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Not much is left of Studebaker, the long-defunct car manufacturer. There’s the Studebaker National Museum, located in South Bend, Indiana near the company’s original factory, and the Studebaker Driver’s Club, dedicated to preserving the company’s history. However, the company’s most enduring legacy may be a row of trees planted near Bendix Woods County Park. 

In 1926, Studebaker built what may be the first dedicated automobile test track by a domestic car company. It cost more than one million dollars and included an oval circuit, a road course with various turns, a skid pad, and other test sections. In 1938, the automaker planted a row of pine trees spelling out STUDEBAKER when seen from the air. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it was the largest living advertisement of its day.   

The trees had the desired effect of generating publicity for Studebaker. By the late 1930s, the popularity of air travel meant the skies over northern Indiana were busy with planes on their way to Chicago Midway or heading to the east coast. Passengers on those flights could look down and see the Studebaker name clearly spelled in bold green letters.

Unfortunately, while the Studebaker Trees remained a popular curiosity, the company fell on hard times. Even though it successfully transitioned from manufacturing horse-drawn wagons to automobiles in the early 1900s, it struggled to keep up with Ford and GM in the post-war years. Cars like the Raymond Loewy-designed Studebaker Champion failed to sell in numbers to keep the company afloat. By 1954 it entered into a merger with Packard, ultimately dooming both companies. 

Studebaker closed its doors in 1966 and sold its proving grounds to the Bendix Corporation. Bosch purchased part of the facility in the 1990s, which by then had been renamed Bendix Woods. Most recently, Navistar International, a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG that owns the Scout and International Harvester brands, acquired it from Bosch in 2015.  

The Studebaker Trees were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 but started to wither away. Invasive plants and a severe ice storm in December 2004 caused significant damage to the original trees, which were encroached on by surrounding woods. Eventually, a volunteer group raised money and began restoring the trees, which even today can still be seen clearly from the air if you’re flying over northern Indiana. 

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