Monday, March 24, 2008

Grandpa's Contraption-Part 2

Now, a contraption is usually something no one has ever seen anything quite like before. It is usually, but not always, something you can't buy ready made. If you could buy something, it would be either way to expensive or wouldn't work quite the way you wanted it to work. It is created for some special use, a figment of imagination made material, a dream made real. Grandpa was wonderful at drawing. From the tip of his pencil flowed drawings of parts that somehow might fit together into some useful contraption. He could see the finished item in his mind, along with exactly how to get it put together.

Between 1909 and 1916, a very small automobile manufacturing company operated out of Detroit, Michigan. Kenneth Crittendon designed a car and provided financial backing for the company to manufacture it. The car was named the KRIT. It was a small, four cylinder car and its symbol was a white swastika on a blue background, (not related to the red swastika used by Germany). The accompanying photograph is of a KRIT car.

At some time Grandpa acquired one of these cars. He drove it as a family car for a number of years. At some time, probably in the late '20s or early '30s his oldest son, my Uncle Mike, inherited it. Uncle Mike thought it was a little too stodgy for a young man about town, so he made some modifications to it. After Uncle Mike stopped driving it, the KRIT wound up on the farm, housed in a large equipment barn with the tractors. It wasn't used for transportation any longer and the body was beginning to rust from disuse. Now, if there is anything anathema to a frugal person it is something that isn't being used. So, Grandpa got out his pencil and sketch paper and went to work. He dreamed and he sketched, and he dreamed some more and he sketched some more.

One day he called Grandma. "Dora, I think I have an idea for a contraption for the garden. What do you think of this?" And he showed her his sketches. Shortly afterward he got out his pipe, put it unlit into his mouth, and went out to the equipment barn. He hauled pieces of this and that to the machine shop, and then he closed the door. Grinding, banging, and pounding noises, interspersed with intervals of silence, came from inside the shop.

Later, he got my Uncle and together they brought out the old KRIT and got it down to the shop. Periodically, Grandpa would appear outside. He would have a drawing in one hand, and he'd look from the paper to that old car as if he was sizing things up. Then he would disappear inside and more banging and grinding ensued. This went on for several weeks, as he had time between other chores.

One day, at the end of summer, he told Grandma and all the children to go into the house and not come out, nor to look out the windows until he called them. Soon they heard the putt-putt of an engine coming up the road from the machine shop. In a bit they heard Grandpa call out, "O.K., come and see!"

There, in the middle of the remains of the summer garden, was Grandpa proudly seated on his latest contraption - the dandiest garden tractor anyone in the family had ever seen.

A new frame surrounded the body of what used to be the old KRIT car. There was only one front wheel, which he had scavenged from an old tractor.He had fastened a fuel tank to the back. Underneath the tractor was bolted a set of cultivating tines. Grandpa had added a tractor seat with levers for raising and lowering the tines, and a hitch on back for hooking up a cart or other equipment. He had replaced the floor board with a metal foot rest, and made the foot controls larger for booted feet to manage.

That fall the garden was duly manured and plowed. In the spring, Uncle Mike tilled the garden.
Through the next spring and summer, Grandma and her daughters planted, weeded, dusted for bugs, and picked the produce.The cycle of growing, harvesting and putting up began anew.

In the 1940s, as a little girl, I spent some summers on the farm. Grandpa's contraption was still running. He had replaced some parts as they wore out, but the last time I saw it, it looked much the same as it does in this photo. Grandpa passed away in 1952, but the stories of his contraptions, and especially of that old KRIT car that he transformed into a garden tractor, are still repeated in our family.


  1. Grandpa was a very handy man to have around! His creativity and "spark" must have been passed on...

  2. What a great story! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Mom, I remember when Grandma told me this story about Great-Grandpa and his home made tractor, I doubted her. And I started doubting other stories she'd told too. But then that photo was found. It was a lesson for me.

    I'm so glad you're saving some of these stories. I know it's a lot of work, and I'm so happy you're doing it!

    I don't want them to be forgotten. Your great-grandchildren are starting to come and they'll grow up hearing these stories and will pass them down.

    When Grandma told me about the three lives of that car, she said her brother's incarnation involved the addition of a rumble seat. He did some top-secret machine shop work himself and made a sweet little roadster out of the KRIT, fit for a young man about town in those days.

    These days I believe they call that "pimping your ride."

  4. This has been such fun, thanks for letting us come along on the adventure :-)

  5. What a great post! Your Grandpa was a handy man.

    I wish you a nice day :)

  6. Oh, I love it! I sent your link to my husband who can fix anything. Thanks for sharing your story.~~Dee

  7. I'm so glad to finally have this story written down. One down, 999 to go! Right Mom?

  8. Fantastic story - loved it. It's good to be making the rounds a bit. I missed everyone. On a really sincere note, thank you for your constant support and kindness :)

  9. Hinsley! I'm glad you're back. Hope you're feeling better. I've missed you!

    I'm glad you liked Mom's story. I wish my great-grandpa had been around long enough for me to get to know him. I think he must have been a very cool guy.

  10. What an ingenious man your great grandpa was. Thanks for sharing this fascinating story.
    I'll have to show the old tractor to my husband. He'll love it!

  11. Kerri, I'm glad you enjoyed it! I think people had to be a lot more resourceful before big box stores and high-tech everything. They didn't have machines to do their thinking for them back then!

    I love that picture, and I'm so glad it's been preserved. I was so happy to find out my grandma's story really was true.

  12. What a wonderful story! And that you have pictures to go with it, too, is amazing. :)

    Before all of the lawnmower companies started offering so many "accessories," my Dad made and rigged up a plow attachment for his old blue Ford rider mower, and then moved it over and retrofitted it to his new John Deere when he finally got one of the green-and-yellow machines he so coveted. Not too long after that, he figured out a way to rig up a blower on it, too.

    I think he'd like your grandpa's story... but then again, it might send him straight out to the garage with an idea. :)

  13. Blackswamp Girl, I just love stories like that. I admire your dad's resourcefulness and vision. Can you just imagine what he and my great-grandpa could have come up with together? It sounds like they might have had a lot in common.

  14. What a great story. One of my old family photos shows my uncle in 1940 in a similar contraption during harvest season on a farm he bought with my grandfather's money. 1n 1938 My grandfather, an immigrant from Sweden and by then a successful businessman, feared the coming war. Fortunatley he had a son who was determined to avoid the family business and become a farmer. My grandfather had a machine shop and he built a dam to make electricity - before the Rural Electrification Project came along.

  15. Hi Pat, I'm glad you enjoyed the story. It's so cool how creative and resourceful some of our ancestors were. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. It seems to me the recession is motivating a lot of folks to make due with what they have again, and inspiring folks to come up with all sorts of money-saving ways to repurpose stuff they have lying around gathering dust.


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