Henney Packards were on scene at Illinois disaster
When club member Stan Ruff recently submitted an old picture to the publication Henney Program of Progress (Henney Chapter of the Professional Car Society, P.O. Box 123, Fulton, MD 20759-0123), editor George Hamlin sandwiched the issue with a front-page article about the submission and a rendition of the fine photo absorbing most space on the back cover. So, what’s the deal?
Ruff indicated the picture “might be the first PCS (Professional Car Society) meet; but it isn’t, as it turns out.” The club chapter is BIG on cars produced by the Freeport, Ill.,, Henney Motor Car Co., which contracted with Packard to be the sole finishers of such cars from the late 1930s until the demise of the deal in 1954. The end came due to poor sales and a financially ailing Henney operation. Packard itself was in no great shape at the time, but was solvent enough to engage in a major thrust for sales success that, unhappily, was not the company’s salvation.
As for the noted picture, Ruff added that two Henney Packards were shown in action, “intermixed with…lesser makes.” The Packards “appear to be 1940 jobs,” one in black and the other in two-tone.
Based photographic evidence, the black Henney Packard coach appeared to be a combination car used as ambulance or hearse. The two-tone coach was a full-fledged emergency vehicle. So what was the event that attracted those vehicles?
Said the front-page article, “All these ambulances are responding to one of the worst mine disasters in history, the explosion at Centralia Coal Company’s No. 5 mine in Centralia, Illinois.” The photo was dated March 27, 1947. As for the severity of the accident, “known dead were 35 with 82 still underground and presumed dead; the final count was 111.”
The picture was snapped by a rep from Acme Newspictures, part of NEA Services, evidently owned by the Chicago Tribune.
It is hard to know if any of those emergency vehicles exist in our era. Yet, it is sobering to realize that similar vehicles now in the hands of collectors did grand service in rushing the ill and injured to hospitals, and to offer support to families amid loss. The article concluded that John L. Lewis, president of the mine worker’s union, called for six days of memorial after the Centralia disaster.