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Change can be hard, and for carriage builders in the early 20th century, it was the most trying of times. After the Civil War, carriage makers in the East and Midwest had enjoyed unprecedented demand and prosperity. But seemingly as quickly as the industry had risen to great success, the sound of combustion engines portended the most serious threat the horse and carriage trade had ever faced. By 1912, the number of automobiles in New York City had already overtaken the number of horse-drawn vehicles; and while there were still more than 4,600 carriage companies operating in the United States as late as 1914, just 15 years later there were fewer than 90 companies left. Carriage manufacturers either had to find a way to adapt to a new era, or face extinction.

Instead of fighting the inevitable, some carriage manufacturers found a way to survive by applying their expertise to the building of bodies for vehicles with a new kind of horsepower. Some even made the leap manufacturing automobiles themselves. And for the first time in history, one of the country’s most esteemed car shows welcomed horse-drawn carriages to be on display side-by-side with classic autos to illustrate how this successful transition was made.

Since 2004, the Keeneland Concours d’Elegance has invited an annual showcase of automobiles from across the country that are one-of-a-kind and rarely seen outside of museums or private collections. Held each July on the picturesque and historic grounds of Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., in the last 13 years the show has generated close to $600,000 for charity. For this year’s event, Dana Banfield of Georgetown, Ky. led the charge on an innovative idea.

“I’ve been heavily connected with the Concours d’Elegance for years – I've exhibited here twice and was a class winner in 2006 – and it brings together the best of the best," said Banfield. "I've always talked with this group about my interest in carriages and have even invited them to the Gayla Driving Center to see the collection there. They have been fascinated with the idea of this transitional period from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles. So in November I got a random call from the Keeneland Concours team asking for my help. They wanted to put together a new class for carriages made by companies that went on to build cars but needed someone to help organize it. I was delighted and said, ‘you've come to the right place.'"

Banfield’s enthusiasm led to the creation of Class 17, Coach Built Carriages and Autos. “This class is the first of its kind. Other shows have had carriage-only displays or demonstrations, but there have never been vehicles associated with them,” Banfield explained. For this inaugural class, Banfield networked with the equine driving community and identified examples of the work of four key carriage makers, owned by people who were willing for their treasured pieces to be part of this new event. Then it was up to the Concours Car Selection Committee to do additional research and find suitable cars that matched. Carriages were judged against each other by CAA judges, and the cars were judged by the Keeneland Concours, resulting in two individual class winners being presented with a stunning array of awards.

These match-making efforts resulted in representation by Brewster, Healey, Kimball, and Studebaker:

• Brewster & Co. built carriages and fine automobiles for more than 200 years, and undoubtedly the most striking pair of the show was Hillcroft Farm’s 1901 Brewster Station Brougham carriage and a 1933 Rolls-Royce Phantom II, owned by Cy Hanks of Kentucky. The carriage was meticulously restored thanks to the discovery of the original build record issued by Brewster in 1901. The build record also stated that it was sold new to a Mr. J. Moore and later resold to William Wrigley Jr., founder of the Wrigley Gum Company and great-grandfather of the current owner, Misdee Wrigley Miller. Making the leap to automobiles, Brewster built the body for the jaw-dropping Rolls-Royce Phantom II Newport Town Car Limousine, an original unrestored vehicle which is one of only 12 hand-built Brewster-bodied town cars made in America. Brewster also constructed bodies for Packard and Ford among others, as well as building its own autos beginning in 1915.

• An 1891 Healey & Co. Ladies Wicker Phaeton (owned by Gail Austin) and 1911 Locomobile Baby Tonneau Type L (owned by Clem & Mary C. Lange of Indiana) may at first have seemed to be an odd pairing until one looked closer and then the resemblance was unmistakable. Founded in 1849, Healey was one of the few American carriage builders to exhibit in Europe, and also created bodies for Locomobile, Cadillac, Crane & Simplex, Packard, Singer, and Stevens-Duryea.

• A stunning 1898 Kimball Brothers Park Phaeton was presented by Walnut Way Carriage. Richard Kimball started a wheel shop near Boston in 1637, and nine generations of the family were involved in the carriage industry through 1929. The Kimball company then turned their craftsmanship to build bodies for luxury brand cars including Berliet, Cadillac, Marmon, Peerless and Stanley.

