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Remembering Harry Wood

June 23, 2010
We lost Harry Wood the other day. He passed away last Wednesday at a nursing home in Corydon after being hospitalized in recent weeks.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Harry, at 103, was probably the oldest person in Crawford County.

Harry would have been 104 on July 3, and his daughter, Ruth Terry, often told him he was "just one day away from being a firecracker."

I wrote a story about Harry when he turned 100 back in 2006, and I was so impressed with his sense of humor, his ability to remember minute details of his youth and his goodness. He absolutely loved children, good neighbors, gardens and old friends.

Harry was born in 1906, in the family home in Alton. He attended a one-room school at Rapid Branch, about 2-1/2 miles from Alton, and walked there every day. His family moved to Tower, not far from what is now called Carefree, when he was a teenager and he lived there until he was married. I remember Harry telling me the story of seeing an automobile for the first time.

"We moved from Alton in a two-horse wagon," he told me. "It was an all-day trip. I had to walk down to a neighbor's house to pick up the key to the house we were moving into. As I was walking along the road, I heard an awful noise and saw the dust flying, coming toward me. I was scared. There was a fence along the road, and I ran over and hung onto that fence. Then, finally, I realized it was an automobile. I had heard people talk about automobiles, but I had never seen one."

Harry Wood saw and experienced a lot of changes in his lifetime. The year he was born was when a huge earthquake struck San Francisco that destroyed most of the city and killed more than 3,000 people. In 1906, the Crown Jewels of Ireland were stolen and the first airplane to get off the ground was flown for 200 feet in Paris by Alberto-Santos Dumont. Reginald Fessenden made the first radio broadcast consisting of a poetry reading, a violin solo and a speech. And the world's first feature film, "The Story of the Kelly Gang," was released.

I saw scores of old Model A automobiles come through Crawford County last Thursday and I couldn't help but think about Harry; he was already over 20 years old when those old cars were built. And it's hard to imagine anyone living at a time when there weren't automobiles, electricity and telephones in rural areas, to a time when you can carry a dinky little phone in your pocket and talk to anyone in any part of the world within seconds, and to a time when computers and satellite dishes are household items.

Harry graduated from Leavenworth High School in 1925 and went to Oakland City College.

"I had a brother and a sister who were teachers," he told me. "My parents thought I should be a teacher also. I came back after college and began teaching at Sunshine School, a little one-room school in the Dry Run area. One weekend, just nine days before school was out for the summer, there was a chicken fry at the school. Several young men were doing the cooking and the building caught on fire. When I came back on Monday morning, the school was gone."

In 1927, Wood married Pauline Vernon. He taught school another four years but determined he wasn't cut out to be a teacher and did some farming and carpenter work.

"We moved quite a bit during those years," he said. "I had an old 1917 Model T Ford at the time. We'd throw our belongings in that car, call the old dog and he'd jump up on the fender, and we'd move. In those days, you had to carry a jack and tire patching with you all the time. If we went from Tower to Marengo, you could count on having a flat tire or two. There were still a lot of horses and wagons on the roads back then. The horses would lose nails out of their shoes and the wagons had nails falling out all the time, and the tires on cars would pick them up."

During World War II, Wood worked at the powder plant in Charlestown and farmed. After the war, he formed a partnership with Louis Dunn and Chester Grant called Tri-Motor Co., a Shell station in Marengo. They also sold Kaiser-Frazier and Henry J automobiles. Eventually, Wood bought out his partners and ran the business for many years. He always kept a glass jar full of bubble gum on the counter and, if there were kids in the car when he went out to pump gas, he'd pass out bubble gum to them. He also repaired a lot of bicycle tires for kids, believing that someday those kids would be driving cars and would remember where to do business. Those kids are grown now, and, through the years, some continued to send him birthday cards and thank him for the bubble gum.

Wood continued to drive a car until he was 100, when he decided "it was time to quit." When asked about his thoughts on modern inventions, like computers, he was quick to point out that other, more natural things, remain more impressive.

"To me, the most impressive thing I've ever known are the big redwoods in northern California," Harry said. "You just can't imagine how magnificent they are."

Wood stayed active in the Crawford County Historical and Genealogical Society until recently. His wife, Pauline, passed away in 1999. They were married for more than 72 years. They have a daughter, Ruth, who cared for Harry in recent years.

Wood attributed his longevity to three things.

"Always eat a good breakfast. It will get you through the day, and any problems that come up are easier to face with food on your stomach."

"Never get over-excited. If you keep your wits about you and stay calm while everyone else is getting upset, you will always be ahead of the game."

"Never turn down cherry pie. Some of it may need a little sugar, but it's good for you."

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    Harry Woods
    July 03, 2010 | 01:51 PM

    I remember Harry Woods from the years during 1950's and 60's when he and Mr. Larimore were working at the Shell Station repairing just about any thing mechical. Both men were very friendly and impressed me as a child with their knowledge and kindness. Marengo during those days was more like Mayberry than Marengo, what I great place to have grown up, I do have very pleasant memories from that time.

    Lance Stroud, retired teacher CCHS
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