Larry Voris was born in Scottsbluff, Neb., in 1939, but he grew up on a dairy farm in Polk County, Mo. In the early 1950s, he was well acquainted with the hard metal seat of an Allis-Chalmers tractor. When he wasn’t spending hours pulling a hay baler or disc plow, he could be found guiding cultivator shovels along rows of sargo cane, used to make silage to feed the family’s milk cows.
“Our farm had a few hilly places and some rocks because it was in southern Missouri, but there wasn’t any rough ground,” Larry says. “I don’t think the country farther south of here is very pretty, like tourists do. Farmland ought to be flat enough to grow something, not just hard-scrabble hillsides.”
After Larry and his wife, Hazel, married in 1958, he began working at Producers Creamery Co. in Springfield, Mo. Later, Larry made a radical job change when he went to work at Tire Town. Working with his hands again, he was reminded of his youth on the farm.
Jack of all trades
Larry received a full education at Tire Town. “I did everything there,” he says. “I became acquainted with different tools and several kinds of jacks. After I did that for five years, I learned that Don McGuire, the man who repaired our jacks, was selling out his business.”
Larry bought Don’s jack shop in 1979 and Hazel became his bookkeeper. Don stayed on as an employee for 10 years. With Don’s experience repairing jacks and Larry’s knowledge of the tire business, the business’ unwritten policy was simple. “If we could get it in the door,” Larry says, “we’d work on it — and fix it.”
When a jack of any type needed repair, it was bound to end up on a workbench in Larry’s shop. Back then Larry was strong enough to load the heaviest floor jacks into the service truck by himself, but every so often he made on-site repairs.
“Once a mortuary had a small jack break down,” Larry recalls with a grin. “They used it to tilt an embalming table. It was a little spooky working on that one, but I got it going before I left. Another time a garage car lift was stuck up in the air. They’d overloaded it with a three-quarter-ton diesel pickup. I jacked it up separately before releasing the safety mechanism so they could lower it.”
Larry designed and installed several quick-lube systems for garages. He also created an air/hydraulic jack system used to level mobile homes during installation. At about the same time he began having trouble locating quality jacks and parts to repair U.S.-built jacks. Company closures became a common event; the jack repair business changed. “It was all about throwing away the old ones and buying new foreign-made jacks,” Larry says.
Shifting gears to collectibles
Then Larry discovered a different world, and a collection was born. Early mechanical antique jacks began to show up at flea markets and swap meets. Made for horse-drawn vehicles and motorcars, these relatively simple leveraging devices were invented before Larry was born, but he knew how to use them because he’d grown up with them on his dad’s farm.
For more than 100 years, lightweight antique jacks rattled around in touring cars’ toolboxes, under Phaeton back seats and near the spare in the trunk of the family sedan. Ratchet, rack and pinion, worm and pinion, screw-type and scissor jacks got the job done in the shop and on the road. When farm machinery made the leap from iron-wheel rims to inflatable rubber tires, jacks were used to lift tractors and combines when tire repairs were needed.
Innovative and inventive
The earliest jacks were made of cast iron and had attached handles. Design progression might be determined by using a list of 52 jack manufacturers printed in the 1920 Chilton Automobile Directory. Mechanical jacks (Ajax, Alrite, Aro, Bar Rock, Buckeye, Eureka King, Jiffy, Justrite, Handee, Indestructo, Kazoo, Little Giant Screw, Pup, Rapco and Simplicity, to name a few) greatly outnumbered the three hydraulic jacks (Jaxall, Trex and one unnamed model) and one air-operated model (the Ten Eyck, manufactured in Chicago by Air Device Co.) listed in the 1920 directory.
To enable the operator to work off of the ground, some screw jacks had collapsible handles to offer a slightly distant, crouching position for the operator. A rare jack in Larry’s collection was used to lift the car before installing tire chains. Fitted with a 4-foot length of small-link chain, the jack kept the user from getting wet while he worked beside the car instead of under it in snow or ice.
Meanwhile, some single-action jacks (Larry’s collection includes a new set of four with 1916 patent dates) called “tire-savers” merely lifted rubber tires (the author’s granddad called them “casings”) slightly off the garage floor. With names like Alsteel, Anti-Tip Auto Horses, Bull Dog, Eclipse, Eureka, Gemco, Hildreth, Hoco, Mazura, Mentor Autohorse, Million and Oshkosh, those jacks eliminated possible tire damage from lack of use while the vehicle remained in one place for an extended period of time.
During the 1920s, car jacks were constructed of pressed, heavy-duty sheet metal. They had separate handles with hex wrenches attached for hubcap removal. In the 1940s, bumper jacks became standard equipment on new cars. Some assembly was required. Before changing the wheel, one end of the jack handle was used to pry off a hubcap, revealing lug nuts. The handle was switched around to remove them before it was used to pump up the tall, spindly jack.
Tool of enduring value
Nearly all of those old wagons and cars have rotted down or rusted away, but their jacks — tossed into the far corner of the garage — have been used in every way imaginable. Junk pile survivors make nice additions to original doctor’s buggies or antique automobile museum exhibits.
Even though Hazel sees no need for her husband to buy yet another old jack, Larry happily brings treasures home to add to those saved from the scrap pile during his years in the repair business. Estimating the size of his collection at about 200 jacks, Larry speaks with the voice of experience. “When you have one of anything,” he says with a grin, “that’s the start of a collection.”
Larry sold the store and retired in 2005, but he’s found little time to catch his breath since then. Along with picking up rusty old jacks here and there, he helps his brothers collect and restore tractors to like-new condition. The collection includes several brand names and some rare. However, the Voris brothers prefer those made by Allis-Chalmers. Their collection includes a family tractor: a WC bought by their father from Tinkle Implement Co., Bolivar, Mo., in 1948 for $860 ($8,200 today).
In his spare time, when Larry isn’t cleaning the grease off an antique jack or helping Hazel restore a nearly forgotten graveyard, he helps fellow church members cultivate vegetables in a missionary “victory” garden and joins the choir on nursing home sing-alongs. FC
For more information: email Larry Voris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about antique jacks or share what you know in the article Looking for the Oldest Known Antique Jack.