Tinkering leads to family innovations

People had great respect for Henry Ford’s "tin lizzie." It was said that it put America on wheels. Ford’s formal education ended before his 16th birthday, but he liked to tinker with mechanical things. He was later tagged as one of the country’s "filthy rich" but never stopped being an innovator. Like Ford, my family was full of innovators who liked to tinker.

Chub was my second boyfriend. In 1931, he was a part of Dad’s dairy business and hauled milk from farms to big dairies in town. His only vehicle was a large old Pontiac truck. We dated in that truck. Often, Chub’s brother-in-law, Eris Lytle, loaned Chub his yellow convertible Whippet. It was a sharp vehicle with a canvas top and rumble seat. Chub hoped that driving that car would impress me!

We married in 1937.

After four war years, everyone was safely home. We were looking through some old photos with some of our family members, and there was the Whippet stalled on Hartsburg Hill. Another photo showed my brother, Jim Meyers, at about l6 years old with his used, stripped-down Ford with bucket seats.

We were passing the pictures around, but Eris kept staring at the one of Jim in the strip-down. Finally Eris said, "Jim, I put this T model together out of seven big piles of scrap iron in and and around Griggsville, Ill.! I found the bucket seats in different scrap piles, got the four wheels from two other scrap piles and was allowed to have whatever I needed from any of several other junk piles. When I got it all together, I drove it to Columbia looking for work. Builder Shorty Hathman put me to work, and I saved until I had enough money to by my yellow Whippet. I always wondered what happened to the strip-down after I sold it."

What a coincidence!

Just like Ford, Eris liked to tinker with mechanical things. He learned his trade as a brick layer from Hathman and was a master mason for 60 years. But he built only one automobile - my brother’s stripped-down Model T Ford, and then he and the Ford both ended up 140 miles from those seven scrap piles.

Times and prices have changed for these old autos, but other happy memories remain: memories of the friendship between Joe Martin, my husband, Chub, and their rusty, old Model T Ford. They bought the rusty truck together, hoping to tinker with it in their retirement. But, after Joe’s untimely death, Chub didn’t have the heart to work on it alone. The old truck rested in our barn for seven years.

A younger generation reclaimed the 1922 T truck when my son-in-law, Mike Russell, painstakingly restored it for Chub’s 80th birthday. Its canvas side curtains were eventually painted with Chub and Dad’s dairy farm name and slogan. The side curtains read: "Meyers & Gerard Dairy Clean Milk - Fresh From My Own Cows"

It remains a tangible and fun memorial to all of those old tinkerers in our family.

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