By Bernard A. Drew
GREAT BARRINGTON — One day in 1891, Dr. Frank Warner Brandow (1853-1921) of Bartlett Avenue, Pittsfield, was summoned to Marguerite Westinghouse’s Erskine Park estate in Lee. She had a toothache. The doctor called for his carriage and he called for a delivery wagon, onto which assistants loaded a dental chair and foot-powered drill.
A house call wasn’t simple for a country dentist.
Within a decade, the city native could travel to emergency calls in an automobile. Brandow purchased a Winton gasoline carriage in 1901 and made a trial run to Lenox in 20 minutes.
Brandow was descended from a Hudson River Dutch family. His father was a merchant and gunsmith in Pittsfield. Brandow learned his profession from Dr. James Gamwell in Pittsfield and Dr. W.W. Walker in New York City. He opened his Pittsfield practice in 1879 and soon took on an associate. As time went on, his own health issues obliged him to limit his practice to “summer residents of Lenox, where he early attained and for many years has had an extensive patronage,” according to biographer Rollin Hillyer Cooke.
Brandow served a term as president of the Pittsfield Boat Club, which organized in 1898 and initially had a pavilion on the southeastern shore of Pontoosuc Lake before building a club house at Point of Pines. He was also an early president of the Berkshire Auto Club — later called the Automobile Club of Berkshire County — which began meeting in 1902. He drove in several of the club’s events.
Brandow was also a virtuoso maker of cars, ships and airplanes. Small ones.
Toys as art
In 1902 he was “building a special machine on the same lines as his Winton touring car, and hopes to have it completed during the fall,” according to a newspaper report. It was 12 inches long and weighed 15 lbs.
Brandow anticipated the generations-later Corgi, Dinky Toys, Matchbox and other die-cast toymakers. Except his models were not toys; they were art.
Brandow began aggressive modelmaking as a hobby after a trip to England in 1896, when he met J.C. Swazey, superintendent of the British Model Works. Brandow rued the fact models of the day were rendered in wood and lacked detail. Metal would be better, he said. He ended up wagering $1,000 that he could make an all-metal model of the American ocean liner City of Paris “with parts blazed together, nothing being cast, and to accomplish this feat by simply following a photograph of the vessel, with which he was familiar, no measurements being taken.”
It took him a year, and some 3,000 individual pieces, but he accomplished his goal.
The more models he made, the more accomplished Brandow became. He turned out not only a car but engines, airplanes and airships. He sold that first ship model for $1,000, but refused all offers for his later products.
“Most of Dr. Brandow’s work is done at night at his house, where he has a small laboratory fitted up with the finest tools of the bench obtainable,” the Boston Daily Globe said.
As to the shrunken Winton, “The machine was built by Dr. Brandow during the last few months,” Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal said, “from drawings made by Louis E. Laflin, of Chicago and Pittsfield, and is an exact counterpart of the latter’s racing automobile. All of the fine details were carried out, including levers, brakes, steering gear, throttle, spark advancer, etc. The upholstering of the cushions and seats is unusually rich and handsome, and the brass work is very prominent, including the side lamps, which are gold-plated. The body of the carriage was painted by the Pittsfield carriage company, the color being a rich maroon, with dark striping and a highly polished finish. Considerable difficulty was experienced in getting tires for the wheels, but this was finally made possible by the kindness of George H. Laflin, a large stockholder in a rubber company in Chicago, who had a special set made to order.”
Extolled by magazine
Scientific American twice described Brandow works in its issues of 19 September 1903 and 8 October 1904. In the latter, it noted that a Brandow model was displayed at Tiffany’s. It was of the famed steam locomotive 999. The small engine was also displayed at the Berkshire Museum in 1916.
“Dr. Brandow makes these models simply for pastime,” the periodical said, “and never sells them. The model of the Winton touring car is perfectly made to scale, one-eighth of an inch to the foot, from blue prints and a set of drawings furnished by the Winton Motor Carriage Company.”
The doctor, a widower for half a dozen years, in November 1905 married Louise Engle, a private duty nurse who had cared for his late wife at the Brandow summer place in Lenox and later had tended Brandow himself during a time of acute stomach trouble. Described by one newspaper as “a dentist at Pittsfield with a rich clientele among the dwellers of the fashionable Lenox colony,” he decided to go abroad for his health. He took his nurse with him, proposed to and married her — after recovering from a case of tonsillitis — in a brief ceremony performed by the hotel chaplain at the Hotel Normandie. He was 52, she 27.
Theirs was a model marriage, surely.
Bernard A. Drew was a regular Eagle contributor.
If you’d like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please
email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by
filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.