Progress Notes

Joe Pryor - News Tribune Article Monday, June 04, 2007

Monday, August 10, 2009

Progress Notes

A few months ago Wallace Vernon (photo 01) wrote in his Eldon Advertiser weekly column about the forced closing of dealerships across our nation by General Motors including our own Lloyd Belt dealership in Eldon.

01 Wallace Vernon
01 Wallace Vernon

Without getting into the politics of this unusual interference of government in a private business, Wallace reminisced that we now have no new car dealerships in the county. I thought the summary of what he remembered about our Miller County car dealerships (most of which were in Eldon) was interesting and would be a good way to introduce the subject of this week’s narrative, the Eads family of Iberia. But first, here is Wallace’s essay:

Auto Dealers of Miller County

Wallace Vernon
Eldon Advertiser 2009

The closing of the Belt Auto Group set the Ex Publisher to reminiscing and ruminating as to what past auto dealerships that group represented. As EP remembers it the original Burlingame/Belt agency was a direct descendant of the Bill Crigler Pontiac garage and agency located on South Maple Street just north of the present dance studio, joined at sometime or other by Ernie Kallenbach’s Buick dealership, and later absorbed by what was originally Tompkins Chevrolet-Oldsmobile-GMC dealership, and more recently combined with descendents of the old Ernie Jones Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge-Desoto dealership, which picked up Jeep someplace along the line.

Other mid century Eldon auto businesses included Vanosdoll Ford, Clark Brothers Studebaker and Taylor Kaiser-Frazer-Henry J. dealerships. Kallenbach Buick also sold International trucks. Eldon even had a franchised Tucker dealer, but the automobiles never made it to the showrooms.

Dealers of foreign makes are late comers and never gained foothold in Eldon. Other makes, not offered in Eldon were sometimes in evidence about town. Vanosdoll himself often sported a Lincoln Zephyr and the Tompkins’ drove Cadillacs at times. Theatre owner Tom Edwards was partial to Packards, Grassy Crum turned heads with a beauty of a Hudson Hornet, R. T. Mudd’s Rolls Royce and a LaSalle (or was it a LaFayette) driven by one of the McKinleys were common sights on the streets.

A number of the Chrysler and GM brands (Plymouth, DeSoto, Oldsmobile, etc. were discontinued in more recent years).

Ex Pub also recalls that other automobile dealerships once thrived in Miller County, Perkins and Law Chevrolet and Eads Ford in Iberia and Lucian Mace’s Chrysler agency in Tuscumbia.

Time marches on!


The following week, Wallace presented an addendum to the previous week’s column:

There’s more to Eldon’s automobile history than meets the eye. First off, John Beard says I didn’t mention Alford Pontiac Company in my rundown of previous Eldon dealers. He’s certainly right--Alford was in between Crigler and Burlingame, as were a number of other in betweens in other agencies leading to the Belt Auto Group.

Closer to home, though, comes a letter from Kent Kehr indicating that his grandfather, P.O. Kehr might have been the original Chevrolet dealer here, which was news to the First Wife and sister Nancy who always thought that Grandad Claude and Pop, Harry Tompkins, were the founders. C.T. as he was known had been a Willys Overland dealer in Atlanta in 1912, and Ford dealer in Shelbina in 1922, before coming to Eldon in 1927.

Back to the microfilm and sure enough Kehr Motor Company was advertising in the pages of The Eldon Advertiser in August of 1927, but notice of the sale of Kehr Motors to one R. M. Avery, of Fayette was announced in that very month.

The September 1, 1927 Eldon Advertiser noted that Tompkins Chevrolet Company was opening a new Chevrolet agency in the Kehr Bros. Motor Company brick building on South Maple Street. (Wonder what became of Avery!)

Among sister Nancy’s files are papers of incorporation for Tompkins Chevrolet dated March 19, 1929.

Thanks Wallace.

As to who was the first Ford dealer in the county, Clark Vanosdol of Eldon and James Alfro Eads of Iberia would be very close. Recently, John Vanosdoll, grandson of Clark, wrote me the following: “My grandfather, Clark Vanosdoll, signed a contract with Ford Motor Co. in January, 1914, and I do have a copy of it.” In the near future I hope to write more about the Vanosdoll family of Eldon. According to information supplied me by the Eads family, Alf Eads began his Ford dealership in 1913. Here is a short biography of Alf Eads by Gerard Schultz in his book, History of Miller County written in 1933:


By Gerard Schultz

James Alfro Eads (photo 02), owner of J.A. Eads Ford Motor Company at Iberia, was born September 15, 1888, near Vienna, Missouri.

02 James Alfro Eads
02 James Alfro Eads

His father, Joseph T. Eads (photo 03), was born near Vienna on November 25, 1864, and his mother, Isabella (von Gremp) Eads, was born near Vienna also. His mother's ancestors came from Germany, while his paternal ancestors were natives of the South.

