Free Technology for Teachers: What Car Did Harry Lyon Drive?
On Tuesday I shared a research challenge and wrote that you can email me if you wanted the challenge questions answered. I’ve had many more emails than I thought. And some people I’ve emailed responses to have responded asking for more details on the process of finding the answers. So yesterday morning I spent some time writing down the process for finding the answers to Tuesday’s research challenge. If you missed the challenge, you can find it here. The solution is detailed below.
There are several ways to arrive at the answers. What I have described below is the most direct way to get the answers. (Thanks again to Daniel Russell Joy of research for inspiring the development of research challenges like this).
Step 1: Identify the aircraft and its historical significance.
The image itself gives us a big clue. Do a quick Google search for “southern crossing plane” and the first result will be a Wikipedia page on the plane. It is important to include “plane” in the search because a Google search for “southern cross” will put a music video of the song Southern Cross by Crosby, Stills and Nash at the top of the results. Further down the search results page for “southern cross,” you’ll find links to articles on the constellation of the same name, links to an energy company, and links to a Brazilian knighthood award. In fact, you won’t see any reference to an airplane in the first ten pages of Google search results when you search for “southern cross”. Plus, “southern cross plane” isn’t even a term Google suggests when you type “southern cross”.
As mentioned above, the first Google search result for “southern crossing plane” is the Wikipedia page on the plane. Read this page and you will learn that it was the first aircraft to fly from the United States to Australia.
Step 2: Identify who flew on the plane.
Also on this same Wikipedia page, you will learn that the four flight crew members were Charles Kingsford Smith, Charles Ulm, Harry Lyon and James Warner.
Once you’ve identified who the flight crew members were, the next step is to determine which one had a connection to Maine. To do this, open the Wikipedia page of each flight crew member and then use the keyboard commands of CTRL + F (Windows computers) or COMMAND + F (Mac computers) to search each page for the word “Maine”. Only the Charles Kingsford Smith and Harry Lyon pages include a correspondence for “Maine” and the correspondence on Smith’s page is found only in the context of the word “remained”. The Lyon page includes “Maine” as part of a link to the Maine Memory Network website that is mentioned in the suggestions for this challenge.
Step 3: Find the reference in Paris Hill.
If you follow the Maine Memory Network link from the Wikipedia page on Harry Lyon, you will find a fairly lengthy article about Lyon and his life, including that his parents bought a house on Paris Hill and that Lyon later lived there.
Alternatively, you could have followed the tip about using the Maine Memory Network website and then headed there to search the site for references to Harry Lyon.
Step 4: Find the reference to a car.
At the very bottom of this Maine Memory Network page on Harry Lyon, you’ll see a photo of Lyon sitting in a car in his driveway in 1927. (Image is copyrighted, so you’ll need to see it there- low).
Step 5: Identify the car.
This is the hardest part of the whole challenge. To do this, you will want to enlarge the image found on the Maine Memory Network article on Lyon. Fortunately, they provide a zoomable version of the image. By zooming in on the image, you can see some important details including the shape of the front door of the car, the shape of the front of the car, and a small badge on the front of the car.
At this point the process becomes a bit of guesswork followed by a process of comparison and elimination. There are a few things to consider before guessing what type of car is in the picture. Here is a list of those things to consider: First, the photo was taken in 1927, a year before the flight of the Southern Cross. From reading him, we know that Lyon was not a man of exceptional wealth, but probably from the middle to upper class. Based on Lyon’s financial situation as well as the details of the car, we can probably eliminate the luxury brands from our guesswork.
When we zoom in on the car we can see that it has some imperfections as a result of handling and / or post-manufacturing modifications. Notably, there are what appear to be two wooden bench seats behind the driver’s seat. The back half of the body also appears to be made of wood.
Now that we’ve looked at the points above, we can start to guess the car’s manufacturer and the year of production. Noting that the cars did not change significantly from model year to model year at that time, if they did, we think the year by decade or half decade is a viable approach to this challenge. At this point, turning to Google Image Search is our next step. A search for “1920s cars” or “1910s cars” is a place to start. However, these results generally present examples of luxury cars of the time. We are looking for cars that could have been owned by people from the middle to upper class of the time. At this point in the process, it is helpful to have a list of American car manufacturers from the 1910s and 1920s. Again, we can look to Wikipedia for such a list or to a number of vintage car websites for. such a list.
Based on the lists of American automakers and what we know from Lyon, Ford is the most common assumption because it was the most popular brand in the United States at the time and is still at the forefront of minds of Americans today when they think of automakers. Some adults will still think of Studebaker as an American automaker. Dodging is also a common guess as it satisfies both the price and popularity components of our quest. It is therefore now a question of comparing images of cars produced by these manufacturers in the 1910s and the beginning of the 1920s.
Use Google Images to find images of Ford, Studebaker and Dodge cars produced during these decades. Closely compare the pictures to the photo of Lyon sitting in his car and you will start to notice that the shape of his car’s door does not match those of Ford and Studebaker (they are not as rounded at the bottom). The front of the Lyon vehicle is also more rounded than that of the Ford and Studebaker produced at the same time. A final detail can be found on the hood of the car when looking at the radiator caps of the vehicles. In all three cases, the Dodge examples are consistent with what we see in the photo of Lyon in his car. The final answer is a Dodge Touring car produced circa 1919 (more or less a year) which has been modified at the rear.
Disclosure: I spent at least ten hours comparing pictures of cars to that of Lyon sitting in his car. To verify my car information, I enlisted the help of one of the best vintage car curators in the country, Jeff Orwig. Jeff is a friend of mine and the curator of Bob Bahre’s exquisite collection of cars, housed on Paris Hill in Paris, Maine. You can read more about the collection here.