Friday, September 14, 2018

Scotch McGill's "Hummingbird" 1926 Model T Ford

A recent question by alumnus Mr. Charles A. Ferguson '51, gave me the opportunity to do a bit of research about an iconic campus automobile.


I recently navigated for a friend on a Model T Ford tour. As I admired restored sedans, a fragment [of memory] kept surfacing: Scotch and Bernie McGill first arriving in Hudson in their Model T, nicknamed the "Hummingbird." Can you provide me with further details?

Ralph W. "Scotch" McGill
  Ralph W. "Scotch" McGill was at Western Reserve Academy from 1928 until he retired 31 years later in 1959. He was born November 9, 1895, and lived to October 2, 1974. He was 64 at the time of his retirement, having served as math teacher and Assistant Headmaster. He was almost 79 at the time of his death. When Headmaster Joel B. Hayden was debilitated with a stroke during his last year as Head of School, McGill ran the school for that year. He married a widow who was on the WRA staff as assistant to Mr. Tilt in the Business Office, Bernice Cromwell, whose late son was Robert C. Cromwell '42. Robert later died in a fatal airplane crash in Texas in 1953 while serving in the Army Air Corps. The wedding of Scotch and Bernice Cromwell took place in 1942. Bernice Cromwell McGill retired from WRA after seventeen years in 1947, while Scotch stayed on until 1959 when he retired to Alliance where he lived for the rest of his life. A scholarship in his name was established in 1974.

Photo of a similar Model T
Ralph W. "Scotch" McGill
Chuck, this must have been a well-known school story about the time you came to WRA, as Scotch McGill's Model T, nicknamed the "Hummingbird," was supposedly long gone. I have been unable to find any photo of the Model T that Scotch owned, but it appears in a long story about McGill by Anthony Weitzel at the Akron Beacon Journal, March 28, 1941, which says the following: "He had his master's degree from Columbia in 1929, which was the summer after he arrived in Hudson driving his ancient Model T Ford [named] "The Hummingbird," to teach math and run Cutler Hall."

Librarian Mary Eilbeck
Then Bill Danforth, who delivered the Scotch McGill tribute at the Chapel service in memory of Scotch said this, "I feared, yet revered him during the two years I lived in his dorm. I was amused by the way he could drop one eyelid like a shade, and by his truly wry sense of humor. He had a 1926 Model T, the "Hummingbird," when I arrived, but sold it in 1931 to Mary Eilbeck and Blanche Snyder, calling it "the only flivver you can drive without a horn because it generates its own
Librarian Mary Eilbeck
clamorous reverberation." There is solid documentation for Ralph "Scotch" McGill's Model T. It really was not an ancient car in 1928 or '29 when he rolled into Hudson with his newly-minted master's degree from Columbia University's Teacher's College. Nor was it that old (about five years old) when he sold it to Mrs. Mary Eilbeck who served as Librarian at WRA, 1925 to 1945. She did live on campus, and apparently shared the Model T Ford with Blanche Snyder, a close friend and Secretary to Headmaster Ralph E. Boothby, and later to Harlan N. Wood when he was interim Headmaster, 1929-1931. Miss Snyder was here from 1925 to 1938 and had served as assistant to Mr. Boothby at the Park School in Cleveland Heights before he became Headmaster of WRA.

Blanche Snyder
In the summer of 1929 Mrs. Eilbeck and Miss Blanche Snyder went to Europe together for a vacation of six weeks that included stops in Paris, London, and Glasgow where they boarded the "Duchess of Richmond" ship bound for Canada. They came home by way of Montreal and Mary Eilbeck stayed on in Canada with friends for a few more days. While checking the files in the WRA Archives for additional information on Blanche Snyder, I found a newspaper clipping from the Reserve Record dated March 4, 1932, headlined "Rescue Miss Snyder as Aphrodite flames." The story mentions that Miss Snyder was driving "her well-worn Model T down College Street with her differential burning merrily." I believe this is the same Model T Ford that she and Mrs, Eilbeck had purchased from Scotch McGill the previous year, but which had been renamed "Aphrodite." Miss Snyder was rescued by "Ford expert Bob Chambers" (Charles Robert Chambers, Class of 1932). The account says that Chambers leaped aboard the craft, stopped the car, "and gallantly assisted its occupant to alight." It says that Chambers then organized "a volunteer fire corps" which brought water from the [Dining Hall] kitchen and "grimly battled the flames, confining them to the differential." Afterward, "the quick-thinker Chambers declared, 'Anything to help a lady in distress'." Whether the Model T Ford, called alternately "Hummingbird" or "Aphrodite" survived to drive another day is not recorded, but we suspect that it did.