TALCOTT W.Va. (Hinton News) – It is time for another edition of A Peek into Summers County’s Past. Each week, local history collector William Jones discusses one or more items from his collection and their historical significance. Each piece preserves a part of the area’s story. In this edition, Jones is talking about Thompson’s Garage.
To begin the conversation, Jones said, “Today, I will be discussing one of several garages and service stations that once operated in Talcott, West Virginia. The one that is stealing the rights to this particular piece is ‘Thompson’s Garage’ which was built by my great-grandfather Orice Thompson, ‘O.D. Thompson’ as all of his friends and neighbors knew him. He built and started operating his service station in 1926.”
“His father, L.W. Thompson had recently left his orchard which I had written about in one of my prior pieces to move to Talcott to further advance his contracting and furniture-making trades. O.D. decided to build Thompson’s Garage where it is now due to an error that occurred with his father’s construction business.”
Continuing his tale, Jones stated, “L.W. was contracted to build a house in Talcott. He ordered the lumber for the job which came by train to be unloaded at the depot in Talcott. He only used the best of the best materials in his businesses. He had ordered grade ‘number 1’ lumber for this contract. When it arrived they had sent him grade ‘number 2’ lumber instead. He contacted the lumber company and made them make his order right since he had paid for the better grade. They ended up shipping a second batch with the correct number 1 lumber and let him keep the number 2 lumber for free.”
“O.D. had recently married my great-grandmother Gladys Knapp from Alderson. L.W. used the free lumber he received from the lumber company’s mistake to build his son and his new bride their first home. It is at the corner of what is now Penny Lane and Route 3 in Talcott and still stands today. There was an empty lot to the right of the house, so O.D. decided to build a garage and service station near his new home. He used this new garage to perform machinery work as well.”
“The photo you see with a guy on the bicycle is the earliest photo I have of Thompson’s Garage. It looked nothing like it does today. When it was first built it had several offsets and was a great deal smaller at that time. The owner of the car in the photo was Dick Shultz and the lady standing to the far left was Julia Underwood. Then sometime in the 1930s he added on to it, squared it up and created the ‘Western front’ as it looks now,” Jones said.
“The other photo was taken in May 1951. Gas pumps were installed. The two framed photos appear to have been taken around 1930 when my grandfather was about 3 years old, he is in his mother’s arms in the top photo. The other photo was taken the same day and is of Bernard and O.D. sitting on the running board of a Model A in front of the garage. If you look closely beside my grandfather and his mother Gladys you see an antique glass oil bottle. It is the same bottle you see sitting in the photo with the other original items from the garage. It was found while cleaning out O.D.’s barn which my grandfather purchased in 1975.”
Jones went on to say, “When the railroad was constructing the new tunnel in Talcott to replace the Big Bend tunnel that John Henry is known for. The majority of O.D.’s work during that time came from the crew constructing the new tunnel. Thompson’s Garage was closest in proximity to the tunnel. This was in the 1930’s and most of these men drove Model A Ford’s. O.D. would keep these guy’s cars in superb running order. They would then typically pay for their repairs with a chicken or a freshly baked pie, one that they would get from their wife and return to the garage as O.D.’s payment Which may not seem like the best means of paying a debt nowadays. But remember there was a ‘depression on’ at that time and being able to feed your family by any means possible took center stage.”
“Notice the green card, it was an advertising gimmick O.D. had in the early 1930s. It reads: ‘Our Oil and Gas with Pep sure makes the auto Step Thompson’s Garage O.D. Thompson, Prop. Auto repairing of all kinds, all work guaranteed Talcott, West Virginia.’ And then goes on to explain that once you purchased 100 gallons of gasoline you could redeem the reward of one quart of motor oil or have your car greased free of charge. The other is a battery check card from the 1930s to keep track of the date you had your car battery installed. The two oil cans you see with the flexible spouts are original from the garage from the 1920s. There is also a 1920s watering can that O.D. would use to fill Model A radiators with water. The red book is an authentic Model A Ford repair manual. It is signed and says ‘O.D. Thompson Talcott, W. Va. February 1, 1930.’ The ink stamp reads: ‘Thompson’s Garage Coal – Repair & Welding Talcott, W. VA –Phone 286-W-4.'”
“While doing research for the book, ‘World War II in Summers County,’ I discovered that young men were trained in Thompson’s Garage under the GI Bill of that time. O.D. would train soldiers to do machinist work. For a short while, O.D. went in partnership with the Nash Brothers at their shop in Alderson at the mouth of Muddy Creek Mountain. My grandfather Bernard ran his father’s garage during the 1950s by himself.”
“The most fascinating thing that occurred during their time in partnership together was the invention of a machine-operated ribbon folding contraption that was sold to a company in New York City. The men delivered the piece of machinery in person, having gone from Alderson, West Virginia to New York City to hand over their invention in person.”
“O.D. had quite the reputation of being the best machinist around these parts. He was the go-to repairman for local businesses in the surrounding counties. For instance, I purchased a box lot of around 5000 and some old canceled checks from the 1950s from Mountain State School in Alderson in the early 2000s I went through them piece by piece and found one he had been hired to repair their furnace in 1953. And another one where my Grandfather Bernard was paid for being his helper on that repair job.”
“Another furnace repair he was hired to do was when the state of West Virginia was converting the Pence Springs Hotel into the state women’s prison. He was hired to repair the furnace for the transition. I have 3 light fixtures the state had removed from the building at that time, changing the 1910s lighting to a new modern 1940s type for when the prison was to get its first inmate that O.D. got during his time there.”
To conclude, Jones said, “Lastly, but especially noteworthy for the Talcott area is that on the same property as the garage is O.D.’s woodworking shop. Like his father L.W., he too built fantastic furniture. L.W. also built boats in Talcott as yet another craft he ‘tinkered’ with. He had a ‘boat house’ where he built and sold them on the banks of the Greenbrier River at his home on the John Henry Museum side of the tracks. After he passed away in 1949, O.D. tore the boat house down for his mother Delia, and constructed a woodworking shop out of the lumber behind his home and garage. He also built my grandparents Bernard and Bea Thompson’s first home in Talcott which was only 2 rooms out of this lumber as well.”
This brings about the end of another edition of A Peek into Summers County’s Past. Did you know about Thompson’s Garage?
Anyone interested in sharing a story about the area’s history, please send an email to email@example.com.
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