Special to the Tribune
Lifetime Chanute resident Howard Alger is as classic as the cars he has in his car museum, Howard’s Toys for Big Boys, in downtown Chanute.
Howard was the first of four children born to Chanute residents Warren and Margret Alger. As a child growing up in Chanute, he liked reading Dick Tracy comic books and making things out of stuff he found. As a youth, he started working at gas stations because he was intrigued by cars and their history. Howard could also be found at area skating rinks. He would skate at Chanute’s skating rink as well as the Parsons and Walnut rinks. It was while he was at the Walnut skating rink that a pretty fellow-skater named Donna caught his eye.
Donna eventually became his wife and the two were married for 65 years, until Donna’s death in 2018. Donna was also a collector – you can find her collection of 172 cookie jars displayed at the car museum as well. Their son Russell, also a native of Chanute, helps his father in the museum, and father and son can be seen on weekends working side by side.
Howard started his collection with a Model T and then purchased a 1932 Ford.
Howard recalled that Henry Ford often stated, “You can get a Ford in any color, as long as it’s black.”
Howard and Donna made their home in Chanute when North Korea invaded South Korea, starting the Korean Conflict. While President Truman did not ask for a declaration of war, Congress voted to extend the draft. One evening on the way to go out for dinner, Donna asked Howard to sit down. A letter had arrived from Uncle Sam.
The letter said, “Greetings, your friends and neighbors selected you...” Howard remembered.
He sold the start of his car collection and was on his way to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for boot camp. While there, Howard earned a medal in marksmanship. Even though he was proficient in precision shooting, Howard wondered how he could ever kill another person. Having nightmares at this prospect, he sought the Lord and asked Him for help in this matter that had caused him tremendous grief. Help came when he was on a plane destined for Korea with other enlisted men.
The plane’s first stop was in Japan, and the first 19 soldiers called up were going to stay in Japan while the rest would go on to Korea. Howard’s name was the first to be called. When he stepped off the plane, he remembers the smell of the fish markets engulfed him.
Donna flew to meet Howard in Japan and the two lived there off-base. Howard would walk to work, talking to all the nice Japanese people he met along the way.
Howard worked for the Army as a teletype operator and it was the largest communication center in the world at that time. He could send a message around the world in as little as three minutes. Teletype operators were instrumental during the Korean Conflict. Some classified messages would come in encrypted and were sent into another room where only personnel with special clearances were allowed.
He served for two years in Japan before he was to go back to the States. On his way to work before he left, his Japanese friends
met him with a gift – a handmade wooden carving of a man pulling a Rickshaw. He did not know how they knew he was leaving, but he still has this gift to this day.
Once back in the States and home in Chanute, he served another two years on active reserve, then another two years on standby. Howard reflects on his time in the service as a good experience, being very glad to have served his country.
Once home, he opened Denison Welding Supply,
which he owned for more than 40 years. When he decided to sell his welding supply company, he wanted to make sure the new owners would take care of all his trusted employees. Howard was proud of all his employees and wanted to be sure they were all taken care of.
Lucille Ogle, his secretary, left that company with him to become his secretary for his car museum.
Howard has traveled extensively to find the cars exhibited at Howard’s Toys for Big Boys. He has a total of 42 classic cars, making his collection one of the largest in the country. He has traveled as far as Hilton Head, SC, he bought a Pontiac in Dexter, Mo, and has gone to car shows in Cape Girardeau, Mo. and Wisconsin. He has a Cadillac that was number one off the assembly line. People have come from 48 states and nine countries to visit the museum. In fact, just two weeks ago, people from Switzerland came to Chanute to see his classic cars.
When people tour his car museum, he said it brings back their memories of when grandparents, parents or aunts and uncles drove these classic cars. Howard credits many of his friends for helping him build the museum into what it is today. On Wednesdays, a lot of these friends get together, shooting the breeze over coffee and comraderie.
Without hesitation, Howard says his favorite car is the one he’s is driving that day.
Howard is a firm believer in putting trust in the Lord that He will take care of he who asks. His favorite poem is Footprints in the Sand.
Visitors to Howard’s classic car museum will agree – the most classic piece in the showroom is Howard.