em>The phrase “Only in Chestertown” comes to mind when trying to describe a friendship between a crusty old timer and a young college student based on a particular brand of automobile. What started as a chance encounter at a local bar turned into a special bond between Leo Hicks and Frank Rhodes; one considered to be the best Chrysler mechanic in the region, the other the great grandson of the car company’s founder. As a testament of Frank’s fondness and respect for Leo, he commissioned his own video biography a few years before Leo’s death in 1989.
This is a story about a good friend of mine, Walter Leo Hicks, known as Leo (1913-1989). His old repair shop on Cannon Street was an eyesore for some and a treasure trove of collectable auto parts for others.
At the center of this shop was Leo who could repair anything. I remember him rebuilding a straight eight on a 1950 Chrysler Town and Country. He was known for welding a leak in your gas tank with gas in it! Sounds crazy, but he did it without an explosion.
His wife Libby was the manager of the shop and Nubby was the assistant. There were piles and piles of stuff in the work area and outside. All of the old cars and trucks in the yard were full of older parts: carburetors, fuel pumps, axles, distributors, rims, and gauges. You named it, he had it.
If you asked Leo for an old part he would say “I HOPE SO.” He would think for a bit and would know where to find it.
Leo would drive all around Chestertown in his rusty old Dodge pickup. The dashboard, passenger side and floor were completely filled to the brim with junk. He would wave to everyone.
While attending Washington College in 1978, I went to a fraternity gathering at Newts Bar on High Street. An older gentleman wearing glasses and well-worn green overalls sat beside me at the bar; his greasy hands holding (of course) a PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon). He would always crush that empty can with his bare hands when it was empty.
We got to talking and the subject quickly went to Walter P. Chrysler. I had never met this man before and he kept bringing up the subject of my great-grandfather WPC. Leo would say that he was one of the greatest and the most well respected engineers of motive power the world has ever seen.
I heard stories for well over two hours and when leaving showed Leo my Dodge Charger. Leo lit up and I had to tell him about my connection with WPC. You would have thought the world had rolled over. We went back inside and that is where the friendship began.
I do want to share an auto story. It is said that years ago the mayor of Chestertown, who had previously sold Fords, came to Leo one day and said “Leo, you need to clean all of this junk off your yard.” Leo apparently said in response, “The Fords are already gone!”
Leo passed away in early January, 1989. It was a packed house at Willis Wells Funeral Home on High Street and someone had placed a blue banner on his casket with the words “The Chrysler Man.”
I had this video made of Leo in 1985 with the hope of continuing his legacy. To all of the mechanics, auto part dealers, farmers, and friends, this video will hopefully bring back memories of the man we had knew as Leo. I would also like to thank Tyler Campbell for his help in organizing this story.
By Frank Rhodes with Photography by Tyler Campbell
Editor’s note: This was originally published in the Spy on September 18, 2012