Sunday, September 8, 2019

My Old Friend Frank

My Old Friend “Frank”
By Bob West
April 27, 1995
The first family car that I can recall was a 1924 Franklin touring car. This car was powered by an air-cooled engine. It had a hardwood frame, an aluminum body, and a top made of weatherproof cloth material. Each of the four doors had curtains made of this same heavy material. The windows themselves were isinglass. Isinglass, for you younger readers, can be compared to a very heavy clear plastic of today.
I can remember Dad taking these curtains to the Charles Day Harness Shop on Main Street to have new isinglass sewn in to replace the cracked and discolored ones. The curtains were held in place by a curtain rod standing vertical to the door, then snapped to the door and also to the roof. In good weather, the curtains were removed and stored under the front seat. Without the curtains in place, it was of course, very windy. On one of our family outings, my older sister Dorris, who was also my tormentor, told me not to turn my head sideways because the cartilage between my nostrils (she called it a plug) would be blown away and lost. Thereafter I was very careful to pinch my nose with my fingers to keep this from happening.
As cars were not equipped with turn signals, the curtain on the driver’s side had a small opening, covered with a flap of the cloth material so the driver could use hand signals. Sometimes it was hard to signal, shift and steer the car all at the same time. This car was very modern in its day. It had an electric-driven windshield wiper, most other cars had a hand-operated one. There was also a small fan with rubber blades to keep the windows from steaming up. On the dashboard, in addition to the speedometer and the odometer, there were four switches, one marked primer and one was the ignition switch. What the other two were for, I do not remember. There was no ignition key, but there was a key to lock the transmission, so the car could not be shifted. Since the motor was air-cooled, there was no chance for the radiator to freeze and burst. Dad told me that the last winter we lived in Post Falls was an extremely cold one. After work he would drive home, about three miles, drive the car onto blocks in the garage and then drain the oil from the crankcase into a pan and store it in the furnace room. The next morning he would fill the crankcase with the warm oil and the car would start with no trouble. He said he was one of the few people that didn’t have to do a lot of walking that winter. Of course there was no heater in the car. We depended on lap robes and blankets to keep warm.
One night when we were returning from a visit with my grandparents, the lights on the car went out. After that Dad parked it in the garage and never tried to start it again. One summer several years later, Eugene Schell, one of my high school friends, and I decided to see if we could get it started. We rented a storage battery and bought a couple gallons of gas from the Texaco station. As I recall, there was a one-half gallon vacuum tank on the engine, which was to be filled with gas. This acted as a primer.
We hooked up the battery cables, poured the rest of the gas into the gas tank, crossed our fingers and stepped on the starter. After a few agonizing moments of moaning, groaning and wheezing, the motor backfired, a big puff of black smoke came out of the tailpipe, and it then started purring like a kitten. We were really excited! All four of the tires were low, and we had to find a hand-operated air pump to inflate them. Finally the big moment. We slowly backed the car out of the garage and headed for country roads. Never mind that we didn’t have license or insurance, we simply stayed on the back byways where the cops wouldn’t catch us. We sneaked the car out numerous weekends on those country drives. One of my dad’s friends saw us driving one day though and reported us to Dad. I thought he would be angry, but he wasn’t and even agreed to sell us the car for $50. We then bought the license and insurance for it and we were ready for some fun times. We were actually the proud owners of a 1924 Franklin! Suddenly we were very popular at school. We had one of the five cars that students owned. Ours was by far the largest so we ran a regular taxi service up and down the schoolhouse hill.
The tire size for this Franklin was 4 ½ X 32, and it was very high off the ground, which made it great for bucking snowdrifts and mud holes. I truly believe that with chains it could go anywhere today’s Jeep can. We drove this car until both of us entered the armed service during WWII. We then stored it in a barn at Gene’s place until after the war.
When we returned over three years later we had no trouble getting it started. It was as if it were welcoming us home. One day we were driving out in the country by my Uncle Clayton West’s farm when we had a blowout. Much to our dismay, we found the spare tire was also flat. Those poor old tires. All the inner tubes had been patched a dozen times or more.
We hiked the five miles back home and returned the next weekend with the fixed spare only to find the other three had gone flat. As hard as we tried we could not find any more tires to fit. We left the car where it sat.
A few months later Uncle Clayton told me he was going to drag it to his place and use it for a farm vehicle. Some years later a stranger came into our store and asked me if I was Bob West. When I said yes, he asked me to come outside and see something. I walked around the corner by the bank and parked there was our old friend the Franklin.
It was painted a shiny black and had a new top and curtains. It looked like a factory new car. The stranger told me he was driving around the country looking for old cars to rejuvenate and had spotted ours in the junk pile at my uncle’s place. He asked if he could buy it but Uncle Clayton told him he could just have it. He came back the very next day and hauled it to his shop in Lewiston where he spent many hours restoring it.
The drive to Palouse was her maiden trip after the restoration and he wanted me to be the first to see it. I promptly called Gene so he was able to see it too. It was a happy reunion.
Three years later the same fellow stopped in Palouse again, on his way to Spokane to a car show. He told me he had won many awards for the Franklin, three of which were first place. When I asked him how the motor was running, he said, “like a Swiss watch.” That was the last time I ever saw this grand old car.
The following information about Franklin cars was printed in the June 13, 1913 issue of the Palouse Republic:
“J.A. Miller blew into Palouse from Walla Walla Sunday with a new six-cylinder Franklin car, taking his friends completely by surprise. The car was bought through the Palouse Garage which recently secured the agency for the Franklin. The price is $3,050, making the car the most expensive so far owned in Palouse. While the price is somewhat fancy, the car also has a fancy appearance, and a gait like a singlefooter, together with all the modern devices which go with automobiles.”

