Earl Brush was born on July 17, 1893 on a farm south of Marshalltown, Iowa near the village of Ferguson. His family farmed in several counties in central Iowa including Marshall, Lucas and Hardin. He attended country one-room schools in his early years and received his final, formal education in Whitten, Iowa.
In the early 1900's, attractive land homesteads became available in southern Minnesota. Many Iowa families ventured there to take advantage of this opportunity. In 1910, Earl migrated with his parents to Reading, Minnesota which is near Worthington. The W H Baker family from Gladbrook, Iowa settled nearby.
Their daughter, Eva, became acquainted with Earl through their church and they were married October 30, 1913. Earl was a good potato farmer and that same year he transported a railroad carload of potatoes back to Iowa. The proceeds from this venture provided the funds to completely furnish their first home.
Earl and Eva lived in the Summit Lake area where they farmed over a period of years. While plowing, he turned up an Indian tomahawk and an Indian stone hammer. One night, the Reading Bank was robbed by blowing off the safe's door. The next day, Earl found the handle in a ditch across the street. He made it into a paperweight and like the two Indian artifacts it became a prized keepsake that remains a part of the family's collection.
After World War I, industry and agriculture became even more dependent on machinery. Earl left farming to attend a trade school in Minneapolis where he learned to be a tractor mechanic. He worked for the Farm Machinery Co. and then for the Chevrolet dealership in Worthington where he started as a mechanic and later became the parts department manager. His brother-in-law, Harold Caster, was an electrician and through this relationship Earl learned to be an electrician, as well. By 1921, the Brush family had grown to five. A daughter, Naomi, was born in 1916 and two sons, George in 1919 and Robert in 1921.
The Great Depression of the 1930's took its toll. The Chevrolet dealership folded and Earl worked several temporary jobs in Worthington before deciding to return to Marshalltown, Iowa which was a bigger city that might offer more opportunities. Times were tough, but his electrical background opened up some doors and he eventually became manger of the electrical department at Montgomery Ward.
Then came World War II and since his skills as an electrician were in short supply, he was encouraged to get into military production work. Offered a position in either Louisiana or California, he opted for the latter and in 1943 he (accompanied by his wife and daughter) moved to Oakland. He went to work at the Moore Dry Dock Company in Alameda installing elevators in aircraft carriers.
At war's end, Earl opened an appliance store concentrating on maintenance and repair of household appliances. He couldn't get a franchise from a major supplier and since repair work only wasn't too attractive, he closed the shop. He then went to work for Southern Pacific as an electrical inspector. He retired in 1963 at the age of 70.
While at the shipyards and later at SP, he always kept his eye on the salvage yards where equipment, parts and collectible items were being discarded. Always with proper permission, he was able to collect memorabilia from the waterfront and the railroad yards. At times, he had about as many bells, whistles, gauges, lanterns and junk as Southern Pacific.
Relatives and friends who had mining claims in the mountains were quick to give him their wares as they gave up mining and it's assumed that Earl kept everything. He was a great help to his friends, fixing cars, electrical equipment, household appliances, furniture, radios and so forth. " Need a battery?" "What size?"
He never intended to collect antiques. He merely liked to be surrounded with stuff, especially tools and parts of every description. Rocks were a big item with him, as well, and he collected small specimens from famous locations coast to coast, each one labeled and dated.
Cars, however, were probably his greatest love. His first was a 1913 Maxwell. Over the years, he owned many others and drove until he was a 100 years old. In later years, it was mainly to church, the grocery store and the bank.
In 1981, after celebrating 68 Wedding anniversaries, he lost his loving wife. Until just a few months ago, he remained in the Oakland home they had purchased when they moved to Oakland in 1943.
The 20th Century was a very active 100 years for Earl, but the 21st is different. He has given up most of the activities he enjoyed for so many years although he still reads the newspaper and does a crossword puzzle every day. He is pleased to know that his collection of heirlooms will be in the hands of others who have similar interests. He has a million memories and is grateful for a full and long life. On July 17th, he turned 107 years-old, but he says it seems longer.
It was an honor to have had the responsibility for a moving sale that, like Mr. Brush, spanned three centuries. I confess it was, however, sometimes a bit discombobulating. The first day I toured the house, I opened the china cabinet and picked up a ruby flashed mug from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. It was engraved with Earl's name. Another find was, in retrospect my own personal favorite since it exemplifies the quantity and quality of what he had accumulated.
The garage was literally filled to overflowing. It took me a week to reach the back wall where I found a large metal flour drum. Inside was an antique fairy lamp and wonderful depression era kitchenware. Each piece was carefully wrapped in newspapers from Dubuque, Iowa dated 1943. They brought it with them in their 3/4-ton truck when they came to California and then stored it in their garage where it remained undisturbed for 57 years.
Early this year, Earl Brush passed away at the age of 111. At the time, the Guiness Book of World Records was considering him for the title of the "World's Oldest Man". Sadly, just a couple of month's later, his son, George, who wrote the above biography, passed as well.