Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Story of Ms. Mayberry

Around the 4th of June, 2003, my wife and I were in the middle of our honeymoon. Early on, we had discovered that we both loved to ‘get off the beaten path’ and cruise the backroads. We had been down the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and were headed into North Carolina. We decided to visit Mt. Airy, NC…the real “Mayberry”…Andy Griffith’s hometown.

We toured the local museum and saw all sorts of ‘Mayberry’ memorabilia. We saw Otis’ suit, the signs from the doors of the Sheriff’s office and many other interesting items. The ‘Mayberry’ jail had a 1963 Ford Po-lice car sitting outside and we even had our picture taken with “Floyd the barber” (Yep, he’s real and he’s a really nice fellow whose shop has Polaroid photos of visitors covering all the walls).

We started out of Mt. Airy, attempting to take route 601 but unknowingly, I turned a block too early. As we headed down a hill toward an intersection, we passed an Auto Body Shop and noticed a long row of cars sitting facing the road. Among the cars was a really pretty 1955 Ford. We both looked at each other, “Wow, Kool car!” and turned right around and drove back to take a look. There was no “for sale” sign anywhere but this Ford was looking real good. It turned out that it was a “Town Sedan” with a color pattern that I had never seen before. The green color was above the moulding, on top of the white. The chrome was nice, the paint looked sharp and the interior looked like it had just rolled out of the factory. We could tell the interior was original because the headliner still had small burn marks by the vent window where someone tried to flick their ashes out and missed the opening. We looked it over for a bit and then got back in the truck and headed on our way.

Once we got home and back into the daily routine (if that’s even an accurate statement for newlyweds), I couldn’t get that ’55 off my mind. So, I called back to Mt. Airy and after a few days of talking to the Chamber of Commerce and several other people in the area, I was able to find out that Mr. John Mittman owned the Auto Body Shop, and presumably the ’55.

After a few tries, I was able to talk to John, who relayed the story of the ’55 to me:

A gentleman named Mr. Watson Harris had bought his car new, in March of 1955. Mr. Harris only drove it to church and to Florida once or twice over the 46 years that he used it. The car had only 56,300 miles on it when Mr. Harris passed away in 1991. Mr. Harris’ daughter put the ’55 into a one-car garage and left it there for the next 10 years. Unfortunately, this was the same garage that she used for sheltering her pet cats.

Sometime in 2001, John bought the car from Mr. Harris’ daughter (Helen Starr) and took it down to his shop. Once there, the damage from the cat urine was evident. Some parts of the lower body and the chrome needed attention. The most fortunate part of it was that the windows were always up, so no cat ever got inside the car.

John had the bumpers and accessory bumper guards re-chromed and the gas tank ‘re-nued’. He had the front door upholstery redone and did the bodywork necessary to be able to repaint the car in its original colors; Sea Sprite Green and Snowshoe White. Once he had the car looking good, he parked it alongside his shop and waited for the right folks to come by.

It looks like my wife and I were “the right folks” because after talking to John, and hearing what his price for the car was, we decided to go back and take a closer look…and this time, we’d take the car trailer with us. J

The third weekend of June, we made a flying trip back to Mt. Airy to check the car out. When we drove up to John’s shop the car was sitting there running and I had to look twice at the turning fan blade to make sure…it was smooth. John got in the car with us for a test drive and we started off down the street. At the first traffic light, I stepped on the brakes and the right front tire locked up. (made lots of folks take notice J) Then, after taking off again, the car stuttered a bit, like it might need a tune-up. We drove over to Ms. Starr’s house, which was only a few miles away. Her driveway is a steep up-hill off the main road, at the bottom of a long down-hill. I hit the brakes and they wouldn’t stop the car. We just slid right on by Ms. Starr’s drive. Since I’m always a glutton for punishment, we made the block and came back around for another try. Luckily, the parking brake worked ok, so I was able to get the car slowed enough to make the turn and got up her drive just fine.

Ms. Starr came out and talked with us and told us of how many fond memories she had of being in the car with her folks. She even said that my wife getting out of the car brought back visions of all the times that she had seen her mom get out of it. It seems that the two ladies were similar in stature. After a while, we decided we needed to get on the road, so we headed back to Mr. Mittman’s shop to work out the sale.

We got all the I’s dotted, and T’s crossed, and went out to load it up…and the battery wouldn’t start the engine. John looked sort of pained (like, “Oh, man, I just sold him this car, and now this”), but I just reached into the back of my truck and pulled out the 6-volt battery that I had brought from home. With a big grin on his face, John said, “Man, you came prepared, didn’t you?” I told him about converting my ’34 Ford to 12 volts a few months back and how this little 6-volt had just been sitting there waiting for a new home. Little did we know that it would be in a 1955 Ford.

We got the car started, loaded her up and headed for home. The return trip was uneventful, but loaded with admiring glances and every gas stop was an occasion for someone to start that familiar refrain; “I remember when…”

Once we got back home, I put the car in the air and proceeded to give her a good inspection. The brake cylinders were corroded, the exhaust pipes were rotted, the master cylinder leaked, and the heater core was leaking onto the carpet, but she sure was pretty! I replaced all the brake components (hoses, shoes, cylinders, etc) and bypassed the heater. It still ran kind of rough on take off, but I took her down to get new mufflers and pipes installed and once those were in, it ran like a new car. The old mufflers had fallen apart and were almost rusted shut internally.

But “Mrs. Mayberry” (as my wife named her) was on the road…July of 2003.

Since then we have put about 3,700 miles on her and haven’t had but one real scare. On the way back home from a cruise in Union City, TN, she started running horribly, almost like on 2 cylinders. I thought we had broken a rocker arm or something internal in the engine. As we limped along, I decided to pull the choke (I was desperate). Lo and behold, she perked right up and we made it back home just fine. After getting home, I decided to rebuild the carburetor and in my “junk box” I found a carburetor that my dad had used on one of his dirt track stock cars back in the late 1950’s. It was exactly the right carb for Mrs. Mayberry, so I rebuilt it and put it in. Boy, did that wake the big 272 up! After a while I had to put in smaller carb jets, but that’s not surprising…Mrs. Mayberry isn’t a race car. She is just a sweet old car that has found her home with folks who appreciate her and who will enjoy making new family memories with her.
Thus far, Mrs. Mayberry has won a “people’s choice” award, a ‘second in class’ trophy at an antique auto show here in Jackson and had her “fifteen minutes of fame” in the local Christmas parade. We drove her all the way to Branson, MO and back, where we picked up another ‘second in class’ and attended a show in Savannah, TN where we got another 2nd place trophy… Unfortunately, time took it’s toll on Ms. Mayberry’s engine. She lost her compression and a rebuild is needed. The engine is now in pieces in my garage. We hope to return her to the road this summer…the adventure is just beginning.


Anonymous said...

Did you get a chance to see any of the Branson shows?

Yashila said...

nice guide! thank you!/I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.

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