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

A Breakfast Guest Comes Calling

A Breakfast Guest Comes Calling
By Bob West
April (?) 2003

I wasn’t in a very good mood one Saturday morning in the summer of 1938. School vacation was about over and I had a lot of things I wanted to do before school started. The morning before, Dad informed me that our first load of firewood was arriving that afternoon. This didn’t excite me very much. Then he dropped a bombshell! I was 14 and old and big enough to haul the wood to the woodshed and stack it inside the building. I made all kinds of excuses to no avail. I was roused out of bed at seven and told to get busy. He wanted the job finished by the time he got home from work that evening.
The wheelbarrow I used to move the wood about 20 feet was a homemade one with removable wooden sideboards. The wheel was an iron one taken from some piece of farm machinery and wobbled all over the place. About every third trip one of the sideboards fell off or the wheel would hit something and the load was dumped off. It was getting hot and I was getting madder and madder by the minute. I was going to take a break and drown my sorrows by drinking some homebrew. (Root beer made from Hires Root Beer extract).
I had put several bottles of the drink in the refrigerator the night before so it was good and cold and really hit the spot. I had almost finished drinking when I noticed somebody walking down the alley. As he got closer I realized he was one of the transient workers that I had seen while fishing near the hobo jungle the day before.  When he got closer I waved at him. He waved back. I introduced myself and he told me his name was George O’Brien. I got excited when I heard that name. An actor by the same name was one of my all-time favorite western movie stars when I was just a kid. I was disappointed when I asked him if he was related to the star and he said no. I went to the kitchen and got two more bottles brew and handed him one. While we were enjoying the drink he asked if my parents were home and was disappointed when I told him no. He then asked if I knew anyone in the neighborhood that needed odd jobs done. He was awfully hungry and would accept food instead of money for wages. I came up with a great idea.
I was a pretty good cook by this time. My mother worked full time at the store helping my dad. I always fixed my own breakfast and lunch and I  sometimes made supper for the family. Breakfast was usually a bowl of cereal and a couple of pieces of toast. I was also an expert egg fryer and made great French toast. I told George if he helped me move and stack the wood, I would cook him breakfast. He agreed but said he had to have something to eat before we started the job. Mom always canned a lot of peaches every fall. I got a quart of the fruit out of the cellar. My grandparents lived on a farm and supplied us with all the milk, cream, and eggs we could use. My aunt Lela baked us several loaves of bread every week. He WAS hungry - he ate the whole quart of peaches and three or four pieces of toast. Time to go to work. After the third loss of wood from the wheelbarrow he asked me if Dad had some tools he could use. Half an hour later the wheelbarrow was repaired and worked like a new one.
I’ll tell you what, I never had so much fun working in my life. It was a contest to see who could work the hardest and fastest. I almost hated to see the job completed.
While walking toward the house for breakfast he spotted an outside faucet with a hose attached and asked me if he could borrow some soap so he could wash up. I had a better idea. Why didn’t he take a bath in our bathtub? He gave me a startled look and asked me, “Won’t your parents care?” I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them!” I noticed his clothes were very grimy so I handed him the coveralls Dad kept in the woodshed and told him to strip and put them on so we could wash his clothes.
