It was August 1954, and Blanche Rample had better things to think about than Frank Rample’s antics. With three young kids on her hands and an icebox about to expire, Blanche seemed to have reached the point of no return as far as her domestic life was concerned.
The Ramples were well known in the Sherbrooke area of Québec. Frank Rample was a Canadian agent of the new Kaiser-Frazer Corporation. His territory extended from Granby to the United States border near Stanstead, Québec. Rample’s K-F garage stood right in the middle of downtown Sherbrooke on the corner of King and Wellington streets.
“The Most Beautiful Car in The World!” claimed a huge sign in the showroom window . . . “Come And See The Car Of Tomorrow . . . Today!” said another sign near the gas pumps.
Some potential customers and prospects silently admired the three brand new cars parked in the showroom: a magnificent pink and charcoal Manhattan, a rather cute two-door sedan with optional white wall tires, and the star of the show: a sporty looking pearl-white Kaiser Darrin roadster which attracted a lot of attention from the small crowd.
Between 1946 and 1953 Frank Rample had made a lot of money. He was an excellent businessman, and the car-starved citizens had been eager to drive a real post-war automobile. Kaiser-Frazer was among the first to offer streamlined cars to the public. People who did not have the patience to wait for GM`s, Chrysler’s or Ford’s new postwar babies were buying brand new Kaisers.
This was truly the independent’s “finest hour”. People were literally waiting in line to buy a new car at Frank Rample’s garage, as well as at the Nash, Hudson and Studebaker dealers. Rample was selling his Kaiser-Frazer wares like hot-cakes. But, as all good things must come to an end, Frank was now in deep trouble. The Big Three had joined the party, and the independents were being squeezed out of the game. Rample’s ledgers were as red as a fireman’s suspenders. The Kaiser was on the verge of acquiring an “orphan car” status. Rumors from Willow Run confirmed this presumption.
To make matters worse, the competition had started offering huge chromed mastodons powered by big V-8 engines. John Doe wanted to be seen in a Buick, a Chrysler, a Monarch or even a Studebaker for the good and simple reason that these cars had powerful engines and a lot of chrome to give evidence of their owners’ social status. Kaiser stuck to its old flat head six. The supercharger option was obsolete the minute it came out of the engineering office.
The Kaiser was a good automobile; some people even said that “it rode like a Cadillac”. The newly designed 1954 Kaiser had borrowed its front end treatment from the famous Buick “car of the future” prototype. But as they said: “At that price, I might as well buy a real Buick or even a Ford with a V8 engine!” Frank spent a lot of time and energy trying to sell the merits of the supercharger to skeptical prospects who would politely listen to his argument and then leave with Kaiser catalogs in their pockets. Those same prospects would then cross the street to Menard Motors and place an order for a Mercury Monterey or a Lincoln Capri. In the spring of 1951 Rample had made a net profit of $95,000. A lot of money indeed! Some three years later those numbers were written in red ink.
It was then that Frank started to drink “to give himself courage and energy.” The Willow Run people were asking payments that he could not make. Frank slowly began to reduce his activities and laid off most of his garage personnel. He only kept his old friend Miles Buckley, the best Kaiser mechanic this side of heaven! On October 8th, 1954, Frank Rample got behind the wheel of that “cute” Kaiser Darrin roadster. He drove the car out of the showroom and carefully locked all the doors behind him. It must have been close to 7 p.m. when Father Alfred Conrad, the pastor of St. Martha Church, waved to him as he passed the rectory. Then, Frank Rample drove the Kaiser Darrin toward the U.S.-Québec border, never to be seen again!
Blanche Rample spent almost everything she had left in her bank account trying to locate her husband. Neither the RCMP, the FBI nor the Mexican Polizia succeeded in finding traces of the Darrin or its driver.
