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May 24, 2016

Preston Tucker

Preston TuckerPreston Tucker

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

I thought I would do one more auto-related post before the Indy 500 and look at some of the quirky relationships that Noblesville has to automobile history.

One of these relationships was with Preston Tucker, who was featured in the 1988 Steven Spielberg movie “Tucker: The Man and His Dream”. Tucker moved to Indiana in the 1930’s to try to build racing cars for the Indianapolis 500 with Harry Miller. He lived in Noblesville between 1937 and 1939 in a house on Federal Hill. The house was recently torn down for an optometrist’s office.

An article about his death in the Noblesville Ledger on December 27, 1956 said that he was working with the Studebaker organization while he lived in town. It also said, “Tucker’s departure from Noblesville was sudden, and he was involved in the Hamilton County Court in litigation for many years afterward.” What happened is that he left owning a lot of debts. During his later battles with the Securities and Exchange Commission, there were many requests to the Hamilton County Clerk’s office for information about his financial dealings.

Despite this, the Newby Brothers established a Tucker dealership on South 10th Street in 1948. The building still stands and is now selling golf carts.

Another relationship has to do with the Model Mill building on 8th Street. The oldest part was built in the 1870’s by Josiah Durfee as a workshop and is probably where he made parts of Potters Bridge and the old Sheriff’s residence and jail. However, the building got its present shape after it was purchased by Nordyke Marmon & Company in the 1890’s. It was to be a demonstration plant for the milling machinery that the company designed and built.

Tucker dealershipThere is still some confusion about this locally. Since the plant produced enormous amounts of flour and even supplied the uniforms for the high school basketball team in exchange for naming the team “The Millers”, the company is thought of as a grain-processing business. Actually, Nordyke Marmon was an engineering and manufacturing firm. The flour was really just a side product of demonstrating the machinery.

The engineering a manufacturing skills of the company came to the fore when the two brothers who ran the company, Walter and Howard Marmon, decided to try to manufacture cars. (Walter was the one who ran the Model Mill and had a country home near Noblesville.) The brothers created a well-engineered car that became popular. In order to prove how well their car was made, they decided to enter a version of it in the first Indianapolis 500 mile race in 1911. That car was, of course, the Marmon Wasp driven by Marmon employee Ray Harroun which won the race.

Eventually the Marmon Automobile Company was absorbed by other companies and disappeared. However, interestingly enough, before it was gone, one of the companies that manufactured cars under the Marmon name was organized in 1934 as a racing car company run by Harry Miller and Preston Tucker.