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CLAYTON RYE

By Staff | Feb 15, 2013

I have known this little town where I go to church, get my mail, and do business with the cooperative for all my life.

The population has been around 200 since it was founded just over 110 years ago. It may have peaked around 230 people about 1950.

My earliest memories are from the early 1950s when most of everyone’s needs could be met by the businesses right there in town.

Until the mid-1940s you could buy a new car there, a Studebaker sold by Henry, who was the town’s general repairman.

I know this, because my dad bought one of Henry’s Studebakers and that was my ride home from the hospital after my birth.

I am sure every little town had its collection of characters and Henry was one of ours.

Henry was an independent businessman and it was in that order. He was more independent than businessman.

Henry’s draw to the repair business was he liked a challenge. He had a natural curiosity about how things worked and how he could improve them with his repairs.

He was also known as a quality repairman and when he had repaired something you could take it home and use it with no trouble.

Anyone who dealt with Henry knew you had to follow Henry’s rules. That was where the independent part comes in.

The biggest mistake anyone could make was to carry in the broken part and tell him they were in a hurry and needed it right away.

That usually assured that the broken part went to the bottom of the pile where it would sit until Henry got to it.

If you needed a repair done quickly, the best way was to carry it in and tell Henry about your broken part and then say it was so badly broken, it cannot be repaired and you are going to buy a new one.

Then Henry would say, “Come back in a couple hours.”

Hours later the piece would be repaired and Henry had the satisfaction of showing you that you were wrong.

Henry enjoyed taking on repairs nobody else would do. One of them was welding leaky gas tanks.

Henry did repairs, sold chain saws and lawn mowers even after he was on the plus side of 80 in the mid-1970s.

That was when my car had a leaky gas tank and I took it to Henry. I watched as he put a sheet metal screw in the hole and used his torch to braze the screw in place. It was quite uneventful.

However, there was a story that was passed around town years ago Henry blew the windows out of his shop repairing a gas tank that still apparently had some fumes and a little gas still in it.

I think he lost his eyebrows more than once.

Henry also had a talent with words either in talking or in writing for anyone who was fortunate enough to receive one of his letters where he would give his opinion.

Don, a local resident, told me he saw Henry limping one day and asked him what happened. Henry did not speak much in words and preferred stories.

“Well,” Henry began, “I was working on this lawn mower and I had the engine running. My foot got too close to the blade and caught the end of my shoe.”

“I didn’t think I was hurt until I took off my shoes and counted my toes. I had 11.”

These people are all gone now. Sadly, not only are the people gone but so are the businesses they ran.

Unlike mythical Lake Wobegon, these were real people who led fairly normal lives,. and I was lucky enough to know them.

As one of those gray-haired people I used to think of as being old, it is my job to keep their memories alive.

It was a special time when a trip to town always took longer than expected because you knew everyone.

After a greeting, there would be short visit, maybe an exchange of the latest gossip, and back to what you meant to do.

It was a special time.

Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at crye@wctatel.net.

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