• Interestingly, Studebaker was the only carriage manufacturer to switch successfully from horse-drawn to motorized vehicles. The Studebaker blacksmith shop opened in 1852 and grew to be the second-largest wagon manufacturer in the world. After the turn of the century, it began building bodies for other makers and eventually manufactured its own cars from the 1920s through 1966. Studebaker was represented at the Concours on the horse-drawn side by an 1895 Pony Wicker Phaeton presented by Steve and Kathy Paul of Ohio, while the automobile version was a 1931 President State Sedan was presented by Craig Pearson of Kentucky.

The display of carriages side-by-side with corresponding automobiles was a fascinating and popular attraction at the Concours, with curious crowds gathered all day to inspect and ask questions. With the carriage/car builder connection in mind, the more one looked, the more striking the resemblances between horse-drawn and gas-powered vehicles became, from lamps to wicker baskets, the styling of fenders and seats, and design of wheels and springs. "You see so many similarities in the styling – with some of these cars it almost looks as if you put some shafts on it would be a carriage," said Banfield. "The carriage makers took designs that were tried and true and carried them over to the early cars. Most people don't think about it or ever make the connection that a car body may have actually been made by a carriage company.”

The Carriage Association of America (CAA) and Carriage Museum of America (CMA) had a booth at the Concours, and volunteers were kept busy answering questions both from the public and curious car owners. “Everyone that’s been involved with this has been incredibly enthusiastic, both on the carriage side and from car owners,” Banfield noted. “As excitement for this subject builds, it will continue to attract more and more interest. I’m also seeing car owners who are even expressing an interest in obtaining a horse-drawn carriage that corresponds to their vehicle. As our community of carriage collectors is tending to age out, this could open up a whole new demographic of potential owners who have the means and now the interest to continue the preservation of carriages.” And with carriage restoration on the decline, Banfield added that professional restorers are now increasingly working on cars and are becoming renowned for their expertise in a whole new market – just like what happened over 100 years ago.

But Banfield explained that there are many challenges in making the carriage/car connection because carriage builders didn’t always identify the bodies that they built for auto companies. While some companies took pride in their work and would stamp or brand the bodies with their name, many others didn’t – or would even use a different name to rebrand themselves and avoid stereotypes in the new motorized era. The result is that some antique car owners may not even realize that their vehicle has a body made by a carriage company. “We’re all learning along the way with this new endeavor, and that’s why it’s so exciting,” he continued. “All the time now I’m hearing about new brands and relationships between carriage and auto makers. For example, I recently met a collector who had a carriage made by the Moon Company, and he knew someone else who had a Moon car. We want that at Keeneland! And then at this spring's Martin auction I met another collector who has both a Braun carriage and automobile. Another one I've now learned of is Cunningham out of Buffalo, N.Y. So I'm finding out more all the time, and I feel like a detective, discovering lost pieces of history.”

Banfield described how nurturing this relationship also opens the door to an unexpected benefit for car owners: unearthing information about their cars they may not have had access to before in an unlikely place – carriage-makers’ own records. For instance, when Brewster would create a body for a Rolls-Royce, identification numbers would often be stamped in certain locations such as seat platforms and window frames, and corresponding build records kept by Brewster, which didn’t necessarily stay with the car. The benefits work in reverse as well. “I’ve connected the Carriage Museum of America with the Antique Automobile Club of America, the largest older car database in the country,” said Banfield. “When I spoke with the curator of their library in Hershey, Pa., I found out that they have copies of ‘The Hub,' the trade journal of carriage builders, with issues dating into 1916. The CMA doesn’t have this because by that time the industry was gearing towards cars. So I’m helping to merge these organizations and the sharing of information. It’s all about connecting the dots, and it’s exhilarating.”

Even though a century ago the transition from carriages to cars may have been a contentious time, the modern discovery and investigation of these carriage/car connections seem like a long-overdue happy reunion. Banfield reported that based on the success of this inaugural event, he’s already scouting for next year by connecting with classic car owners to participate in the Concours with corresponding carriages, and he hopes the idea will spread. "Now people have a new opportunity to display their pieces, and only a select few are actually invited each time, so it's an honor to be here and gives collectors well-deserved recognition," he said. "There are probably 50 Concours in the U.S. each year, and perhaps we can expand this concept to other shows across the country. This could even be part of the future for the CAA because by partnering with car shows it’s a great way to involve CAA members; the Concours expands their audience and is providing something that may not have seen before, and hopefully at the same time we create new enthusiasm for finding and restoring carriages. It seems like a win-win for everyone.”

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