Progress Notes



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


Monday, August 17, 2009

Progress Notes

Last week I discussed the story of Alf Eads and his many successful business enterprises in Iberia, especially as owner of one of the first Ford dealerships in central Missouri which he began in 1913. This week I will discuss the story of Clark Vanosdoll of Eldon who started his Ford dealership about the same time in 1914. John Vanosdoll (grandson of Clark) and his wife Nancy visited us at the museum last week to share many photos and written history about the Vanosdoll family (photo 01).

01 John and Nancy Vanosdoll
01 John and Nancy Vanosdoll

I don’t have a formal photo of Clark; apparently, he wasn’t one who was predisposed to sit for one. However, here is a snapshot of him taken in the 1920’s (photo 02):

02 Clark Vanosdoll
02 Clark Vanosdoll

Quite a few “rags to riches” stories can be told about Miller County entrepreneurs of the past 150 years including that of Alf Eads. But surely Clark’s life is one of the most unlikely success stories of all. According to John, Clark was homeless at the age of twelve when his father (also named John) broke up the family after the death of Clark’s mother, Melissa Dunham Vanosdoll. At the time the family was living in the area of Bagnell. Little is known about the situation today except that Clark had only finished the third grade but somehow made his way to Eldon. There he lived for a few years with Harvey and Della (Haynes) Jemphrey on their farm north of town. Little also is known about Clark’s father, John Vanosdoll. All I could find after extensive research on the internet was the following:

“John Van Nosdoll (Vanosdoll), born in NY, was in Greene County, Missouri in 1890 per his civil war pension statement, at age 52. He was the widower of Melissa Dunham who had died at Bagnell, Missouri in 1882. They had 4 sons: William, b. 1867 in NY, who at the time of the 1900 Missouri census was in Greene County, with a wife Effie and 4 children; Stillman B., b. 1869 in NY;  Clark J., b. 1871 in Missouri., who in 1900 (1895?) was married to Ella Mahala Reeves and lived in Eldon, Missouri; and Charles R., b. 1880 in Missouri.”

John, Clark’s grandson, told me the family had located the grave site of John, father of Clark, located at Leavenworth, Kansas in a special area for retired soldiers near the national cemetery.

Clark lived with the Jemphrey family for seven years working on their farm. But he quickly began to find other ways of making money. In 1891, at age 20, he set up a blacksmith and machine shop in Eldon. He also worked in a drugstore.

At 21 he opened a small well drill business. In fact, he had the first steam engine used for well drilling used in the area (photo 03).

03 First Steam Engine used for Well Drilling
03 First Steam Engine used for Well Drilling - 1903
Click image for larger view

Until then common practice had been to hand dig wells and then shore up the walls with rock. Vanosdoll’s new drill could drill a well with only a six inch diameter. The hand pump or gasoline powered pump would soon replace the bucket and rope for getting water to ground level.

Note: About this time in 1895 at the age of 24, Clark married Mahala Bell of Tuscumbia. From this marriage he had a son, George Vanosdoll of Jefferson City; two daughters, Mrs. John T. McBroom of Watseka, Illinois, and Mrs. Myrta Dooley of Eldon; five grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

According to Helen Fendorf Phillips, who worked for Clark in the 1920’s, the water drilling and supply company was managed by a Mr. Stubblefield. She also remembers a “Chum” Jobe being involved as well.

Tina Raynor in her book, “Eldon, A Look Back,” writes the following:

The only thing left that Eldon didn't have was running water. Clark Vanosdoll took care of that by building a 50 foot tower with a 500 gallon tank. He ran a two inch main along Oak and Maple streets with connecting pipes to furnish water to the main parts of town. A gasoline engine pumped the water from a deep well. Mr. Vanosdoll provided Eldon with its first real fire protection by providing water that could be pumped directly from the main in the business district. The businessmen in Eldon were still concerned about the ever-dreaded fire, so they pledged funds and contracted Clark Vanosdoll to build a big reserve tank and install fire plugs on the main water line. As Eldon grew and became more up-to-date, the fear of fire became greater, so the Eldon Hook and Ladder Company, the first fire department, was formed in 1905. Clark Vanosdoll made a horse drawn fire truck with a 30,000 gallon water tank.

