Remembering Dad’s ’54 Chrysler

My parents were married in the early part of the year back in 1920. The “Golden Years of Farming” beginning in 1892 were continuing at that time.  

During World War I, farmland around Churdan was very expensive. According to my father, a Churdan bank operated by the Bernard Westervelt family paid $400 per acre for a small farm near town. Corn was selling for $1.25 per bushel.

The golden years experienced an abrupt end by fall of 1920.  

The bottom fell out of both land and commodity prices. At harvest time, land prices were less than $100 an acre and corn was 25 cents a bushel.

During the early ’20s, my dad was driving the car of choice for that day — a rugged Model T Ford.

While coming home from town one day, he blew out a front tire. Times were tough; he had no money to buy a new tire or even fix the old one.

He ended up doing what many farmers did at the time, driving on the rim. (It should be noted the depression of the early 1920s affected mostly farmers; the remainder of society did pretty well until late 1929.)

By 1950, Dad had survived two financial depressions and the loss of his wife.

He had a family of four. Two of his sons, Lyle and Dale, were in their late teens.

He had two new tractors for them to use on the family farm. They were a M Farmall purchased on the Black Market Auction near Rippey for $2,700 and an Oliver 88 purchased at the Harold and Leroy Curtis Oliver dealership in Jefferson for about the same price.  

With Dad’s close supervision on a daily basis, these tractors never lacked mechanical inspections.

Before the tractors were started, the oil and water were checked by his sons and then later in the day, Dad himself would check them again.

In March of 1954, Dad purchased his first real heavy luxury car from the Wiltse-Mears Chrysler dealership at Grand Junction.  (Mr. Jack Mears was the chief salesperson. What a salesperson he was, with looks and a manner rivaling movie actors Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart.) This car had a large Hemi V-8 engine which Dad liked to compare to a good horse — always light on its feet.

The new car sat in the north machine shed from the time he drove it home in March until Memorial Day.

On that beautiful day in late May, Dad decided to take it for a drive. The first thing he did, after removing the bed sheet he kept over the Chrysler, was check the oil.

Dad was flabbergasted — not only was this expensive new car low on oil, there was not even a drop to be seen on the oil stick.

Immediately, he tried to call Mr. Jack Mears of Grand Junction, but to no avail since it was a holiday. This was lucky for Mr. Mears, because my dad was furious.

The first work day after Memorial Day, Dad called his lawyer, Mr. Francis Cudahy of the Cudahy-Wilcox law firm in Jefferson, saying he wanted the Chrysler Motor Company to give him a new car. After weeks of haggling from both sides, the company offered an additional long guarantee which was accepted.

Dad drove this car until his death nearly 20 years later and it was just fine.

The problem of very little oil in the oil pan and none on the dip stick resulted from a loose oil filter. A little trickle of oil on the ground could be seen where the car had been driven into the shed.

As my dad thoroughly enjoyed his Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe during his last years, I am sure he thought of the time he drove his Model T Ford on the rim home from Churdan to the farm.

Lyle Spencer grew up near Churdan and graduated from Lohrville High School in 1949.
He last wrote about Dorothy’s Cafe in Churdan.
Spencer remains actively involved in the production of corn and soybeans on a family farm near Goldfield.

Contact Us

Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161