03 Front: Joseph Thomas Eads - Back: Glenn Robinson
03 Front: Joseph Thomas Eads - Back: Glenn Robinson

On May 9, 1909, at Iberia, Mr. Eads was married to Miss Lou Bond, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Bond, natives of Miller County and of Kentucky, respectively (photos 04 and 05).

04 Lou Bond Eads:  b.1884 - d.1973
04 Lou Bond Eads: b.1884 - d.1973

05 James Alfro Eads and Lou Bond Eads 50th
05 James Alfro Eads and Lou Bond Eads 50th

They were parents of seven children: Vern Gwendolyn and Veta Geraldine, who are graduates of Drury College; Catherine Lorene, who graduated from Iberia Academy in 1932; Henry Ford, who graduated from Iberia Academy in 1933; Mary Rosalie; James Wendell; and Omega Dean. Vera was married in 1933 to Oral Atwell.

For over 20 years Mr. Eads was manager of the Iberia Telephone Exchange. In 1913 he bought the first car in Iberia, a Sterling. He became a Ford dealer in the fall of 1913. He now owns a Stinson cabin plane, the first in Iberia and is the only licensed airplane pilot in the county (photo 06).

06 J.A. Eads and Henry Ford Eads with First Airplane
06 J.A. Eads and Henry Ford Eads with First Airplane
Click image for larger view

He is a distributor of Shell Products (photo 07).

07 Shell Oil Company Truck
07 Shell Oil Company Truck

Mr. Eads has been a member of the Public School Board and of the Town Board of Iberia. In politics he usually supports the Democratic Party. He belongs to the Nazarene Church. Mrs. Eads is a Baptist.

Thanks Gerard.

I travelled to Iberia last week to talk with Betty Eads, wife of Alf’s son, James (Jim) Wendell Eads, who passed away just a few years ago, and their daughter, Karen Atwill (photo 08).

08 Karen Atwill and Betty Eads
08 Karen Atwill and Betty Eads

As Gerard Schultz noted above, Betty told me Alf came with his brother to Iberia from Maries County where they were born and raised to be a driver for Dr. William von Gremp in Iberia (photo 09).

09 Dr. Willard Von Gremp
09 Dr. Willard Von Gremp
Click image for larger view

The family history of the Eads is interesting and has been researched rather extensively. Below is listed the home website of the Eads family genealogy for those who want to pursue it further:

The next website below is the fifth page of this very extensive genealogical research where you will find Joseph T. Eads, father of Alf Eads:

Once you pull up this website and find the listing of Alf’s father, Joseph T. Eads, you will notice the listing is incomplete because it doesn’t include Alf’s name; however, as Schultz noted above, Joseph T. Eads is the father of Alf. Joseph was married to a von Gremp. I’m not sure of the exact relation to Dr. von Gremp of Iberia, but since Dr. von Gremp also was from Vienna I imagine that he was an uncle or some other close relative to Alf thus explaining the motivation for Alf to come to Iberia to live.

The amazing thing about Alf was how quickly he became a successful business person in Iberia. As noted above by Schultz, he not only was a Shell Oil Company distributor but also managed the Iberia Telephone Company eventually becoming its owner. Here is a photo of one of the Shell gas pump emblems held for the photo by Karen (photo 10).

10 Shell Emblem
10 Shell Emblem

And here is a photo of the Iberia Telephone Exchange switch box which Betty and Karen donated to our museum (photo 11).

11 Iberia Switch Box
11 Iberia Switch Box

Early on, before he became a Ford car dealer, Alf helped put in the telephone lines for Iberia. Here is an old photo showing him at the top of a telephone pole (photo 12):

12 J.A. Eads putting in Telephone Lines
12 J.A. Eads putting in Telephone Lines
Click image for larger view

Alf certainly wasn’t afraid of heights because he also was one of the first in Miller County to fly his own airplane. Here is another photo of Alf standing with Squire John Ferguson and Alf’s first airplane, the Stinson (photo 13):

13 John Ferguson and Alf Eads
13 John Ferguson and Alf Eads

Alf’s first dealership office was in his home. But later he built on to the home a large service garage addition which is still present in Iberia today. In this early photo (photo 14) of the garage taken in 1915 the caption reads:

“This photo was taken in front of Eads Garage around 1915. Pictured from left-right: Harry Lovell, Emery Robertson, Everett Wilson, Luther Dickerson, Everett Malmberg, unknown, J.A. Eads. Ford Eads is on the tractor and an Eads girl is in the truck. In the doorway: Gerald Gardner and Clarence Driver. Seated on bench: Ray Casey and Clint Condra.”

