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Old Kit Homes and Writing Gigs

Writing about Sears Homes has been a fun gig, but my income from this career has been quite modest. Modest, as in less than $12,000 on my best year - which included a lot of lectures and traveling and working long, long days. But, there are other means of compensation beyond dollars.

My co-author Dale and I have just finished a new book on the kit homes of Montgomery Ward. As part of this research, I pored over old Wardway Homes catalogs, reading the many testimonials from happy customers. And I saw an especially interesting testimonial from a man named “Ringer” in Quinter, Kansas.

“We are well pleased with our Ohio which bought of you,” wrote Mathias Ringer in the 1919 Wardway Homes catalog. “Everybody is welcome on the Ringer Ranch. Everything is modern and is from Montgomery Ward, furniture and all. We want to build two more of these later on” (page 44).

Thanks to Google, I quickly found that Quinter, Kansas is not a very big place so I took a gamble and sent a letter to all the Ringers in Quinter, Kansas. I sent a copy of the testimonial with my letter and told them about my project. Within 30 days, I had a letter from a Gail Ringer, telling me that Mathias Ringer was his grandfather and that Mathias had relocated to Quinter from Somerset County, Pennsylvania to get away from the coal mines. Then 19 years old, Mathias was told that he had the early stages of black lung, and that if he got out of the coal mines and into a better climate, he might live many more years.

And that’s how Mathias Ringer landed in Quinter, Kansas.

Gail Ringer invited me to come out to Quinter and stay with him for a few days and see the Wardway Ohio (a spacious cross-gabled kit home) that his grandfather had built. I readily accepted the invitation.

I flew into Hayes, Kansas, a wee tiny airport. Gail and his son met me at the airport and drove me back to Quinter. After all the traveling (from Norfolk!) I saw the Wardway Ohio that Mathias Ringer had built in 1919. The Ringers treated me like family and it was a very happy few days. Gail Ringer regaled me with stories of his grandfather and father. He shared his memories of growing up in the Wardway Ohio (pictured below). This trip reminded of the significant perks of being a writer. I had the time of my life, and it was a delight to find people who had such a clear and strong sense of family and integrity.

Several weeks ago, I received a letter in the mail that my friend Gail Ringer had passed on. It had been my hope that he’d see a copy of this new book on Wardway Homes before he died (with his interview inside), but it didn’t work out that way.

In the letter from Gail’s son, he wrote, “His anticipation of your 2007 visit was like a spring tonic for him. When the plans for your arrival began to materialize, he perked up immensely. Thanks so much for your part in reviving his spirit.”

As I said, sometimes the best recompense comes in non-pecuniary forms.

Wardway Ohio - from the 1921 Wardway catalog

Wardway Ohio - from the 1921 Wardway catalog

Testimonial that caught my eye in the Wardway Homes catalog

Testimonial in slightly different form in the 1921 Wardway Homes catalog

The Ringer Ranch in Kansas

The Ringer Ranch in Kansas

And sometimes, there’s a little bit of fame, too!

Fame

Fame

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about Wardway homes, click here.

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