From Rags to Wrenches

Noah Allyn, guest writer


“William! Get out of here! That car’s coming straight toward the entrance!”

“W-what, Mr. Greenfield?”

“That car, it’s about to smash through the doorway! Get up the stairs!”

Just as I made it to the top of the old stairwell alongside my building manager, a brand new Ford model A burst through the apartment complex’s lower lobby, and with it, a sea of debris-filled water.


My family has lived in Mississippi for my whole life. I grew up livin’ with my Ma and Pa – both immigrants from Norway; a sister, Minnie; and the best brother I could ask for, Jack. We kept a simple life: school, work, walking around town, and I even picked up the native tongue. Little did I know my life would change so early in my life . . .

I’m William, William Webber that is, and here lies my life adventure.


Last year, 1926, led the foundation of what would come to pass as the greatest natural disaster in the United States. The “Great Flood,” as it would be called, started “after several months of heavy rain caused the Mississippi River to swell to unprecedented levels” (Editors). Entire crop fields and low-level towns quickly filled with water before the next year even began.        Then in April 1927, the first of many levees broke along the Mississippi River system, causing surges of water to submerge almost 27,000 miles of land – displacing hundreds of thousands of people with it.


I moved into my own apartment in January of 1927 at the age of twenty two, to see if I could finally get my life together and make something of myself; then it struck.



“Ma! Ma! Yes, it’s me Will!” I was relieved to hear my mother’s voice on the end of the telephone. “Did everyone make make it out safely? Were you able to save anything? Where are you? Are Jack, Minnie and Pa there?”

“Yes, yes Baby. They all survived by the grace of God.”

“Oh, thank heavens!”

“We were all rescued just yesterday morning, rescue workers were searching along our district and saved us from atop a nearby building; I’m so glad you made it, too. You’d better give Tom a call if you can, I know you’re worried about him as well.”


My best friend and co-worker at our local general store, Tom Jackson, came from a long family of African Americans that found themselves in Mississippi. We met at a church function for immigrant families when we were young, and soon became close friends. After long days working as clerks and storeroom stockers, Tom and his brother Louis would often accompany me to our small family shed and watch me tinker with old gears and motor parts my dad brought home from his factory job. Louis told me I had a real knack for putting things back together and if I worked hard enough I could maybe even get a job as a mechanic like him. Tom just smiled and watched.


I quickly asked a nearby federal aid worker in the shelter for the number of the shelter in Tom’s district, and had a worker there get ahold of him.

“Will? That you?”

“Tom! You’re alive! It’s so good to hear your voice! Is everything alright??”

“. . . Will it’s . . .  It’s . . . Louis, we . . . we never found him. . .”

Tom could now no longer hold back his built-up tears.

“We shouted from atop our roof for hours on end – we were cold, soaked, hungry, and exhausted from struggling to find a safe place . . . We saw countless rescue boats pass by, but none of them bothered to come save us . . . Every available boat seemed to be headed toward white districts, some boats bringing back only two people! And now, a statewide order mandates that anyone with African American descent come help with rescue efforts and re-rout water flow . . . We haven’t even gotten a full night’s rest! . . . Louis would know how to make this better, he’d know what to say, and now, he’s . . . he’s gone forever.”


Seldom in my life have I experienced so great a pain as realizing something or anything can be taken away so quick, that I never had time to fully appreciate and cherish all that I had. Louis was a good friend of mine, but more importantly he was the one of sole people that made up Tom’s life and memories. I became determined to fulfill what Louis showed me: that hard work and a little bit of inspiration could get me ultimate happiness and success in my life, even if I’ve lost everything. I decided to go to New York, and become a mechanic, just like Louis.


Hitchhiking from town to town, I slowly made it up from a devastated Mississippi Valley towards my destination of New York: the place of opportunity and success as I saw it. Men and women, most of effected by the flood just like me, found it hard to believe I could just up and leave my family down in the flood area to recover whilst I sought life up North. I was whole-heartedly reluctant to depart from my family and friends, but I realized I could no longer maintain a way of life in the devastated area; and that is when I pursued a new life.

The exodus of people, mostly blacks, from the lower south to the North after the flood would become know as the Great Migration. I became apart of it just as much as the African Americans I met along the way.


Arriving just outside New York City, I developed a feeling of purpose and inspiration. I did not possess a solid plan yet, but I was determined to find Mr. Galenger, who Tom told me owned one of the best mechanic shops in New York.

I passed several movie theaters on my way into inner NYC, all of which advertised “‘The Jazz Singer‘ Starring Al Jolson – Coming this October”. A theater attendant told me this would be the first ever film with synchronized acting and talking. Hardly ever did I hear about up-and-coming trends and important people of the nation down in my small riverside town.


With my small sack of spare change, a shirt, and a pair of socks, I wandered around NYC until I came across a policeman.

“Excuse me, but do you know where I could find a Mr. Galenger? Or maybe a shop in which he might work at?”

“Mr. Galenger?” The officer smugly replied. “Certainly. Most citizens around here know of him . . . His garage is just outside the inner city. Let me point you in the right direction.”


