|Travel back in time
to Buenos Aires of more than a century ago!
b b b a a a
In 1885, my great-grandfather Paul Deschamps
came from France along with his parents and brothers to live in Argentina. With them came a close friend of the family, Adolphe Neyer, and his wife Désirée.
Paul Deschamps set up shop in Buenos Aires as jeweller, watchmaker and optician, in Artes Street 647. (In 1907 the street name was changed to Carlos Pellegrini.) In 1886 he married another new arrival, Louise Thiebaut, and together had three children: Bleuette in 1888, Maurice 1893 and Rene 1895.
Adolphe Neyer bought a house in a neighbourhood called El Tigre, a marina or nautica with houses right on the river to park your boat. In 1892 he set up a big pharmacy, the biggest in Argentina then, and eventually the world's biggest.
Every weekend, the Deschamps family went to El Tigre to spend Sundays together with the Neyers.
Both Paul and Adolphe were fond of new inventions, modern things of their time. Travelling to Paris every year to buy things for their shops, they got acquainted with photography, cinema and cars. Adolphe become mad for cars, and Paul for photography.
Paul bought a stereoscopic camera in 1893, and took an immense number of pictures - each being two almost-identical images mounted over a very thin crystal of 9x18 cm, one beside the other. You then put those crystals in a box, put your head inside and saw a three-dimensional view.
On one of those trips Adolphe got to know an Argentine man, Dalmiro Varela Castex, a rich man even among well-to-do people -- as one might say Vanderbilt or Astor. Dalmiro too was captivated by the new vehicles, and in 1888 introduced the very first car into Argentina, a steam-powered De Dion Bouton tricycle.
Another car might have arrived that year, a Holzman four-wheeler, by Eleazar Herrera Motta, from a province north of Argentina called La Rioja. But that car never worked well, and was successively sold to various owners till it was dismantled and crossed the Andes Mountains on horseback, piece by piece, to Chile. There it was assembled again but never worked (they said it was bewitched), was sold for scrap and lost in time. The poor Holzman had a sad life.
In 1895 Dalmiro imported a Benz four-wheeler, working on petrol. That's him in the white hat. Three years later he sold his De Dion Bouton to Marcelo de Alvear, who would later become President of Argentina. A Daimler car was also introduced around that time by Guillermo Fehling, who became dealer in several makes of automobile, including Buick.
Dalmiro and Adolphe met frequently in Paul Deschamps' shop. (Dalmiro had his glasses made by Paul.) Bleuette, then a little girl, would run to the street and climb upon those strange vehicles, which she loved. Naturally Dalmiro and Adolphe took her for rides, and in later years Bleuette was proud to say she had ridden in the 1st and 3rd cars to roll in Argentina.
Adolphe, instead of importing a car,
bought one in Paris and brought it to Buenos Aires with him aboard ship. It was another De Dion Bouton, a four-wheeler this time, painted yellow. He used it until around 1900 when he bought a new Panhard-Levassor That car had French plates, 103-Y2. Later, when he was living in France, he bought a new 1908 Panhard-Levassor Limousine which wore the same plates.
Around 1900, Dalmiro himself became a dealer in cars, Panhard and later Benz. Another friend, Victor Laborde, started selling Gladiator, Delaunay-Belleville and Aries cars, at a shop in Viamonte 727, one block away from Paul's shop.
By the end of 1900, there were 8 cars in Argentina -- the next year that number grew to 16, and the next year 129.
By 1903 Adolphe had made his fortune, so decided to return with Désirée to France, and live without working. He bought a manor house north of Paris at Pont de L'Arche, where he lived happily until his death in 1923. After his departure, every trip Paul Deschamps made to France included a week at the Neyer home.
In 1904, Dalmiro founded the first car club of Argentina, the AUTOMOVIL CLUB ARGENTINO, ACA, which still exists as the biggest and most important here. Dalmiro's driving license was the first in the country, and in 1905 when car plates were made obligatory, his car wore Nº 1 plates.
Paul Deschamps continued taking photos, and made “mock-pictures” by cutting faces from real photos and sticking them over post-cards, advertisements, etc. One such shows Bleuette and her brothers “driving” a De Dion Bouton on the way to Pont de L'Arche to visit Adolphe - “En route pour Pont de L'Arche”.
Some historians say that in 1892 Dalmiro brought a Daimler, that the first car was a De Dion Bouton with a Benz motor in it, that in 1895 the car brought was a Daimler and not a Benz, etc. etc. etc. For myself, I'll take what my grandfathers said -- things they always heard at home - and Bleuette's memories, as first-hand facts, rather than argue with historians!
|The family grew and prospered. Arnold Dockir, a Belgian engineer who had married Jeanne Deschamps, bought his son Edmond a 1920 Buick touring car. Arnold himself drove a 1917 Renault, while a Ford and later a Citroen were also in the stable of cars. Everyone was fond of travelling, and of weekend picnics in nearby places.
The roads were awful, made of this province's very black and fertile earth. The slightest rain transformed the tracks into mud ponds we call pantanos. Drivers always carried chains, a metal box of tools, boots, gloves, goggles and overalls. The Buick was equipped with two spare tires at the rear, along with tire irons and a pump, as flats were common. A notorious local shrub, Tala, has big thorns hard as nails, which would burst the tires with discouraging frequency.
On picnic days the 7-seater Buick car would be heavily loaded with folding chairs and table, baskets of food, umbrellas, etc. Picnics were attended by two or three families, all French, always on Sundays. Lunch invariably featured asado (barbecue) - a quarter of beef hanging from an iron. On one seemingly perfect picnic day, the group decided to go see the Rio de la Plata. But as they drove towards the river a heavy storm appeared, and soon the earth become deep mud. Edmond and his brother Paul attached the tire chains, but it took them two hours to put the Buick onto safe tracks.
Bleuette and Margot, mud-covered as everyone else, refused to appear in the photo as their dresses were in an “inappropriate” shape. Riding home, my grandmother was sitting in the back seat. Laughing, she cried “Ohh…someone has lost a wheel. Look, there's one wheel surpassing our car!” As you can guess, that wheel was from the Buick, in fact the wheel under her seat. Everyone fell over each other, and Paul had to run to catch the wheel.
Arriving home late that night, Arnold -- a very bad tempered man -- had the boys washing the car till 2:00 a.m. No bed for them until the Buick was shining like new.
Paul Dockir died in 1931, and both Edmond (my grandfather) and Arnold the following year. Paul Deschamps had died in 1926, his wife Louise five years earlier. By 1933 all that peaceful and gay life had ended. Edmond's mother Jeanne, Bleuette, and my father Alberto were left to make their lives alone. Hard times had arrived.
That 1920 Buick was remembered as a noble car -- 12 years without any serious problem. Doubtlessly the odometer must have spun round many times. It was bought late in 1932 by an employee of Arnold's enterprise, the Tintoreria Nacional. That man phoned every now and then for news of Arnold's family, and always had good words for the Buick. He kept in touch until 1939; after that nothing more was known of him or the car.
Bleuette passed away in October 1979, having always lived with us at home. She loved telling me of her memories and all her souvenirs from youth, and kept a huge photo-album going back to 1850. Thanks to her, I am able to tell you this story.
Cars were always a passion in my family, one I've inherited. I'm neither a Varela Castex nor a Neyer, just an architect living by the seaside in Pinamar, Argentina. But I treasure my memories, along with 76 folders of photos and articles plus 6000 computer images. And if you look at it that way, I have a pretty big garage at home!
Click on any picture to enter the slideshow, which includes many images not shown above.