Thursday, May 27, 2010

Got Buttermilk?

It's over 2100 miles from Sacramento's R Street to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but with the 2010 running of the Indy 500 only a few days away it seems timely to mention that there was once a much closer connection on R street to the Brickyard. 

The building that used to be at 430 R Street was briefly home to a branch of Meyer and Welch Inc. They were in the engine rebuilding business, specifically Ford passenger car engines. The major work was done in their Vernon California factory just south of LA, so I suspect the building on R Street was primarily a storage and distribution facility. Maybe. There is some evidence it was more. The 1951 Sanborn map includes the notation "WHOL. MOTOR PARTS & MOTOR REBUILD'G", so perhaps it wasn’t just storage. I'd like to find additional evidence to back that up though. 

The founders Louis Meyer and Lewis Welch both had connections to Indy, especially Meyer. He was the race's first three time winner (1928, 1931 and 1936). After that third win in 1936, he became famous for starting the uniquely Indy tradition of drinking milk in the winner's circle.

Also in '36 but well before Meyers and Welch Inc., 430 R was one of two focal points in a California Railroad Commission case. The case, CRC 4066, taught me a lot about how the WP and SP interacted on R Street during the depression era. It also led me down a fun maze of research on tariffs and reciprocal switching agreements. I hope to detail that case here at some point; it's a very interesting addition to the railroad and industrial history of R Street. 
Getting back to the milk drinking: The story goes that when Louis was a boy his mother told him that downing a glass of buttermilk was a great way to quench thirst on a hot day. Though perhaps hard to imagine buttermilk being the drink of choice today, it was Louis Meyer's habit to have it as his after race reward. And so it was bound to happen that a photographer captured the post race moment of Meyer drinking buttermilk while holding up three fingers for the number of his Indy wins. A dairy industry executive saw the picture in the paper and, not wanting to let a supreme marketing image melt away, took steps to make drinking milk (not buttermilk) an enduring Indy 500 winner's circle tradition. 


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