14 Eads Garage - 1915
14 Eads Garage - 1915

Here are a couple of other photos of the garage (photos 15 and 16):

15 Eads Garage Building Constructed 1915 - J. Alfro Eads in Door - Mrs. J. Alfro Eads in door of House
15 Eads Garage Building Constructed 1915
J. Alfro Eads in Door - Mrs. J. Alfro Eads in door of House

16 Rooftop Eads Motor Workers and assorted Children
16 On Rooftop - Eads Motor Workers and assorted Children

Alf attended one of the Ford company’s first national dealer meetings in Detroit probably held before 1920. A photo of that event was donated to us by the Eads family. It was said that all the Ford dealers in the country were represented in that one photo. I copy here the section with Alf. He is fifth from the left of the kneeling gentlemen in the first row (photo 17):

17 Alf Fifth  from Left - Kneeling First Row
17 Alf Fifth from Left - Kneeling First Row (highlighted)

For completeness here is the full photo (photo 18):

18 Ford Dealers
18 Ford Dealers
Click image for larger view

Alf also was the Ford distributor for the Fordson Tractor and later models of the Ford tractor. He attended one of the early training sessions for Ford Tractor dealers in Kansas City (photo 19). Alf is in the third row down from the top underneath the “F” painted on the window.

19 Fordson Tractor School
19 Fordson Tractor School
Click image for larger view

Alf had a close association with the Iberia William Driver family. Here is an early photo in which Bill Driver is at the wheel with Alf in the back seat and his son Henry Ford Eads in the passenger seat (photo 20).

20 Bill Driver Driving - Henry Ford Eads Front - Alf Eads Rear
20 Bill Driver (Driving) - Henry Ford Eads (Front) - Alf Eads (Rear)

Some twenty years afterward Alf was photographed in front of a later model Ford (photo 21).

21 Alf Eads
21 Alf Eads

Here are some dealership momentos of Alf’s Ford motor company (photos 22 through 26):

22 Advertisement
22 Advertisement

23 Check from Eads
23 Check from Eads

24 Ford Company Board Meeting
24 Ford Company Board Meeting
Click image for larger view

25 Inspection and Service Record Book
25 Inspection and Service Record Book

26 Newspaper Ad
26 Newspaper Ad
Click image for larger view

This key board held for the camera by Karen holds keys which served as templates for key reproduction (photo 27).

27 Car Key Board
27 Car Key Board

In those days, a key number wasn’t sufficient to replace a lost key. The original template had to be used.

Alf was one of the early private aviators in the country. His interest in aviation led to one of the most notable Iberia historical events which was the construction of Miller County’s first airport on the Alf Eads farm near Iberia. Peggy Hake has written about that event:

by Peggy Smith Hake

May, 2002

Miller County's first airport was dedicated at Iberia on Saturday, May 30, 1933. The name given the new airfield was Eads Airport, which still stands today less than a mile west of Iberia on the old Iberia-Ulman road. The field first consisted of 50 acres. In 1941, it was expanded to 130 acres by the purchase of an additional 80 acres. It was then one of the largest ports in central Missouri, larger than the Jefferson City field although it was not as well equipped.

This past May was the 69th anniversary of Miller County's first airport. It was a very important day all those years ago when the airport was dedicated at Iberia. It was estimated that 2,000 people came to the dedication ceremony with aircraft flown in from St. Louis, Jefferson City, Springfield, Bagnell Dam, and East St. Louis, Illinois.

It was an exciting day for the residents of Iberia. The merchants closed their doors and busy farmers deserted their plow handles to attend the official opening on that Saturday in late May which had been designated as "Lindbergh Day" across the country. It was an appropriate day for an airport dedication. One of the special events featured James G. Haizlip who had just won a trans-continental race. The cross-country flight lasted 10 hours and 19 minutes. James had flown 2500 miles from Los Angeles to New York just the year before and had been awarded the Bendix Trophy for his transcontinental flight. His wife, Mae Haizlip, who accompanied him to Iberia, was the winner of the women's speed record----she won this national race in 1932 at Cleveland, Ohio. Her speed was clocked at 265 miles per hour!

James G. Haizlip dedicated the new Eads Airport that day. He was the Assistant Manager of the Shell Petroleum Corporation's aviation department. Other performers during the day included a parachuting team called "The Three Black Cats". The three-man team consisted of Joe Switlik, William Hutchins, and Carl Lange from East St. Louis, Illinois. They flew into the airport in a Monocoach plane and used it in their stunt show. They parachuted from a height of 2200 feet, wore two parachutes each, and landed safely about one-quarter mile from the airport.

Other stunt performers were Walter Looney and Leonard Trowbridge of Springfield, flying an American Eagle, (a three-cylinder airplane). James Malone, accompanied by Ford Eads, son of Alf and Lou (Bond) Eads of Iberia, did some somersaults, rolls, tail spins, etc. in the Ead's Stinson aircraft. Other well-known aviators of the area were in attendance that day, including Harold Law and G. S. Salley in their Monocoupe from Jefferson City; W. E. Keith, Leslie Boos, and Louis Wilbers of LW Airways, in a Robin plane, also of Jefferson City; and B. M. Tuxhorn of Kansas City.