The following was copied from an article in the Advertiser published in the 1960’s:

Vanosdoll’s obituary published after his death in 1951 noted that in 1901 construction had begun on the Rock Island tracks through Eldon and Vanosdoll obtained a contract for the wells and water system for the railroad. Research done several years ago by C.D. Vernon, Eldon water department supervisor, shows Vanosdoll brought a reliable water supply to Eldon. Vernon said Vanosdoll first drilled a 165 foot well at the extreme southeast corner of Oak and Business 54 which at that time was known only as Fourth Street. The highway came through many years later.

A four horse gasoline engine kept the 2000 gallon water tank filled. A two inch pipe across Fourth Street supplied a barn and the Vanosdoll home which was located where Gier’s Standard Service is now (Now the BP station). The well also supplied Vanosdoll’s businesses…a machine shop, oil agency, well drillers and blacksmiths.

When a laundry was built just east of the barn it became the first customer for Vanosdoll’s water. Growth required another well be drilled to 225 feet on the same piece of property. A 60 foot cedar tower and tank was built. Other wells were later drilled on the property and R. C. Evans, former owner of the Ford agency here, said some wells were located under the floor of the garage, sealed and no longer used.

On January 10, 1916, work on a 285 foot well was begun and a six inch cast iron main was laid from the site to High Street. The city’s first water system was put into service.

Sometime after 1920 the city decided to build its own water system, drilling the two wells at Newton and Grand which are still in use. In 1927 the city bought Vanosdoll’s system and incorporated it into the municipal one.


Here are three items having to do with Clark’s water supply business taken from the Eldon Advertiser of editions before 1920. One is a news item (photo 04), the other is an announcement (photo 05) and the last is later after Clark had built a water tower over his Ford Garage (photo 06).

04 Water System - March 25, 1915 - Eldon Advertiser
04 Water System - March 25, 1915 - Eldon Advertiser
Click image for larger view

05 Water Company Notice - 1917
05 Water Company Notice - 1917
Click image for larger view

06 Water Tower - Well Drilling
06 Water Tower - Well Drilling
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Later on Clark purchased a steam powered thresher and worked from farm to farm. Helen Phillips also remembered the thresher and remarks that Clark was always proud that his forty acres outside town usually brought in a bigger harvest than many of the farmers’ crops.

Here are eight photos of his threshing machine (photos 07 thru 14) followed by a photo of a bill of sale of one he sold (photo 15):

07 Threshing
07 Threshing

08 Threshing
08 Threshing

09 Threshing
09 Threshing

10 Threshing
10 Threshing

11 Threshing
11 Threshing

12 Threshing
12 Threshing

14 Threshing
14 Threshing

15 Bill of Sale Thresher
15 Bill of Sale for Thresher
Click image for larger view

This news item from the Advertiser is referring to Clark’s own field, the one about which Helen remarked above which had such good yields (photo 16):

16 Threshing Oats
16 Threshing Oats

When the Edison phonographs made their appearance he worked long hours demonstrating and selling them.

Later he was instrumental in establishing the area’s electric lighting system.

Clark also was a promoter of better roads, serving for 42 years as district road commissioner. He obtained the contract from the state to supply gravel for the new Highway 54 coming south from Jefferson City. According to John Vanosdoll, although Clark neither drank nor smoke, the day he entertained the state officials to convince them to give him the contract for the gravel for the road the “smoke was thick and whiskey was flowing.” Clark also convinced the state to bring the road to Eldon rather than take a southerly route through Eugene and Tuscumbia.

Here is a photo of his Aultman Taylor steam engine road grader (photo 17) and the caption accompanying it (photo 18):

17 Steam Road Grader
17 Steam Road Grader

18 Road Grader Caption
18 Road Grader Caption
Click image for larger view

You can read more about this machine at this URL:

http://steamtraction.farmcollector.com/Tractors/The-Aultman-and-Taylor-Company.aspx

Here is a scan of Clark’s appointment as road commissioner (photo 19) and a copy of signatures of those willing to donate to a fund to improve Eldon roads (photo 20):

19 County Road Commission
19 County Road Commission
Click image for larger view

20 Financial Contributors
20 Financial Contributors
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Helen Fendorf Phillips remembers that she was assigned the task of measuring the water content of each load of gravel taken from local creeks before writing the check to send to the farmer from whose creek the gravel came.