Five years later, the Frank Rample file was officially closed. Everybody came to the conclusion that Frank had killed himself “somewhere between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.” Blanche Rample sold the house and gave the keys of the defunct Kaiser-Frazer dealership to the manager of The Bank of Montreal. She then packed into her supercharged 1954 Kaiser Manhattan what was left of her “adventure with that good-looking and soft-spoken Frank Rample”, namely three kids of preschool age, one big Samsonite suitcase and a shaggy dog named Ronda. The “slightly used” Kaiser was the last memento of her lost illusions.
Blanche Rodrigue (she reverted to her maiden name) had come to a decision. She was going to live in the country, somewhere between Montréal and Québec City, more precisely in Amiens where she once fell for the Clark Gable face of Arthur Lemond. It was that same Arthur who had fathered her second child. Her late husband Frank had thought it a bit strange when he noticed that his son Ron had blond hair. “But,” as he used to say: “my grandmother was a real blondie!”
The bells were soon ringing at Amiens Episcopal Church. Blanche had finally surrendered to Arthur’s advances. She was now the legal wife of the richest farmer in the county. The kids were delighted to have a new father to replace the one that had seldom been home and sober. The Kaiser? It was quickly stored in the barn at the end of the side road, replaced by a brand new red and white Desoto Firedome. A few months later Blanche realized that she was “gaining weight” again. She gave birth to a beautiful girl who was named Ingrid because her hair was as blond as the wheat.
As we say in other stories: “Everything went well until the devil got into the act!” On a crisp autumn morning, while Blanche was doing the laundry in her new Bendix, she heard the postman drive his Fargo Royal Mail truck into the yard. He got out of the vehicle, carefully avoiding Ronda’s teeth, and yelled at Blanche. “Madame Rample, I’ve got something for you!” Blanche was startled. Nobody ever called her “Madame Rample” anymore. “Sign here please, it’s from South America, a long way from here!” Blanche looked at the brown envelope. The colorful stamps reminded her of her mother’s quilt:
Confidential and Personal
I know that this letter will probably come as a surprise to you, but it’s the only way I could get in touch with you.
All these years without you, my dear, have convinced me that I have to see you again, and for the last time.
You are well aware of the circumstances and motives concerning my disappearance: it’s a long, very long story indeed, as you will eventually learn.
Please find herewith enclosed an international money order for $10,000.
Use this money to come and visit me in Sao Paulo with the children and your husband.
I have also included six airplane tickets for the trip from Montréal to Brazil.
Please do not try to understand now. Trust me and you won’t be deceived.
Lovingly and tenderly yours,
Blanche almost fainted. She reached for the nearest chair and read the letter again. “You won’t be deceived.” She looked at the $10,000 check and the plane tickets. She could not believe it. Frank was alive! Arthur thought that the whole thing was a hoax or a joke. But the money and the plane tickets? He then phoned the Canadian Embassy in Sao Paulo. They confirmed the existence of Frank Rample as a legal citizen of Brazil. Arthur and Blanche then came to an important decision. The farm was placed under the responsibility of a local cousin. The kids took a holiday from school. John Larue, the local doctor and a good friend of the family, drove them to the Montréal airport.
After a long and quiet flight to Sao Paulo the exhausted Lemond tribe was met by a white gloved chauffeur holding a large piece of cardboard: “Senorita Blanche Rample.” They all got into the Mercedes limousine. The silent chauffeur drove them through what seemed to be the most expensive quarter of Sao Paulo. The Mercedes stopped in front of the gates of a palatial white residence which reminded Blanche of a Walt Disney movie. At the top of the steps leading up to the front door stood a middle-aged man dressed completely in white and wearing a Panama hat. It was Frank Rample!
Frank chastely kissed Blanche on the cheek while holding her in his arms for a long moment. The children looked at him as if he were a stranger, amused and scared at the same time. He kissed all of the children, shook hands with Arthur, and then invited them to follow him into the living room decorated with huge crystal chandeliers.