J. A. Eads of Iberia began to take flying lessons about 1931 and in December 1932, he bought a new Stinson, four-place cabin monoplane from B. M. Tuxhorn of Kansas City and in July 1933, obtained his private pilot's license. He could fly to St. Louis in 1 hour and 10 minutes while it took four hours by auto (photo 28).

28 J.A. Eads and Airplane
28 J.A. Eads and Airplane
Click image for larger view

Thanks Peggy.

The following photos were taken at the time of the opening day celebration of the Eads airport (photos 29 and 30):

29 Airport Dedication
29 Airport Dedication

30 Airport Dedication
30 Airport Dedication

Alf and Squire John Ferguson were good friends. Alf even took Squire John for a ride in his airplane (photo 31).

31 Alf Eads and John Ferguson
31 Alf Eads and John Ferguson

A hanger for the airport was also built (photo 32):

32 Eads Airport Hanger
32 Eads Airport Hanger

Certainly, James Alfro Eads was one of Miller County’s most successful and interesting business men who not only brought employment to Iberia but also gave of his time in service to the community. He passed away in 1969 at the age of 81. Here is a copy of the funeral program with some more biographical details (photo 33):

33 Funeral Program for James Alfro Eads
33 Funeral Program for James Alfro Eads

James Wendell Eads, Alf’s son, joined the company early on (photo 34).

34 James Wendell Eads
34 James Wendell Eads

Here is a short summary of James’ autobiography as written by himself for the Centennial Celebration of the Iberia Academy and Junior College October 13, 1990:

1991 is my 50th year of managing Eads Motor Company. I began working full time after getting married to Betty Hoops in 1941. My father acquired the Ford Dealership in 1913, and the business has the distinction of being the oldest family owned dealership in the state of Missouri. I am also associated with the Bank of Crocker, and raise cattle for a hobby. We have two daughters: Judy Eads Elliott teaches Spanish and coordinates Mexican Studies at the University of Missouri. Her husband, Dr. James Elliott has a Dental Practice in Columbia. Their daughter, Courtney, is in the School of Medicine at M.U. and son David is studying Marine Biology at Eckerd College in Florida. Our other daughter, Karen Eads Atwill and husband Dan, an attorney with the law firm of Knight, Ford, Wright, Atwill, Parshall, also live in Columbia. Their children are: Dana, a freshman at M.U.; Kirsten, an 11th grader, and Daniel who is in the 7th grade.


James was interviewed several years ago by Ginnie Duffield of the Vernon Publishing Company. In this article, Jim gives some personal insight about the company and some of his memories of the early years:

Gift of Model A Takes Jim Eads Back In time To 1913 Founding of Iberia Ford Dealership

Story and Photos by Ginnie Duffield

December 30, 1999, Miller County Autogram Sentinel

Jim Eads of Iberia finally has a car just like Dad used to have. It was a Christmas gift from a daughter and son-in-law. Eads “new” car is a cream colored Model A, complete with a rumble seat. The car has been on display at Eads Motor Company in Iberia, causing motorists passing on Highway 42 to turn their heads. Eads also has driven it around town some. For the holidays, Santa and Mrs. Claus have been riding in the rumble seat (photo 35).

35 Jim Eads in Model A Car
35 Jim Eads in Model A Car

Eads Motor Company is a Ford dealership with more than 85 years of history. “Dad (J. A. Eads) got the Ford agency in 1913,” Eads said. “He was doing something else when he decided to go into the car business,” according to Eads. The Eads family had a telephone company serving the south part of the county. It was run with a six party line switchboard, meaning each customer shared their phone line with five other customers. The switch board was small. “It looked just like a wall telephone,” Eads said.

One picture the family has is of the elder Eads standing up on the cross arm of a telephone pole (see photo 12). Already sure that telephone communication was important to the modern world, the elder Eads decided the automobile was a sure thing too.

“I arrived January 18, 1922,” Eads said while standing in the waiting room of his dealership. Pointing to the floor, he added, “Right about here was where I was born.” That’s because he was born at home, as nearly everyone was in the early part of the century. The family home then was next to the dealership and had to be torn down when the building was enlarged in 1949.

“I’ve been working ever since,” Eads said. “I worked before I got married. That was at age 19.”

His wife’s name is Betty Sue. They have two daughters, Judy Elliott and Karen Atwill. Both live in Columbia.

Eads said at one point, Ford started sending cars to dealerships, whether they wanted them or not. The over supply became so severe that his father was renting barns to store them in.

Eads was at the garage most of the time as a youngster. One thing he liked to do was grab a car as it was being driven through the garage area and let it pull him along.

“A guy ran over me when I was 4 years old, back here in the shop,” he said. A customer ran to him and lifted the car so he could get out from under the wheel.

That wasn’t the only close call Eads has had involving the family businesses. His parents also had an oil distributorship, and the building was located on St. Louis Street, just down the hill from where Iberia City Hall is now located. One day in April 1939 the younger Eads was unloading the business bulk truck at Lev Adams Produce. A couple of teenage boys were walking down the street and just as they got to the gasoline truck, one reached over and struck a match on the filler pip in order to light a cigarette. He lit more than that. Fumes from the gasoline caught fire. Despite efforts by Eads and others to douse the blaze, it spread. Before evening fell, two blocks of Iberia had been leveled, including the Bank of Iberia.