Clark also ran an oil business which became known as the Vanosdoll Oil Company. He was the oldest distributor of the St. Clair Oil company in the U.S. Here are photos of a couple of his service stations and one of his delivery trucks (photos 21, 22 and 23):

21 Sinclair Station
21 Sinclair Station

22 Sinclair Station
22 Sinclair Station

23 Fuel Truck
23 Fuel Truck

And here is a scan of a letter Clark wrote to a Sinclair District Manager discussing his 24th year anniversary as a Sinclair distributor (photo 24):

24 Missouri Oil Distributor Success
24 Missouri Oil Distributor Success
Click image for larger view

Helen Fendorf Phillips, who was Clark’s secretary for more than five years, commented that since Clark never went beyond the third grade he never learned to write or spell with ease. Rarely, he would type personal letters such as this one to his son George about the ’43 flood of the Osage River, the largest one on record (photos 25 and 26):

25 Letter to George  about Flood
25 Letter to George about Flood
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26 Letter to George about Flood p2
26 Letter to George about Flood p2
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The greatest opportunity of Clark’s life confronted him in 1914 when he acquired the Ford dealership and established the first Ford automobile agency in Eldon. Later he expanded the business and sold tractors. For 25 years he operated the Ford Agency in Eldon. In 1940 he sold the auto agency and farm store to Ed Hunt. Hunt sold the agency to Robert C. Evans in March, 1952. Evans sold the farm business several years later but retained controlling interest in the agency until he sold it to David W. Sinclair of St. Louis in the 1960’s. Evans, who was also president of the Mercantile Bank of Eldon, announced a month later that the bank had entered into a long term lease agreement for the property.

Here is the last page of the original Ford Motor Company contract Clark signed in 1914 designating him as an official Ford dealer (photo 27):

27 Ford Contract
27 Ford Contract

The story of Clark’s Ford dealership is well summarized in this newspaper story from the April 23, 1959 edition of the Eldon Advertiser which discussed the first and second garage facilities owned by Clark (photo 28).

28 Old and New Buildings Good History
28 Old and New Buildings - Good History
Click image for larger view

Here is another photo of the first garage (photo 29) and two more of the second brick building (photos 30 and 31):

29 Original Garage
29 Original Garage

30 New Vanosdoll Garage
30 New Vanosdoll Garage

31 New Brick Garage
31 New Brick Garage

And here are three photos of new Model T’s for sale on display in the garage (photos 32, 33 and 34):

32 Model T - 1916
32 Model T - 1916

33 Model T's For Sale
33 Model T's For Sale

34 New Shipment of Model T's
34 New Shipment of Model T's

Clark ran announcements regularly in the Advertiser. Here are two of them (photos 35 and 35a):

35 Advertisement Six New Cars and Water System
35 Advertisement of Six New Cars and Water System
Click image for larger view

35a Vanosdoll Tractor Ad
35a Vanosdoll Tractor Ad
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Here are a couple of car sales estimates Clark had submitted to the Ford Company in Detroit. One was for 1921 and the other for 1928 (photos 36 and 37):

36 Car Sales Estimate - 1921
36 Car Sales Estimate - 1921
Click image for larger view

37 Car Sales Estimate - 1928
37 Car Sales Estimate - 1928
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Here is a photo of Clark and his son George in their office in the first garage (photo 38). Unfortunately, the head of Clark in the photo is not clear.

38 Clark and George Vanosdoll - 1919 - Old Building
38 Clark and George Vanosdoll - 1919 - Old Building

Colonel Ira Reeves, editor of the Lake of the Ozark News, a weekly paper, had his office in one end of the new garage (photo 39).

39 Col. Ira Reeves - Editor Lake of The Ozark News
39 Col. Ira Reeves - Editor Lake of The Ozark News

John told me that Clark, being one of the nations’ first Ford dealers, knew Henry Ford well. Here is a photo of Henry and his son Edsel which Henry had given Clark (photo 40):

40 Henry and Edsel Ford
40 Henry and Edsel Ford

It was during this time frame that Clark became one of the directors of the Eldon Bank.

