Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Jan. 26, 2008.
WORTHINGTON — I want to tell you something about Grandpa.
Gramma wasn’t well. This is why they retired from the farm when Grandpa still was young. I think about 50. Charlie Kuhl was operating a farm implement store in a large frame building on Fourth Avenue across from the courthouse. This is around the corner from that Expert Tire building where the big windows now are covered with plywood and the (awful) purple paint is fading.
Charlie Kuhl needed help off and on, especially with assembling shipments of new machinery. Grandpa worked for Charlie on a now-and-again basis, putting together binders or fitting wheels on wagons. One week one thing, another week another thing.
Times were changing. (You’ve heard of this.) Charlie Kuhl rented that wood building to George Luffey, and George transformed the business from a farm machinery operation to a new, auto-age business where Worthington’s motor car owners could buy tires and inner tubes, have tires repaired, have new tires mounted, get oil changed, get a chassis lubricated, buy a battery or get a battery charged, get some alcohol in a radiator or get a radiator drained.
What date am I talking about? Oh — 1925.
It is complete coincidence — nothing to do with Grandpa — my dad went to work in that same building. Grandpa had helped Charlie Kuhl with farm machinery. Now my dad was George Luffey’s man on the grease rack. Then he became George Luffey’s tire man.
There were filling stations in Worthington by that date, but downtown auto centers still were novel and a bit sensational. Right in the heart of things, right across from the Nobles County Courthouse, was an emerging auto-age business.
I am going to flit back and forth now. Activities on that corner of 10th and Fourth, and along that block, always were a bit sensational. Going back before Charlie Kuhl’s time, John Humiston launched what was a new-age farm machinery enterprise on that corner. Worthington’s Humiston Avenue was not named for John Humiston, but John was a son from that pioneering family. He took a title of Prince of Implement Merchants.
Wednesday, June 19, 1895: a sunny day Worthington remembered long. Beginning at 11 a.m., John Humiston led off a parade of farm machinery, a parade of a kind the area never had seen.
The Worthington band led the march. Sixty-five farmers were joined in the procession that featured reapers, mowers, hay rakes and farm wagons, along with 20 different styles of buggies, surreys, road carriages, carts and spring wagons. There were steam engines in the procession. The women of the Congregational church prepared a dinner for all participants. John Humiston sold four carloads of McCormick farm machinery that day.
Humiston faded to Kuhl, Kuhl faded to Luffey. May 16, 1929. About 1:15 in the afternoon. Another event Worthington remembered long.
George Luffey’s garage burst into flames, with gasoline and motor oil and tires all about. The Nobles County Times reported, “… frequent explosions endangered buildings all over the block…”
“… dense smoke of the burning building and contents turned the north part of the city as black as night during the half hour in which the fire was at its height. Adding to the danger was a high south wind which seriously threatened nearby structures.”
George Luffey was not daunted. In the same issue of the paper that reported the fire, Luffey included an ad: “It takes more than even Thursday’s hot blaze to put Luffey’s Service out of business.”
Together with the Firestone Corp., Luffey immediately began plans for construction of the stylish, yellow-brick auto service center with four bays that still occupies the site. Grand opening of the new Firestone building came in 1930. The business continued through eight decades, lately as Expert Tire.
Firestone was ever a busy site. Through a long period, Gene Becker managed the bustling operation. Then — last month — after all that has happened there — everything stopped. Expert Tire closed. I asked Bill Keitel, across the street at Cow’s Outside, if he believes something may be moving into the Firestone building. “With sheets of plywood fitted over every window, I don’t think there is a plan to do anything there soon,” Bill said. It’s too bad.
Postscript: Mick's Repair currently does business at the site previously occupied by Expert Tire.