Note: you can read about this fire at this location on our website:

After more than 55 years with the Shell Oil Company Eads sold the oil distributorship some years back and concentrated on his car business (photo 36).

36 Shell Oil Company 55th Anniversary Award
36 Shell Oil Company 55th Anniversary Award
Click image for larger view

He also used to sell Ford farm machinery. “I’ve sold them (Ford tractors) all over the country,” Eads said. “I got a carload of them in 1952.” He wishes he had those 8N Ford tractors back. In 1952 they sold new for $1,550. Now the small tractors, popular with hobby farmers and restorers, sell for about $3,000 (photos 37 and 38).

37 David Vineyard Left - Jim Eads Center - Alfred Vineyard Right
37 David Vineyard (Left) - Jim Eads (Center) - Alfred Vineyard (Right)

38 Jim Eads, David Vineyard and Alfred Vineyard
38 Jim Eads, David Vineyard and Alfred Vineyard

He’s not sure of the future of the dealership when he finally retires. But he knows area residents need somewhere to get service work done on their Fords.

The Model A gift was supposed to be a surprise for Eads from James and Judy (Eads) Elliott. They had purchased it restored and brought it to Iberia from their home in Columbia. “They brought it to church,” fellow Iberia Baptist Church member Larry Martin said. But Eads had not felt well that day and had not stayed at church, so they stashed it under Eads’ brother in law Sherrill Woolery’s carport. Then Eads showed up and the surprise was over. Eads took a spin in it. The ancient engine backfired. “They heard it two blocks away, “he grinned. The old car brings back memories to nearly everyone in Eads’ generation. Many have climbed up in the car to relive their experiences. Eads has lots of memories surrounding Model A’s too.

“I rode in a Model A when they were building Bagnell Dam,” Eads said. He and his father and his father would drive to the dam site from time to time, which was an arduous journey. He remembers that the first Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers drove Model A runabouts. Woolery, who Martin said could fix anything, said even though Henry Ford, developer of the Ford car, said one could buy a Model T in any color as long as it was black, the Model A came in several colors, including the cream color.

Even though Eads followed his father into the auto and oil businesses, and farmed too, one love of his father’s he never learned to even like was flying. From 1932 until about 1963, Eads’ dad had a plane and had a grass landing strip constructed on the family farm west of Iberia on…appropriately enough…Airport Road. But the younger Eads never got over being airsick. He said on trips to St. Louis with his dad he would be sick both going and coming back. Learning to fly a plane was never something he wanted to do.

J.A. Eads used to fly over to Lake of the Ozarks, too, as there was a small airfield near the dam. The airstrip remained open to the flying public for many years, even after the elder Eads quit flying. But because of the need to keep it up and liability issues, it has been taken off air maps.

Jim Eads enjoys being at his dealership daily. A group gathers nearly every noon hour to visit, talking about but never quite solving world problems (photos 39 and 40).

39 Jim Eads and Louis Martin
39 Jim Eads and Louis Martin

40 American Legion Hall
40 American Legion Hall

Eads said his favorite topic right now is getting mail delivered in a more timely fashion to Iberia. He said mail from other communities had gotten so slow, he has quit taking a daily paper. He was one of many Iberians who met several years ago with Congressman Ike Skelton in an attempt to get things straightened out. Not much changed.

Iberia and St. Anthony are the only communities in Miller County served out of the Springfield mail facility. The others are served out of the Columbia mail facility. Eads would like to see Iberia and St. Anthony, which is a rural route from Iberia, switched to Columbia.

While Eads admits he is slowing down, retirement is not something he looks forward to or even is planning. “My hobby is working,’ he said.

Henry Ford Eads, the other son of Alf’s, was a WW II hero. He was a Shell Oil Company executive who spent most of his adult life in Texas (photo 41).

41 Henry Ford and Polly Eads
41 Henry Ford and Polly Eads

His story only recently was made public when he was interviewed by a reporter for his local paper, the Cleburne Times Review of Cleburne, Texas on January 23, 2005.