The Clark Vanosdoll family home in Eldon was located at the southeast corner of the intersection of what is now business Highway 54 and Highway 52 where the British Petroleum station currently is located. Here is a photo of the home (photo 41):

41 Vanosdoll Family Home in Eldon
41 Vanosdoll Family Home in Eldon

Clark early on had accumulated all the land where Highways 54 and 52 intersect in Eldon except for the southwest corner where McDonald’s Restaurant is now. The Ford garage was just across Highway 54 north of the home. Of course, originally, Highway 54 had not been constructed when the home was present. The home later was moved as detailed in this short note from the Advertiser in 1952 (photo 42):

42 Moving Original Home
42 Moving Original Home

John said that Clark loved to fish on the Osage River. Since as a child he was raised in Bagnell, he probably knew the river well. Once he accumulated some financial means Clark built a small house on property on the Osage River some distance down stream from where the dam is now. Here are some photos of the home as well as some photos of some of the huge 75 or more pound fish Clark was said to have caught regularly on the Osage River (photos 43, 44, 45 and 46 of the home and photos 47, 48 and 49 of the fish).

43 Clark at Home on River
43 Clark at Home on River

44 Old Camp on the Osage River
44 Old Camp on the Osage River

45 Vanosdoll Camp on Osage River
45 Vanosdoll Camp on Osage River

46 Vanosdoll Camp on Osage River
46 Vanosdoll Camp on Osage River

47 Clark Vanosdoll and Unknown
47 Clark Vanosdoll and Unknown

48 Big Fish caught on River
48 Big Fish caught on River

49 More Catfish
49 More Catfish

Later on, in the early 1930’s Clark built a stone house on the Lake of the Ozarks near where Arrowhead Lodge was located which he named “Vanview.” Here are a series of photos of the home taken not long after it was built (photos 50 thru 54):

50 Vanosdoll Home at the Lake
50 Vanosdoll Home at the Lake

51 Vanview
51 Vanview

52 Vanview
52 Vanview

53 Large Garden Behind Home
53 Large Garden Behind Home

54 LR: Garland Dooley, Ira Reeves and Clark Vanosdoll
54 LR: Garland Dooley, Ira Reeves and Clark Vanosdoll

This home was sold in the late 1940’s to Lon Stanton by George, Clark’s son.

Clark loved to hold parties for his friends. It was not unusual for Helen Fendorf Phillips, who as already noted above was Clark’s secretary, to find that when she was getting ready to leave for home around five in the afternoon he would give her some additional tasks. Helen said Clark was never very particularly aware of time restraints. His office was next to hers and she would see him quite frequently sitting in his swivel chair with his feet upon the desk making phone calls to prepare for one of the many parties he hosted at his retreat on the Osage River below Bagnell. Then he would give Helen the list of invitees and she would address the postcard invitations and mail them before going home. These parties were exciting and huge affairs duly noted in the society pages of the Advertiser. I have scanned some of those articles and placed them here. You might recognize the names of some of those invited (photos 55 thru 62).

55 12th Anniversary of Osage Camp
55 12th Anniversary of Osage Camp
Click image for larger view and to read complete article

56 Birthday Party - 1938
56 Birthday Party - 1938
Click image for larger view and to read complete article

57 Halloween Party
57 Halloween Party
Click image for larger view

58 Lake Excursion - 1940
58 Lake Excursion - 1940
Click image for larger view and to read complete article

59 Old Time Barbecue - November 15, 1928
59 Old Time Barbecue - November 15, 1928
Click image for larger view and to read complete article

60 Thanksgiving Party - 1922
60 Thanksgiving Party - 1922
Click image for larger view and to read complete article

61 Thanksgiving Party - 1927
61 Thanksgiving Party - 1927
Click image for larger view and to read complete article

62 Thanksgiving Party - 1929
62 Thanksgiving Party - 1929
Click image for larger view

On September 17, 1951, Clark passed away at St. Mary’s Hospital due to the complications of diabetes mellitus, which he had suffered for more than twenty years, and arteriosclerotic heart disease which he had suffered for ten years. His wife Mahala had died several years before in 1942.

