by John Hall

When I was a baby and about the time of the great crash, my father had a Model T Ford which he always insisted was the best car ever made. I don't think it was new when he bought it, but to him it was the car that left him with fond memories, after all, who ever forgets his first car? Later, when I was old enough to remember, the Model T was long gone and there was no car in the Hall family, but dad never gave up his dream of the car we would have someday when things would be better again. 

The Depression lasted until 1939 when World War II broke out and industries were started to manufacture supplies needed by the Military. My dad got a job at the Nicholson File Company and for the first time since I was born he had a regular paycheck. Of course the wages were small by today's standards, but to those who had nothing for so long they were a Godsend. We were now in a position to have a few things we had always gone without and my father started thinking about buying a car. There was never any thought of a new car because no new cars were being manufactured and we couldn't afford a new one even if they had been available. I don't remember used car lots in those days, I don't think they existed. Only the very rich could afford cars during the Depression and even they ran them until they stopped. When the war was on no parts were manufactured, except for military vehicles, and when a car stopped and couldn't be repaired, it ended up in the scrap yard. These became a source for spare parts for cars still on the road and I remember two scrap yards in particular. One was near Newtonville and was owned by a man called, I believe, Bruce Elliot. The other was located in Garden Hill and was owned by Henry Lee. My dad found a 1929, non-running Plymouth which died because the company was no longer making spares and nobody had any parts to repair it. I think it cost $25.00, and somebody towed it home and left it in our yard. It wasn't rusted out nor was there any damage to the body. It had just stopped and the part or parts necessary to keep it on the road weren't available. This didn't bother my father as he was sure he could either find them or make them, and he did.

Every spare moment was spent either in, on or under that 1929 Plymouth and the rebuilding took several months. The first problem was the starter didn't work, so dad modified a Ford starter found in Henry Lee's junk yard and purchased for twenty-five cents. It took several days of hard work, but eventually the 'Ford/Plymouth' starter started the car and we were in business. It wasn't possible to buy new tires as everything produced went to the war effort, but dad found a good set of 'Henry Lee' specials and was soon an expert in tire repair. About that time a new store started up on John Street which sold new and rebuilt car parts and was, I believe, called even then, 'The Canadian Tire'. The proprietor was a young German Canadian called Harold Schroter and the town fathers and those in the know were convinced that a store selling second hand car parts 'would never make it' and 'they certainly wouldn't buy there'. I remember Mr. Schroter's son Kenny working in the store shortly after he started school and I felt the store was sure to succeed because the Schroters were willing to work. I understand they did pretty well and today the Canadian Tire is one of the most successful businesses in Canada. Somehow, with the help of Henry Lee, Harold Schroter and Bruce Elliott, my father restored the 1929 Plymouth to working order and we were able to take trips to see my Aunt Laura in Toronto. We took a lot of other trips too, and most of them were to the Canadian Tire, Newcastle or Garden Hill, but we were mobile and dad was proud of his achievements.

As the war dragged on, more and more people who had cars, but couldn't keep them going, came to my father for help. In time he had quite a little workshop, with steel lathe, drill press etc, and he modified junkyard parts to meet the needs of those whose cars needed parts no longer available. He didn't make any money, but he had a lot of fun doing it and it was his relaxation. His 1929 Plymouth was a car of many parts, but it ran and lasted many years. It was still running long after I joined the Army and I believe my father was still driving it almost to the time of his death in 1959.