Oral Histories

Mitch Williams

b. 1916

Mitch Williams

Frank took the spark plug out and put his thumb over the spark plug hole and had someone turn the crank. That is how he tested the valves. We absorbed all of the information we could while Frank worked on the car and we became the best Model T mechanics around!

We worked on Frank’s fence at the ranch stringing wire and replacing some of the posts in exchange for the valve job. We had to string the barbed wire through the slough. The water was chin level and we had to string the wire underwater! We finished the job in 2 or 3 days, but it was a big job! We went all the way around 80 acres.

Frank took the head off, ground the valves and valve seats and explained everything as he worked so we learned to do it ourselves. We put some gas in it and it started right up -we were the happiest kids! ! I yelled, “Papa, Papa, she’s a runnin’, she’s a runnin’!” (I never heard the end of that) !

We learned how to drive it (they are difficult to run) and we were so happy! We didn’t have any license plates on it, though, and Dad was strict about obeying the law, after all, he had been a judge. Dad made us get the car licensed. I don’t know how we got the money, but we did. We only had a Sheriff back then and he didn’t care about license plates because he didn’t care if the state got the money or not. Dad took a different view… HE cared, so WE cared! We had so much fun with that car!

Whenever we saw old Model T Fords, we asked if we could have them and people gave them to us. In those days, people didn’t trade them in, they just parked ’em. Some descendants of J.N. Corbin gave us an engine they had in their corral. We rebuilt the engine as good as new. People would pay us $0.50, or something, to fix their Model Ts. If the cars didn’t run, we just hitched Colonel up to them and dragged them in to be fixed. We still repaired bikes, too.

One winter we went up to the “Hole in the Rock” to get an engine Doodle wanted. It was a 12 or 13 mile trip and it was quite cold. The car had a windshield and we built a cardboard cab with bailing wire to keep the cold out. We also built a heater for it by putting tin around the exhaust manifold and let the fan blow the air. It wasn’t great, but it put a little warm air in the cab.

Lifting Model T engines was very hard because they are quite heavy. We brought the engines back to the house. Mom and Dad never said a word or complained about all “junk” in the yard! To most people, the back yard probably looked awful, but to us, it looked wonderful!

Other kids would come around wanting to help. We let them help if they did exactly what we told them to. We put them all to work so they could learn something, too.

The Science Teacher at school was H.B. Evans. He took the body off of his Model T and made a saw mill out of the engine and chassis. He used it to make stove wood out of limbs and trees. He told me I could have the body. Doodle was gone by that time and he took a lot of things with him – he needed a running car.

Doodle became an airplane mechanic and went to work in an aircraft manufacturing company building planes for World War II. His co-workers said that he was the best! Even the engineers asked his advice on various matters.

Doodle’s dad still had a dry farm in La Sal. His mother died quite young and his father re-married. Every time Doodle came back to visit, he had a new addition ( child). Suddenly, he didn’t come through town any more. ..he must have died.

Dad had come from Missouri and every other kid of his went back to Missouri to go to college. My oldest brother, John, was born in 1901. He attended Wentworth Military Academy in Missouri. He got an appointment to West Point and graduated in 1924. John wanted to get into aviation and was sent to Brooks Field where he first flew solo. Brooks was a beginning school for aviation. He was transferred to Kelley Field for advanced training and was so good, they made him the leader of the “3 Musketeers” stunt group. They were like the Thunder Birds of today.

John knew many of the people who became Generals in WWII. He was stationed at Selfrieg Field and transferred to Rockwell Field in San Diego, California (it’s a Navy field now). Rockwell Field is located in the middle of San Diego Bay where the battleships are.

During the 1920s, air races became a popular thing to do and John was involved in many of them. He took 3rd place in one race and I still have the trophy pocket watch he won.

When John was at Rockwell Field, Dad caught a train and went by himself to visit. They had a good time. ..a wonderful time! Dad was so pleased to meet all of John’s friends. Shortly after Dad came home, John was flying in an air show after an air race at Mines Field, now known as L.A. International. John was killed in 1928 when his plane crashed during the show in front of 30,000 spectators; I was 12 years old. Charles Lindburgh took John’s place and led the 2 remaining Musketeers for the remainder of the show. John would surely have been a General in WWII, but it just didn’t work out that way.

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