Florida Fallen Stories

Photo courtesy of Mark Krancer

John Clarence Cheshire


The Vaultmaker

So, who made the metal box that contained the Scrolls until they were unearthed by the members of the Jacksonville Fire & Rescue Department in September 2018?

It was John Clarence Cheshire, who on December 4, 1924, when the bottom of the vault was etched by him, worked as a tinner for S. B. Hubbard Co., a wholesale hardware store, and lived with his wife at 50 East 9th Street, Jacksonville. Cheshire was a third generation metal worker who had moved to Jacksonville a dozen years earlier. He is listed in the Jacksonville city directory variously as sheet metal worker (1912), machinist (1913), tinner (1924), and mechanic (1925). Cheshire was also a veteran.



S. B. Hubbard & Co., 32-44 West Bay Street, Jacksonville


Born in Martinsville, Virginia on July 9, 1894, John Clarence Cheshire was the oldest of three children of John Harden Cheshire (1870-1954) and Mary (Mamie) Elizabeth Hundley (1872-1901). In 1910, at age sixteen, he lived with his father, step-mother, sister Pearl Elizabeth Cheshire (1896-1985), brother Harden Hundley Cheshire (1899-1977), and William Edward Cheshire (1905-1979), his 5-year-old step-brother, on Bridge Street in Martinsville, Henry County, Virginia. Cheshire’s grandfather, John Wesley Cheshire (1847-1928), was a foundryman and a machinist who served as Martinsville city councilman for several years. His father was a machinist who worked on steam engines, as was his father’s younger brother, Rufus Kemper Cheshire (1873-1938), who owned his own metal working shop in Martinsville and later worked as a shipbuilder in Savannah in 1918.

By 1912, the Cheshires had located to Jacksonville and resided at 1835 Albert Street. That year John Harden Cheshire listed his occupation as a machinist. Three years later, he worked for the South Atlantic Blow Pipe & Sheet Metal Co., in Jacksonville. From 1917 through 1921, he was a mechanic working for Claude Nolan, a Cadillac automobile dealer, as was his son Harden Hundley Cheshire. By the following year, until 1929, they were in business for themselves, J. H. Cheshire & Sons, auto repairers, along with William Edward Cheshire.   

Meanwhile, John Clarence Cheshire had moved to Arkansas, joining a National Guard unit on June 23, 1916, during the Mexican border crisis. In May 1917 the regiment was called into Federal service and ordered to Camp Beauregard, Alexandria, Louisiana, where it became the 154th Infantry, as part of the 39th Infantry Division.  Cheshire served as mess sergeant and later acting 1st sergeant in Co E, 154th Infantry, 3rd Battalion, 39th (Delta) Division until his discharge on June 4, 1918, when he accepted a commission as 2nd lieutenant. After completing his officer training at Camp Stanley in Leon Springs, Texas, northwest of San Antonio, he shipped out from Newport News, Virginia, to England with his company on August 6, 1918 onboard the S.S. Duca Degli Abruzzi, an Italian passenger ship. The first unit of the 39th Division arrived in France on August 12, and the last unit arrived on September 12. The Division was then sent to the St. Florent area, southwest of Bourges, where it was designated as a replacement division. In late October 1918, it moved to St. Aignan. There several of the units were transferred to combat divisions, including Cheshire’s. He was assigned to Company A, 125th Infantry, 63rd Brigade, 32nd (Red Arrow) Division, AEF, which was on the front lines for twenty days during the Meuse-Argonne Campaign. Cheshire remained with his unit through December 1918 after it marched into Germany  and occupied its sector of the Coblenz Bridgehead. Here, he was transferred again to 136th Company, Transportation Corps, Camp De Grasse, in a field close to the railway terminal at St. Pierre des Corps, near the city of Tours, about 125 miles southwest of Paris.   On May 20, 1919, Lieutenant Cheshire’s time in France finally ended at Brest, where he boarded the U.S.S. Graf Waldersee, a German passenger liner taken over by the U.S. Navy. Ten days later he arrived at Hoboken, New Jersey. He was discharged from the Army on October 1, 1919.


136th Transportation Corps, Camp de Grasse, in which Cheshire served as 2nd Lieutenant from January to May 1919. 


The Graf Waldersee made three transatlantic trips to New York from Brest, France, between early April and late August 1919, carrying more than 5600 war veterans and other passengers.


John Clarence Cheshire worked for this company, as did both his father and uncle, before it became Steel Products Co. in 1930.


By 1923, John Clarence Cheshire had returned to Jacksonville, married Cora Frances Ross (1898-1978) originally from Gaiter, Florida, was working as machinist for S. B. Hubbard Hardware Co. and residing at 50 East 9th Street. Three years later, Cheshire moved to Savannah, where he worked as foreman for the South Atlantic Blow Pipe & Sheet Metal Co. After the Savannah Blowpipe Company was incorporated as The Steel Products Company, Chesire became superintendent for Steel Products, designing and manufacturing truck trailers for over-the-road freight hauling. Cheshire’s sketchbook for the first truck trailer built in 1930 is in the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah today. Steel Products Company pioneered the refrigerated trailer field in the early 1940s by building the first produce van with a wet ice bunker and a gas engine and blower system. In 1947, they made the first mechanically refrigerated trailers. In 1953, refrigerated aluminum trailers were in demand for use in the Florida produce market and became the standard for the eastern United States. Sales outlets were established in 31 cities and 18 states throughout the eastern half of the United States. In 1958, the Steel Products Company changed its name to Great Dane Trailers, Inc. Not long afterwards, John Clarence Cheshire, who was still serving as superintendent after more than thirty years of service, retired from Great Dane. He died in Savannah on January 29, 1965 and was buried in Riverside Memorial Park in Jacksonville.


One of the first Great Dane trailers built, based on Cheshire’s design.