Frank Post's Howell Garage

Post and the Howell Garage
     Anyone living in or near Howell in the 1930’s probably knew Frank Post.  Post was the operator of the Howell Garage from at least as early as 1932 until Howell was destroyed as a result of the 1940 government purchase of the village and the surrounding 18,000 acres for a TNT plant.  The Howell Garage was owned by the Muschany brothers, Morris, Claude, and Karl, who also owned the house Frank and Madelyn Post and their children occupied.  These buildings sat north of old Route D, several lots west of Howell’s only road intersection.  A well-thumbed ledger written in pencil covers Frank Post’s business transactions.  It is truly an interesting historical artifact.
     What a reader first notices about this ledger is the inside of both covers is inscribed with the words, “Frank Post, Hamburg, Missouri.”  This suggests that Post lived in Hamburg in 1932 when he began to manage the Howell Garage.  What is even more noticeable is that the ledger is truly a hodgepodge of information: there is no apparent overall organization whether by chronology, customer name, type of transaction, or cost.  It is obviously a credit ledger, but it is almost impossible to determine in what year the transactions were made.
     Nonetheless, it is a fascinating book.  For instance, it is possible to trace gas prices for one two-year period (unfortunately, which two year period is impossible to tell).  Prices varied from 12 cents to 16 cents per gallon, which doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but actually computes to a 33% increase, similar to gas today increasing from $2.70 to $3.60 per gallon!  Perhaps folks in the 1930’s also complained about gas prices.
     Of course, the prices Post charged were so low as to seem unbelievable today.  For example, Martin Griewe was charged $2.75 for a clutch plate and $4.00 to have it installed.  Grover Sanderson paid 40 cents to have plugs cleaned.  It cost Dwight Castlio $2.50 to have the transmission in his Chevy truck overhauled.  Francis Castlio paid $1.25 for an oil change.  Glen Stratmann paid $1.00 for Post to drive out to his stalled truck and start it.  When Alvin Sudbrock needed to have his vehicle pulled from a ditch, Post did the task for $1.00.  The most expensive transaction this author could find in the journal was Arch Howell’s payment of $25 for overhauling a Ford motor.  A new tire cost $6.70, a new fan belt only 40 cents, and a new batter just $3.95.  A headlight bulb was 35 cents, and a taillight bulb cost 80 cents.  Installation of a front axle came to a grand total of $3.50. 
     Not surprisingly, Post sold a lot of gas at the Howell Garage.  Clyde Stumburg was a regular customer for a while.  Stumburg, who delivered mail in the area, purchased seventy gallons of gas from September 1 to October 9 during one undesignated year.  Another customer, Mark P. Connelly, bought ninety gallons in a little more than two months.
     Post also recorded transactions that one does not immediately associate with a garage.  Elton Pitman was charged $7.50 for “labor and welding on a well drill.”  Post also welded a bench and water tank for Francis Howell High School, and he soldered a boiler for Richard Mound, who had the 10 cent charge put on his account.  Post also charged a dime to William Zeyen for grinding his ax blade.  Martin Griewe paid Post $4.00 for one day of plowing.  It is possible Post had an apple tree in his yard, for he once charged Mark Connelly $1.25 for a bushel of apples.  Maybe the most unusual transaction in the ledger is the 40 cents charged to Fred Hollenbeck for “1 glass bowl.”
                              Although motorists in today’s more affluent times still pay to have their cars repaired, some of the repairs listed in the ledger seem to reflect the economic problems of that era’s Great Depression.  Instead of purchasing new tires, Austin Thomas, in a single year, paid for ten tire repairs, with charges ranging from 25 to 75 cents.  A used battery cost $1.00, much lower than the previously mentioned cost of a new one.  For $3.50 a generator could be rebuilt.  Instead of replacing a bumper, a person could have Post weld a repair for 50 cents.  Brakes could be relined for $2.50 or a gas tank soldered for 50 cents.
     One of the “mysteries” of the ledger concerns motor oil.  Post sold some from the Howell garage for 20 to 25 cents, but he sold much greater quantities of it to the Muschany brothers, his landlords.  The general store owned by the brothers was Post’s largest account in the ledger.  It is clear from the entries that Post maintained their vehicles, but the sales of quarts of oil to the Muschany brothers’ store is much, much greater than their vehicles would have needed.  In one seven month period, Post sold 170 quarts of oil to the store, in quantities of approximately five to ten quarts at a time.  In another seven month period, he sold them 325 quarts, again never selling more than about ten quarts at a time.  It seems that Frank Post was supplying oil to the brothers to be sold in their store, yet he also sold it at his garage.  Of course, it is possible, because the ledger is so confusing in its organization, that Post stopped selling oil from his garage when he began selling it to the Muschany brothers.
     When most people think of historic documents, they tend to think of items like diaries of famous soldiers or maps associated with well known events.  However, even an old, apparently unorganized ledger from a small business in a tiny village that no longer exists has historic value.  Today the ledger of Frank Post’s Howell garage offers a glimpse into a past that no longer exists.