Morgan Pope, a nephew of Henry’s, tells us something about him:

The article in the Cleburne paper is a good synopsis of Uncle Ford's time in the Navy during WWII. I told you in an earlier e-mail how I had bugged him to write about his experiences, but for years he would tell me a bit, then say, "Oh, it wasn't very exciting most of the time." We just went back and forth across the Pacific taking soldiers back and forth. Bit by bit I learned a little more, but wasn't getting the whole story. Then, a few years ago Connie and I visited with him in Cleburne, TX and then we went together to Marble Falls, TX to visit my cousin Bert Pope (Lee Pope's son) and his wife Jo Anna. While there we conspired to take Uncle Ford to the Admiral Nimitz museum in Fredericksburg, TX. Uncle Ford talked about having met Admiral Nimitz and how his brother-in-law (I believe it was) was an aide to Nimitz. He was pretty quiet, but very interested. Then we rounded a corner in the museum and there was a photo of a downed Japanese plane on a beach. He said instantly, "There was a Jap sniper in that plane!" and then he began to talk. People gathered around him as he told us about it and a man nearby came up and said, "Mister, may I shake your hand." It was a touching moment, people were so interested and he loved the attention. Shortly after we returned home I got a synopsis of his time in the military. It began something like this. "My nephew Morgan Pope has been bugging me for years to write something about my experiences during WWII and in order to shut him up .........." Not long afterwards the article in the Cleburne Times came our way. So I learned about the Italian assault and also that on the way back to the east coast they brought a load of German prisoners from the African campaign.


Thanks Morgan. At this point I will copy the article about Henry’s Naval experiences in WWII as printed in the Cleburne Times Review:

Living Up To A Good Name: Henry Ford Eads

42 Lt. Henry Ford Eads
42 Lt. Henry Ford Eads

By Larue Barnes
Cleburne Times Review January 23, 2005

Navy Lt. Henry Ford Eads, now of Cleburne, witnessed one of the most horrifying sights of World War II. Airplanes were being shot down, plummeting on fire all around him. The sky was filled with paratroopers, many plunging to their deaths. “Friendly fire.” The airplanes and troops were our own.

“We had left Oran, Algeria, aboard our ship, the USS Neville, in a convoy,” Eads said (photo 43).

43 USS Neville
43 USS Neville

“We joined French and British ships to make an assault landing on the beaches of Gela, Sicily. It was on July 10, 1943, very early in the morning, very dark. The sea was rough.

As we boarded our LCVPs to make the first wave landing, a German plane flew over us and dropped two bombs that did no damage. About this same time, our paratroopers were flying low overhead, preparing to jump behind the enemy lines. Many of our ships mistook them for enemy planes and opened fire, shooting down several. They crash landed on fire into the ocean. What a horrible mistake! We were killing our own men!”

“I had a ringside seat to all of this because I was assigned to take the first assault wave in to the beach. About halfway to the beach a large spotlight turned on us, and I thought, ‘Well, this didn’t last long. Like shooting fish in a barrel.’ I immediately called for fire support on my radio, and thank God it came. Still dark, we saw three red hot shells from a cruiser arch over us to the light. They made a ‘bulls eye!’ No more light. We landed with very little resistance; it was the first amphibious landing on the European continent in World War II.”

Records reveal that 23 American transport planes were shot down and 37 others were damaged by our own gunners during that battle.

After heavy fighting July 10, 1943, General Patton decided to reinforce his troops with more than 2,000 additional paratroopers from his reserves in North Africa. He ordered that the men be dropped near Gela, Sicily. German aircraft was active over the American sector all day, and senior Army and Navy officers went to great lengths to inform everyone of the impending night time paratroop drop.

But when the transport planes arrived over the beaches in the wake of the German air raid, nervous antiaircraft gunners ashore and afloat opened fire with a devastating effect. Later, investigation revealed that not everyone had been informed that the drop would take place.

“It was never in the news,” Eads said.

After two days of unloading weapons, food, men and other supplied, Eads said they took aboard some of the surviving angry paratroopers.

“We unloaded the casualties in Oran, Algeria, and took aboard several hundred prisoners from Rommel’s Africa Corps,” he said.

“At first, the prisoners were afraid their submarines would sink us, but as time passed and we continued west, they began to realize we were heading for the USA and their war days were over. They relaxed, and in the evenings they sang special songs for us; they were good. We unloaded the prisoners onto a waiting train in Norfolk, Virginia.”

Eads called home and found that he had a new baby son. “I told the executive officer I knew I hadn’t earned a leave so early but if he would grant me a short leave to go see my son, Michael, I would make him a better officer,” he said. “Thankfully, he let me go.”

On his way home, chances are Eads thought of all that had happened to him within a short period of time.

Eads was employed by Shell Oil Company in Kilgore before he joined the Navy. He was moved to Houston by Shell, and a friend promised to keep up with his draft status back in Kilgore.

“Eventually, he told me that all eligible single men had been drafted and that married men with children were being called,” Eads said. “Since Polly and I already had a 2 year old son and she was pregnant again, I enrolled in the Navy’s V-7 program exactly one year after Pearl Harbor.”

“I was told that it would probably be six months before I would be called, but in less than a month I was called to report to Notre Dame University to enter the Navy’s V7 program for officer’s training school.”

The young family had to move quickly. Eads took his wife and child to Bagnell, Missouri, where they could live with her mother while he was gone.

“My mother’s home was just below the Bagnell Dam,” Mrs. Eads explained.

