included:

a souvenir postcard
a souvenir brochure
two b&w RCA publicity pictures of Elvis which had previously been available when buying Elvis records from local stores
various Australian Elvis ‘gold label’ singles,
a gold car autograph sticker, which was affixed to each record purchased.
Elvis Fan Club members worked voluntarily selling the souvenirs, a service for which the Benevolent Society was very grateful.

RCA Australia contributed a display featuring a special series of approximately forty gold records with and gold-and-black labels. The gold records were in recognition the massive sales Elvis had achieved in Australia. The gold records were all supposed to be sent back to the States and presented to Elvis after the tour. Some of the gold singles made it to Graceland, where they are now on display at Graceland’s Hall of Gold; others are held in the Presley Estate’s store rooms. The gold LPs apparently never made it to Graceland and have since disappeared.

At the end of the tour The Benevolent Society’s Elvis Presley Charity Committee sent Elvis a letter of appreciation, informing him that the tour and souvenir sales had been a resounding success, raising AU$149,175 for the Australian Charity Appeal (equivalent to at least $1 million today). Elvis was also made an Honarary Life Governor of the Benevolent Society and the commemorative plaque presented to him still hangs in Graceland’s Hall of Gold.

Source: http://www.milesago.com/Performance/gold-cadillac.htm

1918 United States “Inverted Jenny” 24c postage stamp

With snail mail now taking a back seat to electronic forms of communication such as e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, it will be interesting to see if the hobby of stamp collecting will also slowly start to wither and possibly even disappear.

I was a casual stamp collector in my early teenage years, as my father had been collecting Australian stamps for many years. I found stamps interesting, because of the way that they gave an insight into the countries that produced particular stamps. There are many ways to collect stamps, such as by country, or by a theme, eg sports, famous people. Another area of interest is stamps that are rare, unusual or have an error in them. In philately, there is a term for these types of stamps – errors, freaks or oddities (EFOs).

Some of these stamps are incredibly rare, due to the error and because production is usually quickly stopped once the error was noticed.  One of the most famous of these errors is the United States “Inverted Jenny” 24c stamp of 1918.

The United States decided to issue a new stamp to commemorate the first regular airmail service between New York, Washington DC and Philadelphia. The stamp featured the Curtiss “Jenny” trainer, which was the aircraft used to transport the mail.

The stamp was produced quickly to meet the deadline for the first flight, and involved the sheets of stamps having to be fed through the printing presses twice, due to the two colours featured.

This left often the possibility of an error being made where a pane could be inverted during the printing process, and this is what happened. A pane of 100 stamps was printed with the aircraft being inverted, as seen below.

US_Airmail_inverted_Jenny_24c_1918_issue

Stamp collectors were aware of the possibility of an inverted issue, and William T Robey of Washington DC went to his local post office on the morning of May 14, to see if he could possibly purchase a sheet of the incorrect stamps. To Robey’s shock, the assistant behind the counter showed him a sheet  of 100 stamps, each with the Jenny inverted. Robey wrote to a friend “that his heat stood still”. He immediately bought the sheet, and asked to see more, but they were normal. Robey had hit the jackpot – the only sheet of the stamp that had managed to make it through to sale to the public. A week after buying the stamps, Tobey sold them to a Philadelphia stamp collector for $15,000, who then sold them on to famous businessman Harold Green for $20,000. The sheet was broken up, either into single stamps or blocks of four or eight.

The postal worker who sold Robey the sheet defended himself by saying that he had no idea that the stamps were wrong – he had never seen an airplane!

When an “Inverted Jenny” comes up for auction, they sell for record amounts of money.

A block of four inverted Jennys was sold at an auction in October 2005 for US $2.7 million, while in December 2007 a mint example was sold for $825,000.

 

AUSTUS – the curious amalgamation of Australian and American football

One of the earlier posts in my blog was about some of the lesser-known sports that exist in the world. Along with lesser known sports, there are those sports which are an amalgamation of two or more sports. One current example is “International Rules Football”, which is a hybrid of Gaelic Football and Australian Rules football. This isn’t the first time that Australian Rules football has been merged with another form of football – read on for the interesting game of “AUSTUS”.

The origin of AUSTUS was due to World War 2. American servicemen arrived in Australia shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbour.  Looking for some common ground with Australian soldiers and the population in general, the Americans decided to reach out to the locals with a series of football exhibitions to help support local war charities. Australians, though, didn’t like American football very much — too much time in between plays, too many strange rules and formations, etc. The best part of American football according to Australian eyes were the forward passes, but they just didn’t happen enough to keep the locals interested.

The Australian soldiers saw that as an opportunity to introduce their local form of football – Australian Rules football – to the visitors, and the Americans suddenly understood why the Aussies seemed so bored by American football. Australian football had much more freedom of movement and nonstop action than their game. They decided to try competing with their Australian hosts at Australian football. As to be expected, the Americans were beaten badly.  What was to be done?

Ern Cowley, a journalist with the Sporting Globe newspaper, came up with an interesting idea – why not amalgamate the two different codes of football?

One of the central tenets of Australian football is the mark. Any player who catches a kick that’s 15 yards or longer can “mark the ball” and take a free kick from behind the spot of the catch. Cowley, who knew that the Americans were much better at passing the ball than kicking it, created a game based on Australian Rules that allowed players to mark the ball after catching a forward pass.

The hybrid game was called AUSTUS, taking the first letters of both Australia and United States. Matches started to be played in 1943. The Australians continued to kick, but the Americans proved highly accurate with the pass, which wowed the spectators and made for very close and very exciting matches. Austus matches allowed both countries’ servicemen raise large sums of money for various war charities and helped bring the two countries a little closer together.

There was hope that Austus matches would continue after the war, but alas, that was not to be. Once American forces returned home, they resumed playing American football, and the Australians went back to playing Aussie Rules. Austus faded into a remote corner of history and was forgotten. Cowley however, was awarded the Helms Athletic Foundation Medal in New York in July 1944 for his work on creating the rules of AUSTUS.

The booklet below gives an overview of the positions and rules of AUSTUS, along with the results of five games played during 1943. The player on the front cover, Private William Jost, established an international record for passing with a throw of 76 yards,1 foot, 6 inches at Geelong on August 25, 1943.

I would like to thank sport historian Charles Davis of Melbourne with providing me with a copy of this booklet.

AUSTUS BOOKLET (1)