Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

April 10, 2013

Something to brag about

Pat Smith
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Decatur County residents have more to brag about the tree growing on our Courthouse Tower.

Why is it that we don’t publicize some of the famous, talented or inventive people that were born here? There are a lot of them - Carl Fisher for example and also Fred Clemons. He was born here and is where he started learning about designing and building automobiles. When he was 14-years-old, he worked for Harry Hamilton and Ira J. Hollensbe in Greensburg. Hamilton and Hollensbe were experimenting with autos as early as anyone in the country.

They each built a car. I believe Hamilton’s car was called the “Hamiltonian.” Hollensbe designed the Simplicity which, the last heard, was in good condition in Florida.

I wrote a story for the Oct. 24, 1998 issue of the Greensburg Daily News about the Simplicity and those interviewed described it in detail. A picture of the car was included.

Lloyd Kanouse bought the car and he, his brothers Norman and Neil Solgere restored it. It is listed in “The Catalog of Standard American Cars.” It was built in 1902. Since Clemons was born in February 1889 he would have been 13 or 14 when Hollensbe was working on his car. I feel sure that he was inspired by Hamilton and Hollensbe in Decatur County.

Clemons not only designed and built race cars - he also drove them. I got the following from news stories from all over the country: There are way too many to list but examples are: Oakland Sensible Six wins, Driver was Fred E. Clemons/ Clemons is the favorite in auto race at Fountain Park Akron/ Clemons is driving Peugeot special at the Labor Day afternoon event/ Sloan leads parade across finish line in the Buckeye classic 150 mile race/ Wilbur Shaw was too ill to finish the race so Fred Clemons drove the last 25 laps. / Whiz wins speedway opener, Wilbur Shaw and Fred Clemons drove Clemons No. C-2 to third place/ On the 207 lap Wilbur stopped for oil and water. Then on lap 260 Wilbur came in and Fred Clemons took over driving. Clemons drove last 40 laps. / Twenty-four hour record broken Indianapolis. Race car drivers were Clemons & Merz. The car was a “National.”  (Wilbur Shaw spent a year here when he was young. It’s likely that and Clemons met then.)

So Clemons drove race cars, he designed and built them and his cars won, too. A record was broken in 1925 when Fred Harter broke the track record driving a Clemons car at Fort Miami, Toledo, Ohio. Wally Butler won the 50 miles race in the Clemons special No. 14 at Bloomington, a second Clemons No. 42 was also raced in the meeting/ Indianapolis built car to be driven by Brach, Art Brach to drive ‘high powered’ Clemons car in 100 mile spring sweepstake race. Race car drivers were anxious to have him build a car for them.

There are so many stories in newspapers, books and the Internet that it could fill several columns. One Internet story, “The history of Fred ‘SKINNY’ Clemons and his cars,” has a photograph of a Clemons car taken in 1927.  In “Historic Racing:” there is a story about him titled, “Skinny F.E. Clemons The Man,” As mentioned last week, Clemons was originally a shop welder and parts chaser for the Chevrolet brothers . There is more about this in “The Golden Age of the American Racing Car” by Griffith Borgeson. Clemons built both sprint and board-track race cars of his own design. They were fitted with eight and 16 valve overhead cam engines of his own design. An identification letter “C” usually appears in front of the race No’s on his cars.

Nov. 23, 1934 issue of National Speedway Weekly: Round the City of Speed, “Last week Curt Gosma, the mechanic, came over to Indianapolis and bought the two-man owned by Skinny Clemons which was built in 1932 and run at the Speedway that year. And Fred “Skinny” Clemens, well known Midwest racing man , was the promoter in charge of the events and the race knowledge he learned while building cars for  well known drivers as Fred Fame, Billy Wine, Bob Sall and the late Bryan Saulspaugh was brought to the fore in the fine card of events staged.” Among the famous drivers on the track, at the Mid West were: Wilbur Shaw, Skinny Clemens, B. Hill and others.

I don’t know much about car racing but I am fascinated by the extraordinarily talented people that were born here or lived here. A little more next week plus something else too.