“Early that spring, heavy rains caused the dam’s water level to rise quickly. They opened the flood gates without letting us know. My brothers, Walter and Vernon Pope, knew about it, and they came to get us out before the little town was completely washed away. I remember that mother and I put the baby things on the bed upstairs, thinking they would be dry. We couldn’t drive out. One of my brothers took the car up in the mountains.”

“I’ll never forget. I was seven months pregnant and we had to walk a long distance on the railroad tracks to escape. When the house was checked later, there was nothing but mud there. The entire town was gone. Ford was at Notre Dame, not knowing a thing about it.”

The family moved to Eldon, Missouri to higher ground. All their personal possessions were lost.

Eads was thankful they had another healthy boy. It was difficult to say goodbye, especially now that he knew the horrors of war (photo 44).

44 Lt. Henry Ford Eads on Leave
44 Lt. Henry Ford Eads on Leave

Returning to his ship, he eventually found himself in the Pacific Theater of the war.

On November 20, 1943, Eads took the third assault wave in to Makin in the Gilbert Islands. The Japanese were successfully driven off the island. Eads received the Bronze Star and a commendation letter from Admiral Nimitz.

On January 31, 1944, he took the fifth assault wave in to Kwajalein Island and later landed on Eniwetok. There was moderate opposition. On May 30, 1944, he left for Saipan, Tinian and Guam.

The Neville crossed the equator October 26, 1944, and continued on to Leyte Gulf in the Philippines on November 18, 1944 (photo 45).

45 Henry Ford Eads in Pacific
45 Henry Ford Eads in Pacific
Click image for larger view

“We were under attack from the air at Leyte Gulf but suffered no casualties,” Eads said. “We were given credit for two planes shot down. But during March and April 1945, we moved to Ulithi Atoll where we witnessed the greatest concentration of Navy power ever seen…battleships, cruisers, aircraft carriers, assault ships and utility ships.”

By now, Eads was promoted to communication officer aboard the USS Neville (APA-9), and in May 1945, he was transferred to the US Gilliam (APA-57) as communication officer.

He and Polly used a code in their correspondence; she said. He gave her a list of dogs and placed by each the country or location they represented in his code. When he wrote of a certain dog in his letter, she went to her list and found where he was.

On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Eads was en route to San Francisco when they received a radio message of the event.

“Our radio men thought a mistake had been made about the power of the bomb until they double checked and found it to be true,” he said.

From Portland, Oregon to Houston was a long ride. But Henry Ford Eads was coming home. After his final discharge from the Navy, he caught a train for Kansas City.

“It was Christmas Eve 1945,” he said. “The weather was very bad up there. Traffic had stopped. I was determined to get to my family for Christmas. I took a cab to the city limits and hitchhiked towards Eldon. After two rides, I just couldn’t get any further. I called Polly in Eldon and her brother, Vernon, came to Tipton in his 1935 Packard to pick me up. I got to my family at dusk on Christmas Eve. What a joyful reunion and Christmas! I was so grateful that God had watched over me!”

Eads said his name is easily remembered by others. When he was born in Iberia, Missouri on December 27, 1915, to J.A. and Lou Bond Eads, he was to become the middle child of seven. His father agreed on the name for his first son after the local newspaper editor suggested,” Since you are the local Ford dealer, that would be a great name.”

His father’s Ford dealership in Iberia would survive for 88 years, just recently closed by Ford’s brother, Jim. Although J.A. Eads didn’t complete the fourth grade, he was brilliant in his business ventures.

“My dad was also a Shell oil jobber,” Ford Eads said.” Before that, he had run a grist mill and also built telephone lines. He was the one in the area with the first car, radio, television… everything. He became a ham radio operator and learned to fly after he had bought an airplane. A pilot who needed work and a place to live came and stayed with us while he was teaching us to fly. The pilot let me fly, but my dad would never let me solo since I was just a teenager at the time.

“Eventually, my dad bought his second plane and made a landing strip out on a farm that we owned. He was a very quiet man, but so very strong in many ways.”

Because Ford’s father was well known in surrounding communities when he put telephone lines in, Pauline “Polly” Pope was allowed to date Eads when a mutual friend suggested a blind date. Otherwise, her father would not have let her go. They dated from 1935 to 1937, when they married in Galveston on their way to live in Houston.

“I was so excited to get a job with Shell,” Eads said. “When I graduated from the University of Missouri in 1937, you more or less had to wait until somebody died to get a good job. I had considered studying medicine at one time since I had four years of Latin, two years of Greek and two years of German in High school and junior college. But I had no encouragement. So I thought business would be safe choice in case I had to return and work for my father in his Ford dealership.”

But he never left Shell Oil Company. Eads retired as eastern region tax manager for Shell in 1976, after almost 40 years of service. He and Polly moved to Cleburne immediately to be near their son Bob, who was employed here at the time.

They joined First Baptist Church in Cleburne and have remained active members ever since. Eads had also served as secretary of the Cleburne Kiwanis Club. Their son Bob, and his wife, Rosalynn, now live in Hurst. Michael, their younger son, lives in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

The Eads’ are world travelers. Ford told of a time in New Zealand when his name opened doors for them.

