MEMORIES OF WILLIE

For, Some Projects Just Take a Lot Longer Than Others


| May/June 1999



James River

3511 Clydewood Avenue Richmond, Virginia 23234-2425

My parents moved to Richmond in 1944 and I went into the fourth grade. Willie and Mamie Collier lived in the five-room stucco bungalow across the street from our place. They also owned the extra lot next door to their house and an ancient paint-free Fordson tractor stayed under the big oak tree. Willie drove a rather decrepit looking 1935 Packard when they went to church and the grocery, and a beat-up pickup truck to the business he owned over in town.

Most summers Willie wanted to plant a garden in the extra lot, but it was too much to spade by hand, so Willie would try to get the Fordson running to plow the field. Those two had a constant disagreement: Willie would try to get the Fordson running and that old tractor would annually refuse to run. Usually by the time Willie got that old tractor to run, it was too late to plant.

In the Collier's backyard was a very decrepit old building made of corrugated galvanized metal. Part of it had once been a chicken coop, and the larger part was his home shop collection of stuff left over from the business. It was just jammed with old scraps of iron beams, bars, rails and pieces of machinery. In the midst of this collection was an old wood stove which occasionally got hot from pieces of old wood. There was only an oil-soaked dirt floor to hold all this stuff. It was a wonderful place for this school kid to visit.

Now Willie had his own business, Collier Bros. Machine Works, across the James River in a run-down industrial area of Richmond. The Federal Reserve Bank now occupies that property. The machine works was in a building which matched the tin shop at home, but was much larger. Again, it had only an oil-soaked dirt floor and a few light bulbs hanging in odd places from sagging rafters.

Willie was known to repair machinery all around the Richmond area. He worked on the boilers for several laundries which I believe were still run by steam. He would get called to go work on machinery at State Farm, a penitentiary 35 miles up the river, which is still operated by the State of Virginia.