Clark’s son, George, was graduated from the Missouri Military Academy, of Mexico, Missouri following which he served in the Navy Training Station at Great Lakes, Michigan, during the war (photo 63).

63 George Vanosdoll
63 George Vanosdoll

He was in charge of heavy truck production during this time for all the facilities in the United States providing those vehicles to the Navy. After the war he took a Vocational course at the University of Missouri. Later he owned a Dodge Agency in Jefferson City. George married Meta Carr, sister of Bill Carr, of Eldon.

John Vanosdoll, grandson of Clark and son of George, who supplied us with the historical materials for this narrative, has the same entrepreneurial gift as his grandfather Clark as well as the “inherited short attention span” which stimulated him as well as his grandfather to go from one successful business venture to another. Here is a list I took down of all the business ventures in which John has invested over the years:

John had a Chrysler agency in 1953

A motel at the lake through 1957 The Ozark Inn (photos 64 and 65):

64 Ozark Inn Motel Postcard - Front
64 Ozark Inn Motel Postcard - Front

65 Ozark Inn Motel Postcard - Back
65 Ozark Inn Motel Postcard - Back

Salesman for John Deere Cedar Novelties 1958

Worked as a representative for Goodyear Tire 1957-1961

Owned a Laundromat through 1964

Helped establish Nickerson Farm stores through 1974 for Ivan J. Nickerson

Started his own restaurant at Concordia where he also became a Champlin jobber up until 1986.

Then he became an ice cream jobber at fairs

In 1993 he opened an office building in Bowling Green, Ky selling it in 1996

After that he sold Kettle Korn at fairs until retiring in 2003

He now lives in Logandole, Nevada.

I am very grateful to John and Nancy Vanosdoll for taking the time to assimilate and organize all the biographical information about John’s grandfather, Clark Vanosdoll, and letting us share it with the readers of this website. Certainly, during the early part of the last century the Vanosdoll name was recognized as belonging to one of the very important business families of our county.


As a followup to some of the story about Clark Vanosdoll I talked with Frank Haynes, great nephew of Della (Delpha) Haynes Jemphrey (husband Harvey) with whom Clark Vanosdoll lived on coming to Eldon at 12 years of age. Frank was raised in Chicago but travelled frequently with his family to Eldon when he was a child to visit the Haynes family. Here is what he told me:

His aunt, Delpha (known as Della) Haynes Jemphrey (married to Harvey Jemphrey) inherited a significant amount of land around Eldon. The farm where she lived was just north of Eldon. On old plat maps of Eldon the land lists Harvey Jemphrey as owner. In this next photo look in section numbers 33 and 34 to see the Jemphrey farm (photo 66).

66 Jemphrey Property - North
66 Jemphrey Property - North
Click image for larger view

Before Della died she subdivided most of the farm into lots, which now includes Haynes Street, and is known as the Jemphrey addition. Most of the Haynes’ property around Eldon was accumulated by her father Joel Jefferson Haynes and her grandfather Martin Haynes who came from Kentucky in the 1840’s (he is buried in Salem Cemetery). Some of the land was south of Eldon. Frank told me Della was the one who sold Wal-Mart the land where it presently is located. On the 1930 plat map the property where Wal-Mart now is located is listed as belonging to a Haynes. Look in section 3 to see the Haynes property (photo 67).

67 Haynes Property in Eldon
67 Haynes Property in Eldon
Click image for larger view

She also owned land around Aurora Springs. Frank said she owned another farm in addition to the one where she lived which was located north of Eldon which had a large spring. According to Frank she lived in a home built in the 1880’s and never had a modern kitchen. The water in the kitchen was from a hand pump connected directly to the well. He thinks she was born in the 1880s and died in 1976. He doesn’t know much about the circumstances as to how she happened to be the one who took Clark Vanosdoll in to her home when Clark arrived in Eldon at the age of 12. However, Frank confirms this is a story he has always known about but, as is common with all of us, at the time when he was coming to visit his Aunt Della he was too young to care about family lore.

That’s all for this week.

Joe Pryor



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