Old Friends, Old Franklin

When Nash Bono and Jack Stang decided to join Bono’s son, Patrick, restoring an old car, they had to agree on what kind of car it would be.

“We figured we’d buy an old ’60s car,” said Stang. “Patrick, of course, would like a muscle car.”

Instead, they got a 1927 Franklin 11B sedan. What it lacks in muscle, it has made up by giving its restorers a journey of discovery.

In just more than 2½ years, Stang, who lives in Hammond, and the Bonos, who live in Mandeville, have the car’s exterior looking like it might have just rolled off the assembly floor in Syracuse, N.Y., where it was made. They’ve also learned some of the car’s history, and hope to learn more.

When they bought it from Hammond car dealer John Evans, the Franklin was a shell of its former glory. This 1927 model cost $3,200 at a time when new Fords were less than $600. In late 2010, it was missing its fenders, running boards and hood. Much of the wooden frame was rotted. Parts of the vehicle were stored separately.

“It looked like a skeleton of a car,” Bono said.

But those bones held clues.

The car had some of the old vehicle registration certificates, and when Stang took apart one of the doors, he discovered papers inside that had apparently fallen between the window glass and the frame.

One was an envelope postmarked July 1944 and addressed to John Luke, 401 Shrewsbury. Inside was a check for $63.23 to Luke from the St. Regis Restaurant.

Stang sent a letter to a Dr. John Luke he found at Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans but received no reply. He also researched names on the registration certificates and found an address for a Julius Hartz.

“That was on Monday morning,” Stang said. “At 12 noon on Tuesday, I got a call from Dudley (Hartz) saying, ‘That was my dad’s. Do you have the car?’”

Dudley Hartz, 67, said this was his family car until he was about 12 years old. The Hartzes lived on Shrewsbury Court in Jefferson, Luke on Shrewsbury Road, so the letter apparently was delivered to the wrong address. No one is sure how the envelope ended up where it did.

But finding one of the previous owners’ families has encouraged Stang to seek more. In addition to Evans and Hartz, he knows that Alfred Watts and Mike Cannon, of Baton Rouge, and John Walton Jr. and J. Ashton Mayeau, of New Orleans, once owned it. He has an idea about the original owner.

Underneath the back window was stenciled “Mitchell DeLanee.” A Franklin Museum curator told Stang that factory workers would stencil the name of the person who ordered a car inside the vehicle while it was being built. Stang wants anyone with information about previous owners to email him at baumholder268@yahoo.com.

While Stang researched the car and its history, Nash Bono’s skills as a carpenter have been put to good use. Much of the car’s wood is curved and intricately designed. There are no templates available, so each piece had to be started, shaped and reshaped until it fit.

“I felt like I was whittling a car,” Bono said.

The result so far is impressive. The air-cooled, in-line six-cylinder engine works, and the car can be driven. They are continuing work on the interior.

“I learned a great deal from my father,” Bono said. “I learned a lot about cars and trucks from him. We had a number of them. I’ve learned a number of different skills, and that’s one of the things I do enjoy, it’s learning different skills.

“Once we got started on this, I knew I could share those with my son and with Jack. ... They’ll never use them. A lot of these skills are things that are long gone and you only need on something like this, but at least I could share them.”