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History ...Hearses, also known as the Funeral Coach, have been around since the 1700's. Starting with horse- drawn hearses made by various carriage companies, the carriage was hand carved usually out of mahogany that featured ornately carved pillars, drapes, glass windows and other funerary icons to denote their status as a special occasion vehicle. ...On June 15th, 1909, one of America's premier builders of horse drawn hearses, Crane & Breed of Cincinnati, Ohio, along with long established coachbuilder Cunningham of Rochester, NY. introduced the first auto hearses available commercially as did Sayers and Scovill (S&S) and Meteor (which later teamed up with Miller to form Miller-Meteor = M&M). ...By the early 1920s the automobile had found more acceptance in the funeral procession and metal was well on its way to replacing wood as the most popular body building material; hence the styling of hearses evolved to match other automobiles of the day and the limousine style hearse, featuring windows down the entire side of the vehicle, became the most popular type, mainly it was largely a matter of versatility. Meteor's model T was an instant success in sales when it was introduced in 1915, largely because it could be used for more than just work as a hearse in processions. Also, hearse styles ran cycles of 10 to 15 years up thru the Second World War and the cycle was ripe for something new and different. In the latter half of the 1920s the Henney and Eureka companies introduced the first 3-way hearses, featuring a casket table that moved along a Y-shaped track to emerge from either the side or rear of the coach; this curb-loading feature, If anything, raised the loading height of a hearse, because of the necessary space displaced by the side loading mechanism. Curbside loading caught on because it was a courtesy that people noticed for safety and neatness reasons and kept the pallbearers from stepping into a street that was still most likely unpaved and muddy. ...For the 1938 model year Sayers & Scovill introduced the industry's first landau or Victoria-style hearse, featuring a heavily-padded leather or vinyl roof with a blind quarter panel decorated by S-shaped irons (called landau bars) inspired by those used to lower the tops on horse drawn Victoria's in the 19th Century. ...Moving on to the hardware inside the hearse, one finds that the sort of facilities enjoyed by the deceased on his or her last ride hardly differs from one coachbuilder's car to another, let alone any funeral coach produced in the last half century. To simplify loading virtually every hearse has eight to ten cylindrical rubber casket rollers mounted horizontally in the vehicle's rear door threshold and carpeted or Formica- surfaced rear floor. Once inside one will see skid Strips. They prevent the hearse floor from getting marred during loading of a casket. Then you will see a pair of clamps called bier pins. These pins are slid into bier pin plates that run a line of holes down the center of the casket compartment; the rear pin has an adjustment wheel that pushes the rubber face pads of the front and rear bier pins against the ends of the casket. To reduce the chance of casket movement in an accident, today's funeral coachbuilders use swivel-proof hexagonal mounting holes instead of round ones. Before the arrival of the adjustable bier pin, the only adjustment was a hex design pin by Superior that had an offset, or eccentric, pin base so there was a way to take up some slack when setting the pin after loading a casket. In the end, Hexagonal mounting holes don't really do anything to help hold a casket securely, if the pins are set properly and the casket is loaded with a modicum of care. ...Both landau and limousine-style hearses generally come with curtains partially covering the casket compartment windows. But different drape styles didn't seem to be restricted to one particular type of coach, as many combinations had formal drapes, while many 3 ways had airliner drapes. The difference in drapes are: Formal style drapes are usually made from a heavy velvet material and are hung in a manner where the cloth is drawn back in the middle of the span to form concentric arches or radiuses in the fabric. Airline style drapes, which began appearing in the mid-1950's as airplane travel became commonplace, hang straight down from between its attachments at the top and bottom of the casket compartment windows and usually use a lightly-colored woven material for a more modern-looking appearance. ...Combination coaches, which were very popular, gave a funeral director an affordable tool to operate the funeral home, while also serving his community with ambulance service. Funeral homes used to run the ambulance service for many years, because they were the only ones who had a vehicle long enough to carry someone in a recumbent position. Many times the funeral home offered the ambulance service for free, or next to nothing. Despite common belief, funeral homes did not make money on ambulance runs. If anything, it was a good will gesture to the area he served. Combination coaches were also fitted with reversible casket rollers, folding attendants' seats and removable roof beacons (usually unbolted through a zippered headliner in the driver's compartment) and sirens. However, the features varied from one extreme to another, depending what the owner wanted. ...Combinations disappeared from general service in the late 1970s, when a downsized Cadillac commercial chassis appeared at the same time as changes in the Federal ambulance regulations governing minimum width, headroom and equipment levels. Even though they were typically the coachbuilder's cheapest model, the first-call or service car is usually the rarest because these served as the workhorses for the funeral home - making first calls at the place of death, carrying chairs or casket-lowering equipment to the cemetery and were frequently treated as the most disposable vehicle in the fleet. Though a few service cars in the 1930s and 1940s were constructed on expensive Cadillac and Packard chassis, they usually resembled a basic panel truck or sedan delivery (many were in fact cut and stretched from Chevrolet, Pontiac and Ford sedan deliveries by low-cost firms down south like Memphian, Barnette or Economy Coach) with a stylized chrome wreath affixed to the windowless metal side panels. ...T Service cars disappeared when alternative vehicles became available, such as metal-bodied station wagons and earlier, sedan deliveries. Funeral homes still used service cars, but homebrewed them for the most part. For that matter, in the late '70's, station wagon conversion service cars were fairly popular, but were, and are, often confused with hearses because they were more of an entry level hearse conversion than an actual workhorse service car like in earlier times. This was one of the things that diluted any special look a landau hearse ever had. Superior offered a service car on Pontiac chassis into the late '60's.
Related Links:

Professional Car History and Terminology (External Link)

Superior History
Miller-Meteor History (M&M)
Sayers & Scovill History (S&S)
Eureka History
Hess & Eisenhardt
Flxible
Crane & Breed
Cotner-Bevington
Comet
Leo Gillig
Wolfington
Henney
McClain
Cunningham
Krystal
Federal
Siebert (Economy)
Eagle
National
Memphian
Riddle (Merts & Riddle)
Clark Carriage

Other Coach Companies (No Links):

Brantford
Knightstown
Barnette
Weller
Pinner
Acme
AHA
Abbot & Hast
A.G. Solar & Co.
Alberter
Armbruster/Stageway
Henry Bros.
Heritage
Memphis
Sharpe
Yankee
St. Catherines Auto Bodies Ltd