Barn Painting: “The Crosley”

When my barn scout Ron took me here, he pointed out the rusted automobile sitting on the lower left side of the barn – an old Crosley. It wasn’t in great shape, but it had a hint of turquoise on the side, it had character and it merited being in the painting.

When I talked to Ned Yingst, who bought the farm in 1991, he told me that his dad taught him to take apart car engines when he was 10 years old. A few years later, when Ned and his buddies were teenagers, they’d often drive past a car plant in Marion, Indiana, a small factory that produced Crosleys. “I thought that was a cute little car,” Ned admitted.  That was in the late 1940s. Ned graduated from high school in 1949.Three years later the plant closed.

Ned went on to become a teacher and taught business courses in high school, but, on a teacher’s salary, “I couldn’t afford a fancy car to drive,” he explained. His memory took him back to that little car he saw at the plant in Marion, prompting him to advertise to locate used Crosleys. They came, some rusted, some in good shape, and they became a passion for him. Over the years he’s restored and driven many of these classic cars, once owing 20 of them at one time. Now he displays them at the Whitley County fair each July. He plans on taking nine to this year’s event. At 86, Ned doesn’t let the moss grow under his feet.

Paul Crosley, Jr. is a big name in Cincinnati and is one of the most influential Cincinnatians of all time. Crosley field, former home field of the Reds is named after him, as is a YMCA. He also founded Crosley Broadcasting Corporation, the parent of WLW radio, and he bought the Cincinnati Reds baseball team in 1934. An inventor and entrepreneur, he was obsessed with automobiles. Barely 21 in 1907, Crosley started a company to build an inexpensive car called the Marathon Six, but it failed. He tried a few more times to manufacture cars in those early years, but had no luck. Finally he and his brother found success in making auto accessories and eventually radios, which led to him founding his mighty broadcasting company.

But his desire to build a car never stopped and, finally, in 1939 his dream came true – the first Crosley car, a two-door convertible with a price tag of $250, was introduced at the Indianapolis Speedway. Crosley continued to tinker with body styles, which eventually included a truck, a sedan, a pick-up, a sports car, and a station wagon, the kind that’s in my painting. During WWII, production stopped but it resumed in 1946 in the Marion plant. But, despite Crosley’s imaginative styles, car sales gradually declined – from a high of nearly 25,000 in 1948 to about 1500 in 1952 when production ceased.

Today, collectors admire the compactness of this car and many, like Ned, are willing to restore them, drive them, and bring them to shows. And, they’re for sale. When I looked at one website, a meticulously restored maroon 1950 HotShot roadster was going for $21,400, a 1952 Super Sports was offered for just under $17,000, and, the darling of them all, a baby blue 1947 Crosley Coupe could be had for $12,000. Now, all I need is a bigger garage.

Ned told me that the barn was built in the 1890s, a date confirmed by hand-hewn beams inside, but he said that the real treasure was the wooden silo, inside the barn and shielded from the elements. The round silo, cooper-made, is three stories tall and the owner’s name, King, is imprinted on each long board, which stretches from the floor to the ceiling. Wooden silos, normally destroyed by Mother Nature, are extremely rare, according to Ned. And he should know since he and his wife are on the board of Historic Barn Society of Indiana.

Ned takes care of this barn and buys yellow poplar wood siding, sawcut, from the sawmill at Purdue University extension. Then he lets it age for three to four years in his barn. When he’s ready to replace a side of the barn, as he did recently (giving me some of the old stuff), he’ll use the aged yellow poplar to build the new side. As poplar ages, it becomes gray and gnarled, perfect for making a rustic frame for a painting of an old barn like “The Crosley.”

By the way, part of Ned’s 1944 tractor also graces the painting – the big black tire with the red fender, which I wanted to include, though I didn’t know it was vintage 1944 when I painted it. Like Ned, I’m a sucker for old stuff. That’s why they coined the term, the good old days. When you go to the fair in July, just ask Ned about this. He’ll have some stories. And, don’t forget to bid on “The Crosley.”