We had one of those new fandangle Maytag washing machines with a wringer, but neither of us knew how to work it. Mom had two large washtubs, a copper washboard and a thing on a broomstick she called a plunger. George and I had both seen our mothers use these things so we had an idea of how they worked. A plumber had installed a new electric water heater in the house that spring so we had lots of hot water. We carried the tubs outside and began filling them with hot water by the bucketful from the kitchen. One tub was used for washing, the other for rinsing. I cut some slivers of soap from a bar of Fels Naphtha like I had seen mom do. I then swished my hand around in the water until suds appeared. We got a pretty good system going - he scrubbed and I plunged. We rinsed the garments and squeezed as much of the water as we could and then hung them on the clothesline to dry.
I started cooking our breakfast while he was taking a bath. French toast with butter, syrup or jelly, fried eggs with milk to drink. As we were eating he told me this story: he was born and raised on a small farm in Nebraska. He was the only child and his dad had set aside a small amount of money every year for his education. Then came the winds that destroyed the farmland. The family was one of the lucky ones in the community, as his dad got a job as a blacksmith in one of the local shops. The wages were very small but enough to keep the family in food and clothing. The money for college had run out in two years and he hoped he would make enough money that summer for another year of college.
After breakfast we scrubbed the bathtub, washed the dishes and mopped the kitchen floor. Going outside we put all the laundry equipment away leaving no trace of the afternoon activities. We visited while his clothes were drying. Before he left I made him two big sandwiches from some leftover roast beef.
I rechecked the kitchen, the bathtub and the yard for any evidence of the doings that afternoon. I was confident there were none. My parents arrived home after work. Dad was really surprised that I had completed the job and patted me on the back for a job well done. I thought I was home free. Dad went to the front room and began reading the Saturday Evening Post while Mom started preparing supper. When we went to the kitchen for supper Mom called Dad over and they began talking. I knew I was in trouble. Dad then asked me if I wanted to tell them something. I confessed to everything. Well, not everything. I neglected to tell them about the bath. I was told I wouldn’t be punished this time for doing such a stupid thing, but not to do it again. I was curious about what we had done to make them suspicious. Mom laughed and replied, “As hard as you worked today it was impossible for a kid your age to eat a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread, half of the roast beef planned for our supper that night, and drink a gallon of milk.” Phew, she didn’t mention the peaches and cream.
The next mooring we went on a picnic with some friends and did not get to visit the hobo jungle until that evening. I grabbed my fishing gear and went to the cellar to get some worms from the worm keg. A quart of peaches disappeared into my fishing creel. I knew my new friend would enjoy anther helping of home-canned peaches. However, he was not there. He had been picked by one of the farmers as part of a harvest crew. I never saw him again. We had exchanged mailing addresses, but never exchanged letters. I left the jar of fruit for his friends to enjoy.
In the present days of distrust and suspicion would I invite a “down and out”  stranger into my home? Probably not. Gone is the “age of innocence” which, it seems we have lost to modern times.