He then told them the story of his “second life.” He had come to South America in 1955 to work as a superintendent at the Kaiser-Frazer South American factories. Then years after that, he had bought 15% of the company’s shares with Juan Peron’s brother. Juan Peron was at the time the “God of Brazil” if not a dictator by any other name. Then in 1968, when the S. A. Kaiser-Frazer Company was sold, he liquidated his assets and became the sole owner of Brazil’s biggest coffee conglomerate: The Nacional Cafe Compania de BrasiI. He admitted without false modesty that he was now one of the richest men in Brazil. Blanche could not believe what she was hearing. Was this man the same person who used to peddle Kaiser cars on King Street? It all seemed more like fiction than reality.
But the best and also the worst was yet to come. After a sumptuous meal with his newly found “family” Frank Rample stood up and without showing any sign of emotion pronounced these words: “I am a very rich man and I have lived a full life. I came from rags to riches and glories. I did everything exactly the way I wanted it to be. Two weeks ago my doctor informed me that I had less than six months to live, a terminal illness about which I will spare you the sordid details. When I leave this wonderful world, everything that I own will become yours, my dear Blanche, for the simple reason that you are the only woman that I ever loved.” Arthur Lemond gazed at the gold Limoges plate in front of him. He fell completely overwhelmed by Frank’s declaration. Blanche was also affected by Frank’s testimony. Suddenly, memories of better times with Frank came back to her troubled mind. Tears were rolling down her beautiful face.
Frank continued, “This should be my ultimate contribution to your happiness, Blanche. It should also compensate for those ‘blank’ years between 1955 and now. Forgive me Blanche! I never wanted to hurt you. Life’s circumstances forced me into abandoning you and the children. l could not do better. Really I couldn’t, Blanche!”
A few months later, Frank Rample, the Kaiser-Frazer dealer from Sherbrooke, Québec and the richest man in Brazil, disappeared for good! A grandiose state funeral was offered to him by his friends and legal “heirs.” Blanche and her family then became the richest people in Sao Paulo. Bianca Rodriguez and Arturo Lemondes vowed never to forget the memory of Senor Frankie Rample. And they were right, because that rascal Rample still had another trick in his bag.
When Senor Luis Santos, appointed notary of Frank Rample’s estate, unsealed the will, he reminded the heirs that Frank Rample, his dear departed friend and wealthy client, had given him a key. Attached to this key was an envelope, and in it were some very precise instructions. This was the key to one of Sao Paulo’s largest storage buildings. Blanche and her husband had the chauffeur drive them to this strange place. Then they asked the supervisor to unlock the doors. The light went on. “Oh my God! I can’t believe it,” said Blanche. Arthur simply smiled while holding Blanche’s hand. In front of them stood twelve brand new automobiles from the 1950’s. They were all Kaiser-Frazer automobiles of different models and colors! And way back behind this lot was a smaller model, a sport model, a pearl-white Kaiser Darrin roadster.
Frank Rample was probably the only man on this earth who made his first million on a Kaiser-Frazer agency! His belief in the quality of the Kaiser-Frazer automobiles had made him the richest K·F dealer in the world! If you happen to go to Sao Paulo, stop at the local tourist bureau. You will then have the opportunity to visit “free of charge” one of the nicest collections of brand new Kaiser-Frazer automobiles in the world. I know this is true because Frank Rample was my uncle’s beloved cousin.
The names of the characters have been changed, but this story is true… or is it really? The building that once housed Frank Rample’s Kaiser-Frazer dealership in Sherbrooke was recently sold to a Toyota agency . . . Sic transit gloria!
***** ABOUT THE AUTHOR *****
Gilbert Bureau is the President and founder of the Voitures Anciennes du Québec vintage automobile club, and the Editor-in-Chief of its monthly publication, the Magazine de l’Auto Ancienne, in its 38th year of publication. He is the owner of a 1926 Cadillac Touring.