I stood outside what looked like a wear house with large strips of pavement in an open area of town. This was definitely not a conventional garage.

I saw a small entry door on the right side of the building in which I entered to find a small office that led toward a shop area.

“Hello son,” a deep voice echoed from the hallway. A husky man then appeared in the room. “what can I do for you?”

“Well Sir, I was told that I could find a Mr. Galenger here, I’m looking for a job as a mechanic.”

“A mechanic you say . . . What kind of work do you do Mr . . .”

“Webber. William Webber. I’ve worked on putting engines, gear assemblies, pistons, shafts . . . anything resembling a motor really, together most of my life. I’m quite the fixer.”

“Well Mr. Webber, I believe I might have a job for you in that case. I’m Mr. Galenger. Let’s head into the hanger and talk.”


“That’s right Mr. Webber, this is a hangar. We’re on an airstrip.”


May rolled around, and with it, I earned the position of Head Aviation Mechanic in Galenger’s garage at Roosevelt Field in Long Island, NY.


“Mr. Galenger, I finished fixing the single prop engine; is it fine if I head home?”

“Very good work William! I must say I have one of the best mechanics in the entire state working for me.”

“Thank you Sir.”

“But, I’m afraid I must keep you a while longer Will. I’ve got a special assignment for you. Follow me.”

I followed him into the hangar toward a sturdy, bulky looking aircraft.

“I need you to tune up and take care of the engine on this plane William. There’s an important flight about to take place, and I’m putting you in charge of maintenance.”

“Yes Sir.”

I started working on greasing several shafts and fixing a broken motor mount when I heard a man enter the hangar and walk over to where I was working.

“Fine aircraft here ain’t it?”

“Y-yes Sir, it is.”

“She sure is a beauty. Strongest construction I ever did see.”

“Indeed it does Sir, although some of the secondary motor castings are coming undone. I’m fixing that as we speak. You do you fly, Sir?”

“Well, more so or less,” he chuckled. “I’m the pilot of this aircraft.”

“Oh! Well hello Sir, I’m William Webber, but you can call me Will for short.

“Very good then Will. Some fine work you’re doing here. Tell me, what inspired you to pursue a job as mechanic?”

“Well, I’ve been good at making repairs and tinkering my whole life. But just a few weeks ago, the flood struck my family and my livelihood down in Mississippi. My best friend’s brother and my personal mentor, Louis, worked as a mechanic. He was one of the victims of the flood. So, I decided to take on after his legacy.”

“Louis you say. . . That’s a nice name. What part of the country he from?”

“Missouri, Sir.”

“Well, I haven’t yet given her a name . . . and in fact, my ‘supporters in Missouri paid for the aircraft’ (“Spirit). Louis sounds like a wonderful person Will. You know what, I think I’ll name her the Spirit of St. Louis.”

“My goodness, what an honor Sir! This would’ve meant so much to Louis. By the way I didn’t catch your name Mr . . .”

“Lindbergh, Mr. Charles Lindbergh.”


Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight across the Atlantic Ocean happened just a few days after I met him. On May 20, he flew nonstop for more than 33 hours from New York to Paris, becoming the first man ever to fly solo transatlantic. I became absolutely ecstatic hearing about his landing in Paris. And to think, I was a part of making his flight a success – mechanic of the Spirit of St. Louis. People went crazy over Charles Lindbergh, even for months upon months after his landing; some people, years!

I received a call one afternoon in late September from a woman who said was Mr. Lindbergh’s secretary. She told me Charles Lindbergh remembered me from the hangar several months ago, and wanted me to join him in a parade down the center of NYC. I couldn’t believe this was happening.


“Mr. Lindbergh!”

“William! So good to see you again,” he said as he embraced me in a hug. “Are you ready? This is going to be the first parade I’ve been that will become available to watch on the new television. People across the entire country can now see events and history in the making!”

“Are you serious? This is such an honor Charles . . . I can’t wait!”


Never did I think I could end up in such a noteworthy position, waving to crowds of adoring Lindbergh fans, and receiving recognition of Charles’ mechanic. It completely bewildered me; starting from complete devastation, and now, ending up in complete happiness.


Works Cited

EditorsofEncyclopdiaBritannica. “Mississippi River flood of 1927.”Britannica Encyclopedia.                    Web. 04 April 2017.

“Spirit of St. Louis.”Charles Lindbergh. Web. 05 April 2017.


Barry M. John. “The Great 1927 Mississippi River Flood.”The Gilder Lehrman Institute Of                        American History. Web. 04 April 2017.

Carlson, W. Bernard. Technology in World History. Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

Derfner, Jeremy. “Lindbergh’s Atlantic Flight.”Dictionary of American History, Ed. Stanley I.                  Kutler, 3rd ed., vol. 5, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003, pp. 113-114. Student                               Resources in Context. Web. 27 Mar. 2017

“Philo T. Farnsworth.”DISCovering U.S. History, Gale, 1997. Student Resources in Context.                    Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

“1927 Important and Significant Events, Technology, and Culture.”The People History. Web. 05 April. 2017.