#220: The Ghost of Herbert Hinchliffe

September 23rd, 2013

Herbert Hinchliffe is a name on the wall of a building I first passed by riding my bike to an interview with a lady who makes ladies underwear.

It’s a red brick garage-style building at Carroll and Damen in the Kinzie Industrial Corridor TIF district. It’s old and nondescript, a garage with doors on Carroll and a big wall along Damen, red and silent but for the words “Herbert Hinchliffe” in gray stone near the top.

The Cook County Assessor’s Office says the building is 85 years old, putting it at 1928.

Hinchliffe, called “the dean of Chicago truckmen” in a 1935 profile in an International Harvester trade publication, likely never had horses there. Although his hauling company went from one horse and wagon during the 1893 Columbian Exhibition to more than 130 horses in the late teens, Hinchliffe switched over to automobile trucks in the early 1920s, he said.

The photo with the profile is of a thin, severe man with round, wire-frame glasses, gray hair, a suit with a waistcoat, no sense of a smile. It’s like a 1930s cartoonist had been tasked with drawing a skinflint boss.

“Close attention to business and prompt service to customers have always kept us in the black,” Hinchliffe said at the beginning of the profile.

“Mr. Hinchliffe has no hobby but work,” the profile says later on.

Hinchliffe had tried to get rid of the red brick building on Damen and Carroll as early as 1937, listing the land for sale in the Chicago Tribune classifieds.

The ad gives a phone number whose first three digits were the HAY of HAYMARKET, as old-timey phones used to do. The number now leads to the shrieking fax line of the Chicago office of a company that does Voice over Internet Protocol communications.

Cripps Overland Express Inc. finally rented the red brick garage from Hinchliffe in 1939, according to a blurb in The Economist, a Chicago magazine listing real estate transactions, no relation to the British news magazine.

In 1916, Hinchliffe was denied an appeal to a $9,000 personal injury suit. That would be more than $193,000 today.

A woman named Bessie McConnell had been thrown from a streetcar at the corner of Halsted and Madison into the path of an H. Hinchliffe horse and wagon team.

McConnell’s right leg was crushed. The horse and wagon team was driven by Hinchliffe’s brother Forrest.

The Hinchliffe brothers were listed in the Dec. 24, 1942 Tribune as recipients of a C book of gas ration stamps because of the importance of their trucking operation to the war effort.

On Jan. 3, 1910, Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. called to say they had a larger shipment than usual. Hinchliffe, who had the contract, didn’t have enough horse teams to handle it. The company he called to handle the overflow called another company, as they couldn’t handle the load either.

A man giving his name as “Moran” showed up at Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. early the morning of Jan. 4 to collect the load. They found the horses and wagon that night on the west side of town by the Northwestern railroad tracks. They never found Moran or the merchandise. The legal wrangling over blame took six years and went to the Illinois Supreme Court.

In 1936, a trucking trade magazine wrote an article about the “remarkable accident-free record” enjoyed by Hinchliffe’s Motor Express Inc.

In 1923, Herbert Hinchliffe lost $102,500 in a real estate scam.

Hinchliffe, one of many investors in the “Argyle Arms hotel project,” was the one who uncovered the scam and brought the charges against a man named Kurt R. Beak.

In his own investigation, Hinchliffe found cooked books, coal purchased at one price and put in the books as costing double, furniture billed but never delivered, trucks that carried soap bought by Argyle Arms investors to Beak’s other properties, janitors billed for more than double what they cost.

“I gave them $102,500,” Hinchliffe said in a Tribune article from the time. “And I did not even get the price of this cigar out of it.”

That would be more than $1.4 million in today’s money.

When Hinchliffe died in 1954 at the age of 83, he was living in the ritzy Lakeshore Athletic Club. The dean of Chicago truckmen did all right.

The Tribune obit lists no descendents or survivors. Mr. Hinchliffe has no hobby but work.

He was a businessman, a brother, a cartoon skinflint boss. He was deemed important to the war effort. He uncovered Beak’s scam. He fought McConnell’s judgement after his brother crushed her leg.

I don’t know if he was a good man or a bad man, a saint or a total jackhole. I don’t even know if he did die alone or had a passel of survivors the short Trib obit just didn’t mention.

We’re surrounded by ghosts. Ghost signs, ghost bikes, streets named for history makers you never heard of, buildings named for businessmen you never knew lived.

I don’t know who you were, Herbert T. Hinchliffe of H. Hinchliffe Teaming Company and Motor Express Inc.

To me and I hope to anyone who reads this, you’re now a little more than just a name on a wall.

Read Hinchliffe’s International Harvester profile

Read about the Bessie McConnell trial

Read about the missing Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. merchandise

Comment on this story

And now read about the lady who makes ladies underwear

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