“Polly and I were with a tour group, waiting in front of our hotel,” he said. “We noticed 15 or so Model A Fords along a circular drive of the hotel, and we thought that was unusual. There was a group of men there, so I sort of sidled up to them and asked what kind of group they were. They told me they were Ford dealers from Canada. Each had won a trip to New Zealand. I told them my dad had been a Ford dealer in Iberia, Missouri and that my younger brother was still running the agency. We introduced ourselves. They didn’t believe that my name was Henry Ford until I showed them identification. We enjoyed talking with them. Later, an envelope was pushed underneath our door there in the hotel. It was an invitation from the president of the Ford Motor Company of Canada, inviting us to be their special guests that evening at a cocktail party, dinner and show. We started scrambling around, finding the best clothes we had. When we walked in, we were treated like royalty. It was an absolutely wonderful experience. When we got home, I got my brother, Jim, to give me some of the Ford dealership stationery so that we could write a thank you letter on it.”

Henry Ford Eads will be 90 this year. He and Polly will celebrate 68 years of marriage. He attributes his long, healthy life to eating properly, getting plenty of sleep and exercising regularly.

“I know I need to keep my strength in my legs and keep my back moving or I’m down,” he added. “I think the main thing I have going form me is the good Lord. He has been so good to both of us.”

I thought about the brand new naval officer as he led the first amphibious landing on the European continent in World War II. As enemy spotlights illuminated him, he quickly radioed for help. From a cruiser somewhere came three shells. They hit their target and blessed darkness covered him again. That was the closest call he had during the war.

“A lot of people at home were praying for me,” Eads said emotionally. “I know, without a doubt, that’s how I got home.”

Morgan has some more information to add about the big ’43 flood when he and his family along with his Aunt Pauline and her child Bob barely escaped the rising Osage River waters as well as more about his Uncle Henry Ford Eads:

So what do I remember about those times? I remember my Aunt Pauline and son Bob lived with Grandmother Pope in Bagnell. I remember walking out of Bagnell with Mom and Dad, Aunt Pauline, Bob and Grandmother Pope in 1943 along the Missouri-Pacific Railroad tracks and over the trestle over Wright Creek at Hiway 54 with the water sloshing up under the ties.

Later Grandmother Pope, Aunt Pauline, Bob and later Mike lived in Eldon, Missouri just across from where the High School complex is now after the flood. I remember when cousin Mike was born. Occasionally Uncle Ford sent "souvenirs" back from the war zone. One of those objects was a small suitcase which contained a small shrine (I guess) which had a photo of the soldier's wife, some cigarettes, made with straw as I recall, a letter or postcard in Japanese and some Shinto objects. Intriguing to me. I remember he was a handsome man in his dress whites. His sisters-in-law liked posing with him for photos.

As an Uncle he was interested in what I was doing and later in Connie and Clark and Sean. He was very bright and involved with his work as a tax manager for Shell Oil Company. He was a loyal employee and very proud of his name. He told us many stories of the doors his name opened. I always considered him and Aunt Pauline my aunt and uncle who had traveled the world and were pretty sophisticated.

He loved to argue and would often take the opposite side just to create an argument. He was passionate about his opinions and we had some great arguments. No one ever gave in.

Sorry this is disjointed, but it was a long time ago.


Thanks Morgan.

Recently, Governor Nixon signed into law HB 427 giving veterans a number of privileges and rights. You can read the entire bill at this URL:

One of the provisions was directed to those veterans who had received a Purple Heart award related to injuries suffered in combat. In the bill it reads as follows:

“Authorizes the Department of Revenue to provide one set of “Purple Heart” specialized license plates free of charge to any person who has been awarded the medal. Any additional set of special license plates may be obtained at the current fee for specialized plates.”

Former Miller County resident Max Pryor, who is my cousin, was one of the witnesses testifying before The Committee On Veterans in favor of the bill. The bill had been introduced by Max’s Representative, Timothy W. Jones of district 89 near St. Louis. Max had sought out Representative Jones to bring the idea of the Purple Heart changes to his attention. After the bill was signed by the governor, Max received this email message from Representative Jones’ secretary:


Sent: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 12:00 PM
Subject: RE: HB427


It is wonderful news. I am glad he is supporting our veterans, and we couldn't have done it without YOU! Have a great week.

Jody Williams
Legislative Assistant to
Representative Timothy W. Jones
District 89


Max received three purple hearts for wounds suffered in Vietnam as well as a Bronze Star. Here is a photo of him and his wife Carolyn (Patterson) taken in 1967 while he was on active duty (photo 46):

46 Carolyn and Max - 1967
46 Carolyn and Max - 1967

You can read one of Max’s letters to his father, Fred Pryor, while he was in Vietnam at this URL on our website:

That’s all for this week.

Joe Pryor

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