Recalling Coopersburg's Car-Minded Kern Brothers
Coopersburg native Sam Kern, who now lives in Virginia Beach, is a car buff whose father and uncle once operated the 'Kern Bros. Garage' in the Lehigh County borough.
Belonging to six local historical societies pays off occasionally, not in monetary means, but in making historical connections with a wide variety of folks also seeking local lore. On Oct. 6, 2012, I met Fay Kern and Cathy Bishop in Coopersburg Historical Society's museum. Of immediate interest was the Kern and Yeager family history spanning Northampton and Lehigh counties.
Fay Kern is the mother of family historian, Samuel Yeager Kern of Virginia Beach, and Cathy Bishop is his sister. Sam Kern hails originally from Coopersburg, and since we have shared each other's research and friendship. In December we met at the Heller Homesteadsince Sam wanted copies of "Saucon Secrets" volumes 1 and 2, containing much Yeager family information from Bingen and Schoenersville.
Sam shared an article that he had written for "Antique Automobile" magazine. It was published in the January/February 2007 issue, Volume 71 No. 1. On pages 68 and 69 I found his history story in the "Rear View Mirror" section, titled "Kern Bros. Garage."
Sam's dad, H. Conrad Kern, and his uncle, Kenneth "Dutch" Kern, joined during the mid-1940s "to provide general automotive and truck repair services in the small town of Coopersburg, Pennsylvania on Route 309 between Philadelphia and Allentown" after they had served during World War II in other capacities. Dutch had been employed with the Pennsylvania Department of Highways and H. Conrad with Bethlehem Steel, both essential jobs for the war effort.
Both were general automotive mechanics in their new business, but Dutch specialized in electrical systems, while Sam's dad was an expert machinist. However, dissension in the ranks caused Conrad to return to Bethlehem Steel. Sam as a young man spent after-school hours in the garage, which his uncle referred to as "the shop," and eventually became a mechanic. "The shop was barely adequate to accommodate four cars, much less the occasional truck Dutch reluctantly permitted inside," he recalled. As was Hartman Brothers' Hellertown garage, the shop was a gathering place for men to solve the problems of the world during their free time.
As was tue case in the '40s, nearly everyone had a nickname. In addition to Dutch, there were "Childe Harold" Cooper, Paul "Flounder" Fegley, Donald "Foose" Bassler, Russel "Bush" Fluck, Fred "J. Fred Muggs" Cooper and Paul "Batterbones" Amy. "Workbenches, machines, tools, and parts, parts and more parts" were all covered with oil, grease or dirt, Sam wrote. The parts--especially the cleaning tank--exuded horrible odors.
According to Sam, antique or vintage car restoration and collecting were in their infancy during the '50s. In my opinion, no one had really thought about it yet to any extent. There had been too many events going on, such as two world wars and the Great Depression.
However, during the mid-fifties, Dutch purchased many disabled Franklins in the Lehigh Valley and Center Valley regions. Perhaps he was ahead of his time. Eventually Dutch began to specialize when he opened Kern's Franklin Service. And the rest is history. For connections between the Kern and Yeager families, consult "Coopersburg, a Town of Possibilities" or "Saucon Secrets, Vol. 2."
Today, Sam Kern is the proud owner of a 1925 Franklin Series 11-A sedan, having been mechanically restored by his father and uncle and finished by himself in 1980. Its present location is Virginia Beach with Sam.
About this column: Lee Weidner is an author and local historian. His books include "Images of America: Hellertown" and "Saucon Secrets, Volume One." A retired teacher, Weidner continues to make his home in his native Hellertown.