A country garage in Carrollton

Published 5:04 pm Tuesday, July 24, 2018

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Those of our readers who have driven through “downtown” Carrollton — the intersection of Reynolds Drive and Norsworthy Drive — have come across a piece of history about which you may have known little or nothing.

Next to the long-vacant Joe Jordan Country Store is a small frame building with double doors in front. Built during the 1920s, it was an automotive repair garage owned by D. Reynolds Parker (hence, Reynolds Drive). And next to that stands a modest frame house, where Reynolds, born in 1900, lived for just about his entire adult life with his wife Madeline.

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I’ve planned to write about Reynolds and his garage for years, but am now nudged to do it because of the sudden death of his grandson, Davis Hunter. Davis, 52, who had his grandfather’s personality — a dry wit, quiet demeanor and impeccable integrity.

Those characteristics carried Reynolds Parker through life. He was a self-taught mechanic in an era when self-taught mechanics weren’t terribly rare and the engines they repaired weren’t terribly complicated.

Much like his grandson years later, Reynolds’ garage was a gathering place for neighbors. Back in those days, Capt. Sidney Johnson, Braxton Camper, Paige Nottingham, Rae Johnston and countless others dropped by regularly.

There were always bottles of Coca Colas in an old ice water-chilled drink machine, and tucked in the back corner of that cooler, a pint of bourbon. Most, if not all the gang drank, but back in those days, not too long after Prohibition, drinking was done with a bit of a wink and a nod, rather than sitting in front of somebody’s well-stock home bar. Back then, the pint often came from John Ayers, bootlegger to the community, who lived and did business just down the road a couple of miles. All the regulars took turns buying a pint.

I married Reynolds’ granddaughter Anne Reyn (yes, after her grandfather) and got to know Reynolds (Mr. Parker) when we were dating. In those days, the garage was going strong and there was always one or two cars awaiting his tender mercies.

The old building had never been painted and its weathered siding looked like it might collapse, but never did. This was a time long before EPA or DEQ, and the parking apron in front of the building was dirt, paved in old motor oil. Hundreds of old battery cables, auto generators, tie rods, wheel rims and various and sundry other vehicle parts, hung from the building’s siding or were piled up against the day that they just might be needed.

By the time I started frequenting the building, there was barely room to get a car in the door to work on it, because an even larger assortment of parts was piled inside.

If you went to the back of the building (and shooed the blacksnakes away), there were old square glass jars that had once held battery acid and formed the “Delco Plant” that in the 1920s and 1930s provided the garage, house and store with dim but fairly reliable, low voltage electric lights. Reynolds was the local utility company back then.

An old wood stove provided the garage’s only heat, and on that stove that the Parkers cooked Virginia hams that came from nearby farms and stores. The long-hock ham was placed in a lard tin on top of the stove to be simmered, and Reynolds employed an early pop-up timer. He simply drove a nail into the ham and when he could pull it out, the ham was fully cooked. Seemed to work for him just fine.

Reynolds loved all things automotive, but especially Ford cars and trucks. His first car, a 1913 Model T, which he bought in about 1918 to deliver mail in Carrollton, still exists because he couldn’t bring himself to part with it, and we haven’t either. He drove a Ford pickup truck — roughly 1950 — which he had to hot wire whenever he wanted to start it because the switch had long since quit.

He loved stock car races, and on Sunday afternoons, after church and “Sunday dinner,” he would sit in the couple’s Ford Galaxy 500 in the driveway and listen to the race of the week, which wasn’t available on local television channels.

Reynolds and his buddies are all gone now and, with Dave’s passing, another reminder of him has slipped away as well. But I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed to see one of the grandchildren show a few of those same Parker traits one of these days.